My First Love, Bookworm Edition

2 Feb

I can’t remember the exact moment I turned down the path toward bookworm but I know I was insatiable once it began. I read my textbooks within the first week of the school year and supplemented heavily with library books; Hatchet, A Wrinkle In Time, Little House in the Big Woods, anything having to do with Scheherazade’s 1001 tales, and predating that, a healthy dose of Beverly Cleary books featured prominently on my reading list back in those days, but the first Real Book I remember reading on my own, for recreation, was a worn copy of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths I found on the first shelf of the library at my elementary school.

Tall, wide, and orange, it stood out from its fellows in the relatively dry and meager nonfiction section of the library. The cover had a bright, fantastical drawing of Apollo in his sun chariot–I had no idea what it was!–and inside the book there were even more of these amazing, colorful drawings of gods, people and monsters. The first page was shadowed by a dark lithograph of Greece, and read:

In Olden Times,

when men still worshiped ugly idols, there lived in the land of Greece a folk of shepherds and herdsmen who cherished light and beauty. They did not worship dark idols like their neighbors, but created instead their own beautiful, radiant gods.

The Greek gods looked much like people and acted like them, too, only they were taller, handsomer, and could do no wrong. Fire-breathing monsters and beasts with many heads stood for all that was dark and wicked. They were for gods and great heroes to conquer.

Wait, what? People can invent gods? Tell me more, magical book!

The very next page featured a gorgeous rendering of an anthropomorphous Mother Earth gazing happily up at her lover Uranus, the sky, a male figure rendered in velvet blues and beautiful red and yellow stars. A titan swallows his infant children whole on the page after that, knowing that one of them will one day overthrow him. The image of Persephone being dragged down from her sunny meadow into the pits of Hades in hell’s own chariot, a herd of pigs squealing as they fall alongside her into the chasm, will stay with me until I am old and gray.

I learned that the gods really could do wrong, and did so with astonishing frequency.

When I found D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, it was the first time I looked at a book with physical, literary and artistic presence and thought to myself I want to read this. It blew my mind. All told, I checked it out a half-dozen times before I moved on to middle school.

Once I discovered the joy of recreational reading, the library was never safe again. I checked out a series of fat multi-colored fairytale anthologies one or two at a time, amazed at how evil and awful the stories could be. Disney is so full of shit, I thought, devouring the real stories behind the happy-farty cartoons I’d watched at home and in the theater. On paper they felt so much more real. Life was about joy and misery and magic and grim reality, adventure and action, sweetness and sorrow, and I could read about all of it in the pages of the books I borrowed.

I have a kid now and he’s getting to the point where he can tackle content more difficult than the Dr. Seuss and Curious George he knows. When I made a reading list for myself, I made one for him too, and stuffed it full of  titles I loved when I was growing up. He may never read all the stories on it, but it’ll give him a good place to start.

Now you know the title of my first love. I highly recommend it, though I suppose if you think Disney is about as racy as you’re willing to go, you may not want your kids reading it. Your loss (and theirs). What about you? What was the book or story that first flipped your switch?

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5 Responses to “My First Love, Bookworm Edition”

  1. Tami February 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Beauty, by Robin McKinley.

    I’d read (and avidly so) before reading that book, but something about it flipped a switch in my mind. After that, I read for love.

    (I also LOVE traditional fairy tales / myths, warts and all. Retellings are still some of my favorite books of all time)

    • Bika February 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      I don’t think I’ve read Beauty, but it sounds awesome! Seems like I read a half dozen versions of each of the most popular fairy tales. The more scary, little-known and bizarre a story was, the more points I gave it just for being different. (Blackbeard is a special kind of gruesome that Disney will never tame!)

  2. Mishaweha February 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    I can’t recall a specific book that made me want to read more. I do know I loved my mom reading to my sister and I all the time when we were little. I think that helped a lot. I recall her reading Redwall, The Littles, The Borrowers… and there’s another series that I’ve forgotten the name of. Bother. I think it has something to do with going back in time and being a knight. XD

    And that book of greek myths? I read that all the time! It was one of my favorite books! I think I brought it in for show and tell once in 2nd grade, and it’s still on my shelf today.

    • Bika February 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

      Yay, a D’Aulaire’s fan! :>

      I read a lot of the same books as you, apparently! The Redwall books belonged to my brother. I borrowed them on the sly and read them as fast as I could, like they were stolen cakes. Om nom, heroic animals. (Figurative noms of course >_>)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My First Love, Bookworm Edition « Bika Central - February 3, 2011

    […] My First Love, Bookworm Edition By Bika Today I’ve got a post up at Seven Deadly Divas about D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, my favorite “first” book. It’s an excellent book, especially for young readers. Go check it out! […]

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