Friday, October 5, 2012

The act of reading by M.C. Mars

The act of reading is so fundamental to my life that I rank it right up there with food and sex. But the whole time I was in school, in my entire education of K through 12, I managed to read only one book and that was The Hank Aaron Story, which took an agonising eight weeks to complete, and killed an entire summer vacation.

All through elementary school, I sat in class with my head down hoping the teacher wouldn’t call on me to read. While the smart kids went off to another room to be brilliant college material with the other smart kids, I sat in remedial reading battling the other goof-offs for the dubious honor of who could sound the dumbest.

My father said, “you betta buckle down, you’re gonna buckle down, you hear me!” Buckle—as in belt-buckle—being the operative word. And so it was his idea to read The Hank Aaron Story together, an undertaking that turned American English into a sort of Chinese Water Torture, conducted in a hot kitchen without air-conditioning.

With my father’s muscular forearm resting on the table next to me, I poured over each word like a Joycean scholar reading Finnegan’s Wake, but instead of relishing the beauty and subtlety of the language, I hated the grueling process of reading, and wanted to be outside with my boys in the street.

Today they’d have diagnosed me as a dyslexic kid with A.D.D. But back then I bought into the label they put on me. He’s good at math, but he has very poor language skills.
And that’s how I thought of myself all through high school.

Language in its nuance was completely lost on me. I read the CliffsNotes of Gulliver’s Travels and wondered why Jonathan Swift had to go on and on writing so many unnecessary pages.

During spring break of my senior year in high school, I hitchhiked from New York to Boston and wrote everyone the same postcard. When I got back, my friends clowned me. “That’s retarded, dude.” But then, a few months later, my best friend died in a car accident. The death of John O’Sullivan devastated me. We were both living such reckless lives. I was supposed to be in the car with him and two others guys, except my little sister messed up the message.
 Afterwards, people started telling me, “you’d better straighten up your act, or you’ll be next.” But at that point I didn’t care about consequences. I didn’t give a shit. I really didn’t give a shit, as I plunged into a dark and suicidal depression.

Without elaborating on my season in hell, I can tell you that somewhere in the midst of this darkness, I stumbled upon a poem called The Little Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. I loved it. The imagery was so simple and clear that it inspired me to write a poem. A poem that by literary standards had to be insufferably bad, but which, in the timeliness of its creation, served a useful purpose.

Later on in the day that I wrote the poem, a friend’s band needed someone to come up on stage and buy them some time while they and the sound engineer tried to fix their sound problems. I stood there, stoned out of my mind, raving passionately into the microphone. And then, when I finished my rant, something amazing happened. People in the audience clapped…somebody referred to me as a poet. Suddenly I had an identity and, my life changed forever.

About the Author

M.C. Mars is the author of Don't Take Me The Long Way, his memoir of driving a cab at night in San Francisco for twenty- four years. His latest novel, Burner, blends together hip-hop, quantum physics, and the stigmatized knowledge of Illuminati conspiracy theories, in a gritty tale that addresses the societal questions of, “Who’s in control?” and, “Are we as powerless as we’ve been made to feel?” He’s also a rapper with three albums to his credit, and hip-hop roots that go all the way back to the late 70s. He lives in San Francisco, where he continues to perfect his free- style, and his spaghetti sauce. Find him here: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. That's really interesting! I was always such a voracious reader that it's fascinating to hear the stories of those who came to enjoy reading much later. I need to look up that Williams poem...


  2. larry niven's tales of know space got me into reading scifi when i was a kid - regnod(at)yahoo(d0t)com

  3. You never know when inspiration and "destiny" comes calling hey? Great article from the heart :)