Commentary by Jeffrey Williams-Maisonet (J-Man)
Okay, I have a confession to make. I never liked reading. Seriously, like…never! As much as I write, many may find that hard to believe. You couldn’t give me a book to read if my life depended on it. I’ve even lost friends because I refused to go to the library. I thought the library was a waste of time. Looking back, it’s kind of embarrassing to say that now.
Well, not reading was a bad decision. Not only did I lose friends, I lost when it came to taking state exams, too. Don’t get me wrong. I knew how to read, but did I ever put that power to good use, personally or scholastically? Of course not. Video games were more important. That all changed when my mother and I went to parent teacher conferences when I was in sixth grade. This was a significant turning point in my life. The teacher told my mother, “Your son is reading on a fourth grade level”. The look my mother gave me was a look I’d never seen before and will never forget.
I’m not going to discuss the details of what happened that night, but I definitely got my act together and started taking reading more seriously. I saw the impact it was having on me in high school, and I made a vow. I told myself that when I entered college I would not be embarrassed a second time. My mother played a crucial role in helping me turn things around. She made me read books that mattered. Encyclopedias, much like the ones pictured below, were always my first choice.
The encyclopedias were the gateway to my educational and psychological development. Going through them not only improved my reading, they changed how I thought and viewed life. One of my mentors told me, “Jeff, reading expands the brain. When you introduce your brain to new things, nothing in the world seems unusual.”
My mother also set strict guidelines. I couldn’t pick up the control for a Nintendo 64 or a PlayStation until I read about three sections of any book of my choice, and I thank my mother every day for kicking my butt and making me read. Why? Well, look how far it’s taken me.
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. “What does this have to do with Rockaway?!”
See, here’s the thing. Having spent all of my life on the peninsula, I’ve come to realize there aren’t any bookstores! To be honest, it’s upsetting. We only have three libraries in our area, and they’ve struggled to survive or upgrade because they’ve been underfunded for years. Opening a privately-owned book store or two would do wonders for the community.
Furthermore, all of the surrounding schools and housing developments in the area would benefit from a book store. I say that with complete confidence. Many of you have posted comments on the Rockaway Primetime Facebook page stating Barnes and Noble would be a great choice. I disagree. In my view, companies like B&N are only interested in coming to an area if it will have a profoundly positive impact on their profit margins.
No. We don’t need anyone setting up shop for the sole purpose of making a buck off the good people of Rockaway. I prefer, no, I want someone from the community to open a book store. I want someone whose key objective is to service the community. Most importantly, I want someone who understands the community, its history and its people.
The libraries need help, and far too many schools in the area have outdated books. Our kids deserve better. Give them an opportunity to expand their minds. Provide them with a venue to escape the drama and negative elements they’re confronted with on a daily basis. The best way to do this…is to introduce them to the power and wonder of reading.