|Back in our day . . .||
No one who knows the first thing about me can separate me from my love of books. An only child (for my first nine years) who was taught early to rely on myself, it's hardly surprising that most of my childhood friends were of the print variety. For that reason, I thought I'd share some of the most memorable ones, the ones that had a lot to do with who I became, here. There is also the fact that modern kids don't want to read anything that isn't composed of two or three incomplete sentences on a screen, so maybe one will stumble across this and see what he's missing.
Grandma had me reading by the age of three. . . During three; before four. She must have read to me a lot to have produced that effect, but what I remember is reading the Sunday Funnies upside down as she read to me with them on her lap. I was way too young to get the humor, and to this day, I rarely laugh when I read humorous material, but it counted. It was the ability to read, and I was on my way. I have spoken harshly of the Grandmas in these posts, and I stand by my opinions, but that's one thing I can place on their side of the balance sheet: They understood the value of literacy, and made sure I had it before I ever walked out the door to head for school.
I remember having quite a shelf of Little Golden Books, a line of children's books from the 1940s and 50s. They weren't challenging, but were "comfort reads," and I would read them over and over as a small child, escaping into a world where everything came out all right on the last page.
I had two high-quality books from Great-grandma's Victorian childhood that were just fabulous. Uncle Wiggily's Travels was one of a series about an anthropomorphized rabbit teaching morality lessons to his niece and nephew, and the first edition of Aesop's Fables with its intricate lithographs was a dream come true for a child; I have to love those Victorians!
When I checked into Sunset View Elementary School in San Diego to start the third grade, they had
converted a small unused office into a library for the students. There I discovered the All About Books. These were science books for schoolkids that explained everything from dinosaurs to space travel in
terms that preteens could easily grasp, and these ignited an interest in how things work that is with me to this day.
Growing up in the 1950s, all of us kids were steeped in and surrounded by stories, first hand accounts by our own family members and those of friends, who had defeated Germany and Japan. War was glorified in that period, and it seemed with good reason; it took Viet Nam to beat that out of us, but the literature of the day was heavy with stories of everyday heroes, the shop clerks and farm boys who had put down their schoolbooks and marched off to fight and defeat the professional military forces of two of the most brutal tyrannies the world has ever seen. The Last Parallel was the war diary of Martin Russ, a marine corporal in the Korean War. It was a book of spooky creeping through no-man's-land, sitting in your bunker listening to rustling sounds in the darkness to the front, wondering if it's a human wave attack forming up, and the raucous liberty calls behind the lines that broke up the tension. I had, and still have, a tremendous admiration for The Corps, but the book that was instrumental in bringing me into the navy was United States Destroyer Operations in World War II by Theodore Roscoe. A stilted, institutional title devoid of romance, yet in his soaring prose, Roscoe caught the romance of the sea, and of heroic battle against impossible odds, and did as much as any other factor to make me a sailor. I found this book, and its companion volume, Submarine Operations, in a used bookstore years after my service. I bought them both, and have read them cover-to-cover at least twice each.
Once every couple of weeks, Grandma would put up an expedition to "The Goody," by which she meant our local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. I put in my share of time in the toy bins to be sure, but they had something else there that I found more interesting: A mile-long set of bookshelves boasting people's discards from every field of interest. It was on one of these expeditions that I encountered a gem called The Seagoing Tank. Published in 1924 by Roy J. Snell, this was the fourth installment in The Radio Phone Boys series. The Radio Phone Boys were a group of friends who were interested in the relatively new technology of ham radio, and in this particular installment, they joined an inventor to drive across the floor of the Pacific Ocean in what could loosely be described as a watertight RV. We know today (and suspected then) that the science was ludicrous, and they got the details of the ocean floor all wrong, but that wasn't the point. I hung on every word like I was there living it myself, and encountering this book was what sent me running for Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and anyone else who could tell a rollicking good adventure story. It is hardly surprising that this remains the kind of story that I write today. Today's authors are through writing them. I'm not through liking them, though, and so I write them myself. If the reception they have received from everyone who has read them is any indication, there is still a market for the good old stuff.
Since then, I have found science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and the trend I have identified is that my reading takes me further and further into escapism, and further and further from an increasingly ugly world. I have always said that I feel deeply sorry for everyone who does not read fiction of some kind; they only get to live one life. Every time I turn on the news, that feeling becomes stronger. So for those of you who have yet to discover the fabulous worlds that live just behind your eyes, find a good book, one that looks like it will hold your interest because of its characters, situations, backdrop, or whatever, and take a journey inside. I promise you'll be amazed at what you find there. Those of you who read, you already know what I'm talking about. Happy adventuring!
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??