On Becoming a Reader – Part 2

The last post in this series focused on places that infused me to read.  Here, I venture into books that hit me.  Some of them can be considered important and culturally prominent books, but most of them aren’t.  And I think that’s an important piece of this.  This is in part why I can’t hate the Twilight effect.  There are gimmicky elements that got me to read and for that I am forever grateful.  They are not privileged texts but popular and sometimes, rather lacking in substance by any literary standards.  But they opened the gate and led me to reading.  So while I can loathe the larger messages about Twilight, I can appreciate that Meyer has turned kids into readers they might not have been otherwise.

My friend recently asked me about my decision to keep books.  As mentioned, I read a lot, and wouldn’t have room to keep all the books that I’ve read.  My decisions for which ones I keep are based on how much I enjoyed the book and how relevant I think the book might be to work, research, or possible future projects.  But she raised the question of why keep them at all.  Well, these are literary photos was the way I could best explain it.  This is my breadcrumb path to the places I’ve been and adventures I have had (real or vicariously).

So here are the books that have changed me.  Laugh if you must, but know that I have no shame and proudly defend my choices.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf

Book cover of "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf"
This is the earliest story that I remember reading.  My father had both my brother and I read it.  It a children’s story that deals with and explains death.  I can’t say where the line between understanding death and hoping I understand death is, but I know at a young age, this story largely helped me accept that death is a central part of the whole life cycle—sad as it can be (and should be), it is part of our common pact with the world around us.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Book cover of the Spanish version of The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienI saw The Hobbit as a cartoon well before I ever read it.  And it was the movie that sent me into the book.  Now, I know that the book on so many levels is better.  But The Hobbit will always be the animated cartoon with its music and nostalgic 1970s animation.  That being said, it was the cartoon that led me to book in a deep desire to learn more about the story.  This would not be the first time that that the cinema led me to the book and perpetuated me into reading.  Indeed, this probably played a large role in my pursuit of fantasy books that read continually even through to today.

Deadline for Danger

I can’t say I remember much about this book.  I remember finding it in the Higgins Middle School library and reading it.  It had to do with someone writing for a school newspaper and unraveling a murder mystery.  What I remember mostly about the book is that this was a book of suspense and I enjoyed wondering what was going to happen to the protagonist.

Fear Street Books by R.L. Stine

The Fear Street books by R. L. Stine were a fun series that I read regularly in middle school.  While I don’t remember much of the substance (loosely used here, I know), I remember what lead me to them.  Somehow, within my head I made an association between “Fear Street” series and the Nightmare on Elm Street” film and TV series.  Therefore, it was almost perfectly natural to drift to these books.  In fact, I can remember sitting at a table during the spring, regularly reading these books while having dinner out under a tree in my backyard.  They weren’t great, but they were quick and engaging reads that most likely also attributed to my interest in horror.

Star Wars books

Sometime in seventh grade, I discovered something amazing.  A classmate showed me something I did not know and was ecstatic about.  There was a recently published book that took place in the Star Wars universe.  It was 1991 and Timothy Zahn had written Heir to the Empire.  I had to get the book, and the next, and the next.  In total, over the years, I’ve easily read 25-30 of the Star Wars books (not even including the graphic novels of which I’ve read plenty).  Here again, the films lead me into the books and sent me beyond to a great many other book series including DragonLance, Star Trek, and Forgotten Realms.

Battle Axe by Sara Douglass.

Book cover of Battleaxe by Sara DouglassOk, this was unequivocally the book that made me a reader.  More than all the others, this was the book I couldn’t put down.  I picked it up while in Australia in summer 1995.  It was about 600 pages and I read it in 2 weeks, which was unheard of for me (though we had 3-6 bus rides, so that helped).  But I was pulled into the story of Axis in the world of Tencendor and ached to read more.  When I got to the end, I was aching because it was a trilogy that at least for the time being was only published in Australia.  By end of 1996 or early 1997, I found an online bookstore in Australia to ship it to me.  I paid somewhere between $30 to $40 for the next two books.  Worth. Every. Cent.  After reading the first book and not having any chance to read the next two for nearly 2 years, I sought out large books to devour.  This lead me to epic fantasy including Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind (though I regret being trapped with Goodkind cause of where he took his story/rant).

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Book cover of The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
This is the book that turned me into a listener.  I had tried reading it (for summer reading no less) several times before but it never stuck.  Nobody explained that this was British sci-fi humor.  However, when I stumbled upon the audiobook in the library that was read by the late, great Douglas Adams himself.  I was hooked on Adams and hooked on audiobooks.  Adams opened me up to humor/genre fiction such as Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, Robert Rankin, and Terry Brooks (his Landover series, mind you).  Eventually, it also led me to the Red Dwarf TV series, but I digress.

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

Book cover to Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen
Recommended to me by my advisor at Salem State University, Dr. Avi Chomsky, this was the first real academically-related book that made me think analytically and challenge knowledge in ways that I had not previously considered.  As I pursued a degree in history and later, American studies, it proved a good reminder to me to always be suspect of the given account—most especially, when it was my own.

Inventing Reality by Michael Parenti.

Book cover of Inventing Reality by Michael Parenti.
Also recommended by Dr. Chomsky, this book further pushed me to appreciate and consider not just the ways books can send me into a fictional world to enjoy, but how books can send me into the real world armed with knowledge or better yet, ways of challenging and questioning the world around me.  In this case, Inventing Reality fundamentally changed how I approached televisual media as a whole, making me more aware of the ways in which information in televisual form has the potential to subdue the mind much easier than text.

I was going to add Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but I have talked about this at length as a full blown post here.

One other note—the image of The Hobbit above.  It’s a Spanish version of the book.  I acquired it in Cuba.

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