In my memory an entire summer of reading — 1969 — is tinged with orange: the smell of orange, and yes, orange stains on the books, because I was a young barbarian of 8 and keeping my fingers absolutely clean was impossible.
I think, in retrospect, grandma’s orange tree must have had a bumper crop? Or at least it seemed like every week she’d send home a very large basket filled with oranges.
Now, when it was her apples that overflowed, we made apple butter, but in this case, nothing for it but to eat the things, and I volunteered.
I ate oranges, lazed about in the sun and read. I’m sure I did other things, like help clean and replant stuff, but I don’t remember any of that. I remember the endless summer, and the endless stream of books.
It was a perfect strom, in a way. You see, in Portugal as a kid, the problem was always finding enough books to feed the habit. By 8 I was reading fast enough that I couldn’t be kept in books, because I read up to five or six a day.
And Portugal has a tight publishing schedule, of sorts. As in, publishers always publish under what they expect to sell, and there are no reissues.
Also, at eight I found books extremely expensive. for a while I had a thing going where I collected used bottle tops and the grocer across the street gave me money for them. If you brought a bajillion (round count) in, you could get like $2 which was enough for a book, sometimes. Particularly if my brother bought the other half. After a while the grocer got tired… I think I was bringing rusty bottle caps I was digging in the woods.
Anyway, having discovered I could read “Real books with no pictures” by reading Enid Blyton, I had to branch out. Mostly because even though she wrote prodigious amounts, neither my friends nor I could assemble the entirety of her works. Not even of one of the series.
So, at 8 I found I was in the fortuitous position of not having read most of the books various friends and family possessed. (I might or might not have made a friendship or three JUST to get access to their books, too.)
I think I read all of Mark Twain that could be found in translation, that year. And grandad’s alter Scott. And some unknown ancestor’s Dumas. Roman and Greek Mythology. A whole bunch of western stories, most of them the print equivalent of Spaghetti westerns (bacalhau westerns!) that is, Portuguese pulp writers writing westerns about a country and landscape they didn’t understand fully. (For those of you who don’t know it, Ohio is arid and next to California.)
I also read all the great classics that boys got introduced to, like stories of Western heroes and figures of the American revolution.
Mind you, I read this all in a hodge podge, with no context or references. It would be three to four years at least, before a map of the world and a time table that made any sense emerged in my head. This was helped by the fact that I also read history books, both popularization and those that were assigned to my brother’s and cousin’s grades. Oh, an mom’s old ones.
So, of all this, what emerged? Some books got re-read.
Dumas, Mark Twain, Enid Blyton got re-read. The rest kind of fell by the way side, even though I read everything. (Including, at one time, the instructions with medicine bottles, because I was sooooo bored.)
Some things stay, others fall off.
By the time I was eleven, I found Heinlein, and sometime after that I discovered mystery.
But any foundation at all I have in “Good literature” or “non genre fiction” came from that summer of reading everything that my family had accumulated for many decades.
The funny thing is that I think even though I don’t remember most of it, the detritus comes up at times to haunt my dreams.
The most important thing, though: if you have the raising of kids; if you have to make a decision about what they are to read, within limits (I was not about to explain “incest” to the three year old, thank you so much) make everything available to them, and let them graze.
Most of what’s truly inappropriate will fall off their heads, because they won’t get it, and therefore it will be boring. (Okay, yeah, I know sex manuals with illustrations, such as schools are putting in kids’ reach are beyond the pale. I’m talking more of my brother’s obsessive fear I’d be scarred by sf books where people had sex. I don’t think I realized they had sex until I was well past 18.)
And don’t keep them in too many books. Make them find favorites and re-read.
Because those are the books that stay with you, like old friends. Those are the books that make you immortal, or at least ageless.
To this day, I get a book I read in the past — now in ebook — and I’m surrounded by the smell of oranges, and the world is an endless summer full of possibilities.