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.