Archive for Sunday, July 16, 2000

Dr. Dolittle lead to lifetime of reading

Pickett Line

July 16, 2000


They're all there on the shelves, in the room where I do all my taping and copying off television. The books I have loved, the books of my childhood, school days, college days and the years since then.

I've told myself that the books I first read were the Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting. Do children still read these, or do they just rely on seeing the movie with Eddie Murphy? When did I get to Robert Louis Stevenson? I do know that I read "Treasure Island" every summer. I also know that every summer I read two that were in our home, two corny old books by John Fox Jr., "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" and "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come."

Mark Twain came soon. "Tom Sawyer" became another book for summer, though I didn't like "Huckleberry Finn" until I was older. I don't think "Huck" is a book for children.

I came to the fine trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall in 1935, I believe, just before "Mutiny on the Bounty" was in the theaters. "Men Against the Sea" and "Pitcairn's Island" were the others. And I enjoyed their "Hurricane." I found Rafael Sabatini about then, the sea novels, "Captain Blood" and "The Sea Hawk," and that swashbuckler about the French Revolution, "Scaramouche." Great adventure tales.

One of the first big novels l bought was Hervey Allen's "Anthony Adverse," all 1,200 pages. It cost me $2. I read this almost without stopping in the summer of '36. About that time several of us discovered the slightly racy novels of Thorne Smith, "Topper" and "Night Life of the Gods" and others, a lot of people running around naked. No, these weren't pornography. And our library got what seemed the complete series of Bulldog Drummond thrillers, by a writer whose name I forget. How we passed these around.

I wrote a while back about the great books of Kenneth Roberts, books like "Rabble in Arms" and "Northwest Passage." I've re-read all of them. I read and enjoyed about the books of Edna Ferber, especially "Cimarron" and "Come and Get It." In the summer of 1940, I found Richard Wright's "Native Son," and this small town hick in Idaho read for the first time what it was like to be a black man in America.

How did I come to John P. Marquand? I think it began with "H. M. Pulham, Esquire" and "Wickford Point." I have all the Marquand books, except his Mr. Moto series, on my shelves, fine books about people in a social milieu quite different from what I knew in my little Idaho burg.

Many others came along, of course, but I know that in 1947 I got started on Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd series. My wife had bought the earlier ones, and I got "A World to Win" for Christmas. Lanny was a rich man who was an agent for FDR and got to know Hitler and Stalin and that crew. "Dragon's Teeth" really told us what the Nazis were doing to Jewish people.

Oh, yes, "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939. John Steinbeck helped me surmount the shallow Republicanism of my little Mormon town. In 1947 I came to A. B. Guthrie's "The Big Sky," that marvelous book about the mountain men, and soon I read Guthrie's "The Way West," about the Oregon Trail. I also came to the Thomas Wolfe novels about then, and how I have loved these.

Like a lot of people my age I had skipped Charles Dickens, though I know I read "A Tale of Two Cities" and "Oliver Twist" when I was a boy. When I came to Dickens I went through everything the man wrote. Is it silly to say that there also came the R. F. Delderfield novels, 600-page epics that seem in a class with Dickens?

I still love detective novels, and I got to the Dashiell Hammett books and soon those by Raymond Chandler and the two MacDonald books, one of whom didn't capitalize the "D." And I found the Dick Francis novels about horse racing and the adventure tales of Alistair MacLean, books like "The Guns of Navarone."

When I discovered William Faulkner and John Dos Passos I read through their entire works. And, how did I not mention "The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo," "Jamaica Inn" and "Rebecca"? And the Limberlost books of Gene Stratton-Porter, especially "Laddie." Laddie, like me, was a whiz at spelling matches.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.