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More About Me - Books


This isn’t *quite* number nine. Number nine properly is "your all-time favourite books/music/movies/etc., stuff that wasn’t flavour of the month or year but is a lifetime fave." I thought about that for a while, and I realized that rather than coming up with a list of favorite books, I was coming up with a list of important books. Books that maybe I don’t even really care for much any more, but when I look back I think "that was a milestone; that was a turning point; things were different after I closed the covers than they were when I opened them."

Hope you don’t mind my diverging a bit Mel – I figure you’ll be entertained either way.

When I think back, waaaay back, I remember books. There were always books in our house growing up. All through my years in my parents’ home I remember the evenings: the entire family gathered around the television, tuned in to whatever, all of us with our noses in a book. Sometimes we were reading and watching, sometimes we were just reading. My mother swears that my tombstone should read "just let me finish my chapter…" Somehow my brother didn’t inherit the reading bug that the rest of us had, but that may come from the family differences in the eleven years prior to my birth. Regardless – there were always books. My first books were the usual kid’s books. I had a Fischer Price read-along record player, and I’m convinced that I learned to read from it. Mom and Dad read to me, but not as much as I wanted. I was insatiable. One of my earliest remaining childhood memories was when the town library moved out of the old converted Victorian house into the new purpose built library building. In order to reduce the burden of moving the stacks, they allowed patrons to check out as many books as they wanted to at one time during the move. Normally there was a limit. That was a vision of heaven to three year old me. Shortly after that, my mother started reading "Little House in the Big Woods" to me. That book will always be THE landmark book in my life. It was a story that went on and on and on. We couldn’t finish it in one night. I wanted more. More, more, MORE I tell you! But mom only had so much time to sit and read to me. One of the earliest thought processes I remember was reasoning out that if mom wasn’t reading me enough of the story, than obviously I just needed to read it myself. I don’t know how well I did, but I do know that I knocked it out and was working on the next one when I started kindergarten. That was a shock to me – they were teaching kids the alphabet. I was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve been a trial to the school’s reading teachers my whole life…

After that came the usual glut of Nancy Drew, Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry – all the usual titles, I just tended to hit them a bit early. In that phase we moved to Connecticut, and the town library had a children’s summer reading program. There was always some kind of a carrot – a poster or some such, and I remember the librarians’ reaction when they realized that I wasn’t tearing through books for the prize – I was like that all of the time. In my town, children weren’t really allowed on the adult side of the library without their parent attached, or at least that’s how I remember it. I can understand that, especially given the way an awful lot of children behave in public now. But for me, it was a frustration. I was ten years old, I’d read everything in the children’s section worth reading, and there was an ocean of books just the other side of the card catalog. A mother’s love – mom checked out the books that I wanted from that side for me, because on a child’s card I wasn’t allowed. So she checked them out and handed them to me.

Twelve years old and seventh grade marked two more turning point books. The first was “Shōgun” by James Clavell. The miniseries had been on television, and my mother got the book from the library. Having watched the miniseries, when she was done with the book I grabbed it (because there was still a week left before it needed to be returned.) In hindsight, I’m a touch appalled. I vaguely remember skimming past the sex scenes because I wanted to get back to the plot. The reason I categorize it as a significant book was because of the effect it had on my teachers. I always toted around whatever I was currently reading, so that I could grab those five or ten minute interludes whenever they were available. Mr. McLaughlin (my social studies teacher) looked at it, looked at me, and asked "are you reading that?" I replied that I was. He asked if I understood it, and I replied rather indignantly that of course I was, or I wouldn’t be reading it. At that point my teachers began recommending books to me, and the woman who would be my eighth grade home room teacher gave me the high school reading list as suggested summer reading. These days she could probably get in trouble for suggesting that a twelve year old read "Papillion."

The other important seventh grade book was "God Emperor of Dune." Please don’t think this book is on my all time favorites list. It’s not. It’s notable because as the first new Dune book in many years, my father snapped it up at the library. Well, anything my father was that interested in reading obviously interested me. So again, when he was finished I grabbed it.

This was my first introduction to the idea that there are some series that you can’t really start in the middle.

It was also my first introduction to grown up science fiction. Once my father realized that I had a taste for it, he pointed me towards Heinlein. "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," "The Star Beast," "Glory Road," I tore through all the juveniles our library had. When I ran out of Heinlein, I just kept going into the rest of the section. From sci-fi, I wandered into fantasy. I think "The Crystal Cave" may have been the first, or possibly "Deryni Rising." I don’t remember. But that, as they say, was that. I was hooked, and there was no going back.

It’s an odd assortment of memorable books. I remember growing up that I never had the newest toy, or the latest fashion. But there was always room in the budget for books. I hope to do as well with Charlotte.

I don’t know that I’m willing to designate a "favorite" book or books. There have been books that I read and have on the shelves that are an utter waste of time. There are books that read once or maybe twice that were breath-taking, but I wouldn’t call them a favorite. There are books that I must have read because I own them and I remember the fact of having read them, but made no permanent impression on me. I recall their plot not at all. And there are books that I go back to again and again because they’re old friends, or just a damn good read. There are some authors who have books in all of those categories. If pushed though, I think the empirical evidence suggests that the Belgariad and Mallorean series by David and Leigh Eddings may be some of my favorites of all time. There are other authors and books that I love as well, but when I’m bored, or I’m blue, or I just want to lose myself in the story, I keep going back to those and read the whole twelve book cycle from front to back. The plot isn’t terribly difficult – you see it coming a mile away. But the characters are old friends, and the story is good, and even with the dozens of times I’ve read them I come to the end wanting more. What more can you ask for on a rainy day than that?

I think when I finish reading "The Art of Woodworking: Kitchen Cabinets" I may go dig out "Pawn of Prophecy." I haven’t visited with Garion for a while.




( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC)
I read Little House on the Prairie when I was 6, but then, I'm the oldest. My youngest sister (who actually likes reading less than I do) was reading at about 4 because my other sister and I basically forced her to, playing 'school' all the time. (I find it's true that the youngest one always learns things at the earliest age, not because they're any smarter but because the older kids teach them and the parents are more prepared because they've done it all before...twice in the case of the sister I'm talking about.)

My very favourite early childhood books was the And So To Bed Tales. There were two volumes, each page beautifully, fully coloured and illustrated. Pancake Peter, the little princess who got blown away on the wind and had to see her people starving while she whined about getting new parasols, the underground cobblers, Fancy the blue (flying) pig, the one about the dragon under the castle...god those were great stories. You can find the one volume if you comb through used and rare books but I've never been able to find the second one...And So To Bed Tales is the first one and it's orange, and the second one has a tie-in title and is blue and I've never been able to find any evidence that it exists...but it does!

I read 'Dune' and didn't like it at all so I never read any others. I haven't read any of the others you mentioned except one or two Nancy Drews. They were okay but tbh I don't enjoy the mystery genre in general so I guess I was predisposed not to be as thrilled with them as my sister. (She had about 60 of them.)
May. 28th, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
I read all the Nancy Drew I could get my hands on. Mom was (and is) a big mystery/suspense reader, and a lot of my early books were her old ones. Of course that that point, I was also reading anything that was letters on a page.

I read all the Dune books until Herbert died. Not because I was particularly enjoying them (I wasn't,) but because I'm an obsessive completionist and I wanted to know how it all ended. Then he died, and I gave up. I'm weird that way - I'll get sucked into reading an entire series that I *don't like* because I have this bizarre need to finish it. Very strange.
May. 28th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah I do that too...or used to. I stopped doing it a few years ago, around the time MS started to wear me out. I just chopped everything I couldn't really be bothered with in the past years, I find...books, hobbies, chores...even people. Anything that makes me more tired than I already am got the ax.

But I never completed anything that made me really ANGRY. For example, George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series or whatever you call it...that book ENRAGED me. I threw it across the room. (I think I might even have gone across the room to pick it up just so I could throw it a second time) and dented the spine viciously...and I did look at the second book but it was even more revolting so I just quit. He's a good writer, but his stories disgust me, even if I would have liked to have known what happened to some of his characters in the end...I definitely will not read any more of that filth to find out.

Ohhh, I hates it. Everyone else seems to love it but I HATES it.

Ok, done now.
May. 28th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
I haven't finished the Game of Thrones. I really want to know what happens to some of the characters, but those books disturb me so badly I just can't get anywhere with them. That doesn't happen often, but they're REALLY disturbing. AND he hits you with it right from the beginning.

I have resisted the urge to read the new Stephen Donaldson series solely on the basis of "finishing" the previous series. I despised the main character to the point that I was rooting for his demise. I think I finished the series just to see him get his. I've got better ways to waste my time these days.
May. 28th, 2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
PS: My most memorable single fairytale has to be One-Eye, Two-Eye, Three-Eye...from a 1001 Bedtime Stories book (something like that) that had that many stories, all written in columns from very short to medium, that any parent could read in one bedtime sitting.

Somehow that story give me the creeps to remember, but the memory is so vague that I can't remember WHY.
May. 28th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. There is a book that I remember checking out from the library and reading that still gives me the willies to remember, but I have no idea what it was, what it was about, or why I feel that way. All I remember is that it was multiple stories, and the cover was kind of dark blueish.
May. 28th, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
Hee! We read all the same books as kids ( Nancy Drew, Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, ALL the "Little House" books...). But I know what you mean about the "Shogun" novel. My first book that made the teacher's eyebrows shoot up was "Watership Down".

By the way, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if your love for "Little House in the Big Woods" was a catalyst that inspired you to want to "make it all from scratch yourself" (which you are very good at!). ^_^
May. 28th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
Yup. Always interesting to see that look on a teacher's face. In fifth grade I made one panic. I actually opted *out* of the gifted and talented program - the teacher was WAY too weird for me, and they put me back into standard reading classes. Even at the time I felt bad for the teacher - I was a potential class disruption on the hoof. We made a deal: I spent the first five minutes or so of class doing the required reading and filling out the lesson, and then for the rest of the period if I was quiet, she wouldn't call on me and I could sit and read whatever I wanted. It worked out well for both of us.

Meeting the Ingalls that early might have had that effect. Also, being from a good mid-western family (the farm was still in the family at that point) with a father who can fix/build *anything,* I had that example right in front of me. I don't think I truly realized that you can just hire someone to fix things until about seven years ago.
May. 28th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)
It must just be part of who you are as well...there must be some personality aspect. Because I read Little House very young, I have a father who can fix ANYTHING (and was SHOCKED to find out my best friend was going to HIRE someone to paint her house...the inside!...for her) and I have no inclination at all to make everything from scrap. God no, just the thought makes me feel exhausted and burdened. So there must also be a personality element, there. :)
May. 28th, 2009 07:26 pm (UTC)
LOL - my first reaction to the idea of hiring someone to do something around the house is that it must be immoral in some fashion. The other piece is that I'm also very cheap. So while I would LOVE to hire someone to paint (because I'm really sick of it at this point,) I just can't see paying money for something I could do myself.

Apparently I'm channeling both of my parents...
Jun. 1st, 2009 11:27 pm (UTC)
Okay...Isabeau makes three on the Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was a box set and all of the books had soft butter yellow covers. I also still have the fairy tale books at dad's house and they're going to move to my place soon. Not just Cinderella, mind you, but the Hut of the Baba Yaga and the great Eastern European ones as well.

Watership Down, I think I was 9 or so. The one that freaked the teachers out, however was The Once and Future King in 5th grade (dropping the live cat in boiling water...ick!). They also didn't believe that any 6th grader would read Dickens as a "book of choice" for a book report, but A Tale of Two Cities it was.

Deryni Rising was also a turning point when it came to Fantasy. I also faithfully slogged through all of the Thomas Covenant books, wanting to smack him up the side of the head the whole way...kind of how I feel about Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

I will never tire of reading Jane Eyre and still smile when I see the words "Reader, I married him." I know, I'm a hopeless romantic. I also love Mercedes Lackey, because her books while not wildly satisfying literature always have great characters, and I can fly through them in a day.

I will admit that my shameful weakness is trashy romance novels. I like a good bodice ripper every once in a while. My brother can be grateful, because I got his wife hooked on an author that makes her want to haul him off to bed every once in a while (I know...over-sharing). They have to have good characters, and can't be overly formulaic (though they all are to a point).

My junior year of high school, we took the PSAT's which would break down, section by section, how you did on the test. I got every analogy correct. One of my classmates saw that...the following was the conversation this started:

Kim A--"Jen! You got all of the analogies right. How did you do that?!"
Me-"I read a lot."
Kim-"So do I!"
Mrs Conrad-"Um, Jen, what was the last thing you read?"
Me-"Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End"
Mrs. Conrad--"Kim, what was the last thing you read?"
Sheepish Kim-"A Harlequin Romance"
Mrs. C--"There's your difference."

I don't think she ever went past the Harlequin Romances, which is sad. There are too many good books out there. The nice thing about where I work is spending lunch reading short stories out of the Norton Anthologies. Tolstoy was the last one, just because I'd never read any.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )