Friday, June 27, 2014

A book worm from way back

In the small country school where I moved at the end of 1956, one was simply invisible if one was not sporty. I could not run. I could not wrestle. I could not shoot for goal. I could not slide into base. That ruled out just about everything: athletics, netball, and softball. I could not swim either, but that only mattered when I went to high school. I guess it was a big deal being ostracised like that, but I tried to find other things to do. I loved reading, so from very early on I became the student librarian, yes, even from Third Class. I stamped books in; I stamped books out. I covered books with plastic. I made sure books were in the correct order on the shelves. I also added new acquisitions to the ledger. Which meant I invariably read them first.
I adored Enid Blyton, from "The Faraway Tree" to the "Famous Five". I sweated on new volumes coming in on a regular basis. They were all real people to me, especially Georgina, who was me in disguise. And Timmy, who was my black'n'tan Kelpie, Darkie in disguise. They did ordinary things that read like the grandest of adventures. And they always had someone to play with. And the adults did not interfere too much. I have just bought via e-Bay the first FF adventure: "Five on a Treasure Island" with the illistrations as I remember them. I will see how Alannah reacts to them. I gather there were 21 adventures in the series which were originally published between 1942 and 1963, meaning there are some I have NOT read! Book #17, published in 1958 was called "Five get into a Fix". What an inspired name for a book. I DARE anyone to be this creative nowadays.
I did not restrict myself to Enid Blyton though. I had no need to. The runners, and wrestlers, and base-sliders out in the playground were not banging the library door down, for heaven's sake. Another passion I developed was for the "Twins" series by Lucy Fitch Perkins, who was *gasp* an American. But mostly her books were set elsewhere. Not that I had my biases in place until later in my life, you understand. Fitch Perkins wrote in the first half of the 20th century whereas Blyton straddled the middle of the century. I suspect I was the prime mover in getting th twins books into the library, as the author diued just before WW2, so they were not hot off the press in any way. IU feel sure if I were to read them again today, I would cringe at their beige sameness. But for a quiet, solitary girl in country New Soth Wales in the 1950s they were a window to another world. I suspect I raed the majority of these. As well as the volumes you see illustrated there was one about The Eskimo Twins, The Cave Twins, The Japanese Twins, The Spartan Twins, and The Italian Twins. A bunch of them are up on Project Gutenberg. Do I dare take a peak?
I was not alone in my adoration of the Bobbsey Twins. Even the shooters and sliders were keen. Keen enough to object to my always getting the new ones first, and being smug about it. So, rules about sharing were introduced. Blast 'em! But I took my time, and just branched out a bit. I sobbed and heaved over "Black Beauty". I braved the icy wilds of Alaska in "Call of the Wild". And there was one particular Ladybird Book about a seaside donkey who was mistreated and alone, that tugged at the heart-strings to such an extent that the images are still vivid and readily brought to mind. The imagination is such a wondrous thing.
I did not know this at the time, but Laura Lee Hope did not exist . She was about 10 different writers who took it in turn to conjure adventures for Nan and Bert, Freddie and Flossie. The similarity here to Blyton;s FF is striking. But probably only to an adult. Blyton came up with Julian, Dick, Georgina, and Anne, with the fifth being Timmy the dog. I remember in the '80s reading Susan Cooper's "Dark is Rising" series to my children, and realising it was a more complex, better quality concept.

Kirsten has asked me a number of times why I never read FF or BT or Twins to my own children. I guess I am a book snob. It's the only way I can explain it. I adored them, and they meant the world to me. But I was coming off a very low base, an arid plain. Life is short, and choices have to be made. I read them lots of other books, like, "The Indian in the Cupboard", Victor Cannings "Smiler" trilogy, and Mary Norton's "Borrowers" series. To cite but a few.


brattcat said...

love this post, julie.

Joan Elizabeth said...

What a collection! Blytons Rockingdown mystery was my first non picture book and I was hooked. I read a lot but don't think I was a big reader. I did Speech and Drama lessons from when I was 7 years old so was introduced to lots of good books and poetry. But for light reading I loved boarding school books with names like Fifth Form at St Claire's. that was until I found romance novels which I loved reading. I bet they didn't figure large in your reading!

I have recently worked my way thru Gone with the Wind. My sister reckons I am reverting to type.

Unlike my brothers and sisters I was not good at sport but that did not stop me trying. I was always practising and trying to get into the team though I was rarely chosen. I just kept on dreaming. I was a day dreamily type of kid that was always someone else in my head who I chatted with happily.

Julie said...

Hello Karen, lovely to have your visit. I am unable, now, to return the favour now that Brattcat no longer prowls. She did wander the byways for much longer than I though might be possible. Now that "Safekeeping" is on the shelves, I wonder what is next on your agenda.

Julie said...

You are right, Joan. Romance novels were never my thing. Just like the majority of television is not my thing, be it comedy or drama. I like piles of detail, and to really get to know how the characters are feeling and thinking. I like stories very light on action. There is another story I am ready to weave about what kicked me from Blyton et al to Steinbeck et al. And how one should never really go back, but simply savour the memories.

Cynthia said...

How fun to see these kids' books once again! I was a complete bookworm, too, and loved the Bobbsey Twins. My grandma had saved all my dad's and aunt's books from the 1920s and I loved to go there and just read, read, read. To this day, the smell of an old book brings me back to my grandma's living room, her scratchy couch, and reading as fast as I can before I had to go home and leave Fred and Flossie and Nan and Bert until next week.

diane b said...

Well just to be different , I loved sport, running, jumping and swimming and I wasn't even born an Aussie. However, I also enjoyed reading. I remember reading School Friend Magazines from England and the girls lived in the wonderful world of boarding schools and Swiss finishing schools. I also read Enid Blyton FF books. I even liked my brother's "William" and "Biggles" books. I still have my A A Milne Christopher Robin and Winnie the pooh Books. I have kept them for Sonya to read to Fox and Banjo but I'm afraid they may not be interested as children's books today are much more fun, brighter and attractive. Some are excellently written too. Like Men Fox Books and I could go on.