To celebrate our tenth anniversary, thousands of you told us, in 750 words or less, about your most memorable reading experience of the last ten years? After paring the list down to our favorite twenty-five essays, we asked you to pick who would receive the Grand Prize, worth $1,000 in books. A big thank you to everyone who voted. And now, the envelope please...

Grand Prize Winner

Congratulations, Paige!

Congratulations to Paige Sechler, whose essay
"Never Shall I Forget" won the Grand Prize worth...
Never Shall I Forget
by Paige Sechler

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed... Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."
— Elie Wiesel, Night p. 32

Every year, I read those words aloud to a classroom of 16-year-olds. I have done this for the last four years. Every year, it is the most memorable reading experience I have...
KAPOW! read the entire essay


In addition to one Grand Prize, ten runners-up received $100 in books each. Congratulations all around!
The Dissidents
by William Orem
I realized my mistake at hello. She was there, at the orientation lecture for new candidates, because she had been accepted into the doctoral program in English. I had been accepted into the MFA program, a wholly different prospect.... (read more)
Good Night, Good Knight
by Emily Lloyd
Before we got hitched, my partner and I asked ourselves what one thing each could do that would cause the other to leave forever. Her answer? "Cheat." Mine? "Not give me enough time to read."... (read more)
Goodnight, My Sons; Goodnight, Moon
by Patricia M. Dawson
In the late 1980s, my husband and I adopted a medically-fragile baby. He was born severely affected by drugs, yet he grew stronger each and every day. We had the support of his foster parents, his pediatrician, our family and friends.... (read more)
My Italian Friend
Diana Spas
Stepping through the door, I gasped as the shock of sun, wind and vertigo flattened me against the cold stone wall. It seemed possible that a gust would fling me over the puny rail and I would luge down the arc of roof, fingers scrabbling at its glazed terra cotta sheath.... (read more)
My Most Memorable Read...EVER
by Loyd C. Dillon
There he was. In person. The imaginative, energetic octogenarian Ray Bradbury was speaking — without notes — to a sellout crowd at the 1997 Novello Festival of Reading. This plump, owlish, bespectacled man gave me my most memorable reading experience, not only of the last ten years, but of my entire life. Let me explain.... (read more)
Not Just a Little Book
by Susie Miller
In 1996, I taught struggling readers in a Berkeley elementary school. That was the year I met Shelton. Shelton couldn't read and he knew it. He didn't know the difference between a word, a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter... (read more)
The Poetry of Theodore Roethke
by Brian Anthony McNutt
It wasn't one experience, but a thousand that I remember, when poems, bright like fireflies buzzing around my head, comforted and inspired me, or vexed me until I threw them across the room like a madman.... (read more)
The Power of Words
by Karen Fisher-Alaniz
I always knew that my father had been in a war. But as a child it was of little importance to me. I had bicycles to ride, friends to play with and trees to climb. Stationed at Pearl Harbor after its bombing, his days were spent working in an office. On liberty he went to movies or exploring with friends. These were the stories he told.... (read more)
Speaking to Me and for Me
by Risa Mish
Sometimes, a book is great because of what it does to us — taking us to another place, teaching us something we did not know. Sometimes, a book is great because of what it does for us — providing us with a respite from a crazy world or giving us the language to explain what is otherwise inexplicable.... (read more)
There Is Always Biloxi
by Sal Towse
I was twenty-three when my brother killed himself. Skip was the oldest. I was number four of six. He always seemed so mature, so sure of himself. He was cool in a Bobby Darin sort of way, a bit of a rebel, lazy at school, bright. He was my hero.... (read more)

Our Decade of Reading Essay Contest was a benefit for Reading is Fundamental. Click here for more information about RIF.


The following sample essays were graciously provided by professional writers.

Marc Acito
I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I mean, after nearly ten years of pursuing an operatic career, I had finally scratched my way to the middle... (read more)

Kurt Andersen
My most memorable reading experience of the last ten years? I assume we are talking about published writing... (read more)

Win Blevins
  I wear a tee shirt emblazoned: "Don't Bother Me, I'm reading." It's a heartfelt sentiment. Once, however, being interrupted worked out beautifully... (read more)

Rebecca Brown
Two nights ago I finished reading Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. I was sitting up in bed next to my peacefully sleeping spouse... (read more)

Martin Clark
There are two things I know for sure: The best song ever recorded is Robert Earl Keen's "The Road Goes on Forever"... (read more)

More Featured Essays
Justin Cronin
Michael Cunningham
Regan Daley
Kenneth C. Davis
Samantha Ettus
Jody Gehrman
Bruce Haring
Eric Jager
Garrison Keillor
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Ben Mezrich
Sara Nelson
Luanne Rice
Esmeralda Santiago
Judy Reene Singer


Chris Bolton
I experienced that sensation as I perused the first few pages of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, a Christmas gift from my father, back in 1995... (read more)
Steven Fidel
My family likes to play a sometimes-entertaining game called Brushes with Greatness. We all have our favorites... (read more)
Georgie Lewis
Possessed as I am with a restless nature, I've aspired to travel widely as frequently as time and finances will afford... (read more)

More Staff Essays
Jill Owens
Joe Rogers
Kevin Sampsell
Dave Weich