Sunday, February 12, 2006

On Peter Benchley

Peter Benchley's Jaws was one of the first books I ever read. Not just one of the first books by him that I read. I mean it was one of the first of three or four books that I ever read. It was literally something like One Fish, Two Fish, then Green Eggs and Ham, and then as best as I can recall... Jaws.

I was a difficult child to teach anything to that I wasn't interested in (not much has changed) and reading was very far from something that interested me. My mother and sisters tired, but I was pretty stubborn. One night at someone's house my sisters and some other kids were watching Jaws and my parents wouldn't let me watch it because I was too young.

Probably little more than a year later I was playing in my parents room when I came across the novel Jaws on my parent's bookshelf. I asked them to read it to me. Finding that there was a sex scene in chapter 1, they decided I was again too young for it. I really wanted to know what the big deal was. I loved sharks. I had picture books full of them. They were just as amazing to me as dinosaurs, if not more. So I asked them if it was ok if I read the book. That took them off guard. At that point I knew the alphabet and only the most basic words, and getting that into my head had been the equivalent of putting a tutu on a tiger. They said yes, and over a year I taught myself to read by reading the book, picking up grammatical patterns like silent e's and ph sounds as I went along. Incidentally, I don't recall liking the book.

Reading and writing were progressed during and after Jaws by playing Sierra adventure games like King's Quest 4 that used text commands. I also learned a lot by setting my TV to closed caption and following along. A few years later my love of everything to do with the Alien trilogy, led me to devour the Dark Horse Aliens series. A couple books into them, my parents received easily the most surprising Christmas request from me ever. I wanted a copy of The Lord of the Rings. I wish I could have seen their faces when they walked into the bookstore to get their son, who hated reading, a five pound novel that he wanted to read.

Time would show that "too young" were very dangerous words to use around me, at least when it was a matter of maturity. A seed was planted by that incident which has lead to a mild obsession with the issues of censorship, what is and isn't inappropriate, and the nature of why. My shelves are full of formally banned books from the beat era and beyond. Because of these, I'm even thinking about becoming and english teacher.

It seems like if you trace back the events of your life you can find a handful of moments that seemed to tip over the dominos of all that lead to your present. In many ways Benchley had a huge impact on me. It was through Jaws that I came into contact with several key things that have shaped who I am.

Now I'm sitting here, taking a break from my homework, coincidently wearing a Jaws t-shirt my ex-girlfriend gave me, reading his obituary.


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