Friday, December 11, 2015

Past is Prologue

Do you read differently now than you did as a teenager?

by Paul D. Marks

A younger me
In a word, yes. In another word, I don’t remember. In still another word I didn’t read much for pleasure as a teenager. I was too busy, well, being a teenager—having fun. I did, of course, read for school, both fiction and non-fiction, but even then I blew off as much as I could. Remember, I was too busy being a teenager.

When I was a younger kid (elementary school age), I did a lot of reading, both fiction and non-fiction. I particularly liked Landmark Books, history books put out by Random House, which were often kid—Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis, The Witchcraft of Salem Village by Shirley Jackson and many others. They were one of the foundations that instilled a love of history in me that continues to this day. And of course, comic books, including Classics Illustrated—do they count as “reading”?
versions of adult histories. Books like

To be honest, I really do barely remember most of what I read in high school. A lot of the classics. Shakespeare. Greek mythology. Things like that—the usual stuff—but mostly for English class and not on my own. And everyone was also reading Kafka and Hesse then.

But maybe during high school and/or after, I read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Proust. Dumas. Borges, still a fave, and all that fun stuff, as well some literary works of the day. And I might have snuck in a thriller or two. I read The Day of the Jackal and was blown away by it, especially because I knew that de Gaulle hadn’t been assassinated, but Forsyth still held me all the way to the last page. So then I read his The Odessa File and became a confirmed Forsyth fan. Also read The Godfather—who didn’t? And others. And, of course, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda. Sort of required reading for the time.

And yes, I think I read differently then than I do now. I probably didn’t think as critically then as I do today. Didn’t see the seams holding it all together. But, of course, part of that comes from being a writer. So we know how the sausages are made. We can see when an author is trying to manipulate us. Plus I was more of an idealist then, less cynical, both in terms of reading/writing and life in general. And just like my writing then was more juvenile, my reading skills were as well. Just as I would have been or was a different writer then, I’m a different reader today than I was then.

When you’re 16, 17, 18 you don’t have a lot of life experience to filter what you’re reading through. When you’re an adult, with a few miles under the hood, you read things through the prism of your life experience. And that colors how you see and read things. You’re more equipped to agree or disagree with the author, more equipped to form your own assessment of what you’re reading instead of being spoon-fed someone else’s opinion of the work, whether a teacher, critic or anyone else.

My tastes have also changed, though now I’m referring more to being a young adult in my twenties. Then I read more classics and serious literature. I didn’t really start reading mysteries until later, maybe in my early thirties. I always loved old movies, film noir, etc. And my mom had a two-volume mystery collection—A Treasury of Great Mysteries—sitting on her shelf ever since I was a little kid—now in my collection. It was filled with classic mysteries from Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Rear Window (originally published as It Had to Be Murder in Dime Detective) by William Irish/Cornell Woolrich, and more. I always remembered it because of the striking two-part picture on the spines of the books. The first novel in volume two, and the first thing I read in the collection, was The Big Sleep, which I’d seen as a movie many times, so I gave it a shot. I’ve been hooked on Chandler ever since.

Then somehow I got magically joined to a mystery book club—that I never actually signed on for. These mysterious mystery novels and books began appearing in my mail. I don’t know how I got signed up for this club, but I wanted out. So I contacted them and told them I was out and I wasn’t going to give the books they sent back since I didn’t order them in the first place. One of those books was a collection of three Ross Macdonald novels, The Galton Case, The Chill and Black Money, so I read all three (all three of which are still my favorite Macdonald books) and I got into him too. And from there my love of mystery reading took off.

I still like reading a wide range of things, though I probably read more mystery and thriller these days, but I still read literary books and classics. And non-fiction. And while I may not have “loved” reading as a teen, being exposed to good literature at that time, even though against my will to some degree, gave me a foundation to fall back on so that when I became an adult I fell easily and gladly into the reading habit. There’s an ongoing argument as to whether kids should be exposed to this or that at young ages, forced to do things—like reading or listening to music they don’t like, etc. I think they should. Then they have something to fall back on. Exposure at an early age often comes back to us later. If I hadn’t
been exposed to various types of music or books as a kid I probably wouldn’t enjoy them today.

My biggest problem re: reading today is not enough time. My wife reads/listens to audio books in the car, but I work at home and I find it hard to concentrate on audio novels. My mind tends to wander. And I’ll read on the iPad or Kindle, but I still prefer the tactile sensation, both touch and smell and words on a page of a “real” book.

But ultimately I agree with what Sam said on Tuesday, “I still read for the same reasons I did as a child--to be astonished and delighted.” And that’s really what it’s about, isn’t it?

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And now for the usual BSP stuff:

And speaking of Christmas, how ’bout picking up a copy of Vortex, Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, White Heat or LA Late @ Night—hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t invent commercialism at the holidays.

And the e-book version of Vortex is still on sale for $0.99.

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Susan C Shea said...

I'm really enjoying this week's answers - we are all such rabid readers, and it's clear we were when we were kids too. Your list reminded me I read both Ayn Rand novels at some early point, maybe early 20s? - Atlas Shrugged and whatever the other one was. Even then, I knew how manipulative they were and I seem to recall feeling a guilty pleasure in giving in to their message for a few minutes before my upbringing as the daughter of leftist parents kicked in!

Thanks for sending me into a memory and for sharing your own misspent youth as a reading nerd!

Meredith Cole said...

Great story about your magical mystery book subscription that started you off in the direction of mysteries... Seems like it was fate!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan. Glad to help send you on a Magical "Mystery" Tour back to your misspent youth. :)

That was weird about the book club, Meredith. Like you say, maybe it was fate. Like the line from the movie Detour (one of the best B noirs by the way): "Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you." Sometimes it's good Fate, like getting those books. It didn't turn out so good for the guy in the movie...

And I'm not sure what happened to the rest of the books, but I still have that Ross Macdonald collection.

Cathy Ace said...

Great piece - seems we're all having fun answering this one :-)

GBPool said...

I always like to think back on the books I read as a child/kid/teenager. I spent lots of time in the library way back then (no Internet), but then I was given Nancy Drew books. My father kept Readers' Digest in the "porcelain library" so I read those cover to cover. As for other books, I read my mother's Micky Spillane and Earl Stanley Gardner books. Twain and Shakespeare for school. But Bradbury, Sheckley, and Ayn Rand for pleasure. I know this because I still have the books. All those books make up my DNA. Paul, you are totally a product of the books you read plus boundless talent. Ain't it great? (Your hair was longer than mine.)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Cathy! It was fun, but kind of hard going back all those years and remembering everything.

I think you're right, Gayle, those books do make up our DNA. We are who we read, at least sometimes. And thank you for the nice words on my talent. And ditto to you. As for the hair, was longer than yours. These days there's not much left. Wish I still had what I had in that pic :)