An early starter, and still reading Memories: City police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier remembers being a third-grader reading under the covers with a penlight.

Reading Life

August 23, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's top cop remembers getting scolded for reading.

That was when police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier was a third-grader hiding under his bedsheets with a penlight hoping to escape the wrath of parents who wanted him to sleep.

"I always read a lot," Frazier recalled, looking at copies of his two favorite childhood books, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain and "Swiss Family Robinson" by Johann Wyss. "I was in a special reading group. I just read hundreds of books."

The police chief said he liked both novels because they fulfilled his childhood fantasies of "adventure and living off the land." He reveled in the runaways on a makeshift raft going down the Mississippi and how, in "Swiss Family Robinson," a family made a life after being shipwrecked on a desert island.

Frazier said he didn't understand until he was much older the broader social implications that have made "Huckleberry Finn" one of our most acclaimed and important American novels. He first read the books for entertainment.

"They show how people can adapt to challenges," he said.

The adventures Frazier read about didn't lead to his career in law enforcement, but they prompted his favorite hobby -- backpacking -- and he reads all the outdoors magazines he can.

Frazier said he likes stories on how to survive in adverse conditions, such as subfreezing temperatures. The spirit of adventure he found in "Huckleberry Finn" continues in wilderness hikes.

At least now Frazier can read whenever he wants. Growing up in San Diego and San Jose, Calif., he didn't have that luxury. "I had to sneak around to read a lot," he confessed. "I kept books under the covers, and I got away with it 90 percent of the time."

The commissioner stressed the importance of reading and noted that his childhood home was well-stocked with reading material. "Huckleberry Finn" and "Swiss Family Robinson" were part of his parents' literature collection.

Frazier couldn't remember how his teachers taught reading, but he acknowledged he wasn't always at the top of his form. "In the first and second grades, I wasn't a good reader," he said. "Then in the third grade -- I don't know how it happened -- I went from a low level to the highest group, which only had three students."

Frazier said his daughter, Alex, 10, has read "Huckleberry Finn" and participates in a mother-daughter book-discussion group. Alex's favorites include the Nancy Drew mystery series.

"My wife [Deborah] and daughter read aloud to each other every day," Frazier said, adding that he is encouraging group readings at Police Athletic League centers. "Reading out loud is more important than I realized."

Pub Date: 8/23/98

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