Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Books

The first book I remember reading besides the book teaching me to read (F-O-X) was the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was five and my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother Joel, on bed-rest and bored. I can’t remember the act of reading, although I know I did read it, so much as looking over my mother’s shoulder at one of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of Aslan awaiting his death at the Stone Table, surrounded by the Witch’s minions. It still gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

After that, I was hooked on the Chronicles of Narnia and would go every day to the dinky little library Holy Cross Convent had. This was where I discovered Enid Blyton, queen of books about boarding schools, Wishing Chairs, Magic Faraway Trees, British mysteries for children, and - of course - Noddy, a spacey Pinocchio-like doll who American children may not know about but a figurehead that formed a very large part of our cultural literacy as South African kiddies. Noddy is still used as a pejorative: (Oh Tracey, you Noddy.) It’s true that her books are formulaic and her characters are all freshly scrubbed, reasonably mannered, either-good-or-bad-with-nothing-in-between, middle-class, white British children with names like Sue, Tom, Fanny, and Dick, and idyllic childhoods, but we didn’t care about that then. I suspect it was Enid Blyton that first made me feel that I did have some sort of attachment to England, which many Commonwealthers do (deep-down).

Last Friday, I found a copy of an Enid Blyton book, Five Go To Mystery Moor, at Ophelia’s Books in Fremont and as it was only $2, had to buy it to commemorate my childhood. Her boarding school books are largely why Hogwarts felt so familiar to me when Kristin introduced me to Harry Potter after our freshman year of college. I’m excited about opening this one, circa 1954, as I see that it’s about gypsies.

This past Monday, I bought 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (with a deplorable Walt-Disney cover) at Magus for $1. I read 101 Dalmatians in primary school, but had very shadowy memories of it until I opened this one. The drawings were familiar, (What is it about illustrations that make you feel as though you were five or eight or ten again? It’s like hearing songs that take you back to being fourteen - coughBackstreetBoyscough), and it was only years later that I put together that the author of my favorite novel, I Capture the Castle, had written 101 Dalmatians (which is much better than the movies).

Though I didn’t remember reading it, several paragraphs seemed to resound:
“Like many other much-loved humans, [the Dearlys] believed that they owned their dogs, instead of realizing that their dogs owned them. Pongo and Missis found this touching and amusing and let their pets think it was true.” 101 Dalmatians was a landmark for me as it taught me how to pronounce the word “Colonel.” How was I supposed to know you say it “kernel” like the corn? Completely illogical. I suspect that many people had this same Colonel epiphany.

I finished 101 Dalmatians yesterday, and now I go on to a very different sort of book, American Psycho.

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