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  September 8, 2001



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Books grip this grappler


By BRET HART -- SLAM! Wrestling

 I bet the people I went to school with would be surprised to know I've turned out to be quite a bookworm.

 My love affair with books was born out of the loneliness of life on the road.

 I think it was Mark Twain who said if you can see yourself in a book, then you're never alone.

 And so it was 1,000 stories that consoled me through the incalculable emptiness of crowded flights and cold nights.

 I wasn't much for reading when I was a kid. I never got into sugar-coated stories because they didn't seem real to me.

 I was interested in war stories but, in children's books, no one dies. I was fascinated by colourful characters from the Old West but the watered-down versions didn't hold my attention.

 Luckily, a certain high school English teacher who I didn't happen to be fond of -- and it seemed maybe the reverse was also true -- gave us a big assignment to write a book report on George Orwell's 1984.

 I begrudgingly began reading it and that is what opened my mind's eye to the idea words could be finely woven like tapestries by the imagination.

 My prior experience with books had been so banal that I wondered if it was possible maybe 1984 was the only one I'd ever like.

 There was only one way to find out.

 I immediately read Orwell's Animal Farm. The realization dawned on me there was a whole dimension to the world that I'd only just begun to uncover.

 An intimate portal into the greatest minds of the past. To see through 500-year-old eyes. Or to once again discover with a child's heart.

 The extraordinary explorations that come with getting inside myriad different souls -- of all colours and intellects and experiences and times. The adventure of reading is a never-ending story.

 I like movies but I love books.

 For me, most movies don't stimulate the imagination in as powerful or as personal a way as the images the mind conjures with the incarnation of a colourful phrase.

 Usually, movies don't do justice to the books they were born from.

 In this generation, our kids having been weaned on eye-dazzling video games and special effects in an age of on-demand movies at home, bombarded and overloaded with so much spoon-fed instant gratification, I wonder if maybe their imaginations have become a little lazy.

 Why 'waste time' reading the book if you can watch the movie?

 Why, indeed.

 My youngest son asked me that very question a while back.

 My answer was to read to him in the evenings. He'd fall asleep with images of Crazy Horse galloping through his head and the next day he'd ask me to read more. The Crazy Horse he sees in the darkness behind his eyes is not the same as the character you or I would envision.

 In that, each of us interprets the same words according to our varying experiences, books are the original virtual reality.

 I quickly found the more I read, the more creative and interpretive my imagination became. I got hooked on books.

 So when the Canadian publishers council asked me if I'd like to participate in a campaign to awaken an interest in reading, I was eager to be involved.

 So were world-renowned fiddler Natalie MacMaster and Haydain Neale, lead singer of the R&B group Jacksoul.

 Each in our own way we endeavoured to spread the word that reading is fun; that it's an illicit pleasure, something you can get "caught" doing.

 A picture was snapped of me reading next to a stack of my own books and they're going to display it as a poster in high schools and book stores across Canada.

 If a rough, tough wrestler like me thinks reading is cool, then surely it can't be the domain of nerds with pocket protectors.

 Reading has made my life so much fuller.

 The adventures I've lived through the turn of the page have given me a deeper, broader perspective with which to navigate through real-life trials and triumphs.

 I read better than I write but I have commenced to jot down my life story, for anyone who might be interested.

 If, in the end, it turns out I've done a good-enough job that some of you are captivated by my misadventures, I'm enchanted by the notion a volume on my life's foil and folly may broaden your everyday perceptions as so many a tall tale has done for me.

 Then I will have given back to books some of what I have taken.

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