Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Literary Escape

After the creepy bedtime stories, and Dick & Jane, the first book I learned to read, my truest first awareness of bumping into Mr. Literature was during the reading of a book in all my days of literature known and unknown I will never forget. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck. Likely my second book? I don't know. I know I was in elementary school, and attest if anything, that book proved just how stubborn I was. I became so infuriated with the Red Pony, stopping at every other word asking my mother, "what's this word," to which her reply, "sound it out," and then "look it up." I can't explain the surge of anger, but to this day vividly recall what hell.

If enraged is but one meager word, then I'll move on to define triumph. I made it my mission, and passion, to learn every word in the dictionary; or rather dictionaries... two volumes long, over a thousand pages steep, and umm... a few pounds each. They came with a set of encyclopedias too, and I'm not including the page count on the synonyms, and the big Greek ethos-etymology chauffeuring, the syntaxes and suffixes egregious enclosures, and of course that great nice big fat fluffy index. Two monsters I'm describing here. But those were some good rainy reading days. And as thus, my concrete evolution into the world of literature opened.

No! I never finished reading the dictionary. I don't believe I got through the A's, and remember nada from my many months, if not years of self-inflicted studies. Zilch. Nein. Nix. NO-thing as I recall today. But it was fun. This was the point where my father had clear run out of ways to punish me. I couldn't have been happier, escaping and getting so thoroughly lost in a world of words.

Flashes of Fine Iconic Literary Moments.


Reading Marvin Arnett's book, Pieces from Life's Crazy Quilt, was one. I got so tickled reading about her describing how she tried sneaking adult books out of the library. I did that too. Except I never snuck, and don't recall any strange looks, or anyone questioning my selections... all always adult books... unless I count my mother questioning me after catching a glimpse of the strange bloody covers I stayed buried beneath. But I shrugged, and she left me alone.

I also enjoyed reading poetry. Paul Laurence Dunbar was one whose name stuck on me. But then there was another poem I read in second grade. I loved that poem, and tried to do a rendition of it in GEM. The title: 'I Love Poetry' is based on my memory of the snazzy jazzy poem I read in grade 2; since I couldn't locate an actual copy of it. (All I remembered were a few words and the cadence; not the title of the poem, or the book). Well, what do you know? I was reading 'When We Were Colored,' by Eva Rutland and lo and behold the author cited a part of that ole' time poem, and its title! Happenings like that I count among my most fascinating gifts.

My greatest find was reading up on the lives of poets and writers, which soon extended to reading up on the lives of people. Biographies and history became my reading preference. My admiration extends far to those who've trailblazed the literature course. I know their stories. The lives people lived, their experiences. It all opened my eyes wide, teaching me to read deep beyond each word and listen to the voices. Before I knew it, I was reading about animals and their habitats; and reptiles and their existence, and the next thing I know, I'm hooked on how planes fly, and what all those planets were out in space doing, and what astronauts needed to know to prepare for flights into space... when one day, desperate to find a new genre to sync into, I find myself reading about how chefs prepare food!

My point. I thirst for information. I hunger to read. The use of language. The abuse of words. The style of prose. The abstract sarcasm. The plump vernaculars. The shocking diction. Characters coming and going. An author whose voice I heard but never got to know. And aah! The sheer breadth of a story. The storytellers.

At the turn of it all, I knew the decimal system better than the decimal writer. Never read a review, or even knew when the next book was coming out, and certainly knew nothing about a best-seller list. There was no such thing as a bad book, and many I passed on because the pages didn't turn as neatly, or quickly. Nostalgically, I still recall that day, standing right there in the library stomping my foot, hissing to myself, "I wished these writers would write more books... and hurry up, and write faster, too!”

And now here we are. I am. Proudly, and still proudly, addicted to reading... and of course now too, writing as well. This is where I am when I read... and write. Every title published by OEBooks I aim to project this literary experience.

11 comments:

  1. I do remember Dick and Jane books. I actually bought one last year to hang on to the memories :-)

    Reading books by Judy Blume and later discovering poetry and African American authors was like finding a gold mine! I couldn't get enough and wondered why I had to find them on my own. Well, maybe that was the beginning of my learning to be resourceful because I kept digging for authors and talk about upset when somebody pulled me away to do something when I was reading. Oh, it was like getting the life squeezed out of me!

    I loved Alice Childress, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sydney Sheldon and so many others. Once I was in 7th grade, I was sneaking to read romance novels. Ooh, I loved that forbidden stuff!

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  2. That's funny, your recalling the names. As I was writing this post more and more was coming back to me. I wanted to write more:-) a subject I could carry on forever. But a part of not citing titles and authors, is partly due to me blocking a lot out. I started out reading the Boston Strangler and books like it, and don't care to go into those graphic details.

    I loved poetry though. The poets in that time were just phenomenal. But never read novels or YA...

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  3. Oh and Tosh... thanks! Glad someone remembers that time and is as nostalgic about it as me;-)

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  4. Hello from London *waves* I found you on the She Writes blog hop and I am your latest follower. You say that there is no such thing as a bad book. Really? You can read my blog here 40blogSpot

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  5. Thanks MuMu... I'm about to get to hopping in a bit. Looks like I'll be updating my blog roll soon;-)

    And someone please help me understand how you hold on to a 'bad' book...and keep reading?

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  6. Okay, I have one question for you: Have you done the same things with your kids? "Sound it out," "Look it up?" My mom did the same thing.
    What a beautiful story. I could just see you with your dictionaries.
    I don't remember my first book but I sure remember reading Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. I loved curling up with a book and letting my imagination fly.
    Thanks for bringing back some memories.

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  7. Ok Marcia, now I feel a little guilty. I didn't do this with my kids:-( And now today they aren't what I'd call cheerful book lovers. But on a happy note, I'm glad it's brought back fond memories.

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  8. RYCJ - Great post! It reminded me of times I was grounded, and the joy of being left alone to read in my room. Or reading under my blankets at night with a flashlight so my mom wouldn't catch me. And how I would dream of being locked in a library for a weekend with all those books, all those voices, and all those stories. Thank you for the trip back in time.

    I, personally, don't continue to read a book that doesn't hold my attention. Life is too short and there are too many great stories waiting to be read.

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  9. Glad you liked it, Nancy. Can't say I ever dreamed of being locked in a library, but I did soak up many hours getting lost in that place. Gosh, now you're taking me back there again;-)!

    And so true about the great stories out here to sink into!!!

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  10. This is a wonderful remembrance and it prompted me to think about my first book loves. I feel as if I have always loved reading, but it was in high school that I fell in love with specific books. I also loved the Red Pony (I read it in junior high), but my all-time favorites are Tolkien's trilogy... Read if three times in HS.

    Good luck with your writing!

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  11. Tolkien's trilogy huh? I've heard about that one. I'll have to look into it. Marcia, thanks for letting me take you back, and I appreciate the good luck wish.

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