Book It

Julius Thomas, Tight End / Jacksonville Jaguars - The Players' Tribune

“All the time.”

That’s what I tell people when they ask when I read.

I read before I go to bed. I read early in the mornings. I read on planes. I even read on the way to games, to stay relaxed.

That last one surprises people. But it’s true. To me, reading a book just takes away from the distractions in life in a way that few other things do. I can sit there and watch TV, and still be thinking about other things — still be distracted. But when I’m reading? I’m just focused on the words on the page. It’s kind of an outlet for me, in that way. I think that reading is one of the few times where I get to exist in a world where it feels like the day is going by slowly — where I can get away from some of the pressures and expectations of being a professional athlete. That means a lot to me.

I have a box — a big, huge box, of all my books. It’s the only thing I collect. I mean, I throw everything else away but I don’t ever throw away a book. All the way from when I was old enough to start saying, “I should start saving these,” I’ve been keeping them. I’m not perfect. I’m sure I’ve misplaced a couple. But my goal is to one day have a library of all the books I’ve ever read. I want to able to show everybody the involvement that books have had in my life. How cool would it be to be able to stand in a library full of all the books you’ve ever read?


These are some selections from the collection:

1. A Fly Went By by Mike McClintock.

The first book I can remember reading is A Fly Went By. My mom was a big proponent of making her kids read, and, before we could read, of reading to us. She read A Fly Went By to me, man, I don’t know, countless times. And it’s funny: I don’t even remember what the book’s even about now, because I was so young when we read it. But I’ll never forget that phrase, “a fly went by.” And I’ll always have those memories of the activity of reading it, and having that time with my mom. That first exposure made reading books something that I would continue to do for the rest of my life, and I’m really thankful to her for that.


2. Animorphs by K.A. Applegate.

The next books that really grabbed me were the Animorphs series. They were big science-fiction books back in the day. I’m pretty sure I read all of them. I just really liked the idea that they had an ability to become any animal they chose. I always thought that was cool. As a kid, that’s probably one of the top things I would have wished to be able to do — to just be able to morph into a bird, or a tiger, or a lion, or whatever. Have that superpower. I mean, what kid doesn’t think about having a certain superpower? That was the first book where I was like, “Mom, there’s a new Animorphs book out. We gotta get it.” It was a big deal.

3. Westerns / Ralph Compton.

In high school, I went through a phase of reading Westerns. I think what drew me to Westerns was that they were my first time reading anything where, all of a sudden, the story was taking place in an entirely different setting. The books I’d read up to that point told stories that were centered more around everyday life as we see it. So it was really interesting to me, reading Westerns, to get to see how this whole other set of people, in this whole new time and place, talked and acted and lived. Westerns show you just how different life used to be in our own country, such a relatively short time ago. The same cities that we live in and drive through were full of people with different perspectives, and a foreign way of life. I was always interested in the different troubles they had, the different hobbies and passions. It was such an shift in perspective and I immediately got really engrossed in it.

I was particularly drawn to Ralph Compton’s writing style, and liked his Westerns more than some of the others. He would create this really cool imagery in his books that just always stuck with me. So I started pursuing more books by him. There aren’t too many big Western authors anymore, which is frustrating. But the way that Westerns taught me to pay attention to individual writing styles has carried over to my habits as a reader in every genre.

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4. The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks.

Another author that I started paying attention to is Brent Weeks. He wrote The Night Angel Trilogy, which I really enjoyed. It’s sci-fi, but it has an interesting story that I think really transcends genre. The main character (an assassin) has been through a lot, and following along with his journey kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed his style so much that I read through his next series of books, The Light Bringer, as well. The way he brings words to life, and is able to paint a picture with them is something that you just can’t get from a movie or TV show. I always appreciate when a writer is able to bring a little something extra to the page beyond basic plot and descriptions.

5. Thrillers.

And then there’s thrillers — that’s what I’ve kind of been into lately. I just love the excitement. I was always a big fan of thrillers as movies. So to see that they have an entire genre of books that embodies those movies — Bourne Identity-type of stuff, secret organizations and all of that — has been awesome, and has put a bunch of new things on my reading list. I just got done reading State of Fear by Michael Crichton. I’ve got some Dan Brown on deck. It’s definitely one of the genres that I’m most currently interested in.


6. Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu.

I was actually reading Larry Sanders’ article about why he stepped away basketball, and what it’s done for him, and he mentioned that he’s been reading Tao Te Ching. And it’s interesting because I’ve also been reading Tao Te Ching — and he’s right, it’s a really good book. I think it has a very unique point of view, and some fascinating ideas on ways to remove many of the anxieties and stresses of life. I wouldn’t call it a “page-turner,” but it has become my go-to book to read to kind of remind myself of all of the different lifestyles that are out there — all of the different perspectives from my own. It’s really helped me to focus on things in a different way, and appreciate and understand what’s important and what isn’t. I love that books can have that power.

Of course, I’m always looking for more good reads. Got a book recommendation for me? Shoot me a tweet @Julius_Thomas.


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