In my early blogging days I wrote about the progression of my musical tastes through the different stages of my life. I have been thinking of doing the same with my literary tastes, but for some reason it doesn’t seem so easy.
One of the surprising things about considering the music in my life was how complete I was able to make the list. Of course I didn’t refer to every group, artist or recording that I liked over the years, but I was able to recall all of those who had an important influence on my tastes.
(See: Changing Tastes)
Applying the same approach to my relationship with books is much a more complicated process, but I’ll do what I can.
My mum taught me to read long before I started school. I have vague memories of two “Ladybird’ books, one about the alphabet and the other about farm animals, which must have played a part in my introduction to reading.
At school I remember “Janet and John” books that were used as a basic introduction to reading in class. Among the books available later were the “Thomas the Tank Engine” series and “Topsy & Tim” books.
A significant part of my reading journey began with a nose bleed that started on the way to school one day. I spent some time out of class with huge wads of cotton wool to soak up the blood. Eventually the school staff decided it would be better if I bled to death at home rather than on school premises and they contacted my mum who took me home.
I was very upset about missing class that day because I would miss the story broadcast via radio each week. As compensation my mum arranged my membership at the local library and selected a few books for me to read.
Apart from those few details I have no memory of specific books in those early years, but as my time in Primary school progressed I was a keen reader of the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series. I also enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books prior to the TV adaptations and Doctor Dolittle was a friend long before Rex Harrison played him in the original film.
Part of the problem in recalling the books of my early life is the fact that there were so many of them and their significance to this project is merely due to the fact that I can remember their titles or parts of their plot.
Dodie Smith’s “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” is memorable partly because of the animated Disney film and also because my family had a Dalmatian for a pet. And there are similar Disney links for “Emil and the Detectives” and “The Incredible Journey”.
In my final Primary years the class library had a series of novels about wildlife. Each book focused on a different animal, creating a storyline out of its natural day to day experiences. I don’t remember any details of author or title but I loved them at the time. Those stories inspired me to write my own contribution to the genre and I spent hours filling an exercise book with the improbable exploits of a wolf cub and his family. I must have included drawings to illustrate my story because I remember one of the wolf pack in a deadly fight with a herd of buffalo (though the image I recall looks more like a cow).
My early high school years brought on an obsession with James Bond and Modesty Blaise; books with content intended for readers much older than myself. Years later I wrote fan letters to Peter O’Donnell, the author of the Blaise books and was excited to receive a reply to each typed on special “Modesty Blaise” letter head. I regret not keeping them. They could have been a valuable part of my current autograph collection.
The most memorable short story I wrote in my teenage years was a James Bond tribute. After an accident my protagonist woke to find he was the “guest” of various Bond villains, and had been mistaken as Bond himself. While I regret not keeping the story, I recognise that my memory has perhaps given it qualities that I would find lacking if I had the chance to read it again. Sometimes memory might be a kinder literary critic than reality.