I’m reading the new book, “Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman” by Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette, specifically a long interview with Neil at the end of the book, and one part of it struck a deep and resonant chord: the part where Neil talks about being an avid and voracious reader as a child, and one who also loved owning books, and began alphabetizing his own collection at an early age. Neil says,
“I remember at the age of seven, wondering whether Roger Lancelyn Green belonged in the Ls or the Gs. I was a “bookie” kid. I could sort of put my life together by books. I know what I was reading, I know what was being read to me. I can remember the teachers and the first books I ever read. Books, more than anything—TV and movies, to a lesser degree, but books were this huge, important—they were like places, they were somewhere you went.”
I felt (and still feel) much the same way. I read library books by the pound, and would try almost any book that came my way, but I also treasured every book I owned from an early age. In fact, beginning at age 12, in 1963, I began making lists of them. Below are the first three pages of that first list (I’ll show the rest tomorrow). And I think it says much about my bookie geekdom that, as soon as I thought about it, I knew exactly where to find this list. So, here are all the books (and some magazines) that I owned in 1963, first half.
These are not, in fact, in alphabetical order by author, though I remember always keeping them that way on the shelves, as much as I could. Not sure why. Many of the books were cheap paperback editions published by Scholastic for the Arrow Book Club, and sold in our grade school classes. Catalogs and order forms would come around several times a year, I’d bring them home and convince my parents I needed to buy some of these cool-sounding books. Despite limited funds for such things, they were cheap enough that they’d say yes. I’d say about a half of the books on this list are from that source. I still have a number of them on my shelves, though the cheap newsprint paper is brown and crumbling.
“Revolt on Alpha-C” was one by the prolific SF author Robert Silverberg. I don’t remember liking it much, though, and in fact it soured me on the him for some years. I finally came back to his work later. I bought all the Arrow books that were science fiction or fantasy, as well as many that were not. The Danny Dunn books were a humorous SF-ish series that I remember liking then. “Codes and Secret Writing” got a lot of use by me and my friends, for sending messages in class or out of it. “Mark Trail’s Second Book of Animals” was excerpted from the daily newspaper comic strip, and the first comics-related book I owned. I never saw the much more interesting Sunday strips until later, and have only seen a few of those. “West of the Sun” by Edgar Pangborn is an odd one, a rather adult SF novel as I recall that I didn’t understand very well. I should look it up and give it another chance.
After seeing a few issues at a friend’s house I convinced my parents to let me subscribe to “Fantasy and Science Fiction” magazine, one of many then available, and still published, though the breed is on its last legs, I think. I gave up reading it some time in the early 1980s, but for years it fed my SF and Fantasy appetite and helped form my reading tastes. I didn’t let on to my folks that some of the stories included adult themes like sex, drugs, violence and politics, though relatively mild by today’s standards. It was a wonderful magazine, and I miss reading it, but somehow I mostly moved away from short stories, finding novels more satisfying.
“The Arrow Book of Ghost Stories.” I’m not sure if I still have that one, but I well remember my favorite story, “Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons” by Walter R. Brooks, a fine humorous ghost story in the vein of “Topper,” but for kids. I already knew and loved Brooks’ “Freddy the Pig” books.
Evelyn Sibley Lampman is an author of children’s novels that I’ve enjoyed and collected ever since, and “The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek” is one of hers I liked then, and now, about a boy who finds and befriends a live, talking dinosaur.
“The Hidden Treasure of Glaston” by Eleanor M. Jewett is another book I love still, and it helped fuel a life-long interest in the King Arthur mythos. A historical novel, it tells a fine mystical mystery in medieval times at the Glastonbury, England monastery long connected with Arthur and the Holy Grail.
“Kon-Tiki” by Thor Heyerdahl. It’s been somewhat debunked as a theory, I think, but what a great adventure story! Items 37-39, three fine animal stories, two about dogs, one about a seal. A bit below are the books I then owned in The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. These were more often read by young girls, I think, but I loved them.
I don’t remember much about the SF titles at items 46 and 47, or their authors. Below that is another series of SF-ish mysteries, along the lines of Tom Swift.
And there, after the Blaine books, are the Tom Swift ones. I ate them up at age 12, but by my late teens I came to see how formulaic and repetitive they were, and stopped reading them. I gave away all such series books many years ago for other kids to enjoy.
“Island Boy” and “Shark Boy” were two good books about life in the Hawaiian islands, I think. I’d like to reread those, don’t remember too much about them, other than that I liked them. They were part of another book series we could buy at school, published by The Weekly Reader magazine that came to us free, partly as a marketing ploy to sell their Children’s Book Club books. Most of the books they sold were good, though, at least those I remember.
“Wild Geese Flying” by Cornelia Meigs is another good historical and nature story. “Lodestar,” another SF title I remember nothing about. And at the bottom is the first of the Hardy Boys books I owned. The early HB stories were the best written, the series soon became as formulaic as Tom Swift. Both series were products of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, though I didn’t know it then, cranked out at rapid pace by pulp authors.
I admit it, I was a bookie geek, and still am. Luckily, my parents were understanding. My mom had been an avid reader herself from childhood, and still is. She once wrote in a book she gave me, “May you get as many pleasures and rewards from life as you do from books.” I think I have.
More booklist tomorrow.