With over 125,000 followers, 34-year-old Oliver James is a star in the BookTok community. And it all started with a very simple goal: Learn to read.
For most kids, school is a place where they can develop a relationship with learning in a safe environment. For James, school was the opposite. Growing up with learning and behavior disabilities subjected him to abusive teaching practices in special education, which, of course, did nothing to help.
“The special education system at the time was more focused on behavioral than educating,” he told Good Morning America. “So they spent a lotta time restraining us, a lotta time disciplining us, a lotta times putting us in positions to kinda shape us to just not act out in class.”
Reading struggles carried over into James’ adulthood, and as is the case for many adults who are functionally illiterate, it significantly reduced his employment opportunities and affected his self-esteem. As he would tell you, even a trip to the grocery store would be a source of anxiety.
@oliverspeaks1 Even something as simple as grocery shopping is a challenge for me. #readingbooks #books #booktok #groceryshopping ♬ original sound – Oliver James
However, when he and his girlfriend decided to expand their family of three, James became determined to change things.
Starting his journey with a book of inspirational quotes gifted by his girlfriend, James began reading bits out loud and posting to TikTok. Being a personal trainer by trade and an aspiring motivational speaker, he would often combine his interests, like practicing planks while reading thought-provoking excerpts.
@oliverspeaks1 Motivational speaker to be. Learning to read. #motivationalspeaker #handstand ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic
With his heartfelt honesty and exuberant personality, it’s no surprise that he has grown a loyal following. Fans will often send James more books to read in hopes for one of his popular book reviews. In fact, James has such an overwhelming to-read list that he’s had to build his first bookshelf.
But perhaps the biggest impact has been the way reading has shaped James’ relationship with his son. In an interview with NPR, he shared that they’ve not only bonded over books like “Percy Jackson” and “The Witches,” but reading has proven to be a great resource for mental health, which has helped James become a better parent.
@oliverspeaks1 Replying to @thenerdysswer thank you for sending me the book the witches my son picked it to read and that was very special to our family. ##booktok##readmorebooks ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey
“I didn’t know how much my journey was going to affect him, but I see now it’s not even about the reading. The books I’m reading have taught me about my mental issues, which I can now not put on to him. I can actually work on them, so he doesn’t end up with the mental issues I have, because I can take them out of my household because I’m working on them. Without these books, I might have shown him these mental problems,” he told NPR.
James’ new goal is to read 100 new titles by 2024—ambitious for any bookworm in this day and age. But this man has already shown himself and the world just what can be done with simple daily practice and a dash of hope.
If you’d like to support James on his reading journey, you can purchase something from his Amazon Wishlist here.