Considering the books I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s ample evidence to support my overall approach to children’s literature … and perhaps by extension, my selections offer a reasonable predictor for my adult reading and writing habits.
Having cut my teeth (so to speak) on fables and fairy tales, my imagination flourished, enjoying this steady diet as much as Edmund found Turkish Delight to his liking. Even from a very early age, I knew − with a precocious confidence − there were not just fairy worlds I could explore but something other-worldly and yet still real beyond the world into which I’d been born. (I’m reminded of Sheldon Vanauken’s comment in A Severe Mercy “… eternity exists and is our home.”)
I also have to chuckle, looking at yesterday’s list. No wonder I love the pithy one-liners (that often elude me) as a way to conclude a piece! Aesop was my early teacher! Even when it’s not the trite moral statement, being able to nail one’s thesis in the final sentence (for me, anyway) is akin to tying a bow on a gift. It signifies Complete! as nothing else can.
Moving toward books read during my late pre-teen and teenage years, what strikes me first of all are the books I diligently avoided. They are many. I shunned almost everything my friends were reading: the Little House books, Black Beauty, every Mary Poppins book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland. And I’d have eaten dirt before ever reading a Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden mystery; I was that opposed to them! My contrarian nature was driven to find the gems, and in my view, the ones my friends read were (apparently) too pedestrian, hardly the gems I sought.
I steered clear of Mark Twain for other reasons. Growing up in Missouri, I experienced Twain’s books during many a literature class (“reading,” I think we called it then). Certainly, scenes from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were re-enacted for school events, so my familiarity with these works kept me from actually enjoying Twain’s talent and writing style until I became an adult.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, I think my first taste of C. S. Lewis came through reading Till We Have Faces. No, I wasn’t familiar with Cupid and Psyche, so this wasn’t “a myth retold.” It was new to me. (I think I chose the Lewis book in a fit of pique. Some of my classmates were reading Hamilton’s Mythology while my Lit class read other things. Why the difference? Who knows, but I had my first introduction to Lewis.)
Though this initial exposure to Lewis was a positive one, my respect for him centered on one volume. Still, I appreciated him enough to be sorrowful when he died (as I mentioned in another post from 3 years ago). Even in 1963, I acknowledged him as someone consequential, but my appreciation didn’t mature for another decade. (A subsequent reading of Faces in college increased my understanding of this fine work, and built a desire to know more as I read more from him.)
I’ve told how I eschewed certain popular works. I also employed specific methods for choosing what I read. I remember walking all the way to the back at the library to find any shelf where the deserted, neglected books must be (or so it seemed to me). In those days, there were cards slotted into pockets inside the book covers. These cards listed the names of whoever had last borrowed the books. Whenever I found a book with nary a signature on the card, that’s the one I’d check out. Did I find any gems that way? Can’t say I remember any, so probably not. But failure didn’t dissuade me; I was ever hopeful.
Another way I’d choose books: I’d look through a row of books for an author whose name adorned many spines — the more the better! (I guess today I’d be reading Danielle Steele, Nora Roberts, Barbara Cartland.) In those days, though, I discovered Gene Stratton-Porter. Her books stretched almost to a whole row on the shelf, so I knew I’d have a long run getting to know her and her work. (As I understand it, her novels fell out of favor over time because of the racial disparities her characters countenanced.)
Reading the Stratton-Porter books heightened my sense of adventure. Though the books are generally romance fiction, the author’s love for nature and her characters’ fearlessness in the face of villains made the books a departure from the usual young girl fare. Stratton-Porter let her heroines enjoy the adventure and take risks! With every book, I began to imagine horizons beyond the limitations so often portrayed in “normal” and conventional books for girls.
Stratton-Porter inspired me to broaden my view of the world. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share some titles about where my adventures began. Borrowing an idea from Dr. Seuss:
Oh, the places I’ve gone and the people I see. Such fun adventures, especially for me!