When I was in the eighth grade, they introduced a school-wide Accelerated Reader contest.
“… And at the end of the year there will be an assembly to announce the winners and give them their prizes!”
You’d think they announced a 365-day Christmas, I had never been more excited about something.For me, reading was the prize, but a prize for the prize?
I already walked the hallways hugging a book and passed the long bus rides reading, but this sparked an obsession.
All year, all the time, I was reading. In line at the cafeteria, walking the halls, during class. I gave up my lunch and breakfast recesses to be in the library. Every Friday afternoon, I made a beeline to the library to snatch two books to take home for the weekend before the bus left me (indeed, the bus driver had to wait for me a couple of times).
I read so many books.
One of my classmates saw me with yet another book one day.
“How many points is that one worth?”
I looked up from my book, but it took awhile to register her question.
“Oh, I don’t know.” I flipped the front cover open. “Two.”
She scoffed, shaking her head.
“You’re doing it wrong.”
She pulls a thick volume out of her bag.
“This is worth 16 points.”
I looked from her book to mine. I was not convinced; I knew for a fact her book was really boring. Why would I take the pleasure out of reading just to win?
When the end of the year assembly came, my classmate, with her few dozen big, boring books, came in first. I came in second.
You might think I was disappointed, but I was extremely proud of my accomplishment. Third place was over 100 points away and though my classmate had set out specifically to beat me, the bookworm of the school, she only just passed me by 15 points.
Plus, I had read a ton of books, hundreds. As my classmate had pointed out, many of them were not worth very may points, but to me they were worth more because I read them for the pleasure and the challenge. To come in second for doing something I loved and that I was going to do anyway was amazing. Besides, I had surpassed my reading quota from last year by a landslide. At this is age, I was still only competing with myself.
Looking back, I am impressed by my youthful attitude towards failure and success. Would my grown up self be able to accept an internal accolade so genuinely? Or would the external second place overshadow the internal best? I hate to think that my 8th grade self was more mature than my almost thirty year old self.
But its a good lesson to take from my younger self: In the pursuit of passion, never let the winning overtake the pleasure, and never deny a win, no matter what it looks like.
As one of my prizes, I received one of those big, red Webster’s dictionaries. This was actually a big deal for a poor little reader/writer like me. In the days of Y2K, a collegiate dictionary was a must-have addition to a home library, but we couldn’t afford one. As I stood up on the platform hugging my prize, I remember thinking that I had earned it, deserved it, won it fair and square, without cheating the system, and without compromising my love of reading by reading boring shit.
“Why are you still reading?”
My classmate was squinting down at me in the midday sun.
“I said why are you still reading? The contest is over.”
I stared up incredulously.
Some people will never understand.