Friday, March 28, 2008

Out of this World

[Sunday Scribblings this week prompts us with Out of this World. Here are the memories that prompt evoked in me.]



It isn't my fault. I blame my dad. Perhaps I should blame those old department stores instead. Maybe I'll let you decide.

My dad was born and raised in the borough of Brooklyn, in New York City. His parents were educated; both of them were teachers, and they passed to him the love of learning. My dad read everything he could get his hands on.

I never heard stories of my dad having to "do without" when he was a boy, yet they weren't wealthy either. So my dad used the libraries and he was always looking for a bargain. He was in heaven one year when two department stores had a price war, each trying to undercut the sales of the other. Some of the highly-discounted items were novels. Some of them were on an upper shelf in one room of our house 50 years later.

Among the stories my dad read were the works of Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, and Jules Verne. And that may be where it started.

You see, Jules Verne wrote Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. All were stories of the fantastic, where the imagination soared beyond what was possible. Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is certainly about either time-travel if anything is.

By the time my dad was in medical school, he had been reading "the pulps" for years and was enjoying stories in magazines like Astounding Science Fiction. He was reading science fiction by Robert A. Heinlein and Donald A. Wollheim. And my dad's brother had a college classmate by the name of Isaac Asimov – he was writing science fiction too. My dad kept reading science fiction over the course of decades.

My parents read to me when I was tiny, and I from them I learned to love reading and learning. Books were never a question – I grew up with them all around me. Our living room had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to one side of the fireplace. When the house was remodeled when I was eight, a small bedroom was turned into a library with shelves lining 3 walls. The two lower shelves on one wall held kids books. I was soon ready to start making my way through the books on the other shelves.

I don't remember what the first science fiction book I read was, but I'm sure my dad gave it to me. It was probably something by Isaac Asimov, and I was hooked. I read what I could find in my dad's collection and in the town library. When browsing in the fiction section, I came across an anthology of Nathanial Hawthorne stories. I wasn't in the habit of reading mid-1800's literature, but two stories in particular stayed with me. The first was called "Rappaccini's Daughter," full of dark fantasy about the effects of a certain plant. The second was "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment" in which a group of old men give in to temptation by water from the fountain of youth.

I'm sure my adoration of science fiction was initially fueled by my dad's fondness for it, and perhaps a bit by my mom's dislike. She thought stories about rockets to outer space or aliens or elves were stupid.

But I was not alone. When I was 10 a student teacher read two or three Narnia books to my fifth grade class. One teacher recommended A Wrinkle in Time. In my high school we passed around copies of J.R.R. Tolkien, each of us waiting impatiently for the person ahead of us in line to finish the next book of the Lord of the Rings. When I was a teenage camp counselor a friend suggested I'd like Robert Heinlein and starting with Stranger in a Strange Land, I plowed through many of his books.

And by the time I was in college, I was distinguishing between fantasy and science fiction, but either one might take me to far planets, with or without alien life. And the term "speculative fiction" now covers a lot of sub-genres, many of which I spend time with.

So when my preference for novels leads me to one small corner of the bookstore, when I can't find much to my taste on the bookshelves in the airport terminals, I blame my dad for leading me down this path. And I smile just thinking about it.





21 comments:

Granny Smith said...

I DO read so-called classic books, and I long ago stopped WRITING science fiction or fantasy. But the Tolkein trilogy and Harry Potter still can hold me spellbound. I tell anyone who reads Harry Potter to read all of the books in the order that they were published; it is, after all, one long story rather than a series of stories.

I enjoyed your post very much.

Greyscale Territory said...

Adore your whimsical reflections on your book journeys. I relate to much of this being a book worm from way back!

Gemma

Laini Taylor said...

Great post on inheriting the love of reading -- so important! And, the love of genre too. I get so irritated with literary snobs, though I was one myself for a while after college. You've got to forgive a recent Lit grad though; I grew out of it, and now love "speculative fiction" above all else!

steerforth said...

You're giving me great reading ideas - the Hawthorne stories, for example. Great post!

gautami tripathy said...

I read pretty much everything. Well, not those racy romance. I draw the line there. My love for books has never made me feel lonely.

I loved this post!

word by word

anthonynorth said...

Marvellous recollections. I, too, have read much Sci fi, my favourite being Philip K Dick, though.

Maria said...

I don't read much science fiction, but Bing went through a period in college where she did, so she has quite a good collection.

I just may take a peek....

sister AE said...

Thanks, Granny Smith. I try to read most authors in the order they publish. I think that even if the publisher says it doesn't matter, there are often nuances that are missed when you have continuing stories.

Thanks, Gemma.

Hi, Laini. You are definitely forgiven!


Thanks, steerforth. Enjoy.

Hello, Gautami. I'm pleased you liked this.

Thanks, Anthony. Dick's books never grabbed me, though I know the titles of many of them.

Hi, Maria. I like what I once read in the introduction to a collection of fantasy and science fiction short stories. The author starts off by telling me that she is about to lie to me. And that she asks the reader to have a "willing suspension of disbelief." If a story is good, the characters and the plot will shine, regardless of what "world" they show up in. Bad stories are not saved by fantastic settings.

tumblewords said...

I really enjoyed your post - books are such an important part of our lives - I've never read much fantasy or sci-fi but this prompt is encouraging me to change my ways!

sister AE said...

Hi, Sue. They aren't for everyone, but I think they are worth a try.

Wine-dark Sea said...

pertinent, my yes...

WDS

sister AE said...

thanks, WDS.

Robin said...

My original Narnia set of paperbacks still has pride of place on my bookshelf and is still as beloved as ever, pages falling out and all. What joy it was to read them to my own child after loving them so when I was one (ok, and when I was an awful lot older than one, too).

A lovely post.

Patois said...

I'm sad I never read the Narnia books when I was younger, but I was totally into "A Wrinkle in Time," which still tops my favorite books list. And I loved Vonnegut and Asimov.

sister AE said...

Hi, Robin and Patois. Thanks.

Sleepypete said...

Also hooked to Robert Heinlein :-)

It's not just the science behind his fiction, it's mainly how his characters interact with each other. It's the interaction that make the books fun to read. I think the only contemporary author who's come close is Iain M Banks.

Heinlein highlight - Friday.

sister AE said...

hi, Sleepypete. I'll hae to stop by.

Sara said...

I don't know how I got into SF when nobody in my house read it. But thank goodness for the library, and that tiny nuclear logo on the spine of SF books! Remember that? And there was a tiny unicorn if it was fantasy. Fun post!

sister AE said...

Hello, Sara. Thanks. I do remember the nuclear logo - the little model of an atom with its electrons tracing intersecting orbits around the core. But I don't remember the unicorns - perhaps that came later?

Janet said...

I love this post :-) Your admiration for your Dad shines through!

Ahhhh, Stranger in a Strange Land was one of my favorites and of course, LOTR :-)

sister AE said...

Thanks, Janet.