A thought provoking post by Dorothy over at Of Books And Bikes has caused me to ponder the influence of my parents on my reading habits, my love for books, and to wonder why my brothers were not similarly influenced.
Strangely enough, I think most of my parent’s reading was done before my brothers and I showed up; we have a huge collection of books, enough to fill over ten large book cases, but I have trouble remembering my parents actually sitting around with a book in hand. My father had a strong predilection for Dick Francis, 70’s Sci-Fi and James Bond styled spy novels, while my mother has a an ecletic taste for 19th C works and French literature. They both shared a love for Georgette Heyer, and I can remember them each reading one of her novels while lying in bed during a rare Sunday afternoon.
For the most part, however, television seemed to claim my father’s attention, which in turn seemed to force my mother to abandon novels in favor of keeping him company. Both continued to profess a love for books, and encouraged me to read, but were rarely to be found in the act itself. In delicto flagrante, as it were, book in hand!
My mother ensured that as children we were surrounded by hundreds of bright, colorful books, filled with gorgeous illustrations depicting fabulous voyages by hot air balloon, the travails of feeding your gold fish too often, and the marauding nature of caterpillars. From there I graduated in about 4th grade to a wonderful series of slender books about a young boy who, with the aid of a magical black cat, is immerged in a surreal and frightening world of witches, ghosts and curses. The stories were simple, but incredibly evocative, and the wonderful artwork on each page set my imagination afire. It took little to jump to Choose Your Own Adventure books, and my love for fantasy was cemented.
Ah, the endless rows of lurid green spines belonging to my Fighting Fantasy collection! Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston, two names enshrined forever within my youth. My friend Jamie and I collected the whole series, and I would spend endless evenings carefully choosing which forest path to take, collecting the necessary items to defeat the villain from a series of doleful and frightening locations, interacting with all manners of incidental characters, and studying the dark pictures that occasionally accompanied a panel. Perhaps what captured my imagination was the tone of the novels, the menacing, almost gothic world in which they took place, whether I was a demon hunter crossing fog enshrouded fields to return to my desecrated home, or a young thieve in Port Blacksand, intent on passing my trial and entering the Thieves Guild, no matter the price.
My interest in Fantasy and Sci-Fi blossomed, and my own bookshelves attest to highschool fascination with such works. David Gemmel, Terry Pratchett, Heinlein and Asimov.
Countless series revolving around the ancient bildungsroman wherein a young, naive youth learns of his boundless talents and potential, and is swept up into a world of intrigue and magic, danger and love. Everything from the Hobbits of the Shire to orphans and baker’s boys, all taking up sword and wand to change the world.
Except for David Gemmel – ah, the Drenai Saga, Tenaka Khan, Druss the Legend, Waylander the Slayer and the others who’s exploits I followed avidly and worshipped! Gemmel introduced me to a basic form of existentialism – subtle moments in his novels where the heroes and villains would pause and reflect on the futility of their actions in the eyes of the universe, the uncaring mountains, the endless landscapes that had seen it all. That these world-weary men should strive on in the face of such indifference became the mark of true heroism to me, and impressed me much more than the fanciful tales of orphans becoming kings.
My parents never attempted to steer me towards classic literature. That wasn’t really their passion, and they were fine with my interest in ‘genre’ works. My father would occasionally point me in the direction of a favorite of his: Macroscope by Piers Anthony, The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith, the Flashman series. But as long as I was reading, they were content.
Perhaps this explains my brother’s lack of interest in books. They were equally festooned with gorgeous and sumptuous children’s books, but with them, the love for turning pages never really caught on. Bot appreciate the value of reading, and both occasionally go through phases where they tear through a number of books in a frenzy of reading, but I doubt they finish more than one book every four or five months. Why is that? Why did I demonstrate a delight in what to them was only of passing interest? Why did my imagination spark and catch when their attention failed to become engaged? I don’t think the difference came as a result of our being inculcated with different values or the like – I would simply dwell over the books longer and read them more avidly when we were really little.
Nature trumping nurture? Perhaps. It bears more thinking on!