From The Vault Of Art Shay: Reading Is Fundamental

By Art Shay in News on Oct 10, 2013 4:00PM

(Legendary Chicago-based photographer Art Shay has taken photos of kings, queens, celebrities and the common man in a 60-year career. This week, Art tells where his lifelong love of the written word began.)

My beautiful first grade teacher, Mrs. Rosenblum, hooked me on reading. All she did was read aloud from a slim six inch red book the story of how the sea became salty.

It had beautiful line drawings showing a small salt grinder going down with the small boat on which it lived. The poor fisherman, his wife and his daughter tried to load the salt grinder on their lifeboat, but it slipped away, sank to the bottom of the sea and has been grinding salt into the sea ever since. It was why the sea was salty.

I knew the ocean was salty because a mindless uncle threw me into the Coney Island surf to sink or swim. Even though I was merely six, I resolved to find the little red book and read the story for myself. Maybe I would find the clue I needed to change the ocean back to ordinary drinkable water.

My father, a compulsive reader who had begun reading in Russian years before, organized my search. Mrs. Rosenblum had disappeared to have a baby so daddy took me to the Harrod Avenue library. We searched and searched but couldn't find the little red book. I walked the five blocks to the library the next day, found it and joined the library. The card was the real ticket to America for many of us impoverished Depression-era kids. I was reading Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in a year, and reading the fairy tales named after colors by the next year. Tom Swift and Bomba the Jungle Boy came next.

In 7th grade PS 77's literary magazine published an acrostic poem I'd written and I was on my way into my ultimate profession. My beautiful late wife Florence had an analagous introduction to reading in Brooklyn and ultimately became a world class rare book dealer at Titles, Inc. in Highland Park. Such celebrity book people as David Mamet, Joseph Heller, Paul Newman and Billy Corgan found their way to her.

I cherish her recounting one day's business: "I had bought two books on archery from a Lake Forest estate," she told me. "On the same day I sold one to a Japanese nobleman from a Samurai family, and the other to an Indian Maharajah. They were both master archers who hunted with trained hawks and their reading habits, honed on the net, led them to my small (but to them exotic) book shop in Highland Park, Illinois!"

Reading! Books! Increasingly being doomed in the media. Latest: Microsoft Billionaire Bill Gates, hugging his Kindle, opined the other day that the printed book would disappear in five years. Sadly, I disagree and hope he's wrong.

Published with permission.

If you can't wait until this time every week to get your Art Shay fix, please check out the photographer's blog, which is updated regularly. Art Shay's book, Chicago's Nelson Algren, is also available at Amazon.