The sad fact is that people do not read as much as they once did. In our fast-paced world, reading takes time, concentration and commitment. Although it pays rich rewards, many choose shortcuts. The proliferation of social media has taken a significant toll on the idea that a person can enjoy reading.
Where does the love and joy of reading come from?
In my case, it was fired up by my immigrant mother, who never missed an opportunity to tell me what reading and learning would mean to me.
My mother, with just a fourth-grade education, came with her mother and her three brothers to the United States from Italy in 1919 after World War I. My grandfather had been in the United States for five years and was finally able to send for his wife and children.
My mother, then 14, begged my father to send her to the public schools in Bethlehem, where my grandfather worked at Bethlehem Steel Corp. He refused saying she would have to get a job to help support the family, take care of the house chores and help care for her three younger brothers.
She was crushed and went to work at Bayuk Cigar Co., rolling cigar leaves for 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Despite this full-time job, considerable housework, and child-care duties, she spent time trying to teach herself English. She read the newspaper, read simple books, but, most important, she found a woman at the cigar company who said she would help her learn how to read and to learn English.
My mother was a quick learner, and within two years she was speaking excellent English and was able to read fifth- and sixth-grade level books.
Four years later, she married my father, who rented a grocery store about 40 miles away in Summit Hill.
My mother took over the hopelessly tangled books of my father who was in debt and barely hanging on to his fledgling business.
My oldest brother, Jack, came along three years after they were married, followed by my older brother, Charlie, six years after that, and I arrived eight years later, when my mother was 35 and my father was 47.
My mother read to me every night. She told me she read fairy tales when I was two, three and four. She said that I was able to read on my own when I was four. I remember when I was six, I read my first Hardy Boys novel. Before I was 10, I had read all of the Franklin Dixon series.
I loved history and geography. At one point, I knew not only all of the capitals of the United States but all of the capitals of the world. How many 9-year-old kids do you know who could tell you that the capital of Outer Mongolia is Ulan Bator? Or that Timbuktu is a real place - in Northern Africa.
To me, reading fired up my imagination. I loved learning about far-away places with strange-sounding names. I imagined walking the streets of Rabat, Morocco, or Vilnius, Lithuania. I longed for the day when I could visit Rome, Paris and the French Riviera. When I did finally journey to these places as an adult, I remembered when, as a kid in Summit Hill, I envisioned this day that I would see these places in person.
I kept scrapbooks of world events, such as the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. I avidly read the local newspapers, news magazines, The Reader's Digest.
For my entire life, my mother's prophetic words were a guiding beacon: "Reading will unlock the door to the world." If she told me that once, she said it a hundred times.
A mother's love is a priceless gift, but when it comes packaged with a commitment for reading and learning, it is truly precious.
My mother wanted to make sure that my brothers and I had every educational opportunity possible - opportunities she wanted for herself but which circumstances would not permit.
My mother died about 16 years ago. Not one day goes by when I fail to appreciate how lucky I was to have been born to her and my father. Her passion for reading and learning lit the fuse that allowed me to pursue with a fair amount of success my life's passions communications and teaching.
Using my mother as a template, I tried to ignite a similar love of reading and learning within my own three children, and, based on what I have seen and heard, it seems to have worked. My hope is that they will pass it forward to their children, so that this wonderful family tradition, forged by my mother, becomes generational.
(Bruce Frassinelli, a 1957 graduate of Summit Hill High School, is an adjunct instructor in the Social Sciences Department at Lehigh Carbon Community College.)