The Beginning of Literary Wisdom

How does the habit of reading “grown-up” novels start? One might have parents with a love of literature that gets passed on to the next generation. Or one might have teachers who spark an interest in fiction. Or one might latch onto literature on one’s own. In most cases, the progression is children’s books to YA novels to more adult stuff.

I’m going to tell you how I became an avid reader of novels, and then ask how a bent for fiction came about for you.

My parents seldom read books — there were only a handful in the house, and they almost never visited the local library. So it was my own intrinsic love of reading, and some teacher influence, that led me to a love of literature. When very young, I not only enjoyed kid-oriented novels but short biographies of historical figures and baseball players. Many of those books were quite nice, albeit not totally riveting. It wasn’t until 10th and 11th grade that “grown-up” fiction became a revelation for me, and I owe it all to three novels.

During those two high school years, English teachers assigned Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, and Native Son. I first read those novels because they were required, and then reread them on my own during holiday breaks and the summer — reveling in unforgettable characters, plots, and prose.

(Jane Eyre is pictured above in one of the many screen adaptations.)

Those terrific books were also painful — dealing with depressing subjects such as the effects on people of misogyny, racism, class differences, mental illness, fraught family relations, and more. The three novels helped me truly realize for the first time just how powerful stories and the written word could be, and that combining sad and inspirational subject matter could pack an emotional wallop.

Among the uplifting aspects of those often-downbeat novels were Jane Eyre’s independent streak during a highly patriarchal time, the Joad family’s stick-to-itiveness in the face of personal tragedy and social injustice in The Grapes of Wrath, and the possibility of interracial cooperation in a deeply bigoted United States that could be envisioned in the long conversations between criminal defendant Bigger Thomas and his lawyer Boris Max in Native Son.

I’m very appreciative of Charlotte Bronte’s, John Steinbeck’s, and Richard Wright’s work — and of the way that work helped create a hunger to read hundreds of other novelists during ensuing years and decades.

How did “grown-up” fiction become a major thing for you? Did any particular novels seal the deal?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about a judge’s shocking rent-control-reversal ruling — is here.

153 thoughts on “The Beginning of Literary Wisdom

  1. Happy Easter Dave,
    Regarding literary beginnings, my first foray was from my mother’s small library. A raucous series about bodice-ripping pirates, Southern slave owners and highwaymen and the like got me mesmerized and pulled me out of the comic book era. Author Frank Yerby wrote a good yarn and I’m pleased to say I talked our oldest daughter into enjoying him as well.
    Best,
    Jim

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy Easter to you, too, Jim!

      Nice that your mother’s small library helped you become an avid reader. I believe almost all reading is good, whether it be classic novels or comic books.

      And nice that you’ve paid it forward to the next generation, such as getting your oldest daughter interested in Frank Yerby!

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  2. Well buying online, it’s not that bad, except I miss going to a good bookstore, and browse through it, and see what new novelties you may find, not found on a review of books, or just go to your well stocked public library , and talk to your favorite librarian, as I used to, for some years I lived half a block from a branch of Los Angeles library, and the main librarian, become a great friend of mine, and he will allow me to check as many books as I wished, and will tell me do not worry about time limits to return, or renew, he also had books that I could check out of the library, that people could only read at the library, and not check out, very nice guy, of course I never let him down with a book. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, buying online is not a bad alternative, but of course it’s nice to give business to a local bookstore rather than a very rich Amazon or the like. And the browsing and social aspects are indeed appealing at a bookstore or local library. Sounds like you had a great experience at that Los Angeles library branch!

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  3. Reading come easy to me my father possessed hundred of books of all kinds, many novels, biographies, Historical, and many other subjects, on those day you will go to your local bookstore, and browse on the books the carried at the time, from the bestsellers of the day, to popular re-prints, and to what editorials will push at bookstores, with all kind of generic books.
    First will read anything, just because I will have it there to read, so I read a lot of junk, mixed with some great authors, at a young age of course I cared for adventure, and action novels, but my father was smart and gave me to read Trafalgar, by Benito Perez Galdos, the first book of his famous Episodios Nacionales, you can find Trafalgar in English, but doubt about the rest, anyway his main novels you may found a few in English, when you search like in Amazon add to his name English, and the titles will come up.
    My father had many other classics writers in Spanish of the Silver Age in Spain, here a link for you:

    https://www.classicspanishbooks.com/20th-cent-silver-age.html#:~:text=Some%20of%20the%20authors%20of,Gerardo%20Diego%20and%20Vicente%20Aleixandre.

    The list it’s by all means not all inclusive, rather short I will say, some of my favorite authors are missing, and does not talk about Portuguese authors as José Maria de Eça de Queirós, and many other great authors, but it will give you a general idea, there’s this lady Margaret Elisabeth Jull Costa British translator of Portuguese- and Spanish-language fiction and poetry, including the works of Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, Eça de Queiroz, Fernando Pessoa, Bernardo Atxaga, Carmen Martín Gaite, Javier Marías, and José Régio.
    You may find something you may like to read there.

    Best regards to you Dave.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the excellent comment, theburningheart!

      Wonderful that your father had so many books. What a role model in that respect.

      I like the way you’ve mixed lighter reading with more serious reading. I’ve done that, too.

      Very interesting link about that fruitful period of Spanish literature. Thank you.

      Best regards to you as well!

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      • I understand that reading it’s a personal taste, and not all we can like, what other people read, or care to read about.
        In my youth I read a lot of detective novels that I  will not touch today, even if I remember them as great fun, neither care for Science Fiction, and I had my share of that as well.
        Today I study topics, and read a little bit of novels, mainly old classics, that I may missed to read before, with a few novelties of today, and I am getting bad at abandoning books half read, some I pick up  later, or forget completely, as for example I start reading English author trilogy Sir Patrick Michael Leigh Fermor, and begin reading  “A time of Gifts.” And enjoyed the hell out of it, then I had to move, and misplace the book, I know I have it, but it’s buried on and unknown box somewhere on my many boxes of books, at my age it’s not easy for me to be moving heavy book boxes around, until I find what I am looking for, just like one of my reading friends, who I recommend books to him, he buys them, and when we talk, if I mention the book, in question he forget he already bought it, and it’s on his possession, and he rather than look for it, he buys it again!
        Well I am not ready to do that yet, in the meantime every time I look at the other two: “Between the woods and the water.” and “The Broken Road” I get mad and start looking for it, so far no luck yet.   
        Yes I know, I need to be more organized, and should list the boxes with the titles on it, but I am as bad as my friend, mentioned. Too bad where I retired, there is not a decent library, or a bookstore worth its name If I want a book, I have to buy it online Thank you for your nice comment and forgive me for my rantings, Dave. 

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, theburningheart, though I still enjoy detective fiction and sci-fi novels here and there. But I certainly read more sci-fi novels when I was younger.

          Moving is definitely a major hassle, and there can indeed be “casualties” such as misplaced books. Hope you eventually find it.

          Sorry you don’t have a good library or bookstore near you. That’s difficult for an avid reader. 😦

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  4. Hi Dave — At my junior high school in Fultondale, Alabama the library had book sections designated by grade: some were for all grades but some could be checked out by students in specific grades only. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was in the 8th grade section. Obviously, by then I had heard a lot of talk about the book — much of it negative. Looking back, I’m surprised it was even allowed in our school library. Soon after 8th grade began, I checked out that book and kept renewing it (no one else was requesting it, so I kept it the whole school year). I originally checked it out because it had been forbidden due to my grade level, and because it was apparently scandalous (?) By the second chapter I was completely immersed, and obsessed. “To Kill a Mockingbird” remains my all-time favorite novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat! Great comment, well told.

      That’s a very interesting system to allow only certain grades to check out certain books. Not ideal, but better than banning a novel totally.

      “To Kill a Mockingbird” IS a fantastic, powerful novel. So glad you got to read it starting in 8th grade.

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  5. Like your parents, my parents never really read that much unless it was something related to work. My mom always really encouraged reading by buying me books and limiting how much time I was allowed to watch TV. When I got to school, I remember there was a contest (I think it was called the AR program) where you would get points for reading books and taking quizzes on them. I am extremely competitive but not good at sports so I latched on to this contest as one I could win. Pretty quickly I discovered that I loved going to other worlds, I started with Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Goosebumps. When I was in middle school, all I wanted to do was get out of the town I lived in, so I started focusing on the classics and more historical books with some sci-fi thrown in. Some I initially tried I had to go back to later in live because I didn’t get them and really had no one to explain the themes to me. I ended up really loving Vonnegut and Neil Gaiman and they were sort of my gateway into adult literature. In college, I read a lot of Russian authors and really got into Lord of the Rings. The biggest development I have had lately was realizing I’ve read very little by women authors. I started reading Shirley Jackson, the Brontes, Mary Shelley, and Octavia Butler and it was like a whole new dimension was opened to various genres. Reading has always brought me a lot of hope. Sorry for the rambling answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, danalucianus! I really enjoyed your comment; you have quite an interesting reading background. Great that your mother encouraged reading even if she didn’t read a lot of (non-work-related) stuff herself. And that reading contest you described sounds terrific!

      I’m a fan of many of the authors and books you mentioned: the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelley, Octavia Butler, Shirley Jackson, various Russian writers, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the “Harry Potter” books, etc. Butler’s “Kindred” and Shelley’s “The Last Man,” to name a couple of novels, are excellent.

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  6. Let me tell you Dave, in my youth if I studied as much as I read novels I would be an A list student, but instead I barely passed by.
    My parents had books and books and my mother was also a writer . My Older brother ten years older had a lot of History books, books on Churchill, World Wars and what not.
    I read all of Tagore’s Novels , and short stories.
    In my early college years it was a fashion to be a member of British Council Library. Also a show off thing going to College on the bus, we had the cover of the books in front of us as a show off thing to the other passengers, too silly.
    Read Bronte sisters, Moughm`s novels, Agatha Christie..and so many more.
    Everyone read ” The Fountainhead ” by Ayn Rand , and got over it can’t be;ieve it now .

    Harold Robbins ” The Carpetbaggers” and so many of those.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      That’s quite a family reading history you had — including you getting to so much of the great Tagore’s writing! Heck, reading novels is of course a real education of sorts, in addition to being entertaining.

      And wonderful that you mixed literary classics (such as the Bronte sisters’ novels) with more mass-audience fiction (like “The Carpetbaggers”). I’ve always liked that kind of combination.

      “The Fountainhead”? We all have our reading regrets. 🙂

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  7. Hmm, my reading history is somewhat laughable. It all began in kindergarten, not the reading part rather that the kindergarten classes met in the library. I remember at naptime looking up at all the books towering above me and saying to myself one of these days I’m going to read them all. First book I selected from that library was Miss Hickory. I must add that my father was a great reader and very serious about the value it adds to one’s life. During WWII, he was in the navy and while stranded in Manilla, he managed to retrieve a book from a pile of books the Japanese were burning. I still have the book he brought home with him from the war, has University of Manilla printed on the inside cover. Consequently, whenever he had the chance, he would take me and my brothers to the public library. I remember checking out Bullfinch’s Mythology. He also bought us a set of encyclopedias, The Book Of Knowledge, and I read poetry,history, geography… Many a grade school report was gleaned from those pages. On the flip side, my mother and her sisters read movie magazines and I recall reading about the great feud between Liz Taylor and Debbie Reynolds, lol! I also read comic books since that was all I could afford on my allowance. Yet because of this hodgepodge of reading material, I had an epiphany: Shucks, I could read anything I wanted and enjoy it all. The sky’s the limit. So I appreciated anything readable that passed my way: newspapers, magazines, comic books, books– no matter how serious or silly. As a result, if I had to say what book or books and/or what author or authors got me hooked would be impossible. I’m definitely Mr. Bemis from the Twilight Zone. Perhaps that’s what inspired Frank Zappa’s quote “So many books, so little time” Great post Dave. Thanks, Susi

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    • Thank you, Susi! I really enjoyed your comment!

      I LOVE that you had kindergarten classes in the library. What a great way to start thinking about, and become curious about, books one would eventually read.

      Wonderful that your father was an avid book reader, and that he encouraged that kind of reading in you and your brothers. All reading is good — whether novels, comic books, newspapers, movie magazines, etc.! (Ha — that Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds feud. 🙂 ) And that’s quite a WWII story about saving a book from a pile of books that were burning.

      Last but not least, that “Twilight Zone” episode you mentioned was amazing! No greater illustration of the power and pleasure of books, though of course that episode’s conclusion… 😦 😦

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      • Thanks for your response Dave. You know it’s odd re: my siblings I was the only reader in the bunch. Go figure. Poor Mr. Bemis *sigh* Perhaps the moral of that story is if you have to wear glasses with lenses as thick as the bottoms of pop bottles in order to see than most definitely carry an extra pair. I mean geezaloo, Bemis certainly had poor vision. Note to any doomsday prepper. Ha!

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        • You’re welcome, Susi — and ha! 🙂 Yes, an extra pair of glasses would have been so logical — carried around at all times, of course.

          And families are endlessly interesting. Why one sibling becomes an avid reader and others don’t can be unfathomable.

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  8. I loved reading about your experience! My parents were both avid readers (they are still alive, they just don’t read anymore, with both having jobs as English teachers at high schools and a set of twin daughters, who are now both attending university) life got far too hectic. My grandparents read a lot as well and according to my father his grandparents read a lot as well too. I come from a long line of readers and I was reading a YA favourite of mine (The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare) and once I’d finished the final instalment, I went to the remnants of my parents’s bookshelves and found to my surprise that they owned Jane Eyre. There had been several references to Jane Eyre and A Tale of Two Cities in The Infernal Devices trilogy and I found myself intrigued. I began reading Jane Eyre and a week later I was in love. I read Rebecca the day after and since then I’ve read lots of grown-up fiction. The year prior I had read The Bell Jar and The Virgin Suicides and Never Let Me Go and while I truly adored those books, TBJ in particular, they didn’t spark my love for reading. I had tried to read JE years before that but had found myself bored with the Dutch translation and had skimmed through the book. Reading it in English spontaneously already aware of the big reveal near the end of the book was a fantastic experience and I had never expected Jane Eyre to end the way it did. Jane Eyre finally sparked my love for classics and grown up fiction and not a minute too soon because I’d nearly finished my first year of my bachelor’s degree (English Language and Culture) and it was just marvellous. Now I have always loved reading and will always love everything about YA, MG etcetera, but reading JE made me fall in love with literature/classics so much that I’m now, after my bachelor’s degree going to pursue a Masters in English literature. I think I owe the Brontës the confirmation that classics can actually be fun and not just something to read for school. My apologies for this massively long answer!

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    • Thank you, faex2000! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

      Great that your parents were avid readers, as were your family’s earlier generations! And being an English teacher is quite a nice profession.

      Sounds like you’ve read some wonderful fiction. I love it when a novel references other novels, which can be a spur to read those other novels. And wonderful to hear that “Jane Eyre” (when you finally read a translation you liked) had such an impact. It IS a riveting and readable novel — totally debunking the stereotype that long-ago novels can be tedious. (Some are, of course, but many aren’t.)

      Last but not least, fantastic that you’re going to get a master’s in English literature!

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  9. What I have learned of Dave Astor since and during the time I have known who you are, as to your involvement in the literary world, and just now, your self imposed start as a child of books so to speak, Is that from your early days, your interest in books has led to a most interesting career. Seemingly as that of living off, of and for your love of books, from start to finish, as in the first word down to the finished product. I’m well aware that nothing comes easy in the world of literature, thus so because I eventually stubbornly chose to venture into poetry, and live or die, it was to be for me as was your adventured in your field, that which was to be, and succeed you have. I congratulate you for your continuity of achievement. Always great to read you Dave!

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    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Jean-Jacques — especially flattering coming from such an accomplished poet!

      My career has been kind of all over the map — newspaper reporter, magazine writer, humor columnist, cartoonist, etc., but writing about literature (along with of course reading as many novels as possible) has been such a pleasurable/rewarding hobby, sideline, or whatever one might call it. 🙂

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  10. When I was in first grade, the third grade teacher asked me to come and read for her class. I read a page from the book she handed me – I did not know I could read. For my seventh birthday, my aunt gave me “Heidi” as a gift. I loved it, and from there read every children’s classic I could get hold of. My mom took me to the library every Saturday, and I stocked up. She gave me “Valley of the Dolls” to read when I was in the eighth grade because she thought I needed to broaden my horizons. It did!

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    • Thank you, vanaltman! Impressive first-grade experience! And your mother sounds like a very open-minded reader and book recommender!

      I loved “Heidi,” too, though I didn’t read it for the first time until last year. 🙂

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  11. So much Rider Haggard – encountered in a very different role, his campaigning and working for housing reform
    First grown up books ? Dickens and crime, some overlap of course. Grandparents had a collected Sherlock Holmes in print so tiny even kids needed a page magnifier. Which my gran could produce.

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    • Thank you, Esther! Haggard sounds like a person with many interests — and working for housing reform is a great thing.

      Nice variety to your early reading! (Dickens and crime, and of course there was some crime in Dickens novels. 🙂 ) Great that the page magnifier was available! I loved reading Dickens and Sherlock Holmes in my late teens and early 20s.

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  12. My mother was a librarian and my father a college professor, so I grew up with books all around. For some reason, I think being bound up in the notion that I might be rushed past some of the innocent joys of childhood, my mother never taught me how to read before I started first grade, so I learned along with my classmates.

    I learned quickly, and soon had moved beyond being contented or even mildly amused by Alice and Jerry and Dick and Jane. After exhausting the range of what had been set out in the school library as age-appropriate, I was discovered by the librarian in the act of looking for something to read among the books set out for older students. She firmly directed me back to where I was supposed to be looking, and said I probably couldn’t understand anything more difficult.

    I told her I was “flabbergasted” she would think so, and her face fell a little. But after that. she never troubled me over whatever I wanted to read.

    Hardly an introduction to literature, at best an introduction to the introduction, but at least, an early triumph against school authority.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! Great comment — and your wielding of the word “flabbergasted” to illustrate how you were ready to read more advanced books was a stroke of genius, whether an off-the-cuff or premeditated stroke!

      Having parents who were a librarian and college professor, respectively, is a wonderful thing! I didn’t do as well in the family lottery — my mother was a bookkeeper after she returned to work, and my father was a TV/radio repairman when he wasn’t unemployed. Neither went to college. Nothing wrong with all that — many people in my parents’ lines of work and with their background became avid readers, but they didn’t. It was what it was. 🙂 😦

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  13. Your theme, Dave, is a bit of a head scratch for me. I distinctly remember wanting to read because it was what grown ups did; there was power in it for living and doing things. I loved going to the library, choosing easy and challenging children’s books, reading and returning them, etc. I often didn’t understand what I was reading; I could pronounce and memorize words early. There were so many distractions in my life that school was a refuge and more important than reading itself, which seems oxymoronic. I’d read and do my book reports, etc. but it wasn’t until high school that adult literature like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye captured my attention. Mostly because there was talk about banning them. After decades of devouring non-fiction, love for novels began with Anne Rice and Diana Gabaldon, and this not until the beginning of the 21st century! Dave, you constantly rekindle my love for literature with your blog and all our wonderful ‘book talk’ among participants!

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    • Thank you, Mary Jo, for the interesting comment and the kind words!

      I understand that recalling how we developed a love for reading years before can be a bit of a blur. Sometimes there’s a “Eureka” moment; other times things happen kind of gradually.

      “To Kill a Mockingbird” (which I love) and “The Catcher in the Rye” (which I have mixed feelings about) are definitely two novels that have grabbed the attention of many high-schoolers. (Though I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t read them until college or maybe a little after.) Hearing a book was banned in some places increases the interest even more!

      Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” novels are fantastic; I can’t wait for the 9th one to come out — this year, supposedly.

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  14. And another thing. Around the same time, pretty sure it was just before high school, I read Stone’s Lust for Life. No idea how that occurred unless I was hoping for something more based on the title.

    Hi Dave, replying in the conventional way because nothing on my iPad opened anything up above the line.

    I grew up in Newark and was sent against my wishes, to Essex Catholic high school with 3000 other boys. The worst seven years of my life. However. Over the summer before starting freshman year there was required reading. I don’t remember all the books but I do remember three titles: Hiroshima by James Hershey, The Mouse that Roared by Wibberly and Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Payton. I have no idea who assigned these books and nothing was ever mentioned about them once school started in September. Whoever assigned them was several light years ahead of any teacher I encountered while incarcerated there.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  15. Hi Dave, replying in the conventional way because nothing on my iPad opened anything up above the line.

    I grew up in Newark and was sent against my wishes, to Essex Catholic high school with 3000 other boys. The worst seven years of my life. However. Over the summer before starting freshman year there was required reading. I don’t remember all the books but I do remember three titles: Hiroshima by James Hershey, The Mouse that Roared by Wibberly and Too Late the Phalarope by Alan Payton. I have no idea who assigned these books and nothing was ever mentioned about them once school started in September. Whoever assigned them was several light years ahead of any teacher I encountered while incarcerated there.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jim! Very sorry about all those years in a school you didn’t want to be in. 😦 But glad someone had very good/enlightened taste when assigning summer reading. “Hiroshima” is a riveting, devastating, beyond-intense book. I read it many years ago (in college?), and it’s still painful to think about — as is of course the real-life event the book was about.

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  16. Good morning Dave, you really make us go back a very long time! My parents had a restaurant and certainly not much time to read books, but they had a subscription for some kind of book club, by which they were sent books. So, besides my studying our clients for their characteristics from a very early age on, I helped myself to the books available! I remember quite well sitting on my bed reading “Die Auferstehung” (Resurrection) or Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. If I remember well Resurrection had like “Crime and Punishment” to do with faults and reparation. It was certainly difficult for me to understand it well then, but I had less problems with Anna Karenina. While being at the business and school for translations we read or translated more excerpts! It was when I prepared for the proficiency exam in English that I really started to read English literature and with some of those friends I still continue to do so with pleasure, despite the fact that I have forgotten many things! I really appreciate your weekly meetings with so many challenges and thank you very much.

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    • Thank you, Martina!

      Great that your parents squeezed in some book time amid their busy lives! Running a restaurant is a very exhausting thing. But studying the clients, as you did, must have been fascinating.

      I’m impressed that you read “Anna Karenina” at a relatively early age! Quite a mature and long novel, but so worth the hours spent. And it was very interesting to hear about how you started reading English literature.

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      • Frankly speaking, Dave, I also think to have then learnt quite a lot about the human being, which later helped me when reading fiction!
        The story of “Anna Karenina”, her social and psychological desintegration touched me very much so that I took this book up again later in life. And I also remember that in those times we didn’t even have a television set or something like an iphone to be continuously distracted, but in between we had Karl May! Many thanks for your interests:)

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        • Knowledge about humans is indeed a great aid when reading, or writing. And “Anna Karenina” is indeed a powerful novel, Martina. I should reread it myself — I have a copy sitting on one of my bookshelves.

          Very interesting point — reading “back in the day” was a somewhat different experience when there were fewer distractions. I feel some nostalgia for that, but not too much — I like my phone, and there was no such thing as a blog until the 1990s. 🙂

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          • I am a little bit worried for you, Dave, in the sense that work too hard!
            I really am of the opinion that we are to much buzzing around to much, because of all the possibilities! You are, of course right, concerning the “like” of telephone and especially of the blog.:) I didn’t know that it goes back that long !

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            • Well, Martina, when one does work one loves, it doesn’t feel like one is working too hard. Not always the case with some jobs I had earlier in life. 🙂

              And, yes, there were some early blogs in the 1990s — if I’m remembering correctly.

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    • Thanks so much, Robbie! I hope you like the book!

      I agree about how enjoyable it is to remember novels we’ve read. And I’ve also discovered so many books through the comments on this blog. I think about three-quarters of the reading I do these days is of authors and novels recommended here. 🙂

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  17. Really interesting reading the comments – so much diversity! I’ve always been surrounded with books and read avidly from a young age (although there have been quite a few years when I haven’t been quite so diligent in my reading!). After progressing from Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/anything by Enid Blyton I recall getting into the classics at about 13 or 14. I remember reading ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and ‘Little Women’ amongst others, less of the British classics interestingly. It was shortly after that my father encouraged my interest in books, probably from his younger years, as these were the books in the house – Tolkien, Wyndham, Huxley, Kafka, Peake and Orwell to name but a few. So, very much literature of the post-war age, which I haven’t really revisited since (and is also quite male dominated which I hadn’t given any thought to until seeing the list of names written down). How much of it I would have understood at the time is very much debatable and probably should be revisited at some point, but I’ve just picked up ‘Crime and Punishment’ so I may be some time….

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    • Thank you, Sarah! I loved hearing your reading chronology, and I’ve also been greatly enjoying the comments about various other reading histories!

      Nancy Drew and other books of that level/genre are definitely gateways to “heavier” reading. And “Anne of Green Gables” and “Little Women” are also great places along the path. Wonderful to have books by the likes of Orwell, Huxley, Tolkien, Kafka, etc., in your house! Yes, so much literature of those eras was by males — 😦 — thankfully with many wonderful exceptions (Wharton, Woolf, Cather, Colette, Hurston, du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and so on).

      Good luck with “Crime and Punishment”! Riveting novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Dave – you were much more sophisticated in your reading than I was. I still haven’t read the Grapes fo Wrath. YIKES! When I finished “The Count of Monte Christo” (book in book strategy in the math class) I found this great adventure – King Solomon’s Mines, written in 1885, by the English Victorian adventure writer and fabulist Sir H. Rider Haggard. It tells of a search of an unexplored region of Africa by a group of adventurers led by Allan Quatermain. And here I will digress for only a sentence or two. I did not know, until I read one of your recent posts that this is the same writer that wrote “She” which I am reading at this very moment. These books document society’s values during the Victorian times, which is an invaluable reminder that we must read these books so that we live our stories with more appreciation to diversity and acceptance. Then I found P.C. Wren and Beau Geste which is an adventure novel which details the adventures of three English brothers (pre WWI) who enlist separately in the French Foreign Legion following the theft of a valuable jewel from the country house of a relative. I read the subsequent books, which must be read if you want to find out what happened to the jewel. These were not easy books to read. It was the first time I had encountered the horrors and futility of war, and the loss of life that can never be recovered. And then I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien. Thank you again for a wonderful post, a great discussion, which inspires me to read books I have never thought about reading before. By the way, I am also reading Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman.” But that is another story…

    Liked by 6 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! I know you’ve done LOTS of sophisticated reading yourself; it’s hard to get to everything. But I’m sure you’ll really like “The Grapes of Wrath” if you get to it at some point.

      After having recently read the often-riveting “She,” I can imagine how compelling “King Solomon’s Mines” must also be, even if Haggard’s “of his time” work was not always politically correct, as you eloquently allude to.

      Yes, novels that tell us about “the horrors and futility of war, and the loss of life that can never be recovered” can be very painful to read but a real education.

      I first read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” in college, and loved all four books.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Hi Rebecca, I also read King Solomon’s mines as a girl and I loved the descriptions of Africa. Some of these descriptions have inspired some of my own writing such as the scenes about the Dorsland trekkers crossing the Kalahari in my short story, The Thirstyland Trek. I like She just as much and also the stories written by Herman Charles Bosman, South Africa’s greatest short story writer [in my humble opinion].

      Liked by 3 people

    • For me Grapes of Wrath, Rebecca, is a great and also sad book. I have recently even seen the touching film. The other books mentioned by you are unknown to me! It seems that now, after this long hibernation I have to wake up!:)

      Liked by 3 people

    • “She” Who Must Be Obeyed, as I think I may written in another time, just might be the most powerful female character in popular fiction, and she certainly has had time to think many things thoroughly through, as well as time to act– imperiously. Ever notice that Rumpole of the Bailey refers to his wife by that very term?

      My great-grandfather was a restless sort who made his way to South Africa after diamonds and gold were discovered. He opened a hotel in Kimberley, which I used to think was like a hotel, but have lately concluded was probably a few reinforced canvas tents. The family still has a small newspaper ad for his establishment, and his gold nugget stick pin.

      But, later on, he bought a number of illustrated books of exploration and hunting and adventure set in the wilds of remotest Africa, a few of which survived long enough for me to get at them. They represent a parallel reading trend of the times, and provide a context for Haggard’s fiction, as do accounts of Livingston and Stanley meeting, Khartoum, etc.

      One of my favorite parts of “She” is right up front, where the shard that sparks the amazing journey is illustrated and translated straight-faced , as if it were an actual artifact. The illustration and translation are indistinguishable from those found in archeological texts of the time. I see “She” and “King Solomon’s Mines” and those African adventure books and those illustrated, now dated, archeological texts, etc., as all belonging on one long shelf, perhaps labeled ‘cultural history’– Anglophonic cultural history, centered around British colonialism.

      Liked by 2 people

      • jhNY, I’m so glad you recommended I read “She” last year. What a memorable book, and one can’t help but be fascinated with a character who lives for more than 2,000 years. I can’t even fathom how many Social Security payments she received. 😉

        And that’s quite a family history you have with your adventurer great-grandfather! Wonderful that some of his books survived through the generations to reach you.

        Like

        • Yes, it was a bit wonderful, that some of his books survived. I’ve got one with me here in NYC, “A Thousand Miles Down the Nile”, with his signature in the front cover.

          The book I enjoyed most of his as a boy: Joseph L. Stoddard’s illustrated life of Napoleon– small and skinny myself, it cheered me to think a little man might go on to do big things, I guess. I was also overfond of the movie “Wee Geordie”, the story of a scrawny Scots boy who trains up to full muscular potential through the mail-order tutelage of Charles Atlas, and goes on to triumph in the Olympics, by way of hammer-throwing.

          The years sped by. I never conquered Europe, nor threw a hammer, except once, after hitting my thumb while nailing up a picture.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thanks for the description of a couple of those passed-down books! Yes, some physically small people who did big things are inspirational — except for those, like Napoleon, who were rather autocratic. (And not very good judges of Russian winters.)

            Liked by 1 person

  19. If I could live two lives at once, I would be a fiction reader in one of them. But I have way too much non-fiction to read in the one life I do have that I frankly almost never read fiction today. However, I’ve read almost everything written by Kurt Vonnegut, Stanley Elkin, Joseph Heller and one or two others. Can someone clone me so I can also read more fiction?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Bill! I totally understand — we can’t read everything in our limited time. But of the fiction you have read, you’ve certainly focused on some excellent authors. If only “Catch-22” author Joseph Heller had also written “Clone-2″…

      Like

  20. My mother didn’t read much for herself when I was growing up. Being a preacher’s wife was very demanding, not to mention trying to keep my little brother and me under control. She had been a preschool teacher before I was born, so she introduced me to all kinds of children’s literature, but most especially the books she had loved as a child. I still remember the pleassure she took in Blueberries for Sal, Wind in the Willows, Elijah the Fishbite, and A Child’s Garden of Verses. She became an avid reader of fiction when she went into assisted living, although she did not approve of poorly edited books or characters who bed-hopped.

    My dad was an avid reader, mostly of books related to history, both fiction and nonfiction. His version of running the Boston Marathon was reading the unabridged Moby Dick. When I was in juinior high, he read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories aloud to me for our daily Time together. Imagine my surprise as an adult to read the Holmes books and discover that he had censored them!

    I was introduced to adult literature in the 9th grade with The Sound and the Fury that my teacher gave me to read after I was so blown away by “Barn Burning.” Literary fiction was a whole new world, and I wanted in!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  21. Like you,Dave, I remember going to the library and searching for autobiographies, mobsters like Meyer Lansky of keen interest. I’d say the first “grown up” book was Forever by Judy Blume,like countless other youngsters, I grew up with her books that were integral and relatable to my pre teen and teen lives.

    I was fortunate to have a few memorable English teachers in high school who shared their enjoyment of short stories,how to break down characters, plots,etc..Dissecting of the beauty of words.

    It was early college that I was introduced to Joyce Carol Oates’ ” Because Its Bitter,Because Its My Heart .” That led me to a life long respect for her voluminous works of writing.

    The pandemic has offered more time to read,so I’m grateful to escape from these challenging times. Thank you to my local library for the many books I’ve been reserving and for those on their shelves I’ve picked up in blue bags, now in manila envelopes.

    My mother has been reading more these last few years thanks to her good friend opening her up to murder mysteries and other books.

    She’s taken in by the Sue Grafton series currently.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Michele! Reading biographies can almost be like reading novels when the subject is right and the writing is good.

      Judy Blume is definitely a rite of passage for many young readers, and excellent high school English teachers can be SO important! I had a couple of memorable ones myself.

      I agree that the pandemic is a time for more reading for many people.

      Wonderful to hear that your mother is also reading a lot these days! Sue Grafton’s “alphabet mysteries” can indeed be addictive, and there are plenty of them.

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Oh books were highly prized in our house growing up. And woe betide if you wanted to read a ‘baby’ one too. Or a comic. AND you hand’t started on the classics at age 7. Great post Dave. Love it. Your love of books shines through.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. My parents didn’t read, neither did my Grandmother, yet I became a bookworm. A book from Karl May, the first one in a saga over 100. Cowboys and Indians, written by a German author who never visited America, yet fascinated the world with his books -just not in America.
    I read the book, wanted more and more. Over the years growing up I got quite a collection.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, nonsmokingladybug! I can definitely relate to becoming a bookworm when one’s parents aren’t bookworms.

      Glad that Karl May had such an impact on developing your love of reading! He must have had quite an imagination — and perhaps an expertise in research — to have written books like that about America’s Old West without ever visiting the country. Sounds amazingly prolific, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Karl May died 1912, most of the books were written between 1890 and 1900. The Wild West the way he thought it could be.
        His books sold over 100 Million times all over the world and were translated in 40 languages. Just not into English -which I never understood.

        Liked by 3 people

        • I haven’t read May, so cannot comment based on my own familiarity with his books, but it’s my impression he suffered, here in the US at least, for being German during the height of WWI propaganda, and later, by being somehow connected to a proto-Nazi sensibility, or at least, by being a boyhood favorite of too many in the Third Reich.

          Hardly seems fair, as he was dead already, but he’s certainly not the last person to be held posthumously to standards he may never have encountered or endured in life.

          Liked by 2 people

  24. I didn’t read a book for grown-ups until I became a legal grown-up. I hated classic literature as a teenager, because I found it to be too wordy and boring, at that age. My mom and sisters were the avid readers, at the time. We had a lot of grown up fiction laying around the house, but a majority of it was 400+ Page romance novels with lots of drawn out descriptions of scenery and metaphors and similes by the ton—which also used to for me. So I stuck with, what used to be called juvenile fiction. R. l. Stine and Christopher Pike were my literary demigods. Then while a senior in high school, I read The Listeners, which is an adults’ sci fi Book by Christopher Pike. Yeesh, that book was graphic. No 20 page metaphoric descriptions of sunrises and mountain goats in there. If that book is still in print, I would advise people to wear a diaper while reading it. After that, I read Marylin Manson’s autobiography. You can’t get any more 18-and-over than that.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Dear Dave, I love this post as I am a mother of two girls and wanting to pass on my love of books—and all my books—to them. Your post helps me in my guidance. In my younger years, I loved Anne of Green Gables, Beloved, Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, and Catcher in the Rye, oh, and “The Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. My mother and her mother were both avid readers. Mom enjoyed psychological thrillers and horror while my grandmother was into romance novels—the big, thick juicy ones, not the Harlequin type.

    I can’t remember a time before I was able to read. We lived in a small town that boasted a decent county library. Before I was twelve I’d read everything their children’s section contained and the librarian began helping me select appropriate adult books.

    Soon, I was reading anything I could get my hands on. My mom’s books, my grandmother’s. Some probably weren’t what a teenaged girl should’ve been reading, but I don’t think they warped me in any way.

    Now, I’d better go bury that body in the flower bed before it starts to smell.

    Liked by 5 people

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