Friday, February 4, 2011

The first things I remember reading, or being read

(Because in the comments to the previous post, we've gotten into a discussion about how one develops preference for genre fiction, or lit fic, and to what degree that preference is innate and hardwired, much like one's sexuality.)

First and foremost, Bill Peet's The Caboose Who Got Loose. This one was read to me, but I memorized it, and I think it's responsible for my love of dactyls (Trochee fixation wasn't actually my syndrome, recognizable as it is.) Anthropomorphized train cars, and houses! Though the illustration that stayed with me for years, more than any of the others, was of a train yard at night, and a little house, suspended above the tracks, where a night watchman lived. That, to me, was another world, and moreover, one that I wanted to get to, and live in: to be high over the world, in a light place overlooking the dark place where people travelled. (There was also Chester the Worldly Pig, and The Whingdingdilly, but neither of those compared, really, to Caboose).

Secondly: books about marine life. One had lots of pictures, in color; the other was more like an elementary school textbook, mostly text, and brown and white sketched illustrations. I fixated on jellyfish, and on diatoms, and on the chambered nautilus.

Thirdly: a big treasury of Beatrix Potter, in which, as I recall, the stories that I wanted to hear repeatedly were "The Tailor of Gloucester," and "The Tale of Two Bad Mice." The best part about the latter was when Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb try to eat the dolls' food, and find the wax ham inedible. Wax fruit: more fascinating than any fart joke.

I knew fairytales, at least, I knew Little Red Riding-hood, because I suffered my parents and grandparents to help me act it out, utilizing the armoire for the woodsman to jump out of.

Dr. Seuss, specifically Hop on Pop, and The Cat in the Hat. The Cat in the Hat Comes Back was vastly superior to the original. Green Eggs and Ham made me very, very uncomfortable (early aversion to people who won't stop pestering you?) Horton Hears A Who was also vastly superior to Horton Hatches the Egg, mainly because I figured out that the Grinch had to be much tinier than I had realized. (This led to a brief phase in which I wondered whether the world as we knew it might be contained on a piece of lint stuck under God's toenail.)

Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, which, now that I think about it, is very much a book about the world being transformed into another place.

There was Captain Kitty (go look at the illustrations!), which totally explains my love for the lime helmet LOLcat. And again, voyages, and other worlds.

And The Wheedle on the Needle, which I loved, and Leo the Lop, which I loved a little less, I think mainly because of the embarrassment phobia.

The Year At Maple Hill Farm, lovely for all the detail in the illustrations.

There was also an easy reader book about a mouse exploring a house, fascinating because it was illustrated with photographs, rather than drawings.

And there was Professor Wormbog's Gloomy Kerploppus: A Book of Great Smells. There were other Mercer Mayer books in the Little Critter series, but mostly I did not like them, because they were mostly about what I should and shouldn't do.

There were others: The Poky Little Puppy, The Little Engine That Could (fascinating because of all the things that could be carried on a train, which made up for the stupid didacticism of the story), a Little Golden Book version of A Child's Garden of Verses.

Later, there were the Something Queer books, which also made a huge impression -- but the ones above were what I owned, and what I read, or had read to me, before I got to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and on from there.


  1. #1 Son LOVED Maple Hill Farm (is Our Animal Friends at... the same book?). Oh, my gosh, I remember reading it over and over to him. He had an intense response to almost every book we read.
    My cousin (ten years older) remembers me always in a corner with a book when she came over to our house. I don't remember being able to read them particularly early, but I do remember turning the pages and telling myself the stories. I loved some of the books you mention. My Potter favorites were Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. But my all-time favorite was The Little Engine That Could. After Christmas I ended up with a dish of fruit that had candy canes sitting in it, too, and it brought those illustrations right back to me, vividly.

  2. I never thought of The Snowy Day as being about transformation, but of course it is!

    Did you ever see The Tall Book of Make-Believe? A collection of stories and poems, all fantasy-ish, some well known (like RL Stevenson & Carl Sandberg) & some obscure, almost all amazing, with gorgeous illustrations from a pre-Little House Garth Williams. It wasn't my first experience of fantasy but it made quite an impression. We had a hand-me-down copy (from our cousins, natch) which we read and read to tatters. I still have it. It's out of print & quite expensive but it looks like Suzzallo has a copy.

  3. The Snowy Day! I have such vivid visual memories of that one!

  4. In re: genre preferences being hardwired... my first (remembered) favourites were Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Old MacDonald Had an Apartment House, and Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo.

    And I taught myself to read because my mother refused to read Finn Family Moomintroll out loud to me anymore, because she found them creepy.

    So on some kind of Kinsey scale of Genresexuality, I am way the hell over on Fantasy, and always have been.

  5. Just read jh's last comment on the previous post, and I would like to add a couple things to this. I know I just said I was hard-wired for fantasy, and it was fun to say that, but that's a very incomplete picture at best.

    The art I like, across the boards - visual, musical, literary - is art where I feel I get a good, solid glimpse of the person who created it and experience a certain kind of recognition. Just like I'm not friends with every person that I meet, I do not feel connection or kinship with every author, musician, or painter I encounter.

    I don't love all fantasy. But the kinds of writers who - I suspect - I would feel some kind of connection, kinship, or tribal bond with in real life, tend to write fantasy. I'm recognizing the human behind it, and that's something that goes beyond genre.