Friday, October 17, 2008

Books of my kidhood - "They're Grrrreat!"

When I was a kid, I'd read the back of a cereal box if there was nothing else available.
Which is why I tried to make sure that there was usually something else available (I found plot and characterization a little thin on the ground in Frosted Flakes -- sure, Tony the Tiger was an appealing enough hero at first, but his one-liner dialogue was quickly wearying).

(As a side note, I find it interesting that, while I am now writing for that particular niche known as Young Adult, I really wasn't aware of there even being such a thing when I was a kid. I did read books that were aimed at younger audiences - Walter Farley's Black Stallion books were a particular fave when I was very young, but it never occured to me to make any kind of distinction. If the story was good, I read it.)

Pretty early one, I discovered I had a strong penchant for historical fantasy. I was carting around my dad's battered paperback copy of James Clavell's Shogun - all 1210 pages of it - in grade 7 (all the kids in my French class wanted to read the naughty bits, as I recall). I fell madly in love with Pauline Gedge's first two novels, Child of the Morning (an imaginative telling of the life of Ancient Egypt's woman pharoah Hatshepsut) and The Eagle and the Raven (the story of the Roman invasion of Britain and the Boudiccan Rebellion) .

I spent hours in the library poring over books on Greek and Norse mythology.

I went through a period where I read a whole whack of Victoria Holt/ Jean Plaidy costume dramas.

My dad and brother and I traded adventure novels like baseball cards or halloween candy.

I devoured Anne McCafferey's Pern novels.

I began collecting comics and experienced some of my most memorable reading moments lost in the panels of those pages (and don't dare tell me that comics can't possibly constitute a worthy form of literature with frequently deep, rich, resonating themes - ever read Watchmen? Or the X-men graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills? Powerful stuff.)

In junior high I started memorizing passages from Romeo and Juliet, and then other Shakespeare plays, just 'cause I loved the way those words felt spinning around in my brain. And we all know where that stuff led me...

And then, one time on a road trip down to Montana, I found a paperback copy of a book called Firelord, by Parke Godwin and it sent me hurtling down the road of Arthurian literature (from whence I have never really returned), leading from Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave series to Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon to T.H. Whyte's Once and Future King, to Malory's Mort d'Arthur, to Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry (which led to me reading all of his other stuff, of course), to Jack Whyte's Dream of Eagles series, and on and on...

I loooooved being carried away by other times, other places, other worlds. I adored the epic stories, the sweeping romances, the heightened realities. I still do. I am, at heart, most at home in the sections of the bookstore labelled SF/F or Historical Fiction.

That's not to say that I don't read quieter stuff or contemporary stories or stuff that isn't catagorized as 'genre', but that is the stuff that drew me as a kid. Those books beat the heck outta reading the Wheeties box again.

Those books are GRRRRRREAT!


Jillian Cantor said...

I wasn't really aware of the distinction between YA and adult as a kid either. I just read what I liked, and I used to (and still do) trade books with my mom, who actually reads more books than I do.

Maureen Lipinski said...

Great post!

Some of my favorite books, even today, would be classified as YA. As a matter of fact, I have a long "shopping list" of books I'm dying to read and a good half of them are YA!