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Books and certain cereals- some of them stick with you.
I watched a PBS show the other night about children and what books and reading they’re exposed to at an early age. The point was that poor children get very little exposure to books, unlike their more affluent peers. I’ve met young kids who fell into that hole. Without words in their early lives they don’t stand a chance. But that’s another topic. I had no answers then and have none now, so let me tell the rest of my story.
The show triggered memories – of books my mother read to me and those I bought later on in life.
One book of my early childhood may still be influencing me today. THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD is about a determined little engine that took on a difficult job and succeeded. I say “is about” because it’s still in print- in fact, everyone I’ve mentioned it to lately knows it very well. We even bought a copy of the original book, identical in format and design, for my grandson recently. I still remember the phrase repeated through the story as the engine puffed up a giant hill with a train full of toys. “I think I can, I think I can.” I believe that phrase became the mantra of my life, my writing life at the very least.
I’m sure my mother read it to me, and later I read it myself, along with many other books I don’t remember clearly. There are a few others my grandchildren find on my bookshelf to this day; Flappy the Seal, Resolute (about a boat), both as worn and tattered as the little engine book.
My first “big” book, known today as a chapter book, I guess, was Wilderness Adventure, by Elizabeth Page. I don’t recall the story, but I remember standing in the store, trying to convince my mother I was old enough to read that book. (I succeeded on both counts!) Later there were Black Beauty, Andersen’s Fairy Tales, Treasure Island, and the Hardy Boys mysteries to name a few I remember. The classics I read in comic book form, which gave me the action without the literary qualities of the works. As a kid I preferred that, but now I wonder what I missed. At the time I much preferred a fast moving version of those works.
Now, as a writer myself, I relish good writing. One example I love is Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. I listened to that book on a train trip. Her words were like a symphony to my ears. If you aspire to write well I recommend the book to you. Just study her words in the opening chapter if nothing else.
Another book that has stayed in my head years later is Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, written around 1900. It was a shocking book for its time- simply because the heroine, a “loose woman” in those days, wasn’t severely punished for her “indiscrete behavior”, which today we wouldn’t even blink at. Why the book has stuck with me I do not know, but it has.
So, I write love stories today and what do I read? Ah, that’s for another blog, another time. Now I’m in a rush to get my next book, A BLANKET FOR HER HEART, ready for publication. RC