Orange Reads

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.

58 comments

  1. Every year growing up in the upper midwest in the middle of winter I remember us always getting two bushel baskets of mixed citrus, oranges and grapefruit. It was a group purchase through the church I think. So for a couple of weeks we would binge on orange slices and breakfast grapefruit. And I remember the fruit being packed in this green cellophane grass stuff that we played with until the folks got tired of it getting into things and threw it out.
    Do not recall what age I was, but do remember that point when I no longer required books to have lots of pictures in them. Shortly thereafter I required weekly trips to the town library to swap out the three books their entirely ridiculous rules allowed me to check out at a time. Those I augmented with the rather limited selection from the school library along with my folks collection of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest condensed books.
    One very high point in my youth was the day our librarian had a long chat with me ending in her informing me that I was no longer restricted to the kids’ section, and opened up the entire collection to my ravenous consumption. I was probably either eleven or twelve at the time.

    1. I think the limit at the city library was seven. I believe they let me into the adult section before I hit 12, because we moved when I was 12 and I was already in there. (Thy also added and removed the Oz books; I suppose they got pulled when some parent noticed they had magic in them).
      It’s odd, though, what sticks. I memorized, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” at 10 or so and while I didn’t get all (probably even most) of the references, I thought it was hilarious.

      1. At one time, we had all 26 Oz books. I read them all, but didn’t love them as much as my younger sister; still a few phrases from them made it into our family’s lingo.

        1. Baum only wrote 14. (Others were officially written by other people, bringing the total up to 40, but I’ve only read a couple of them.)

    2. From third through 6th grade, the town’s library was two short blocks from school. In 7th and 8th grade, it was across the street. What I didn’t check out, I’d read in the library. If I could have taken meals there, I would have. Used it slightly less in high school. largely because the HS had a really good library.

      Heaven!

  2. Ah the library.

    That horrible week where we weren’t allowed to take anything out because we were going on a trip in a week.

    I started to write in word deprivation.

  3. I went to schools that had ginormous libraries, both fiction and nonfiction.

    I was in junior high before I realized there was such a thing as a public library, mostly because of the hoo-rah in the local paper about building a shiny new one. And it was even more ginormous (tho not nearly as handy, nor as well-geared to my tastes). On one trip to said library, I discovered that pawn shops sold used books for ten cents each.

    Then I lived where the local library was tiny, but the interlibrary loan stretched from Seattle to Cleveland.

    Plenty to feed the addiction that had started… well, at five I read Gray Canaan, a civil war novel, and I never went back to “children’s books”…. they were severely word-deficient, and I already didn’t care about pictures.

    And here we are today, still complaining about not enough words.

    1. Portugal doesn’t have libraries in the American sense. Libraries are for IMPORTANT, cultural artifacts.
      So I started libraries in every school I attended…. lending libraries.

      1. One of Dale Carnegie’s better philanthropies, establishing small libraries in towns across the nation.
        Our town was only around 4,500 population, but the county seat so at some point, in the 30s I suspect, we were blessed with a solid building about the size of a large house or a small church.
        We paid a visit there every Saturday afternoon for years and years.

          1. My bad. Knew it was a Carnegie Library so my tired old brain stuffed in the first thing it thought of.
            Thanks for the correction.

  4. *laughs* I can remember being oblivious to stuff the first four or five times I read it, then I read it as an adult and go — “Oh. Oh. Hm. That explains some of the adults freaking out…”

    1. I read my mother’s entire collection of Victorian novels in childhood and, to some extent, spent the next five to ten years belatedly understanding what they were about. Was walking across campus one day, musing on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and said out loud, “Oh, so that’s how she got pregnant!” (It had been a big mystery to me at age 10, and my mother wasn’t big on explaining the facts of life.)

      Got some rather startled glances from the people walking next to me.

      1. Although I’m not a Hardy fan (having suffered through at least Tess & The Mayor of Castorbridge), his way is better than the modern soft-porn approach.

    2. At eight or ten I would go through my aunt’s bodice-rippers like candy. And I was always Very Upset because there were pretty rearing horses on the cover and NEVER ANY HORSES in the text! “Why are they kissing when they could be talking about the horses on the cover?”

  5. I read David Drake’s stuff when I was technically way way to young for it.

    Rereading a bunch of it years later I’ll find myself completely not remembering that certain things happened at all.

    Now, that said, you do need to beware of stories with unreliable narrators. The first time I read The Warrior, I did not at all understand how the narrator was actually screwing everything up. I didn’t know better and simply took his word at it that those were the right calls.

    Rereading it now, that’s probably the only book I might have held back from younger self. Or at very least given with a warning that the main character was actually very wrong.

    1. I have a cousin with a permanent grudge against librarians because one thought “bunnies=kid’s book” and filed Watership Down there. He was much too young for 1984 with bunnies. It’s been forty years, and the grudge has NOT faded.

      1. Yeah, I just roamed my dad’s massive piles of books. Occasionally I’d ask him about what the heck was going on in some of them and got a “don’t let your mother know I let you read that…”

        It is striking just how much one’s perspective changes before and after one hits physical maturity though.

  6. Sarah, off topic but yesterday I emailed the Kindle Vella column you requested to the madgeniusclub1 mailbox. Please let me know if you see it.

      1. On its way now. Weird that the site advertises that gmail address in the sidebar if no one monitors it. (I’m guessing this, since a message I sent nine days went unanswered.)

  7. “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.)”

    C’mon, at least they’re on the same continent . . . But seriously, I find it fascinating when non-Americans work in the quintessentially American genre of the Western. Not just the Spaghetti Westerns but also British Western writers.

      1. They took a ferry . . . πŸ˜‰

        There actually is a theory that King Arthur was based out of Brittany, because of all the Breton connections to the legend. That would make such a ride possible.

    1. The opera Manon Lescaur has the protagonists getting off the boat in New Rleans and then dying of Horst in the desert… Really broke the connection for me.

      1. I still can’t see these comments… New Orleans … thirst
        If anyone can tell me why that would be great. The comment box is tin that I can not see words in it.

  8. I am eternally thankful that growing up, by my parent’s choice, we didn’t have TV, but we did have a lot of books, of all varieties, including history, sci fi, fantasy, theology, philosophy, and more. We didn’t have any romance (fine with me), mystery except maybe Sherlock Holmes (I picked up my love of mystery later), or Westerns. And my parents made frequent trips to the library.

    As a kid, I went through all the Greek and Roman mythology, a lot of history (especially military history), a lot of fantasy, adventure (like Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer) and a good deal of Sci Fi. In my high school years, I added philosophy and theology, and quite a few just novels (can’t remember what genre, plus plenty of classics, both for school (Dickens, Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, too much Thomas Hardy, etc) and on my own). I didn’t like Jane Austen in high school. I did read all of Sherlock Holmes.

    In college, one of my big problems was that our library had open stacks with at least hundreds of thousands of books – I have to admit, my study time in the library was rarely productive, at least at getting my homework done. After college, I started to really get into mystery (I’ve read basically all of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers, Raymond Chandler, plus Doyle’s rivals, and so much more), and more classics (all of Jane Austen!), all of Evelyn Waugh, a lot of Wodehouse, and much more.

    I am also eternally thankful that my father read to us children for about half an hour every day – so many books I first heard, not read, including Narnia, The Hobbit, TLoTR, Riddlemaster of Hed, Witch of Blackbird Pond, Paddington Bear, Dragonsong, and so much more. I tried to continue this tradition with my children, but since my wife was not supportive, only got through Narnia, The Hobbit, and Swallows & Amazons.

    For the recent past, I’ve gotten some good recommendation from MCG, and have enjoyed discovery some authors whose books just seem to fit me (Cedar Sanderson, Dorothy Grant, and Margaret Ball especially; Dave Freer’s Changeling Island, Tom, and Cloud Castles are also tops), while others don’t (which doesn’t say anything bad about those authors).

    1. “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.” I loved that, brings back memories of the summer we actually had a back yard where I could read. Then I read “The Velvet Room,” and changed my desires to a library with green velvet curtains. πŸ’•

    2. One of the minor problems with reading a lot of Greek and Roman history and mythology before I knew any language other than English was that I tended to invent my own pronunciations for all those names. Didn’t realize I had better look up the pronunciation until I met the man I later married, who knew how to pronounce any name that had the slightest connection with classical military history (while being totally ignorant of, say, Sappho, Antigone, Iphegenia).

      1. When I was taking AP Spanish (in Spain), my teacher made us pronounce English names the way a Spaniard would, e.g. we had to say “Shack-a-spear-are-ee”. After a couple of years in Spain, I understood my PE teacher better in Spanish than English (e.g. “Put your haands on your uncles” πŸ™‚

        I’m pretty sure some of my pronunciations are non-standard, and the same goes for my kids.
        But m4Many names, such as place names, just have to be learned from the locals, e.g.
        Spokane, WA is pronounced Spo-can, NOT spo-cane
        Sequin, WA is pronounced squim
        It’s ore-gun not ore-gone
        I can’t do a proper Longg Island accent
        And I heard from a local that Newark, Delaware is pronounced New-Ark because they don’t want to be associated with New Joisy πŸ™‚

          1. When I taught students from Kansas about water history, I just said, “The Ark” when I referred to a certain river. Saved being “corrected”, and then the corrector being corrected by the rest of the class. [The river is pronounced “Ark-en-saw” everywhere but Kansas. There it’s “Are-Kansas.”]

            1. And anything involving French words in the English language tends to get interesting.

              Wish I could find the oiseaux is pronounced wazo meme.

              Of course English gathers up all the vowel sounds in the world and just sorta assumes you already know which one it’s using for, say ‘a’ today. Good luck!

        1. t’s ore-gun not ore-gone

          Back when I was in college, my (extremely liberal) roommate was from Oregon, and there was a news story about about some hippie teacher teaching children in Portland to sing the state song while pronouncing it “ore-gone,” on the grounds that he was one of those who freaks out at the sound of the syllable gun. My roommate, who again is not just a D but a far left D, just about hit the roof screaming about this idiocy.

          Moral of the story: do not pronounce it ore-gone in front of anyone from the state.

      2. You’ve probably already run into this, but– Eddy-puss vs Ooo-weee-deee-pus. American English, vs English English.

        My poor One Good English Teacher had to preface some of the video-taped plays when we were doing The Oedipus Cycle.

  9. Mythology and folktales, then history, biology (“that’s all there is to it? Yawn,”) geology, Kipling, Walter Scott, paleontology, archaeology, military history, fantasy, then mil-sci-fi, then . . . If they didn’t want me reading it, my parents put it up on a high shelf, or behind other things. I had more than enough to keep me occupied on the lower shelves, or at the various public libraries.

    I’ve always liked geology and other earth-science related things more than biology. Make of it what you will.

  10. We moved to Laughlin AFB when I was maybe 9 years old. By the time I was 10, I had strip-mined the children’s section of the base library. Then I discovered that nobody there cared if I started checking out books from the adult section. That got me lots more science fiction (including the none-YA Heinlein), and various other authors. Admittedly, my seventh-grade teacher did ask whether my parents knew I was reading “The Valley of the Dolls”, but when I said they knew the teacher didn’t mention it again. It’s one of the few books I never finished – it was just too boring.

    As for Ohio being an arid desert, modern folks often aren’t much better. I recall the scene in the (I think) second Smoky and the Bandit movie when, going westbound, our heroes cross the Louisiana-Texas border and instantly go from swamp to high desert. There is plenty of desert in Texas, but it’s several hundred miles from the Louisiana border.

  11. There’s lots of almost everything in Texas.

    Still, I like the joke about a Texan bragging in a London pub about how he could get on a morning train in Texas, ride the train all day, and still be in Texas that evening. Didn’t make the impression he was hoping for: “We’ve got slow trains here, too, Yank.” πŸ˜€

    1. And then the fighting started…’cause you don’t call a Texan a Yank πŸ™‚
      (When I moved to Nothern Florida in the early ’80s, I got asked many times if I was a Yankee. The answer was No, neither Yank nor Southerner since I had moved from the Pacific NW.)

  12. I did not want to learn to read as a young child. Far too much trouble. I was forced into it in first grade. Then in second grade a miracle happened. I actually got good enough at reading so that stories unfolded before my eyes as I read them from the page. I never looked back. Sucked down the school library over the years. Which is not a bad thing. However, somewhere in there my mother introduced me to Dr. Dolittle and Mary Poppins. From there it was a short hop to Narnia and the SF section of the public library. She gave me a copy of the Hobbit, which she found boring. Which started me on a love affair with Tolkien that endures to this day. These days I read mostly F/SF. I get my news from the web, as TV is odious. I have often been corrected, sometimes rather rudely, for mispronouncing words that I had never heard, only read. A well written book is a trip to another place that is experienced in our minds. A true wonder.

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