I love reading. I always have. I have fond memories of the old Dr. Doolittle books and Ben and Me and oh, so many other great kids books of years gone by.
As I entered my teen years, my tastes matured as well, although I don’t recall what I read then other than science fiction. Especially space travel, which at that time seemed like an impossible dream.
Then I ended up majoring in English in college, and I HAD to read so many books that I seldom (if ever) had a chance to read for pleasure anymore. I’ll never forget the course on the 20th Century Novel I took in my very last semester. We studied some pretty weird books, but one of the slightly less weird books really caught my fancy…John Barth’s The Floating Opera.
As it turned out, I moved to Cambridge, Maryland, after college and taught there for six-plus years. And that’s the setting of The Floating Opera. I was fascinated to reread that book and walk down the street from my boarding house and look more closely at the places Barth had described so vividly.
Teaching 9th grade English, I got caught up in handling book club orders for my students, and I fell in love with some of the best of teen fiction at the time. Who could ever forget The Pigman or any of the other popular teen books from the late sixties and early seventies? Not all of them were pleasant; I remember Go Ask Alice, too.
Once I got away from teaching, however, I also got away from the teen book influence. James Michener’s novels captivated me. Not just because they were excellent reads, but because he was living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at the time, and that fascinated me.
Especially when my wife (now my ex-) came home announcing that she’d gone with one of our church members who did secretarial work for Mr. Michener to their home and met him. What irony. She wouldn’t have waded through one of his novels to save her life…
For what it’s worth, my ex- was able to introduce me to Mrs. Michener when she recognized her in a department store one day. Not the same as meeting him would have been, though.
Once I’d written my first novel, I discovered how much novels had changed over the years. Those books I’d barely tolerated that last semester of college were actually typical now. Gone were introductory pages (or in Mr. Michener’s case, multiple chapters) of backstory. The author has to hook the reader in the first paragraph. Preferably in the first sentence.
Modern life is fast-paced, and the contemporary novel must maintain the reader’s interest or be thrown away or returned. Although I had an almost complete set of everything James Michener had ever written (the picture above is of just some of my collection), even I no longer had the patience to plod through his books again.
I could go on now, but I think you get the idea.
Not only did I have to learn to write differently than I’d learned to write in college, I learned to read and enjoy a different style of fiction.
And one of the joys of retirement is having the time to read as much as I want to. Not that I ever expect to return to James Michener. Like the man himself, my interest in that kind of reading has died.
Do you read fiction or non-fiction? What’s your favorite book? Do you still remember a favorite childhood book? Please share a comment with the rest of us.
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“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. “As I Come Singing”—check it out here–posts lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.