To read, to dream, perchance to write...
At age 9, I fell in love
with words and therefore books
never to fall out again
one bard was all it took;
from him my first love Romeo
then King Lear and Hamlet,
Kings Richard, Henry, and John
Othello and Macbeth;
A Midsummer’ Night’s Dream spawned
Puck, my most favorite sprite
though many of the comedies
to me were a delight;
the histories enthralled me
the tragedies made me cry
the comedies brought laughter
the sonnets evoked a sigh;
to read, to dream, perchance to write
he led me to the stage
my head filled with visions
of words upon a page.
At 19, I kept him close
but tested other waters
thus did I discover
a slew of other lovers:
Borges, Fuentes, Azorín
Bécquer, Marquez, Allende
Neruda and Unamuno
were some who came my way;
from them I gained much insight
of the lovelorn, the left behind,
the angst of all mankind;
I lost myself in “isms”
that led to too much woe
but opened my mind and heart
and helped my words to flow.
I am forever grateful
to those gifted weavers of words
for giving me worlds to wander
and inspiring me to make myself heard.
The Land of Fiction
Logophile. A strange and somewhat questionable term, but whose meaning describes so many. A lover of books. Yet, how does one become a “lover of books”? What qualifies a person to be one? Is it the young kid who waits up every night to hear one more bed story? Or is it the college student who is reading yet another chapter on their designated degree? Oh, I know. It is that elderly man who sits down at the breakfast table with the latest newspaper copy open in front of him? Are these people logophiles?
To become a "lover of books", one has to fall in love, right? Instead of being that little kid who wanted a bed story, I was the one who wanted to stay just 10 more minutes outside playing. Books were seen as things of wisdom that my parents would look at ocasionally. Nothing I as a child would. However, the day came when these "knowledge holders" became something else: forced learning. Oh, how the days would go so slow as I was forced to sit and look at words on a page while the sun was shinning. After suffering for six years, my outlook of books was the same if not worse. Until, I was left out of the fun school trip because I didn't earn enough points for reading those "forced learning knowledge holders".
With a vow of retribution, I began to partake of the "knowledge holders". However, this vow turned into a statement of retribution, then a half-hearted murmur. By forcing myself to read, I began to fall in love with what I was reading. So, what book broke through the border into the land of fiction? Eragon by Christopher Paolini stopped my young heart and sent it soaring with a dragon across Alagaesia. And over my many years of visiting Middle Earth, Hogwarts, The Capital and the like, I have fallen deeper and deeper in love with those "knowledge holders".
So, what makes a "lover of books"? A logophile is someone who cherishes the rectangular pieces of knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Someone who can't stop in the middle of a binge-reading just because the clock hit 10 o'clock. Someone who instantly calms down when in a room filled with books. Or who sees a comfy chair and just wants to read.
Riding for the Brand
Louis L’Amour writes stories that take off like a bullet.
Like Easter Eggs those words turned up on any flat surface where my father found a quiet moment away, popping up magically on nightstands, coffee tables, and toilet tanks around my boyhood home, moving about as though upon invisible gremlin legs. Those words were as much a part of my Dad as the beer in the fridge, or the Mustang under the tree in the backyard. There were different books, but always that same heading in bold print across the back cover. When my parents separated, “Louis L’Amour writes stories that take off like a bullet” left with my father, and Louis L’Amour disappeared from my concerns... for a while.
The summer following the fifth grade was spent with my father. I had just read “Shane” and “The Red Badge of Courage” in school, and loved them. Having little to do while my father worked, I picked up a book from his bedside table one morning. It was a short paperback, similar to “Shane.” I read it through before my father returned home from work that day. When he did come home I couldn’t wait to ask if he had other books similar to this one?
He led me to a long shelf with paperbacks lined neatly across it, each with the name Louis L’Amour below the title, giving the appearance of a huge matching set. They were thin novellas with exciting titles like “Hondo,” “How the West Was Won,” and “The First Fast Draw.” He slid one from the shelf entitled, “Down the Long Hills.” I was hooked from the first paragraph, as Louis’ books do indeed “take off like a bullet.” The hero was a boy my age who gets lost on the prairie with a young girl and his father’s horse to care for. What got me hooked though was not so much the great plot, but the telling of it. I smelled the Sioux camp as the boy approached it; leathery, and wild. I felt the cold, lowering sky, and I watched as gray tendrils of smoke rose from the teepees to meet it. I shivered with Hardy as he looked longingly from outside the camp at his captured horse while slow, heavy snowflakes whispered down between them.
I read book after book that summer, and continued on with them when summer ended, and my sister and I were back home. I found a used book store which swapped two-paperbacks-for-one, so I started my own Louis L’Amour collection. During those many times when I could not afford a new book, or even a swap, I read those I had collected over again until the covers cracked, and the bindings failed.
Little did I know that I was receiving an added bonus from those exciting tales. Louis’ characters were the American pioneers; men and women who worked to survive. For them failure meant death. His characters were honest because the land demanded it. They worked hard, and fought hard because those were the right things to do. I was reading about those characters during an impressionable time, a time with no male figure in our house to guide or discipline a rebellious adolescent. Louis’ characters showed me the way.
Ten years of my life were spent with a paperbacked book tucked into my jeans pocket, readily available. I wanted to be like the characters Louis L’Amour created. Forty years later I still strive to be like those characters... hard-working, honest, and brave. His characters mentored me, showing me the importance of dependability. It wasn’t the pay that made them men, but their acceptance of responsibility. If you agree to take the job, then give it all you have... you “ride for the brand.” I wanted to be a man too, so when my opportunity arrived I showed up every day like they did. I gave it all I had, even when I thought the job was worth more than I was being paid. That work ethic instilled in me by a not-so-simple cowboy writer has paid-off in spades for me throughout my life.
I seldom read Louis anymore. I moved on to more challenging, if not better, reading, but I treasure those days and nights spent in Shalako, or Ulvade, or Under the Sweetwater Rim with Tell Sacket, Nita Riordan, or “Hardy”, the boy in “Down the Long Hills” who felt compelled to go find his lost horse.
So, if by chance you are looking for a light read, or a descriptive author who will carry you away to another world... or better yet, if you are a young man who needs direction, do yourself a favor. Try the man whose stories, “take off like a bullet.”
Bunnies, Body-Swappers, and Barbarians
The first book I ever read (by force) was the original "Dick and Jane" book (whatever the heck that's called - "See Dick run.", that one). My grandmother forced me to read it while in preschool, and while I hated it, I did get a leg up on kindergarten.
Fast-forward a few years to second grade and I started picking out my own books. My favorites were usually Bruce Coville (My Teacher is an Alien, Aliens Ate My Homework) and James Howe (Bunnicula), because I loved the what-if's of science fiction/horror. I also enjoyed humor in my books, since humor helps everything feel a bit easier, including growing up.
As my reading level advanced I started pulling books from my dad's old science fiction collection and ended up fixated on two authors in particular - Robert A. Heinlein and Jack L. Chalker. Most people have heard of Heinlein, and I really enjoyed his weirder, thought-provoking pieces like The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, The Door Into Summer, I Will Fear No Evil, and Job: A Comedy of Justice. Both Heinlein and Chalker had a knack for putting their characters into different times and bodies - probably the hallmark of Chalker's various science fiction+fantasy works is that a good chunk of the charaters end up a different gender and/or species by the end of the series. For some reason I enjoyed these themes, because I wanted to identify with characters on a basic level that surpassed biology or environment or even time.
Then in high school my great aunt chucked five books into a bag, told me to try them, and after three and a half days I had read them all. David Edding's The Belgariad has some of the most incredible character and world development I have ever read in a fantasy novel, when I couldn't even make it halfway through the stupid Hobbit. The writing style was wry/witty, the pacing was upbeat, and I connected to every character from the slick little thief to the bumbling barbarian-types like they were old friends waiting for me to find them again. While the follow up series The Mallorean didn't have the same punch, I still finished it in under a week, driven to follow my old friends to their final conclusion. It's not easy watching your favorite characters grow old, but sometimes it's a nice metaphor for growing up in your own life.
If I had to sum up, I suppose what I've learned from this odd amalgam of writers is how to think outside the box but build on a strong foundation. Your characters can go anywhere, do anything, be anything, but they should always be relatable, funny, and unique.
Books of Influence
Watching the first episode of the TV version of Catch 22, the novel by Joseph Heller made me realise how much of an influence that book has had on shaping my world views. I suppose I was around twenty when I first read it. I loved how it used bullshit to cut through the bullshit and showed how bureaucracy can tie people up and defy obvious logic. I loved the dry humour of it, too (and the same when for the mixed up film version, which many don’t like, because it follows a similar loop to the Catch 22 and is wildly non-chronological. (My name, Gary, means ‘Spear’ and is characterised by the holder ‘getting straight to the point.’ I once had a work reference on which my manager pointed out that one of my good characteristics was cutting through the ‘waffle’ to get straight to the heart of the matter. Maybe that’s what I liked about the book.)
Anyways, this got me thinking about which other books may have somehow shaped or developed me in my younger days.
So I made a list. It’s not exclusive. But it’s here:
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien, all of which I read whilst still at school. They appealed to my belief in the mystical, but I also think (especially the three longer novels in the Lord of the Rings trilogy) that they helped develop my love of (and ability to follow) the narrative. I also believe that Gandalf appealed to, and strengthened my belief in, a mystical embodiment of ‘goodness’.
Also whilst at school, I read To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, which I am sure, strengthened my opposition to racism and discrimination. Oddly, as a child, I also read a series of 24 books by Anthony Buckeridge, The Jennings series, about the humorous escapades of J.C.T. Jennings, a schoolboy at Linbury Court preparatory school in England. This now seems quite odd, as the characters were all privileged children of the wealthy. But they were ‘decent sorts’ and had fun. I used to read these in bed before sleeping, which I think was an early prompt to my love of reading and fostered some good reading habits.
The same also goes for Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Again, these were about children I had nothing in common with, but they were intriguing mysteries with intelligent narratives.
In contrast, I also read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I loved his cheeky, but often principled adventures and the mysterious world of the Mississippi really appealed to me. I also loved that Mark Twain took his pen name from the shout of the Mississippi steam boat men. I didn’t know its exact meaning, but it was appealing. (It means "Mark number two", the second mark on the line that measured depth, signifying two fathoms, or twelve feet).
Around the same time, I entered another couple of mysterious worlds, but this time with a more magical quality as I discovered Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The sense of mischief and ‘oddness’, I think, are character traits I still possess, along with a love of the ridiculous.
In a more serious vein, as I prepared to leave school, I discovered Charles Dickens. The poignancy and morals of A Christmas Carol appealed to, and perhaps contributed to, an empathy with the ‘poor and wretched’ and a concern for their well-being, whilst A Tale of Two Cities brought to life for me the noise and chaos of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, subjects which I later studied at University.
As an adult I discovered Terry Pratchett and his intelligently woven Discworld books. My first was The Hogfather, which I put down after a few chapters on my first reading, but came back to and ‘got it’ the second time round. Again, I think his slight bending of reality and pointing out of the ludicrous appealed to me, (and still does).
This ‘bending’ of the actual is something that colours (or perhaps blights!) much of what I do in life and how I view the world.
I suppose these books and others (Picture This, by Joseph Heller, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams) have made me who I am today – good or bad, and embedded in me a love of literature and the absurd.
I almost forgot about Dirk Gently. I must tell you, it fostered my firm belief in the holistic nature of life. Dirk believes that if you are not sure what to do, for example or you get lost, you should simply follow the car in front of you. You may not get where you wanted to be. But you will certainly end up where you ought to be.
Try it sometime.
The fiction stories that shaped who I am would have to be Tell Tale Heart (Edgar Allan Poe), The Shining/ Christine/ Mr Mercedes (Stephen King) and Kongo (Micheal Crichton). The way characters are developed in each story, causing a person to connect and feel for the titular character on a personal level is a skill that I crave to possess.
Becoming a Reader
I was never much of a reader until I was nine years old. Then I had a birthday party and a friend got me a set of Judy Blume books for my present. At the time, it was not the gift I was most excited about as anything school related, including reading, was more of a chore for me then a pleasurable activity. Then one rainy afternoon, I decided to give Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great a try and I was hooked! I read all of the other books by Judy Blume and then quickly branched out to other authors. I always had my nose in a book and it became my escape from reality. I pushed myself harder and took Advanced Placement English my senior year of high school. My love of reading and eventually, writing lead to my passion for History, then my career in Technical Writing, and now writing for fun as a way to let out my emotions and to create the stories I would like to read. So, I owe my start to a set of Judy Blume books I received as a birthday present.