I can’t remember when I first began reading. Back in the dark ages. Probably first grade and it was most likely some Dick and Jane thing. Gaak.
But I began looking at books before that. The first book I remember was a picture book about kids with long names. Probably an alphabet book with Alphonse, Betelgeuse, Christophina, Delphinia and Ermengarde, filled with colorful artwork. Or something like that. The book is long lost to the mists of time.
What I do remember is the first Science Fiction book I read. It was Against the Fall of the Night by Arthur C. Clarke. I was eight. I’d ordered it from one of those newsprint catalogs that my school gave out. It was far different fare than the horse (Marguerite Henry) and dog (James Kjelgaard) books I was used to reading. And it was mine. The book opened up my world.
At my school library, the librarian quickly pegged me and my reading habits and saved new books for me. Especially the traumatic day I came to school, lost my breakfast on the playground and had to miss library! While I waited for my mom to come get me, the librarian sent over the newest book in the Black Stallion series that she was saving for me. I was in heaven. I love librarians!
The book that had the biggest effect on my elementary years (other than some book about how to take care of a pony which I checked out of the school library countless times hoping I’d actually get a pony and a chance to use it.) was At the Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was a fat cloth book published in 1922 and was my dad’s. Illustrations in black and white by J. Allen St. John. I still have it.
I inhaled the book, even brought it to my fifth grade class when my teacher asked us to bring in a book for her to read aloud. And she did. Thus I exposed my entire class to pulp fiction of the worst kind! Go ten year old me!
After that it was all over. At the public library, the librarians turned me loose in the adult section and I roamed free. I read all the science fiction and fantasy I could get my hands on. Later on I even learned the facts of life by reading in the anthropology section. But that’s a whole different story.
My parents would drop me off at the library and go shopping downtown. Then they’d collect me hours later with more books than I could actually carry. It was a very different day and age.
I still love that library. It was a beautiful new library when I was a kid and it’s still a lovely, airy design.
Later on, when I couldn’t find the books I wanted there, I discovered bookstores. There were two in town that I remember well. Val’s, run by an ancient old lady, Val herself, was downtown. The other was called Del-Mar Books, then it might have changed to Reader’s World.
I remember their names because I saved the bookmarks. Yeah, I save those too. Looking through my piles of bookmarks is a story of bookstores past. Most of them beloved and long gone.
Anyway, all the bookstores knew me by name because I was always ordering things. First, every single one of Burroughs Mars and Venus books.
I quit reading fiction when I hit middle school. I so badly wanted a boyfriend and boys didn’t like smart girls. So I switched to reading weighty tomes like Body Language and other pop nonfiction. At least at school.
But I bought books wherever I found them, grocery stores, drug stores, the airport. Books were everywhere when I was a kid.
In High School, after I’d had a few boyfriends and decided boys were not worth stopping reading for, I started buying all of Shakespeare’s plays in editions with all the notes in them. And Christopher Fry’s plays. Because I was planning on majoring in Theatre. And oh my, was I a snob!
My second year of college I moved from sunny Montana to gloomy Seattle. I didn’t know anyone and was terribly lonely and depressed. My guidance counselor had talked me into taking all the required science, social and humanities credits outside of my major for that year. Classes with 600 other people who I didn’t want to meet.
My solution? I escaped to Pern.
I inhaled every Anne McCaffrey book I could get my hands on (and that was quite a few, thanks to the University Bookstore). I may even have lived in some of those books. I also bought a huge volume of Sherlock Holmes and devoured them. And on and on.
A few years later, when I’d dropped out of college, worked a few different jobs, gotten married and began writing (whew), I joined a book club called Babble 17. A reference, of course, to the Delany book and to the fact that we met the 17th. of every month and babbled about books. I found community and read some amazing books and talked about them with other writers and fans.
At one of those meetings I made a friend, Steven Bryan Bieler, who wrote down every book he read and rated it. I began to do the same. Amazed at how much I read some years, others not so much. I’ve kept track ever since.
A few years ago (and perhaps a couple decades later than Babble 17), I joined another book club. Our kids were all in the same grade in elementary school and one of the members was a teacher for most of the kids.
We met once a month, took turns choosing books and hosting, had awesome potluck dinners, with wine of course. And talked about books. It lasted five years and we read some awesome books. Most of which I wouldn’t have read on my own. It really stretched me as a reader.
Then last year – I read only six books. That stunned me. So this year I picked up the pace, I’m at eighteen so far. Many years it’s been about a dozen.
So, I joined another book club. Just to put a little pressure on. Because you know, there’s just not enough pressure in my life.
This book club is way out of my league, but it’s fun. Three books a month. One fantasy, one SF and this month the third one’s horror, because Halloween. In the past it’s been a graphic novel.
So, I’m struggling to get at least one, maybe two of the books read for next week. We’ll see how that goes.
My reading these days is spread far and wide, but for many years I only read non-fiction. I felt what many writers talk about. I didn’t want to be influenced by someone else’s fiction, their worlds or style.
These days, that’s not much of a problem. But occasionally, I’ll come across a book that I sense will interfere with what I’m writing. To work around this I don’t tend to read similar books to what I’m currently writing. And since I write all sorts of stories there’s always something I can read.
Including catching up on the newspaper, which I’m four days behind on, which hardly ever happens! And then there’s reading all the non-fiction on the internet. It never ends.
I have a large to be read pile of physical books. And I go to the library about once a week. And I have three reading apps on my phone, plus two library reading apps and an app from Audible to listen to books. Oh and a Kindle. Which has so many books on it that it would probably outweigh our house if they were paper books.
So, this has been a hugely long post, interspersed with fall pictures of the garden.
I’ve come full circle to when I began. I read what I want to read, when I want to read it. (Except when I’m supposed to be working. Or sleeping.) I give a book a few pages and if it doesn’t grab me, I set it aside. I may or may not pick it up again – depending on mood.
But I’ve lived on this planet too long to spend time with books I don’t enjoy. There’s too many other books out there that I know I’ll love.
And, most importantly, I don’t have to read critically, or read books that I should just because they’re important to the genre or won an award.
These days I read for fun!
And wow had that made my writing more fun.
All things connected.