Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Those Eyes How Familiar They Seem

By Kevin Guilfoile

My three-year-old son has a Laura Lippman obsession.

I'm not sure how or exactly when it started. Every morning we come downstairs and I go to the kitchen to make breakfast and then I come back into the family room to get him. Some months ago, while I was setting the timer on the toaster oven, he started removing Laura's books from the shelves and arranging them on the floor or on the couch or against the wall. Of the hundreds of novels within his reach, he's interested only in Laura's books. Sometimes I'll come in and he'll appear to be reading one of them, holding it open in front of his face, turning the page every minute or so, the way mommy and daddy do. (Or the way mommy does, anyway. His daddy doesn't read two pages a minute.) Oddly I've never seen him actually pull the books from the shelf. I've only seen him obsess over them.

We read to Max every day, but the only grown up books he's ever asked us to read aloud are Tess Monaghan mysteries. I'm not sure what's going on there, and he's too young to tell me. Someday soon I'm sure he'll pretend to read other authors. Probably the same day he starts to eat food other than waffles. In any case, I'm extremely happy that Max seems to like the aesthetic of books. He likes to hold them and open them and smell them, even if he's not certain what all the words say inside. He knows there's a good story in there somewhere and I think he's trying to discover how to pull it out.

When Max was born I asked a number of friends to give me the name of the first book from their childhood that really got them hooked. The book they were reading--probably around fourth or fifth or sixth grade--when something clicked in their heads and they understood what it was to get lost in a novel, to be transported into a fictional world, to believe in characters that someone else had invented. I received dozens of great recommendations (and many actual books with loving inscriptions) and I've started to build Max's library for the day when he really can read to himself. I had three older siblings and grew up in a house full of books that were just a little bit advanced for me and I want Max and his brother to grow up the same way. I want them to be able to reach out their hands any time and find a book that thrills and challenges them.

So I'm posing the question again here. What was the book that did it for you? The first novel you stayed up at night reading under the covers. The first book you ran home from school so you could get back to it. The first book you really became lost in.

I'll post my own answer in the comments. For Max, I think the answer will always be Baltimore Blues.

19 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

For me it was Jean Merrill's The Pushcart War. Every time I pick up a book I'm trying to relive the feeling I had reading that story.

The Home Office said...

Mine was The Hound of the Baskervilles, which probably says a lot about how I turned out.

Sarah said...

L.M. Montgomery's KILMENY OF THE ORCHARD, which doesn't hold up nearly as well upon rereading as some of her other books. But I read it at least 20 times as a pre-teen.

Bryon Quertermous said...

MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George. I've never been the outdoorsy type, but that book made me want to live inside a tree for years.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Oh man. MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. I loved that book.

My mother also had a volume of the complete Holmes stories. The print was about this small and I spent a lot of cold days hunched over that thing on the floor, reading through a magnifying glass, which was hilarious but also kind of appropriate.

Dave White said...

I was always hooked on the Hardy Boys novles (and I don't remember the titles, but I know I liked the sixth one because it had a hand grenade in it).

Ironically, I do the same things with my collection of Laura's books every morning.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

I had all the Hardy Boys books in hardcover, lined up along two long bookshelves in my room. I loved all those blue bindings, each with a title and a number. I remember you could order them by mail for like two dollars each and I would save up my money and order a dozen at a time and then rip through them.

Related to Sarah's comment about rereading your favorite books as a child, here's Gene Weingarten's classic Washington Post story about returning to his beloved Hardy Boys books as an adult and discovering to his horror how much they sucked. That leads him to a wonderfully touching story about Leslie MacFarlane, the man who wrote most of the early Hardy Boys books and who had dreams that went far beyond Frank and Joe. Weingarten is always terrific and anyone who wants to write for a living should read it.

Libby Hellmann said...

"Blueberries for Sal" -- I loved that book. My mother used to take me to the library when I was quite small, and I'd check out that book every time. Loved the "plink, plink, plink".... Have you read it to Max yet?

Elizabeth said...

I don't remember a time when I didn't read. The first book I remember loving is Don Freeman's Corduroy. The first novel I really remember is Harriet the Spy. I still love it.

Marcus Sakey said...

The first that leaps to mind is THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. That's partly because the school librarian wouldn't let me check it out (I was in first grade) and so my mom took me to the public library for it.

Oh, and I've got crazy fond memories of the Lloyd Alexander books, especially the ones featuring Taran. Not sure how they hold up now, but I was hooked from page one back then.

Anonymous said...

I remember the very day I learned to read. It was from the same book that appears in my Kindergarten picture. I think that book was my most important one. I remember this overwhelming rush as I put the letters together. Then the realization that more letters formed words I could recognize and that a whole different dimension was mine, and only mine. I remember dashing home to tell my mother. She wasn't there. I ran to my room, to change clothes, tearing my crinoline in the process. Too impatiant to even dress, I ran to her best friend's house in underwear and t-shirt screaming, in actual tears of joy, "I can read. I can read!" And I have never stopped since.

D.A. Davenport

Maryann Mercer said...

I know I read quite a bit as a child. Lois Lenski was my first favorite author, but the book I remember as being the one I read over and over was The Diary of Anne Frank. I also read as many Holmes stories as I could, but Anne Frank was THE book.

jenny grahn said...

The book that really stuck with me was "The Velveteen Rabbit" and it made me cry. It was the first "chapter book" I ever read and I vividly remember sitting on the living room couch reading it (no one EVER sat there!).

Oh, you must get "Blueberries for Sal" - what a classic, great illustrations.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Libby and Jenny, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never heard of BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL. Thanks for the tip!

Jared said...

I'm so happy Marcus brought up the Taran series, because they really got my juice pumping when I was young, too. But the first book that popped to mind was The King's Fifth, by Scott O'Dell, a rousing conquistador epic (at 272 pages).

Also, almost every Three Investigators book.

Daniel Hatadi said...

I remember a story that revolved around a blind man and whiskey ice cubes. It was one of the books in the Encyclopedia Brown series. I remember loving the puzzles, and loving the fact that a kid was smarter than all the adults. Probably because I thought I was too.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

This post has brought me a lot of email from friends who didn't want to comment here for one reason or another. My friend Bryan mentioned the Scholastic book sales in grade school, and how he remembered buying a Happy Days novelization "about Richie meeting a married couple who walked around their house naked and described themselves as "swingers."" Now a father of a young girl, Bryan thinks that might have been inappropriate.

At Scholastic sales, I always bought Encyclopedia Brown books, which is why I took such delight when my good friend (and frequent co-conspirator) John Warner set out to parody those stories. His paperback deal was apparently scuttled by Encyclopedia's lawyers but thankfully the original stories are still online. Encyclopedia Brown fans, enjoy Wikipedia Jones.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

I remember reading a lot, but not what the first book was. It may have been Mr. Popper's Penguins.

Laura Lippman said...

First of all, e-mail me. Max deserves at least one autographed copy, maybe even a copy of the first-time-ever-in-hardcover Baltimore Blues.

Secondly, The Pushcart War! Fabulous book, one of the funniest ever. I hadn't thought about it for years, but I still see the illustration in my mind's eye, of the valiant pushcart proprietor blowing a pin into the truck's wheels.

The first book I remember loving was Squirrel Nutkin. Also, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, which I received for my 3rd birthday.

A lot of kindred spirits here -- Lloyd Alexander, Lois Lenski, Blueberries for Sal, L.M. Montgomery were all important to me.

Wow, I know I'm late to the party -- I'm reading blogs instead of prepping for my class tomorrow -- but Max so made my day.