When He Was a Kid

First Reading Recollections

My travel and writing obsessions began after reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki–I was ten. After that, all I wanted to do was travel, explore, and look for new worlds. Not many new worlds around my neighborhood so books came in handy, for a while. I didn’t catch the reading habit until I was mesmerized by a freshman college English teacher. Books took too long and I had to move. Along with other intrepid friends, we went exploring. Everywhere. Small kids, on small bikes, riding further and further away from home, until one day mom got a phone call form a friend who saw us crossing the Columbia River, many miles away. Up until that time, mom was content to think my euphemism “exploring” meant a ride to the park. Exploring was cut way back, but not nearly as far as mom was ever led to believe.

Censored — Cautionary Tale For Adults

I can’t remember at what age I first spotted book one of the Studs Lonigan trilogy by Jame T. Farrell on my dads bookshelf, but young boy fire blazed when I scanned the cover. Unfortunately, the book didn’t hold the promise of the cover and after a few pages I fell asleep with the book open on my bedside table. Strange, it was gone when I woke up, only to reappear on a shelf in my dad’s study. The book was at least 27% more interesting now.

My dad was pretty good about the birds and the bees as puberty struck, so I must have been way too young when the Studs Lonnigan discovery was made. Adults drawn up, hooking up on the cover of a literary book– I mean, how bad could it have been back then? For the next few weeks, the book went back and forth — my room, back to the bookshelf, my room, etc. etc. When they could tell I wasn’t about to let this new treasure slip away they began to hide the book, but no hiding spot was up to the task, until one day, it was gone. I figured they must have tossed it. The only copy at the main branch of the public library was a library bound edition with no pictures on the cover. A copy was also available at the neighborhood branch of the public library, but you could always bet that Mrs. Sparkle was on the circulation desk, ready to protect young boys like myself from myself. The main branch offered even less hope as we always went as a family downtown and the chances of sneaking this book home were nill.

Then one day, mom’s vigilance lapsed and I got lucky. It must have been during a teacher prep day as I was forced to go with mom to her bowling league. After she unloaded her ball from her bowling bag, I spotted the book curled at all four corners where the bowling ball had made an impression. When mom was up for her first throw, I grabbed the book and found a molded plastic chair in a corner of the smoke filled billiard area. And like a madman I read. After finishing the first few chapters I began to skim — most of it was about some pissed off guy, interested more in politics than you know what.

After returning the book to the bowling bag, I knew there had to be more — more than the gun totting babes in Argosy, Field and Stream, or the other outdoor, real guy, he man magazines I read at the barber shop. It would be awhile before Tom Jones, Moll Flanders, and Lady Chattersly Lover — books of real literary merit — found their way into my hands. And thus began my love affair with dry old boring Mr. Dewy and his system. Oh how he did steer me to books my mom and dad never knew about. Brilliant I was in the use of the card catalog when looking at subject headings related to Studs Lonigan — rebellious youth, sex, and so on. Bless the library and the open stacks for the nondescript covers that held magic for a young boy. Even though my interests sometimes took a decidedly lurid detour, it was still the action packed, travel adventure books, that stuck with me and led me on a well worn path to Mr. Carnige’s sacred homes for books.

So, words of caution to parents who hide books from their kids — you are playing with fire. The best way to insure a kid reads a book is to put a hex on it. Better to openly discuss the content and your concerns and see where that goes. And most importantly — read the book. Many a kids has heard from me that they need to respect the wishes and wisdom of their parents — and yeah yeah, I know, whose side am I on, but wait for it… this wisdom is always tempered with stories of how their librarian snuck many a book under the covers without fear of discovery. Am I not the one who constantly preaches that the library should be like a candy shop?

But I digress. Although you might think this path of early licentiousness led me in the wrong direction, not so. As I said, it was only a detour.

 

 

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