I wasn’t always an avid book lover. Fun fact about me: I almost flunked first grade. I entered school knowing very little English. As the first child of immigrant parents who barely spoke English themselves and growing up in a Korean ghetto that is now known as Koreatown in Los Angeles, there were precious few opportunities to learn English until I entered school. I didn’t understand what was going on, so I failed everything. When I brought home my mid-year report card, my mother was appalled. Based upon our neighbor’s recommendation, my mother began making me read books in order to learn more English.
At first I HATED reading. It was tremendously difficult. I laboriously had to sound out each word and there were so many words whose meanings I didn’t know. But as my vocabulary grew and I became more proficient at reading, I grew to love reading. Every weekend we went to the library and I checked out ten books because ten was the limit. I voraciously read all the books throughout the week. Some books I loved so much that I checked them out over and over again. The formerly crisp pages became worn and even torn from my overly-eager and clumsy fingers that grasp the pages in eager anticipation of promised delights of delectable words.
My mother was very supportive of anything that she thought was good for our education and development. So my sisters and I grew up on a diet of books and various experiences, such as trips to museums and travel. Being that we didn’t have a lot of money during my early childhood, most of our travels were road trips. One of these trips was to the Grand Canyon. When we were done sightseeing for the day, my parents were considering where we should spend the night. I noticed that we were right next to Bright Angel Lodge. I frantically pointed to it and demanded that we stay there because I had read Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry. My mother wanted to know why.
I answered, “Because I read about it in a book.”
And with that, she said okay and we stayed there. I told you my mother was supportive. She wanted me to read books and if I read something in a book and wanted to do something because I had read about it, then she considered it her duty to support this desire. That Grand Canyon incident cemented my inclination to justify anything I do with “Because I read about it in a book.”
I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. A friend told me about her honeymoon in Italy that she and her husband went on because of a memoir they had read. While they were on their honeymoon, they met many other travelers who went to the same small family restaurants and tiny villages because they, too, had read the same memoir.
After our last trip to Boulder, I read about Magnolia Road, made famous in Running with the Buffaloes, a book about the 1998 University of Colorado’s men’s cross country team. Magnolia Road is steep, hilly 12-mile stretch of road east of Boulder. The cross country team regularly ran on this road as a part of their training. Because of that book, Magnolia Road achieved a cult-like status among runners as a “classic run,” as in “you must run here if you’re anywhere near the area of Boulder.”
Nothing about Magnolia Road would have changed if the book hadn’t been written and instead people were simply informed via word of mouth that Magnolia Road was there Colorado’s cross country team trained, but it wouldn’t have the same impact. There’s something about a book that reifies ideas and concepts. By reading about it, people want to “possess” it. Since you want actually physically possess ideas, you’re overwhelmed by the desire to experience it for yourself because you can possess the memory of that experience.
So, yeah, I read about Magnolia Road and I wanted to run it. I didn’t run the whole thing. For one thing, when I say it’s hilly, that’s an understatement. It’s more mountainous than hilly. Some sections are so steep that it’s physically impossible to run. Another is that this is all at altitude. I am, as the Coloradans call me, a Flatlander. Being from sea level, physical exertion at altitude is tough. I tried running Magnolia on my first day at Boulder and I got winded after five steps. Also I found that I really didn’t care for running on Magnolia Road because despite the sparse traffic, when a car did pass you, breathing in their exhaust sucked. Still, the views from Magnolia Road are magnificent and I like being able to say that I ran there because I read about it.