asked, "What were your childhood reading habits and favorite books? Has anything changed drastically as you've gotten older? What has stayed constant? Are there any childhood favorite that you plan to or have already shared with E.? Ones that you don't want to?"
I had a lot of favorite books. I think I would have said for a large percentage of my childhood that my favorite book was The Little Prince
. I also — and I realize this is not actually quite answering the question, but it's what I wanted to talk about -- have a short list of books that are labeled in my head with something that happens to Will in The Dark Is Rising
(which is not coincidentally on that list), the books for which this is true: the world he had inhabited since he was born seemed to whirl and break and come down again in a pattern that was not the same as before.
These are the books for which there's a before
and an after
in my life; I wasn't the same person after I read them. (I also was lucky enough to get to them at exactly the right point in my life for them to have that kind of explosive impact.) In chronological order:
1. A Wrinkle in Time
. This is literally the first book I remember reading. I was sick and my mom picked up a bunch of books from the library that the librarian recommended. One of them, I remember, was Dr. Doolittle, and I went on to read pretty much all the books in that series; but I don't remember the act of reading it. This, I remember: I remember being bored by the first chapter ("it was a dark and stormy night," really? Even at whatever age I was, I remember rolling my eyes at the cliche, not being aware that L'Engle was playing with cliche). I remember flipping idly to the chapter called "The Man with Red Eyes" and being utterly hooked, and reading to the end and having to go back and read the first half of the book.
2. The Dark Is Rising
. My fourth-grade language arts teacher had this book (she had the best library ever, and I read a lot of really awesome books that year), with the ugliest cover ever. Also the most boring back cover copy ever: For the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight.
As I remember, that was it! Nothing about the Old Ones, the Dark and the Light, the magical Signs… so I was really not particularly interested in reading it. (And it also made it sound as if Will was, like, three years old.) At Christmas I thought it would be good to check it out because it was a Christmas story. And… and that was that. There's a strangeness to this book, a sense of a very different logic and thought process, a sharp contrast between that and ordinary life, that was unlike any book I'd ever read before.
3. The Tombs of Atuan
. This was the first of the Earthsea books that I read. It was in my middle school library, where I went pretty much every lunchtime to escape from, well, seventh grade, and I don't remember now why I picked it up, but I got sucked into the dark world of the tombs. (It is still my favorite of the Earthsea books.)
4. Ender's Game
. Yes, yes, I know, OSC is crazy as a loon these days, and I can now see some really disturbing things even in this book, but wow, when I read it at nerd camp as a ninth grader it was a revelation. One of the other kids — I think it was someone I didn't even know that well, but who was hooked on it as well — lent it to me, and I remember basically devouring it, ignoring everything and everyone else for as long as it took me to read it.
I feel the same way, as an adult, about Dante's Divine Comedy
, Bujold's Vorkosigan books, Cynthia Voigt's Tillerman series (which I somehow missed as a child, even though I remember seeing them at the library everywhere), and Fullmetal Alchemist.
There are a lot of other books I loved, of course, some of which I love even more than the books above, but which either grew on me gradually or which I appreciated more as time went on, or which I simply love very much, without it being an explosive kind of love. Looking at our bookshelf: the Asimov robot stories; Pamela Dean's Tam Lin
; the Narnia books; Les Miserables
, of course! The Hero and the Crown
; the Riddle-Master books (I feel like I should say something about these, because they're incredibly special to me, but I don't have much to say except… I love them, a lot); Lord of the Rings
, of course! These are the ones I read over and over again, so many times I probably have large portions all but memorized.
As an adult, the books that are rather like this for me are, for example, Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books, which I love a lot but which snuck up on me rather than changed me all at once. Also books like Hild
, although I feel like I shouldn't add that to the list until I've read the next two.
I think mostly my reading habits are pretty similar (majority SF/fantasy, but a fair amount of mainstream fiction, and occasional nonfiction; I read more poetry as a child and teen, and scarcely any these days), but the biggest change from my childhood to adult reading habits is that I wasn't picky at all as a child. I would read anything
, and I also felt that I had to finish books I started. I read the entire text of both The Mists of Avalon
and Anna Karenina
, both of which I thought were actually kind of boring and neither of which I would have at all the patience to read today. About ten years ago, I stopped reading doorstopper fantasy, except sometimes for Song of Ice and Fire
(and even in that case not really; I skip through and read selected parts). And of course I wasn't nearly so picky about… well… let's just say that I read Piers Anthony. An embarrassingly large amount of Piers Anthony. These days, I do a lot more either not finishing books or not starting them in the first place.
I cannot wait
until E. gets big enough for me to share all these books with her. I want to share them all! (Except, of course, the books mentioned in the previous paragraph.) She's… not there yet. We are currently reading our first non-picture book, The Secret Garden
, which is another book I love, love, love; and so far her major concerns (really major, I hear about them practically every time we open the book) are the following: a) Why did everyone die of cholera? Do you know anyone who died of cholera? How do you get cholera? Etc. b) Why did Mary not know how to put on her clothes when she was nine? I'm five and I can put on my own clothes! [A valid point, but she brings it up every time, even when we're not reading anything about clothes!] Does she know how to put on her clothes yet? and c) Is the robin going to be in this chapter? All the other things in the text she doesn't seem to engage with, particularly. So, uh, yeah, we've got a ways to go.