*nostalgia mood music*
You guys remember Reading Rainbow, right?
Like any respectable ’90s kid, I have a huge soft spot for that show. I idolized LeVar Burton, or–excuse me–“the Reading Rainbow man,” as he was known in our household. So when Rachel @Hamlette’s Soliloquy and Quiggy @The Midnite Drive-In announced the Beyond Star Trek Blogathon, I knew right away I had to be a part of it.
How does this blogathon work? Simple: Write about an actor who had a recurring role on Star Trek, but write about them in a different role in another TV show or movie. LeVar Burton played Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation during roughly the same years he hosted Reading Rainbow. Thus, he’s a perfect candidate.
Now, I had parents who showed me Star Trek at a very young age–I couldn’t have been more than four or five when we started watching. We went through both the Kirk years and the Picard ones. I was fascinated by Spock, thoroughly unimpressed by Kirk (SORRY), had a distant, awe-filled relationship with Picard, and considered Data and Scotty to be Fairly Good Eggs™, deserving of Encouragement™.
And then . . . there was Geordi.
The “Reading Rainbow man.”
Sure, my parents started me on Star Trek early, but they’d started me on Reading Rainbow even earlier. I was so familiar with LeVar Burton’s face and voice and manner, Geordi never seemed like an actual character to me–he was just “the Reading Rainbow man,” dressed in a funny uniform. Oh, and with a visor. The visor never made sense to me, though, because I knew there was nothing wrong with the Reading Rainbow man’s eyes. I saw him read books every week! I SAW him! You can’t fool me, Star Trek!
(I was a skeptical child, I’m afraid.)
I wish I had more specific memories of watching Reading Rainbow as a small child–of curling up in front of the TV and enjoying the spectacle. But . . . I don’t. Guess I was too young. I mostly remember how I felt about the show. Happy and warm. It was a quiet place, and it was full of books. Heaven.
I remember LeVar Burton’s voice more than anything else. I remember how he’d always start giving book recommendations, then his tone would take on this teasing echo and he’d say,
“But, you don’t have to take MY word for it.”
And they’d cut to actual kids telling you all about their favorite books.
Anybody else remember that? “You don’t have to take my word for it.” It was cute, but looking back, I understand there was a deeper meaning behind it. He was trying to model curiosity; curiosity, plus a healthy dose of skepticism. To teach us not to take anything for granted. Just because somebody says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. You’ve got to check for yourself. Check everything. Even the small stuff.
There’s one episode of Reading Rainbow I recall better than any other. My mom recorded it on VHS, you see, so I’ve watched it maybe twenty times over the years, even after the show itself went off the air. This episode was special, because it was all about the beach. LeVar Burton visited the Florida Keys, walked up and down the beach, fished for tiny critters in the water, and talked about books.
A pure delight.
For the final scene, the camera cut to LeVar basking in the white sand, beaming happily, as late afternoon sun slid beneath the waves. He gave his signature sign-off, “I’ll see you next time,” and turned back to the sunset. Orange light on silver water. It was beautiful.
And that’s how I’ll always remember the Reading Rainbow man . . . sitting on a beach, gazing off at the horizon.
In my mind, he’s still sitting there.
How about you?
Any other Reading Rainbow fans out there?