reading

Literary Milestones

I was pondering my personal literary moments in life. Looking back, I have some very vivid memories of specific places, books, and authors. Some are set in a certain place, others, more vague and prolonged as I read through an author’s body of work, or discovered a character in a series as the lived, grew, and loved.

One of my earliest book-memories isn’t in my own home. I can remember sitting on the guest bed in my Great-grandparent’s home staring at the bookselves. Rows and rows of them, fully of books I don’t clearly recall now, thirty years later. But the Zane Grey novels, all lined up together with their cream cloth cover and bright red band near the top… some of them with the original wax paper dustjacket on them. I think that was when I was perhaps six or seven.

I remember sitting on the floor in the Salem Public Library (OR) reading Oz books raptly. I had read the Wizard of Oz before, but here was a whole line of rather battered, small paperbacks which included not only the original 14 Baum books, but some thirty in total, continued by other authors after his death. I can still feel the sunshine on the side of my face, falling through the window over the low shelf onto me.

I remember the rush of pleasure in that same time, in a narrow used-book store that must have been in Salem, as that was our big-city adventure when I was between nine and ten. I don’t have any idea what the name of it was, only that it was near a bridge. Maybe it was in Portland… anyway, I pulled that green and white copy of Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus off the shelf and cradled it with glee, I’d heard of it and had been looking forward to reading more of him.

I remember the hot, stuffy back closet, with a bare lightbulb overhead, revealing the ultimate treasure, a whole shelf of dusty Edgar Rice Burroughs books, long pulled from the collection, and I was allowed access as I’d gone through pretty much all the books in the children’s collection I was allowed to, and the librarian refused to allow me, at eleven, into the adult collection. I lost myself in Pellucidar, on Mars, in the jungles and savannahs of Africa with Tarzan…

I used to go through the shelves of the Gordon-Nash Library in New Hampton, NH looking for the fattest books to read. I needed books that would keep me occupied for a while. I discovered MM Kaye that way, and was enthralled with the British India I had glimpsed in an earlier reading of Kipling’s Kim. I found Clavell, and Ian Fleming, and Margery Allingham, and Dorothy Sayers… and across the room, in the non-fiction stacks, I found a collection of Pogo, and first grasped the concept of “the enemy, he is us.”

I sneaked Heinlein. I was forbidden to read him. I look back now, knowing I was being oblivious to the sex, and enchanted with the concept of Pixel, the cat who walked through walls. I found Doreen Tovey’s books about siamese cats and their antics, and laughed until I cried at Gerald Durrell’s zoo and animal books… A friend of my grandmother’s, noticing my affection for them, handed me a collection of the first three Cat Who mysteries. Although I would later abandon that series, those were wonderful to a sixteen year old who loved anything about cats.

As an adult, I remember desperately looking for anything, something to read and resorting to the internet. Often with a baby snuggled up nursing, I found Sax Rohmer, the original pulps, read Drums Along the Hudson (the book from which Boris Karlov drew his stage name), the White Worm, and many others which have blurred into the threads that would eventually lead to Pixie Noir.

Finally, as I roamed the ‘net looking for more, I stumbled across the Baen Free Library. Ah! Here, this was the place, where the descendants of the heroic adventures I had been reading had come to rest. I ate it up, and was delighted to find in the attached forums more kindred spirits than I had ever known. Here was a place where I wasn’t considered weird for obssessively reading, I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, and I could even make the acquaintance of authors who I was learning to love their works.

It’s been almost fourteen years since I first found that oasis and so much has happened. I have two novels out, a third one on the way in May, and more planned. I have more books than I know what to do with, and don’t plan to change that any time soon. I still read widely, from mystery to action to SFF to… everything. Anything. As long as it’s a good story, I want to enjoy it.

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