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Autobiography of a Reader
At the outset of my "Autobiography as a Reader," I will admit that I am at present a spottily enthusiastic rather than an avid reader. As a child I read both more avidly and more widely, but as an adult, my reading tastes are narrower, and my reading habits more sporadic. I also tend to be a rather faddish and inconsistent reader. By that, I do not mean that I am a slave to reading "fashion" (whatever that is), but just that books that are bestsellers, or that otherwise capture a lot of media attention, are the ones I am most likely to read nowadays. I will discuss my general reading tastes and interests, currently, as well as throughout my grade school; junior high; and high school years; and my reading habits in college, and beyond academia.
First, my reading tastes, interests, and preferences tend to ebb and flow with the times, and to generally reflect important or well-publicized social, business, sports, or other events. For example, if the Olympics are going on, I will probably enjoy reading books and articles about the Olympics, and especially about individuals competing in various sports at the Olympics that year.
Or if it happens to be a presidential election year, and a lot of political autobiographies and biographies are making their way to the bookshelves, I might find myself either buying, checking out of a library, or borrowing some of these political biographies. Then I might not read any of those again until the next Presidential election year comes around four years later, if I ever read any others at all. In that sense, my reading "moods" are unpredictable, like life itself I guess, and perhaps like those of most average book "consumers."
I suppose that in that sense I represent the kind of book buyer that publishing companies spend a lot of time, money, and energy trying to figure out what they would like to read next. However (speaking only for myself, but probably like many others) I seldom know what I would liker to read next, or even if I would have the time to read whatever it is, if I knew.
My most consistent reading interests throughout life, however, have usually had to do with sports; with business or leadership; and with politics and political or other intrigues and scandals, in that order. Still, certain other books outside those categories, like J.D. Salinger's short novel, The Catcher in the Rye, have made very strong and very memorable impressions on me when I read them, and I continue to reflect upon the meaning and significance of such books, even now.
Back when I was in grade school, like most kids, my reading interests and tastes were broader and more eclectic than they are now, and were also much more influenced, obviously, by teachers and school librarians. Based on that, I remember enjoying books like A Wrinkle in Time, and others. Even then, however, whenever I could choose my own books, my reading tastes tended to lean toward stories about sports and famous athletes, past and present, dead or alive.
Specifically, from an early age I was fascinated with any books, even those that were over my head, that had to do with baseball; football; basketball; tennis; running; swimming; flying; racing, and just about any other sports. Looking back, I think that my early efforts to read adult-level sports biographies and other books about sports back then, were what made me a better-than-average reader for my age, from about the third grade on.
For whatever reason, I was always about two or three grade levels ahead of my actual elementary school grade, in subjects like reading, and probably in my reading tastes. Another reason I liked reading so much back then was that I never had any problems with it, although other students I knew sometimes struggled with it, and a few friends of mine struggled quite a lot with it.
During those same grade school years, I also sometimes took interest, although often reluctantly at first, in books that various teachers would read aloud to the class. Then I would make an effort to check such books out of the library on my own and read them over to myself after the teacher finished them, or even read them on my own at the same time I was listening to them in class, in order to be able to read slightly ahead of everyone else. One of those books was Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, and another was A Hundred and One Dalmatians, by Dodie Smith. I still remember both of them very well today.
In my earliest grade school years, my reading preferences and tastes were also influenced by whatever Disney movies or videos had recently come out, e.g., the video version of Bambi, or various other Disney "new releases," some more memorable than others. I read a kids' version of The Adventures of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, for instance, after Disney re-released an animated movie, The Sword and the Stone about young King Arthur pulling the legendary sword from the stone as a young boy.
As an older grade school kid, in about the fifth or the sixth grade, and throughout junior high school, I enjoyed reading the Hardy Boys Mystery Series and similar kinds of action-adventure kids' books and series. Another boys' adventure/detective series I remember liking was called The Power Boys, This was a rather short series, compared to The Hardy Boys, which probably had about 50 volumes. The Power Boys, as I recall, only had three or four volumes. The books were (like the Hardy Boys) about the adventures of a couple of teenage amateur detective brothers, and all of them were set in Key West Florida.
That became a place I yearned to visit forever afterward, based on my having read all about the Power Boys' various Key West adventures. These brothers were also, continually having to contend with the Key West weather, including the many hurricanes and floods in the region, as they went about their detective work, which only added to the adventure and mystery, e.g., trying to catch a criminal quickly before a Category 4 hurricane rolls in.
I also loved Superman and Spiderman comic books at that age - do those count?
By the time I entered junior high school, reading as an activity was decidedly on the back burner, except for books I had to read for school. Yes, I still occasionally read new Hardy Boys books when they came out, (and reread the Power Boys, with thoughts of Florida hurricanes and (now, as an adolescent) beautiful Florida girls in string bikinis filling my brain, but junior high is an age when reading just for its own sake is kind of uncool, unless it's Sports Illustrated or Playboy,
I did read some classics then, but only because they were assigned for class, and, to be honest, I did not read them with much interest, or very carefully. These included The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. (In college, as it turned out, I read all of these books over again, and many others like them, for other classes. By that time, I realized and much better appreciated their worth as great and timeless classics of literature and as brilliant reflections on life, and on the human condition in general. Still, most literary classics (unless J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye is considered one of those) are not my favorite kinds of reading materials, and probably will not ever become so.
In high school, both inside and outside class, I became a bit of an environmentalist/futurist type of reader. Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring; Harry Harrison's Soylent Green; and Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, were all books I read for various 10th and 11th grade classes, and that I remember and think about even now. This was also the time of my first introduction to J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye. I first read it in my 10th grade English class, and I have now reread about half a dozen times, at least.
The Catcher in the Rye in particular, still continues to speak to me, unlike most other books I have read, even today. I believe that the main reason for this is that the main character, Holden Caulfield, is so honest, and because he detests all pretense and phoniness. I remember thinking, then, that it was ironic that our 10th grade English teacher was having us read it, since she seemed to me the kind of phony individual Holden was criticizing in the book. Maybe the most ingenious aspect of The Catcher in the Rye is that everyone sees themselves reflected within it in positive ways, but only readers besides oneself see one reflected within that story in a…[continue]
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