In what amounts to a not-terribly-unusual event, one of the things I wrote for the Fixer blog tour did not end up being used. This was a guest blog on the subject of my favorite childhood books, and I enjoyed my answer enough to want to share it with all of you anyway…
Favorite Childhood Books
The topic on which I am to write today is, “favorite childhood books,” and I have to admit I found this far more daunting than I probably should have. Because the first question, of course, is: how far back shall I go?
In a conversation with a friend in which I brought up this post, she suggested, “just say Where the Wild Things Are” because everyone read that, so I must surely have. And everyone loved it, so I must surely have. Except I don’t remember reading it. I’m very sure I did, I just don’t remember.
I do remember reading Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, and that did have an impact on my life so I should maybe start there. I adored this book, and it made me say, first, “I’m going to be a writer,” and second, “I’m going to be a poet.” This would be the last time I aspired to be a poet, but the writer thing stuck.
Another favorite was Pogo. When I was very young my mother needed to go to the Cambridge Public Library regularly for research, and rather than hang out in the kids’ area I’d wander the stacks. One time there I discovered the Pogo collection, and devoted much too much time to reading all of them. Pogo, as you know if you are either much older than I am or have access to Wikipedia, was a political commentary comic strip that was pure genius, provided one knew what the politics being commented upon were about. I didn’t, but I loved the strip anyway.
Then there were the mysteries, beginning with The Hardy Boys. I remember exactly nothing about the books aside from my having read many of them. It’s possible the plots from nine or ten are still rattling around in my head somewhere and destined to surface in some hopefully non-plagiaristic form in the future.
After that I graduated to Sherlock Holmes and all the Agatha Christie mysteries. I much preferred the Christie books over anything Conan Doyle wrote. I wasn’t yet ten, but something about Sherlock bugged me. It always struck me that if every mystery could be solved partly because some aspect of something—a brand of tobacco, say—was perfectly, completely unique, then the writer was cheating. (I feel the same way now about the CSI shows.) On the other hand, Christie weaved all of the information necessary to solve the mystery into her stories, yet somehow I never could do it before the detective did. That’s good writing.
I read plenty of fantasy books as well. A staple was Piers Anthony, who seemed to have an endless supply of quick, easy-to-digest books that were just clever enough to keep me reading. I of course read Tolkien, but I don’t think I ever loved it, because there’s only so much elf poetry one person can stand. But I loved a lot of the sword and sorcery brand of writing he inspired.
Maybe the most impactful book I read as a child was one given to me in seventh grade. We did a secret Santa thing in school, and I was the weird quiet kid who read books a lot, hadn’t quite hit puberty yet, and had head lice that one time a while ago, so naturally the person who got me didn’t know what to do with me other than buy a couple of books and hope for the best. One of the two books gifted (I forget the second) was Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R Donaldson. Here’s a tip for people out there with precocious seventh graders looking for a challenging fantasy book: do not give them Lord Foul’s Bane. Really, just trust me. I don’t know if it was the scene where a peaceful village of tree-dwelling people were murdered violently or just the fact that the hero character’s first meaningful act was to rape someone, but this book gave me nightmares.
What else? The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of course: everyone read that, right? Also comic books were pretty big for me. When I was younger comics were things I found every now and then in a newsstand, but I remember the day that changed. I was in sixth grade and in Harvard Square when I discovered a store devoted entirely to selling them. (It’s called The Million Year Picnic, and it’s still there.) For someone who had never once gotten the chance to read an entire multi-issue storyline—because newsstands don’t carry multiple issues of the same book at the same time—this was a revelation.
From here I would love to get into conversations about horror writers like Stephen King, but to do that I have to redefine childhood as something that includes college. I can do that, but it probably makes more sense to just tell the very curious among you to look at my GoodReads library.