When I was a little boy, my grandmother gifted me a tall, thin book with a funny name and a bright orange cover.
I was always a curious little fellow and found the book, Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, fascinating.
I remember reading through it multiple times, at first with the assistance of my grandparents, and later on my own. I loved flipping open its pages and disappearing into an imaginary world that was vivid and limitless.
Dr. Seuss and his strange orange book ignited my passion for the written word. Since then, I've read everything that's been put in front of me. I spent days getting to know The Boxcar Children, dug around in The Secret Garden, and explored the nooks and crannies of Hogwarts Castle with Harry Potter and company.
Some 20 years after my experience with Dr. Seuss, I'm still devouring books and disappearing into different worlds.
Of course, with new technology, that looks a little different than it did in the 1990s. I now have a Kindle, which offers instant access to millions of books. From my laptop or iPhone, I can — and often do — dive deep into Wikipedia and find myself on journeys through topics from all over the world. It's a great time to be a curious reader.
I'm blessed to be from a family of readers.
My parents love books and filled our home with all kinds, from the Foxfire series of books on Southern Appalachian culture to the Chicken Soup for the Soul motivational series. Stacks of murder mysteries and science fiction mass market paperbacks overflowed from bookshelves into stacks on the floor.
My grandparents were early subscribers to Reader's Digest and purchased copies of the magazine's condensed writings.
These heavy volumes, along with histories of the Civil War and other tomes about Southern culture, packed the built-in bookshelves near their bedroom.
I was also a beneficiary of a public school education with a strong focus on the importance of reading.
Each school I attended had a massive library, which was better than a trip to the candy store for me.
I still remember when the Accelerated Reading, or AR, program was introduced in our school district. I was proud to rack up those AR points, which you could redeem for prizes and even extra points on tests.
My passion for reading impacted my life in tremendous ways. It strengthened my vocabulary and amplified my curiosity.
As I read, I was able to walk in the footsteps of others, feel their joys and their sorrows, and learn from their mistakes. I was inspired to write my own stories and to help others tell their stories, which is now what I do for a living.
I became a successful conversationalist, able to make connections with others and carry on talks that broke past the surface.
For the past four years, I've taught an orientation class to freshmen students at my alma mater.
The class is designed to teach study skills and to be a refresher on reading comprehension and time management strategies.
My main goal in the 10-week term is to leave students with a list of practical items they can use to succeed not only in college but in their careers.
The No. 1 item on the list is the importance of reading. I encourage the students to read not only for information and to pass classes, but also for pleasure.
I tell them the scientifically-proven benefits of reading, including mental stimulation, stress reduction, knowledge acquisition, vocabulary expansion, memory improvement, stronger analytical skills, improved focus and concentration, and better writing ability.
I also tell them how reading took a little boy from the woods of Lincoln County, opened his eyes to the world, and totally transformed his life.
Dr. Seuss, I owe you one.
Joshua Wilson is a public relations and marketing professional in Hattiesburg. These days, he can be found reading true crime stories or some random Wikipedia article (for example, “List of missing landmarks in Spain”). Send him book recommendations and/or other notes at firstname.lastname@example.org