The Book That Made Me a Reader
Junot Díaz on Richard Adams' Watership Down
Like some, I became a reader as soon as I learned to read. It was the 70s and I had just immigrated to the U.S. and partially my reading turn was a way of coping with all that madness but it was also something that found me, reading, and in finding me, changed me forever. We all fall for things. I happened to fall for books from the first and fell hard. You have to realize: I had never seen a library before our immigration, never actually seen two books together in one place and the impact my school's little collection had on me was electrifying. I don't know why. It didn't affect my siblings the same way but it sure got to me. Turned on some switch in my imagination. I was an active kid, with an active older sibling and yet I always found myself in that small library, inhaling the books, taking out more than the limit. More than any book, I think it was the Madison Park Library that ignited that fire in my depths. I do, however, recall a few years down the line finishing Richard Adam's Watership Down—a rousing adventure that was also about the impossible courage of the weakest and the lowest—a theme which for a young person never fails to resonate—a book with tremendous intelligence and wisdom and yes, wonder—and at the end of its last sentence, knowing with all the force of my young heart that my happiness would forever be caught up with reading. True then and true now.
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of This is How You Lose Her, as well as Drown, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the John Sargent, Sr., First Novel Prize; the National Book Critics Circle Award; the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Díaz has been awarded the Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader's Digest Award, the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award, the 2003 U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the fiction editor at the Boston Review and on the Board of the Pulitzer Prize. He is a founding member of the Voices Writers Workshop and the Rudge (1948), and Nancy Allen Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He lives in New York City.