Friday, August 6, 2004

Books I Read as a Child

These days it seems to me that I don't get to read nearly as much as I once did. As a child I was a very avid reader. Like most kids I started out with Curious George and the books by Dr. Seuss. I am still very fond of both and if I ever have children, it will probably be those books that I start them out with. Indeed, I have often said Dr. Seuss is the greatest poet of the 20th century!

Of course, as I got older I read more sophisticated fare. I don't know what was the first book of any length I read. I think it was The Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle. The title sums up the book very well, as Pyle followed the outline of the old legend very loyally. My fascination with Robin Hood, King Arthur, and the Middle Ages began at a very early age, fueled to some degree by the old Adventures of Robin Hood TV series from Britian. In junior high I read another book by Howard Pyle based in the medieval era. Men of Iron followed a squire on his path to knighthood. I remember it being my one of my favourite books as a child. I cannot remember if I read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott or not, although I seem to remember I read it when I was fairly young. It does seem that it would be the sort of book that would appeal to me.

In addition to various books set in the Middle Ages, I also read books set in other historical eras. To this day, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson is one of my favourite novels. And to this day I cannot deny a certain fascination with the Age of Piracy. I think that is true of many boys and I am not sure that we ever grow out of it! I also read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It wasn't the only horror novel I read as a child either. I also read Dracula by Bram Stoker and Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. After dozens of movies, I don't think a lot of people think of Dracula or Frankenstein's monster as very frightening, but these books seemed pretty intense to me as a child!

Of course, I have always been drawn to fantastic literature. I have very fond memories of A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle. She wrote two more books in the series, A Swiftly Tilting Planet and An Acceptable Time, but both were published at a time when I felt I was too old for "kids' books." The folly of youth, I guess. I also read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis. Lewis wrote the Narnia series as Christian allegory, although it is written in such a way that even non-Christians can enjoy the books as fantasy literature. Given my taste for fantays literature, I naturally read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. As a child I prefered The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, although the latter grew on me. Both would rank in a top ten of favourite books of all time if I ever made one!

I read a good deal of science fiction as a child. Among these were the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. I read Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and A Journey to the Centre of the Earth when I was very young. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is still one of my favourite works. Over all, I still prefer Verne to Wells, although I love Wells' books dearly. I read The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and War of the Worlds in junior high.

Of course, my childhood reading was not limited to the "classics." In the Sixties, Bantam had started reprinting the Doc Savage novels from the old Doc Savage pulp magazines. As a fan of superheroes and fantastic literaturee, Doc Savage was naturally right up my alley. I have probably read over 100 of the novels over my lifetime and I still read them to this day. In the wake of Doc's renewed success, other publishers followed suit and reprinted the adventures of other pulp heroes. As a child, then, I also read various adventures of The Shadow, The Spider, and The Avenger.

I think reading as a child did help me a good deal. It gave me a greater grasp of the English language, improved my imagination, and taught me things that I would not have known otherwise (although I don't know how much use knowing what a tesseract is would be in everyday life...). Indeed, I am a writer, even though I do not make enough money at it to make a living from it. I worry that the youth of today may not read enough, distracted as they are by video games, the internet, TV, and movies. The success of the Harry Potter series may be a good sign, so that they may actually be reading books as much as past generations. I hope so.

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