Roundtable: Formative Reading Experiences (Part II)

Jeffrey Ford

My father read to us when we were kids.  He had this set of red bound books — The World’s Greatest Literature — that he bought for 20 dollars in a yard sale.  There were 20 maybe 25 books in the set.  Eye strain edition type in two columns a page.  Fake gold leaf on the spine.  My brother and I were  6 and 7 when he read to us, over the course of many nights, the Ryder Haggard novel, King Solomons Mines.  It blew my mind.  Lost Kingdoms.  The 2000 year old spirit of a woman who appeared as a flame.  Lions chewing legs like quids of tobacco.  From there we moved on — Stevenson, Gautier, Dumas.  I have vague recollections of The Mysteries of Paris by Eugene Sue.  Every night, my father would come in from work, and before he ate dinner, he’d come up and put us to bed and then read a section of a book.  Sometimes I’d just daze out for a while and then come back to the story.  Sometimes it was clear as a vision.  There was a lot of Tennyson, and I think my father was emulating Richard Burton in his reading, which made us laugh.  A few of those old red books are still kicking around in my library.  When I come across one, it takes me way back.

Brett Cox

Childcraft and Albert Peyson Terhune.  Gosh.  My mother had a brief, unprofitable gig selling Childcraft before I was born, and I grew up with those red books that were already outdated by the mid-60s.  And when I was about ten, I read Lad of Sunnybrook Farm, or whatever it was called, and was entranced.  I remember being struck by how aloof those damn collies were.

Other signposts, some less typical than others: the original, unreconstructed Bobbsey Twins; the Hardy Boys (of course); Rick Brandt Science Adventure Stories (very well-written YA adventures); Brains Benton Mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Three Investigators; the Uncle Scrooge comics of Carl Barks; the Dobie Gillis stories of Max Schulman.  A marvelous novel by James Lincoln Collier called The Teddy Bear Habit, about a preadolescent boy growing up in Greenwich Village.  Looking back on it, very little in the way of “classics” except for Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes.  And lots of comic books, and, I admit, lots and lots of television, wholly unsupervised.  But we only got three channels, and only two of them were consistently visible.

Cat Rambo

Peeps of my generation may also remember getting the Scholastic catalog in grade school and the delicious joy of savoring what to buy.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

The Scholastic Books catalog was an early Christmas for me when I was a kid.

Ironically, I also got some reading tips from television. In the pre-Sesame Street/Electric Company days, PBS used to run a daytime program that singled out books for younger readers and whose hosts read passages from them. My school occasionally wheeled a television into my classroom to show us this program, and it introduced my The Saturdays, My Side of the Mountain, and a number of other titles that we might today call YA reading.

Gardner Dozois

I’d forgotten about the Scholastic Book Club, but I used to subscribe to it in grade school, and got some of my earliest SF books that way, such as Hal Clement’s Cycle of Fire (which lead me to pick up the paperback of Mission of Gravity).

Cecelia Holland

There was a minimum number of books you had to get from scholastic and once in 7th grade I bought the minimum so I could get a few (one was “how to work with tools and wood,” which I never opened). One of these was Geoffrey Household’s The Spanish Cave, which Gardner will recognize as the basis for a story I did for him about dragons.

Karen Joy Fowler

I figure the Scholastic books are the reason so many of us who are the same age-ish remember so many of the same books.  This summer at the Squaw Valley Workshop Mark Childress mentioned Follow My Leader and every writer there (over the age of fifty) responded with a gasp of recognition.  But none of us remembered the name of the protagonist, which Mark tells me is Jimmy Carter.  What a president his dog Leader would have been!

One thought on “Roundtable: Formative Reading Experiences (Part II)

  • November 10, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    A couple of comments mentioned certain, er, salacious books, passed around for the “hot parts.” I didn’t read any of them at the time—I read some later, in full adulthood—but several of the SF books I read at entry-level, particularly Heinlein from “Stranger in a Strange Land” through “Time Enough for Love,” and some others, were just drenched in sex.

    But I didn’t notice! It all went right over my ten- to twelve-year-old head. Later, some time after puberty hit, when I reread some of them, I saw it—but, by then, reading those books for the sex scene was out of the question. (I pursued that interest elsewhere.)


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