Friday, February 08, 2013

My Dirty Mind

Some of you follow the Poisoned Pen blog where a version of this first appeared. I'm borrowing some of it for Type M readers because the post received a lot of comments.

When I was a sophomore in high school my father said with some concern that three of the dirtiest books he had ever read had been brought into my house by me (age 15). He wanted to know it was “an accident? Or did my mind run that way?” I thought a moment and replied “actually, I think it’s a little of both.”

The books were Peyton Place, God’s Little Acre, and Not As A Stranger. “Just wondering,” he said sweetly.

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on. In our wee town of Lone Elm, Kansas, (population 90) that wasn’t much. When I was eight and nine, twice a week during winter months, my parents went to my Uncle Clarence and Aunt Margaret’s house to play bridge. Parents took their kids everywhere in those days.

Aunt Margaret was a member of the Doubleday Book Club.While my parents played cards, I laid on the couch next to gas heater, and read the latest monthly selections. By the time it occurred to adults to pay attention to my reading tastes, it was way too late. At a young, young age, I had already read Annie Jordan, Unconquered, and Forever Amber.

We went to town, Garnett, every Saturday to shop for the weekly supply of groceries. While there, we went to the library. I was in heaven! I developed a taste for historical novels, in addition to Nancy Drew. And oh the joy of acquiring the latest Wonder Woman comic book at Spradlin’s Drug Store.

Daddy read Kipling, Tennyson, and Sir Walter Scott, and a lot of historical novels and non-fiction. Mom read Harold Bell Wright, and Grace Livingston Hill. The family owned The Book of Knowledge. Through that, I became obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology. When I chose French as my required language in college, it was because of those tantalizing inaccessible little stories in the Book of Knowledge.

Sometimes when I’m giving talks, anxious parents want to know what they can to do to help their children become better readers. I hesitate to say what I really think because they won’t like the answer. I’ve always believed the greatest catalyst is the example set by a non-observant reading parent preoccupied with a book.

It makes a difference if a kid is brushed aside with a “wait until I finish this chapter” rather than “wait until commercial.”

I’ve never been too concerned about censorship and the written words. I think there is a natural selection process. I suppose my tastes run toward “literary commercial.” I love mysteries with an dose of psychological intrigue. My favorite book of poetry is the Spoon River Anthology. My all-time favorite novel is Green Dolphin Street.

I can’t remember a thing about Peyton Place, or for that matter, God’s Little Acre.
Not As A Stranger has stayed with me forever.


Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I'm a fan of Spoon River Anthology, too. "Richard Cory" was the model for the victim in my second mystery. I can still recite lines from the poem.

There is something to be said for letting a child read whatever he or she likes. My parents were not great readers themselves, but they valued books. They were always pleased to see that I had one in my hand. They never asked what it was about.

Rick Blechta said...

"Green Dolphin Street" is one of my favorite jazz tunes! Didn't know they made a book out of it.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Frankie, I can't tell you how many times I think about the characters in Spoon River. I love that book of poetry. One of them became the basis for a character in my historical, novel, Come Spring, and a couple of others have inspired characterization in my mysteries.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Rick, it's an old, old book. I didn't know there was a jazz tune. Wonder if it was based on the book.

j welling said...

"Richard Cory." Wow. That brings up memories. I now feel like chanting some Vachel Lindsay.

Charlotte -

In the confinement that was Paradise and Natoma, and between the headlines of Nemechek, I read Neitzche and Spinoza and Plato and Hobbs and North Whitehead and Jung and Wittgenstein. I had a copy of _Western Political Thought_ which I devoured. It was left over from an uncle's education after the war.

I also read two translations of Caesar's _Commentaries_ both Punic and Gallic. Finally, my bedside was occupied by a worn copy of _Hell in a Very Small Place_ about Dien Bien Phu, arrogance, audacity, and the failure of vertical envelopment.

We should not whisper of philosopher kings too loudly in the kitchen lest they come to visit later in the dining room.

We have to be careful with old textbooks.

Better the more sensational elements of _Fifty Shades_ or the latest reality show featuring a Khardasian than my texts of Plank, Bethe and Feynman.

(I read Teddy Blue Abbott and Ike Blasingame, too. It was "western" Kansas.)

Charlotte Hinger said...

J Welling--wow, wow and double wow!! Both for your dynamic reading list and your location. Don and I lived in Hoxie for 25 years. For those of you who don't know (practically everyone) Paradise and Natoma are just up the road from Hoxie.

Folks in small towns are often extraordinarily well read (and there are reasons for that). J Welling is the living proof.

J, where did you end up eventually?

j welling said...

CH -

I'm in Michigan, now. Outside of Ann Arbor. Ah, memories of a misspent youth ... most of which saw my foot on an accelerator going somewhere else.

I miss breakfast at Buck's, dinner at Gutierrez in Russell, Shaking Bob Dole's hand at the Russell fair every year, the Phillipsburg rodeo, Polka at the Czech festival in the fall, the Range Days at FHS in the spring. I had some of the best trout of my life once at the Bunker Hill Cafe and the best chicken I'll ever eat at Ernestine's in Nicodemus. A sack of cozy burgers in Salina was also a treat (in somebody else's car).

I loved getting in a Big Bonneville late on Saturday afternoons for quick runs to Denver back when no one cared about the speed limits west of Colby. I did it a few years ago again from Lawrence and found that bit to still be true. Drove my bride up 18 from Manhattan through to Plainville before cutting over to 70. Harvest west of Hays in full swing on a late June evening. I had to explain the fixed swinging pole gates by the interstate exists.

Still something to see fields as big as sections. Almost as pretty as burning the Flint Hills.

Charlotte Hinger said...

J Welling--So what are you doing in Michigan? I still miss the sweep of the prairie.

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