The OF Blog: When I was...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

When I was...

When I was five, I largely taught myself how to read, according to my mother.  I had just begun kindergarten and while we learned the shapes of the letters and the sounds of the alphabet, the emphasis was not on achieving initial literacy until first grade.  My mother used to make up stories, stories sometimes involving a silly little cow named Coco the Cow, and I enjoyed hearing tales much more than I enjoyed seeing things happen.  One day, according to her, I wanted a story and she didn't have time (she was an English teacher, and when do teachers ever really have time for anything, even back in 1979?) to tell me one.  Supposedly, I told her that I would just learn how to read to get one and that within a few days, I had begun reading what was around the house.  Picture books (I remember receiving a Star Wars pop-up book from the Scholastic Book Club around this time), but also more "adult" books, like the sample US and World History textbooks that my dad (a social studies teacher and football coach) had on the bottom shelf of a long wooden bookshelf (we still have it, 34 years later).  He liked telling the story that I came up to him and said something about a "suz canul" (Suez Canal) and that this one of the earliest signs of not just my fast-improving literacy, but also my emerging love for cultures and civilizations.

When I was ten, I remember my local library having a summer reading competition where for each book completed, a ticket would be given and if you earned enough tickets, you could buy particular books.  While some others apparently cheated and only wrote down titles (there was one girl who supposedly finished several hundred books from June-August), I did read the books whose titles I wrote down.  I remember reading a two-volume history of the Plantagenets, as well as some of the old Tom Swift novels after my maternal grandmother gave me certain others of the 1980s reboot to read for my tenth birthday.  I also recall reading a history of King Richard the Lion-Hearted and his romance with a Portuguese princess (how things were covered up back then!).  I also discovered C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia that year, as I bought a couple of the books with the tickets I had earned.  I don't quite recall the exact number of books read, but I want to say it was around 40.  Could have been more, but with a limit of 8 books to my card (which by the way I still have in my wallet and very occasionally use) and my mother being unwilling to go more than once every week or two (she too would check out books, but she didn't quite have the desire to read, not having a competition to motivate her), there was only so much I could do then.

When I was fifteen, I read occasionally, but mostly it was just assigned school books.  I think I might have been the only one in my class who liked reading George Eliot's Silas Marner.  There was a competition in my sophomore English class to write a short story as a group project, with the promise that the winning story would get published in the county newspaper.  My group won, but as far as I know, there was no publication.  I recall (having wrote about half of it) that it was a sort of weird/mystery tale, with a twist at the end that straddled the line between realist and supernatural fiction.  I think maybe it was influenced a bit by Edgar Allan Poe, which we first read in class the year before (my mother taught that class) but whose poem, "The Raven," we had to memorize and recite in sophomore English.  Despite this, I never really had the desire to write fiction and I still have little interest in it today (minus the translation of certain works into English, that is).

When I was twenty, I was already a senior in college, having taken two full semester loads and summer school.  I remember being baffled by William Carlos Williams and that damnable chicken beside that execrable red wheelbarrow.  Yet I somehow made an A in that lit course.  I had begun taking cultural and social histories as part of my history major and those make a much deeper and positive impression on me.  I think it was around this time or perhaps just after I turned 21 that I read Stendhal's The Red and the Black for the first time.  Julien Sorel's complex, conflicted character appealed to me, as I could see certain parallels with my own experiences at that time.  I also read Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis for the first time.  Even nearly twenty years later, it still is one of my all-time favorite novels, although I have not read it in over ten years.

When I was twenty-five, I was a first year teacher.  I remember having four pre-fab bookshelves in my apartment and a library approaching 200 books.  I had from 22-24 been on a classics tilt, reading all of the Signet Classics or Penguin Classics that I could afford.  Henry Fielding's Tom Jones became another favorite.  It was also a couple years prior to this that I really began reading speculative fiction beyond my earlier exposure to Lewis and Tolkien (at 13).  I read the Wheel of Time series two years prior and just before the ninth volume was released in late 2000, I joined my first web board, the now-defunct wotmania fansite.  Yet in the process of becoming acclimated to internet culture, I perversely lost interest in that sort of literature, staying around more because of a few people who I liked to chat with about other matters.

When I was thirty, I began this blog, mostly as an offshoot of my then-role as administrator of wotmania's Other Fantasy section.  I was reading a lot of current spec lit, not so much epic fantasy (with the exceptions of George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and Scott Bakker) as the vaguely-described "New Weird".  I began learning how to read Spanish just prior to my 30th birthday and within six months, was reading fluent.  Learning Spanish changed my perspective on lit, as a lot of genres were now open to me that were not as readily available in English or English translation.  Cien años de soledad was but the tip of the iceberg and from there I began to delve into Hispanophone poetry, where I encountered Rubén Dário for the first time.

When I was thirty-five, this blog began to change from focusing primarily on new speculative fictions toward a mixture of classics, speculative and realist alike, commentaries, and squirrels.  At first, more people than ever wanted to read what I had to say, but with the rise of Twitter (I joined in May 2010) and my shift away from what others were covering toward areas that I thought were neglected and which interested me more and more, the viewership here began to decline.  Not that this was really lamented, just only noted.  In terms of what was being read, authors like Jeff VanderMeer, Brian Evenson, Milan Kundera, Steve Erickson, Salman Rushdie, Joanna Russ, Kathy Acker, Vladmir Nabokov, Michael Cisco, Italo Calvino, Milorad Pavić, and Zoran Živković were my authors of choice.  I had begun learning how to read Portuguese around this time as well and Camões was a quick favorite.

Now that I shall be forty in less than four months, I find myself reading a slight bit less than in years past.  I work two jobs that occupy the majority of my waking hours, yet I do not regret this loss in reading time, for it has been replaced with more time interacting with interesting people.  Most of what I have been reading this year has not been in English, but instead in Spanish, Italian, French, and Portuguese, with a little bit of Latin, Serbian, and German thrown in as I learn or strive to re-master these languages.  Poetry appeals to me more and more, yet it is something that I try to limit to certain times, lest I overindulge and lose a bit of my love for it.  Hardly any speculative fiction has been read so far this year, but I suspect that might change in the summer or fall months.  I became a published translator back in 2011 and while I have nothing firm planned for this year, I do hope to resume work on a book-sized translation of a work entering the public domain sometime this year.  Maybe I will become a writer of sorts, after all, or will it be the emergence of a re-singer of beautiful tales?

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