In late June, author Jean Rabe
took on one of those irritating Facebook challenges after having been nominated to do so.
“I have been nominated by Laura Craig to post some of my favorite childhood books. No comments, excuses or explanations. One book a day for seven days. I nominate Steven Paul Leiva... 'cause I'm honestly curious what he read as a kid, Hey Steven, you don't have to participate (I usually don't in these Facebook things. But books, you know, a topic I love).”
A chilling prospect. I hate making lists, except for my personal use. Lists are weird. Wanting to read lists is weird. And yet, I could not not, for example, check out this one on Literary Hub:
Like it or not, we (dedicated readers and writers) become fascinated to know things about authors, and lists are a simple way to such knowledge. But favorite childhood books read? Well, they are a peek into something aren’t they? So I answered Jean thus (rewritten to make it a bit more comprehensive and coherent than a quick FB posting):
“Okay, well, here’s the thing, Jean, I dislike these Facebook list things—see my 11/22/13 blog 12 Random Things About Me That Others May or May Not Know)—but as I love you I’ll give it a go. However, let me answer in one shot right here.
My favorite childhood books? Well, none of them are going to be classics of children’s lit, as I was completely unaware of them until my young adult years. Although my mother was a big reader, we really didn’t have books in the house to catch my attention. And I had no relatives who would have ever thought to give me a book for a present. Rather books entered our house via Mom’s frequent trips to the public library where she picked out a stack of about ten British mysteries (mostly) to read over the next week or so. I would usually tag along and go through the aisles of the Children’s Section picking out a few books for myself. But more about that later. Because what I really read voraciously and with glee in childhood were comic books, then but a thin dime each at the local liquor or drug store (an interesting juxtaposition of products, don't you think?). Superman and the DC gang having most of my attention and passion
although, for laughs, I would read an occasional Dennis the Menace or Little Archie comic.
These were my main childhood reading accomplishments. And, oddly, despite being comics they were what introduced to me the art of prose writing. Comics weren’t all pictures and dialog, you know. It wasn’t a lot of prose, of course, introductions and brief explanations and ‘meanwhiles’ and such, but it seemed to be enough to spark something in my little suburban brain, something about words with authority setting the scene, explaining things, revealing character.
But back to the library
and books of only words (except for the occasional black & white illustration) between hard covers. My rather poor memory recalls my liking biographies written for kids of such ‘heroes’ as Davy Crockett and other frontier legends (it was the 50s after all).
And I most likely read at least one book on Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln fascinated me. I think because there were photographs of him existing, and not just paintings or illustrations, making him more real than mythic.
As for fiction, I remember reading some Hardy Boys,
really liking Tom Swift,Jr. books because of his neat inventions,
and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet because, obviously, he went into space and he live in the future, which I desperately wanted to get to.
I also remember loving the sci-fi novel Star Surgeon by Alan E. Nourse.
I think it was because all the space service doctors wore different colored uniforms depending on their specialties. For some reason I thought that was really neat. So did Gene Roddenberry, I’ll betcha, if he read the book, which I betcha he did.
Oh, and I have a memory of checking out books on Greek mythology. Probably because I loved the film Hercules with Steve Reeves.
But then that’s one of the defining aspects of the 20th and 21st centuries—nothing ‘sells’ books like the moving image. There is irony there. But that’s okay. Writers love irony.
That’s all the reading I really remember beyond comic books. But, if we can extend childhood into the teens, at thirteen I was introduced to Ian Fleming’s James Bond through—guess what?—the comic book adaptation of the Dr. No film.
Then I started to read Fleming’s novels and I loved them.
Not just for their adventure and sex and danger but for the writing. I would have had no words to express it then, but somehow I knew that Fleming had a masterful style. Suddenly, beyond that little comic book spark, I saw what prose could do in defining character, describing mood and place and objects; setting a tone and creating an atmosphere.
Advance a few more years and I read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.
Wow! Prose that took flight! I was happy to hitch a ride.
Then I read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
and for the very first time I completely lost myself in a book—I mean completely, deeply, and thoroughly. Many years later I told Ray that he, Fleming, and Maugham were the writers whom inspired me to write. He responded with a big, wide smile saying, ‘That’s fine company to be in.’
In my late teens I got involved in high school drama as a budding actor and was introduced to plays. Death of a Salesman by Miller and The Glass Menagerie by Williams
had a profound influence on my understanding of the 'authority' of the author. So profound that I left high school drama no longer wanting to become an actor but a writer, wanting, in a sense, to be in charge—to be the ‘authority’.
So there you have it, Jean, for what it’s worth.”
And I wonder what worth it is. What does it say about the writer and reader that I have become?
Well, I’m eclectic in both what I write and what I read. I consider prose at its best to be an art and not just a craft. And, despite my continuing love of colorful comic books and well-rendered illustrations in general, I think the run of well-placed black words across a white page or screen to be the most beautiful landscape in the world. One can make of that what one will.
You can find out all about my books and their hopefully well-placed words on the MY BOOKS page on this blog. Or you can check out my AUTHORS PAGE on Amazon where the purchase of said books is easily done.
On JEAN RABE'S AUTHOR'S PAGE on Amazon you will find a cornucopia of fine literary entertainment in the mystery, fantasy, and science fiction realms.