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Anna Williams

Quick Topics: Books, Books, Books

Photo by Fred Pixlab on Unsplash

I love books. I love to read them, collect them, look at them, hold them, line them up on my shelves. In the old stories, mansions had conservatories, libraries and billiard rooms; I don’t need a mansion, but I do need a library. With a grand piano in the corner. It should also have a gleaming granite floor, polished cherry floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a bay window with a window seat like the one Jane Eyre retreated to as a child.

Visits to the local library were a staple of my childhood, and I steadily worked my way through the years from The Boxcar Children to The Hardy Boys to Anne of Green Gables to The Lord of the Rings. Classical authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens cemented my love of language. Characters like Sherlock Holmes and Edmond Dantès had a profound impact on my rampant imagination, and soon I dreamed of creating my own bestselling novels.

However, as time went on, the literary stereotype of the struggling penniless writer seemed less and less appealing to me, and the success of Jo March or Anne Shirley less and less likely. And then I found out that there were people called editors, who fixed what other people wrote. My path became clear, and the rest is history.

Nowadays I don’t have much time for leisure reading — mostly I’m perusing manuals and policies for work or parenting blogs for self-development. But I fondly remember all the tomes I enjoyed growing up.

Books had a tremendous influence on my childhood. Tell me, what were some of your favourite or most formative reads?

Some of my favourites growing up:

  • Little Dorrit
  • Les Misérables
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes
  • Jane Eyre
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • Old Yeller
  • Ben-Hur
  • The Lord of the Rings

___

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29 Comments on “Quick Topics: Books, Books, Books”

  • Anita I. Jenkins

    says:

    Yes, Jane Eyre and Anne of Green Gables for sure. Wuthering Heights. Little House on the Prairie. Little Women. Grey Owl!

    I grew up without access to a lot of books. A travelling « box » came to our school at regular intervals, courtesy of the University of Alberta’s department of extension. Saved my life.

    • Oh yes, I loved the Little House on the Prairie series. And now I’m enjoying the series again with my kids. It’s fascinating to go back and reread some of these books and get a new perspective on them as an adult.

      I haven’t read Grey Owl. Will look it up!

  • Wilf Popoff

    says:

    My one-room prairie school had a small cabinet stocked with unreadable 19th century novels praising the British Empire. Talk about colonialism! Fortunately my literate parents had some books. But they also subscribed to almost every Canadian periodical. When television arrived it failed to dislodge my reading routine. Still don’t watch it.

    • Wow, that’s bizarre (re: British Empire novels).

      I wonder if periodicals are phasing out now, in the digital age, or whether there are still enough people who enjoy hard-copy reading.

      • Anita I. Jenkins

        says:

        We « elders » also learned in school that Louis Riel was a traitor.

  • Anita I. Jenkins

    says:

    Grey Owl was the original « cultural appropriation » guy. He was a Brit who claimed to be aboriginal and wrote from that perspective. Hence the exclamation mark in my note.

    The books that surprised me when I reread them as an adult were by Jane Austen. I hadn’t realized that she is hilariously funny, even sarcastic. I just read to see if they got married at the end 🙂

    • Yes, that was my primary motivation as well!

      I won a writing contest put on by the Jane Austen Society, once, for writing an imaginary scene from Pride and Prejudice – namely, when Wickham proposes to Lydia. Great fun.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    Do editors read alike? The Little House on the Prairie series and Anne of Green Gables (all the Anne books, but especially the first three) were the books I turned to again and again.

    I also adored Mandy, by Julie Edwards (a.k.a. Julie Andrews, the singer…and nothing to do with Barry Manilow, the singer). I still own that scruffy book. I sank into Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series and have since read just about every book she ever wrote.

    Then there was the (obscure) Gay’s Year on Sunset Island, by Marguerite Aspinwall, a water-stained hardcover from the 1920s that kicked around our living room and that I read every summer, either on some Atlantic beach or sitting in the big mountain ash that grew beside our house.

    • I recently rewatched (with my daughter) the Anne of Green Gables movies with Megan Follows. They’ve reminded me that it’s high time I reread the books. If I can make the time, of course.

  • Margaret F Sadler

    says:

    « Yes » to every Anne book. Our father read to us after supper, so I _heard_ many books first. (We didn’t get a TV until my last year of high school, long after most homes had one.)
    A bookmobile came to our village periodically, so in between its visit, I read every book on the shelves at home. Anyone else read Thomas B. Costain? A lesser known Canadian novelist, I assure you. I read my first trilogy in his The Tontine. How exciting to discover that the story didn’t end with the book! Father read aloud After You, Marco Polo, which fed my love of travel.

    • My kids are also « hearing » many books first, since we do lots of driving and I take advantage of the abundance of audiobooks.

      I first heard about Costain when I perused a volume of novellas and short stories he compiled, called « Stories to Remember. » Some of them were very grim; they had quite an impact on me at the time.

  • For me, reading was solitary and silent, and just as frequently, shared and oral. In addition to weekly visits to the public library, our family read aloud together every day, after supper (yes, the Holy Bible and commentaries upon it). Sunday dinner was roast beef and thoughts about the sermon. Thoughtful critique was well tolerated. Not having listened was a more serious crime.

    For the first five years of grade school, my teachers began the day reading through a chapter book. A looooong book that could take weeks to get through. The Prince and the Pauper comes to mind. Our daily radio program was Aunt Ollie’s Children’s Hour, featuring stories for kids. Rumpelstiltskin. The Friendly Giant. Tall Fireman Paul. It didn’t matter that these were stories for kids. We were kids! We loved listening and hearing our favourites over and over.

    • Yes, weekly visits to the public library were an absolute must for me!

      I love the fact that reading was such a big part of your family traditions.

  • I wonder how many editors were voracious readers as kids? I bet almost all!

    Another one for Anne of Green Gables. The Judy Blume books. Pippi Longstocking. The Black Stallion series (during my horse phase). And I adored all the James Herriot books. Also many books from my parents’ shelves that I didn’t really understand but read anyway. Somehow I missed the Little House books and am reading them for the first time now, with my daughters. I’m about to read A Wrinkle in Time with them for the first time too.

    Like Anita, I find it interesting how I see books differently when I reread them now. I remembered Heidi as being a light book about a little girl skipping through alpine meadows, and was amazed at the darkness in it when I reread it with my kids.

    • Love of reading from an early age does seem to be common amongst editors! Ah yes, I forgot about the Black Stallion series. 🙂

  • Kristine O.

    says:

    Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew for sure, I love a good mystery and a surprise twist at the end, but the one I remember most is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster. It turned my world upside down with the way words can be used in imaginative ways. How do you get to the island of Conclusions? You jump, of course.

    • >How do you get to the island of Conclusions? You jump, of course.
      I love that! I’ve never heard of the book before. 🙂

  • Anita I. Jenkins

    says:

    The Yearling by Marjory Kinnans Rawling. Pulitzer Prize winner. Probably out of print now?

    I later read Rawlings’ biography. Like so many writers, her life was « different. »

    Its interesting that so many books for young people are about animals.

    • Ah yes, I still have a copy of The Yearling. And speaking of animal stories, my kids and I have recently enjoyed Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller and Thornton W. Burgess’s Adventures of Jimmy Skunk, Peter Rabbit, etc. And don’t forget the original Winnie the Pooh!

  • Like many people who’ve commented already, I loved the « Anne » books. My public school library had ancient copies of almost every book L. M. Montgomery ever wrote, including many that were probably long out of print (but new paperback editions have been published since then). My favourites included some of the more obscure ones, like « Kilmeny of the Orchard, » « The Story Girl, » and « Rilla of Ingleside » with its WWI background.
    I’m surprised no one mentioned the wonderful Chronicles of Narnia series (by C. S. Lewis) which are Christian allegories that I found deeply thrilling for their hints of a transcendent world that is more real than our « real world » here. They were formative. Less well known are George McDonald’s The Princess and Curdie and The Princess and the Goblin. Like the Narnia books, these
    have mystical Christian underpinnings but are fantastic stories on a more superficial level too.
    Another book I’ve always loved is Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I first read this at age 12 and I’ve read it so many times throughout my life that I can « reread » whole paragraphs and sections of it in my head–its characters became real people for me and their words come into my mind regularly. Just last night when I was unable to sleep I found myself repeating in my head a part about the wild and handsome Nolan boys, especially Francie’s father Johnny, a handsome man with a sweet voice, a dreamer and an alcoholic. Yes, Betty Smith was a formative author for me. I loved her « voice » and read all her books. It’s fascinating how close we can feel to our favourite authors and their characters.

    • Yes, I was just thinking the same thing! The Chronicles of Narnia were definitely favourites of mine – I forgot to include them in my list. 🙂

      There’s a meme that says, « Being a bookworm is having non-fictional feelings for fictional characters. »

      • Frances Peck

        says:

        I had typed the Narnia series in my original comment, then deleted it, along with the 1,384 other titles that seemed to spring to mind (all of the Judy Blume books among them).

        What a glorious topic this is, Anna! And what a wonderful quote.

        • I kept expecting someone else to write something about this, then finally decided to do it myself. 🙂

      • Perfect meme for us bookworms! I hadn’t heard it before.

  • Anita I. Jenkins

    says:

    The best one in my view is Wind in the Willows.

  • Sarah Boon

    says:

    Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Tintin, Anne of Green Gables, plus loads of fantasy, from Narnia and Mordor to Terry Brooks and others. I always had stacks of books from the library – and still do, actually! Lol

    • Tintin is awesome! 🙂

  • No one has mentioned the Swallows and Amazons books–or Five Little Peppers and How They Grew. They were my favourite books as a youth, other than ALL of the Anne books. Really young… the Winnie The Pooh set, complete with maps of the Hundred Acre Woods on the inside cover. As a teenager, anything by S.E. Hinton was my go-to.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ann! I enjoyed rediscovering the original Winnie the Pooh stories with my kids a few years ago. I found an almost brand-new hardbound edition of A.A. Milne’s works at Value Village for $5! *happy cartwheel*

      I’ll have to read up on S.E. Hinton.

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