Ms. Kate’s Book Blog has made up a meme and tagged the world. I’m game:
1. How old were you when you learned to read and who taught you? I taught myself to read at the age of three. Somewhere in the family archives is a snapshot taken by my father that shows me lying on my stomach in the living room of the first house I can remember, reading the Daily Smalltown Standard.
2. Did you own any books as a child? If so, what’s the first one that you remember owning? If not, do you recall any of the first titles that you borrowed from the library? I “owned” dozens of books, some of them confiscated from my parents’ shelves and others bought with my allowance. A few can still be found on the shelves of my old bedroom, including a complete set of Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers, a long-forgotten series of volumes to which my parents wisely subscribed on my behalf. It was the Best Loved Books series that introduced me to Beat to Quarters, Call of the Wild, Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Tom Sawyer, Treasure Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and the Sherlock Holmes stories, among many other good things. They were, to be sure, abridged versions, but what did I know? In addition, I went through a brief but intense period of youthful interest in comic books. My favorites were Batman, The Flash, and The Green Lantern. (I didn’t discover Spider-Man until much later.) I also owned several Peanuts paperbacks.
3. What’s the first book that you bought with your own money? Alas, I can’t remember–I was buying books from early childhood onward, and they piled up fast. The first book I clearly remember owning, though, was The Complete Sherlock Holmes, which my Uncle Jim gave to me as a Christmas present forty years ago. It traveled with me all the way from Smalltown to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where it disintegrated at long last, having given me half a lifetime (I hope!) of loyal service.
4. Were you a re-reader as a child? If so, which book did you re-read most often? I re-read all my favorite books regularly, but I especially liked Little Men, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. I saw the 1935 film version of The Scarlet Pimpernel for the first time in January, and found it satisfyingly faithful to my fond memories of the Baroness Orczy’s book.
5. What’s the first adult book that captured your interest and how old were you when you read it? I started dipping into my parents’ Reader’s Digest condensed books at an inappropriately early age–I can’t have been more than ten. Again, I read so many of them that I don’t recall which came first, but the one I remember most vividly is Advise and Consent, Allen Drury’s 1959 Washington novel, which I still revisit from time to time, always with pleasure. I was also hugely impressed by Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, and so it tickled me no end to be able to review the Broadway revival of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial a few months ago, even though the production wasn’t any good.
6. Are there children’s books that you passed by as a child that you have learned to love as an adult? Which ones? Except for the Dr. Seuss books, I didn’t read any of the well-known modern children’s books as a boy. Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and several of the Little House books were read out loud to me in elementary school, though, and I loved them all. I read them for myself a few years ago and enjoyed them even more. I read and liked the first three or four Harry Potter books not long after they came out, but lost interest after the first Harry Potter film was released. Snobbery, I guess.