Saturday, June 16, 2012


I was an early, precocious reader.  I vividly recall sitting by my mother's side, exclaiming over the colorful, delightful imaginings and images of one Dr Seuss.  But though Mom taught me to read--a debt beyond repayment--it was my Dad who taught me to love reading.  Funny thing is, I don't thing he had the slightest idea that he was doing it.

Daddy is an inveterate and unrepentant reader; he's more likely to be found reading than any other single activity, including eating, watching television, or sleeping.  Given a brief pause in any other action, he'll break out a book.  (Of late, since his driving has been curtailed by a defibrillating pacemaker that went a little gollywonkers, he has even more reading time.)

As memory serves--and this was back in the early 1970s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and there were no personal computers or wireless phones--I discovered Daddy's bookcase when I would have been about nine.  It sat in the hallway between the master bedroom and my own, and was loaded with a rich, random assortment of adult texts.  The contents evolved constantly.  Daddy kept open accounts at no less than three used bookstores in the area, possibly more--one simply wasn't sufficient to satisfy his appetites.

I started with the Louis L'Amour westerns.  This budding young Texan read with wide-eyed wonder the tales of rugged individuals building a country from scratch; Ruble Noon, Cullen Baker, the Tinker, and the Sacketts were heroes to me the way Davy Crockett had been to an earlier generation.

Ride 'em, blog boy! 
In the fifth grade, we had a class reading assignment; our choices were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, or The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien.  I remembered seeing The Hobbit on daddy's bookshelf, so I picked that one--and high fantasy became an integral part of my life.  I spent the entire summer of my tenth year wading through the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and revisited it annually for several years thereafter.  I still go back to it every so often, and never fail to pick up something new from that rich tapestry (like the time in my thirties when I realized that Tolkien was telling us his own version of Ragnarok, and/or Wagner's Ring Cycle--that was a moment of clarity like few I've had in my life).

(I sometimes have a road-not-taken conversation with myself regarding the direction my life might have gone had I chosen Lewis's Narnia books instead of Tolkien, but we'll never know.)

Also on the bookshelf, and soon being devoured by me, were assorted series of action-adventure novels published by Pinnacle books:  Don Pendleton's Executioner; The Destroyer by Sapir and Murphy; the blood-and-guts gore of the Edge westerns by "George G Gilman" (in fact, the very British Terry Harknett).  These were probably really rather too adult (especially the last) for one of my tender years, but my parents were remarkably trusting of my judgment--and I didn't turn out too warped.

EXECUTIONER #1 by Don Pendleton
Later republished as
Somewhere along the way, I picked up a hardback on that bookcase with the slightly unsettling title of Dangerous Visions, edited by a guy with the fuddy-duddy name of Harlan Ellison.  That mattered not a whit; I soon found myself lost in the smoky gambling halls of Fritz Lieber's "Gonna Roll the Bones" and the disturbing, psychosexual dysfunction of Philip José Farmer's "Riders of the Purple Wage," among so many others.  (Later, I discovered Ellison had written one of my favorite Star Trek episodes, and his stature grew in my eyes, if not in real life--but that's another story.)  I dove headfirst into the speculative fiction pool after that; Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein were then my constant companions for most of the next twenty-five or so years of my life--until they started dying off or at least not writing so much.

The divorce came and went, and reading, in a large way, helped me through it.  As a child, I didn't understand why our family unit was broken.  But I could abscond into another world and not worry about it.  Reading time became something that I shared with Daddy, those every-other-weekend visits--a strangely isolated companionship, but it worked for us.  I say isolated because when we read, we're gone.  We don't hear you talking to us.  We don't see what's going on around us.  We're involved in our books.  But as we were reading together, it bonded us.

I do this with my wife, sometimes, now.  It's very quiet and relaxing, the reading time.  (As an aside:  If you ever want to make a new acquaintance at a moment's notice, just go--alone--someplace busy, like a diner or a bus depot, and open up your book.  Someone will almost always start talking to you within minutes.)

I don't read so much now as I used--too little free time, too much tired.  But I've never forgotten the lessons I learned from that bookcase of Daddy's, some forty years ago:  the best stories are straightforward, involving, and active.  I try to keep these things in mind in my own writing, when I can find time for it; I want to write things my Dad would like to read.

If he's enjoyed this entry, I've done well.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy--and thanks for the books.

Creepshow-FATHER'S DAY
It's Father's Day, and I've got my cake!

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