Fifteen books -- 06/25/09

Sarah (Rhubarb) tagged me with this meme in a recent entry of hers. (She had gotten it from Kramer) She had also tagged others (for example, Eric responded with this list).

I understand that this is a list of fifteen books that had enough impact that you remembered them (including both title and author) sufficiently that you did not have to look them up (on line or on your bookshelves or whatever). I thought I would add to that prescription and make my list "fifteen before fifteen" -- that is, fifteen books for which I remembered title and author without looking them up and which I had read prior to being fifteen years old.

Here are my Fifteen before Fifteen:
  1. Hans Christian Andersen -- The Brave Tin Soldier
  2. Hugh Lofting -- The Story of Doctor Dolittle
  3. Jack London -- The Seawolf
  4. Zane Grey -- Riders of the Purple Sage
  5. Edgar Rice Burroughs -- The Warlord of Mars
  6. Isaac Asimov -- Pebble in the Sky
  7. Robert Heinlein -- Farmer in the Sky
  8. Ayn Rand -- The Fountainhead
  9. George Orwell -- 1984
  10. Aldous Huxley -- Brave New World
  11. Groff Conklin (ed.) -- Omnibus of Science Fiction
  12. Groff Conklin (ed.) -- A Treasury of Science Fiction
  13. H.G. Welles -- The Invisible Man
  14. Philip Wylie -- Generation of Vipers
  15. C.M. Kornbluth -- Not This August

The first two are obviously children's books. The Hans Christian Anderson one is short story length but it was published as a book. It was a favorite of mine from before I could read and my mother would read it to me. (But I also re-read it on my own once I achieved literacy.) I don't know if I read all of Lofting's Dr. Dolittle books (he wrote a lot of them) but I certainly read every Dr. Dolittle title that the Kingston Public Library owned.

The next three titles are obviously not children's books. When I was seven I realized that being able to read meant I could read just about anything I could find. (That isn't to say that I fully understood everything I read; at age seven I was totally baffled by the "fate worse than death" that the heroine of one of Zane Grey's westerns feared.) My father had lots of novels by Jack London and Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs and I read them all (although, except for Warlord of Mars, Dad's Burroughs books were all Tarzan books -- years passed before I realized that Warlord of Mars was the sequel to a sequel). I also used to read a lot of the books my parents were reading -- Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki comes to mind right now -- suffice it to say that I read a number of the popular books of the day. (And probably drove my second and third grade teachers nuts when I would want to discuss some current best-seller instead of an age-appropriate children's book.)

The next pair came about because by the time I was ten or eleven I had exhausted the children's section of the public library and asked the librarian to show me where the teen-age books were. She pointed out a wall of bookshelves -- much to my disappointment because I had already read my way through all the ones that had looked interesting in the belief that they were children's books. So I went to the adult shelves where I began to hunt for books with a rocketship icon on the spine and -- alphabetical by author's last name -- I discovered Isaac Asimov. I think Pebble in the Sky was the first Asimov I read, although I would soon read all that the library had -- and then continue through the alphabet and, a few months later, discovered Robert Heinlein. I could not check these books out on a children's card, of course; I had to gather them and have my mother check them out for me on her card. Eventually she persuaded the librarians to give me an adult card years before I should have been entitled to such.

I am not an Objectivist (I'm not the type to join capitalized movements -- I generally call my political views "libertarian" -- but note that is lower case -- I'm not a Libertarian) but I very much enjoyed The Fountainhead (and, a few years later, read Atlas Shrugged when it came out. And, of course, I read 1984 and Brave New World as I worked my way through the alphabet.

And then, by the time I was eleven or twelve, I discovered science fiction magazines and then the Science Fiction Book Club, which lead to me owning the two massive collections edited by Groff Conklin which gave me hours and hours of reading pleasure in the summer of 1955.

Walking home from junior high school (about a mile and two/thirds... although I'd swear it used to be longer, especially in bad weather **grin**) I went past a general store that had magazines and paperback books for sale. I bought the H.G. Welles book there. It was 25 cents. That was the list price. It was one of the last twenty-five cent books I bought because the price of most new paperbacks had gone up to thirty-five (and even forty) cents. That was also where I discovered Philip Wylie's 1942 vintage rant. I then discovered that he was also a novelist and began to search out his novels.

I found the Kornbluth novel in the library -- actually, I believe I sought it out after having read a review in one of the science fiction magazines. Besides being (if memory serves) a good page-turner -- a World War III novel that opens with everyone listening to the president announce that, given the destruction of most of the U.S. Navy in a great air/sea battle off the Azores, he sees no choice left but to surrender to the combined forces of the USSR and China -- and the book was set in upstate New York, in a fictional town just a hundred miles or so from where I lived.

And by the time I read that I was fourteen.

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