Joseph S. Pete

I write because I’m a reader first.

I write because as an awkward teen I spent countless lunch hours hunched over a book in the musty, largely empty high school library. I write because I devoted long lonely weekends trekking to faraway library branches with wider, more exotic collections. I write because of the endless hours I whiled away parked in a comfy leather chair in a Barnes & Noble or Borders, plowing through stacks of new titles while nursing the dark, bitter coffee that doubled as a parking meter fee.

I write because my parents, a polyglot college professor and a judge who got a full ride to Notre Dame by penning such a captivating essay about his immigrant grandfather, filled my childhood home with books. They lined the bookshelves with handsomely bound classics by Dante, Dickens, Austen and Emerson. The shelves overflowed with their own childhood books, serialized potboilers from the Stratemeyer factory like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, I must note quickly. Such titles captivated my imagination and kept me turning pages by the lambent glow of the nightlight until well past my bedtime.

There was some coercion. I was forced to memorize poems like “Casey at the Bat” and “The Raven” before I was allowed out trick-or-treating. But it was not so much of a burden since it aligned with my burgeoning interest in words, stories and literature.

My reading has often gotten out of hand. In my rocky adolescence, my mother chastised me for reading a dictionary alone in my room on such a nice day, saying I should instead go to a park and have fun. “But I am having fun,” I protested. A girlfriend later broke up with me because I brought a book into a darkened movie theater where we met with friends to see Inception.

As a matter of principle and ingrained habit, I bring reading material everywhere I go–more than just a smartphone with its infinite scrolling and miraculous apps that make literature materialize with a swipe. I make sure to have a pocket-sized book or a rolled-up New Yorker tucked into my back pocket, and often stroll around with an alt weekly or some other dinosaur print publication in hand. Even if my diner companion departs for five minutes to use the restroom, I seize the opportunity to fill the void with reading. At every opportunity, wherever, whenever, I’m always reading.

That’s my main impetus for writing. Books, newspapers and other scribblings have given me so much, taught me so much, enriched me so much that I feel obligated to make my own contribution, however modest, to the greater sum of literature.

I write to give back. I write to join the conversation I’ve been eavesdropping on for so long. I write to add something to the literary cacophony that bustles like an open-air market or a Manhattan sidewalk. I write because I always want there to always be someone out there writing for me.

Tags: