Books a way of life for Williams family

Childhood: Montel Williams says his father insisted he read daily, a tradition the television talk-show host plans to continue with his children

Reading Lives

April 04, 1999|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

When television talk-show host Montel Williams was growing up in the Baltimore area, his father insisted that he and his three elder siblings read daily from the encyclopedia, borrow books from the library and do a book report each week.

"My parents had a very serious work ethic with regard to education," says Williams, now 42, who is based in Los Angeles and is widely known as a talk-show host and actor.

"I certainly made it clear to them that they had to read," says Herman Williams Jr., who is known locally not as Montel Williams' father but as chief of the Baltimore City Fire Department.

"Parents have to take the lead. It's the parents' responsibility to make books available and set the example.

"I was going to college and they would see me studying," the fire chief recalls. "Everybody was reading in the house. My wife and I read to them, and our kids had books in their hands from early on."

Montel Williams describes himself as an avid childhood reader who liked to tell and write stories. Absorbed in a Hardy Boys book, he recalled, he would sit under a tree or on his bedroom floor leaning against the wall.

"For my generation, the Hardy Boys was a childhood treat," he said. "Those books were exciting. The boys were solving crimes and getting into trouble with a cause."

But the book he remembers best is "Charlotte's Web" by E. B. White, he said.

"I remember `Charlotte's Web' like I read it yesterday," Williams said in a telephone interview from the West Coast. "The book was so much fun, and if you look at the faces of children who are reading it today, they all love it."

The book tells of an amazing friendship, and for many children is the first book they read that deals with the continuum of life and helps them to understand nature, he said.

"Reading gives you a sense that there's something more to the world than just you," he said. "You can learn about the world around you and become more open to the differences around you, just by reading. And reading is an opportunity to travel the world and see things you would never see."

In the encyclopedia and National Geographic magazines, Williams read about countries that he would eventually visit when he joined the Marines. He later went to the Naval Academy and became a naval officer.

"Montel was then, and is now, very inquisitive," said his father. "Learning in our house was a challenge. It was just something that we did. It was fun. And I think reading paid off for all of our children. They all went to college. If you can't read, you can't do anything."

For the Williamses, reading is a family tradition.

Herman Williams grew up in a household where reading was stressed. He enjoyed Flash Gordon comic books and was "fascinated" by National Geographic.

As a parent, he wanted his children to be readers. Television viewing was limited to "after dinner and after homework," he said. "You went to school, came home and did your homework. It was a way of growing up."

Montel Williams says he follows his father's lead, emphasizing daily reading as he and his wife, Grace, raise their children, Montel II, 6, and Wynter Grace, 4.

"If you want to prepare a child to be successful, show him how to find a book and how to read it," Williams said.

He said he and his wife like to read to their children, often making up voices for characters. The youngsters enjoy children's Bible stories and "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein, he said.

"Reading is knowledge," Williams said. "It is the great equalizer in a society that doesn't afford us opportunities. You can gain as much knowledge as you could ever want. No one can stop you from turning the page. And a book doesn't discriminate. It allows you to feel what you want to feel."

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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