|Posted by [email protected] on July 24, 2011 at 8:57 PM|
I don't watch a lot of television, but one show that does fascinate me is Mad Men. I recall one episode in which the character Betty Draper was alone at home. The kids were gone, her husband was at work, and she just walked the house, bored, it seemed.
Eventually she sat on a sofa, paperback in hand, and read. Then it hit me – what else could she have done? She lives near New York, so her family do doubt has all of the television channels available, which probably amounted to four or five – affiliates of the three major networks, maybe a public television station, and perhaps some sort of independent station. Even in the largest city in America, that was probably all there was.
Remember, the show takes place in the early 1960s, a time many people remember from their own childhood or early adult years, yet also a time so far removed from today it's hard for those who did not live through it to imagine what life was like. No cable television, no Internet (or even home computers), no I-pods, no air conditioning.
How did society ever make it through such dark times, my kids sometimes wonder.
One thing people did more of then was read.
I don't have some idealized, romanticized idea of what life was like then. I don't sit around lamenting for the days when children were always quiet, knew their place and begged to do things such as read. Those times never really existed, despite what some older members of our society might claim.
But I do know people read more in earlier times, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s, when Americans found themselves with more leisure time and the ability to buy things such as magazines and dime store paperbacks. Oh, sure, the total number of books sold during that period might be smaller than today, but the nation's population was a little more than half what it is at present.
When I was a child I hated reading. But my parents, bless their hearts, decided that was a skill I needed to master, which was no small feat given that I was one of the weaker readers in my class at school. So about the time I was in second grade they decided I would have to read aloud to them twice a week. I still recall sitting in our living room, mumbling my way through story after story.
A funny thing happened. Not only did I begin to get better at reading, but I soon found I enjoyed it. There was a whole universe of stuff to learn! And I loved the adventures which played out in the works of fiction I read. By the time I was in third grade I was among the strongest readers in my class, and from then on I read everything I could get my hands on. Seriously – I'd read cereal boxes while eating breakfast.
I really can't tell you any particular author I enjoyed from those early years, although there have been different writers whose work I particularly appreciated at various stages of my life. In my late elementary school years I recall Alfred Hitchcock's Three Investigators (I still have a few of those boxed up somewhere). Of course, Mr. Hitchcock never wrote any of them – the books did carry an introduction he had supposedly written – but otherwise the publisher was simply using his name to sell books. No matter, they were great fun to read.
During my middle school years I was introduced to Edgar Alan Poe, who for years was my favorite writer. It was reading Poe that made me want to be a writer when I saw the effect some of his work had on my classmates. I saw that his writing touched them in some way (or more appropriately, scared them or grossed them out). Since I had a great affinity for horror stories even when I was a much younger child, the fact that Poe's work dealt with the dark was simply a bonus. The fact that writing could affect people in any manner touched something inside me, and I wanted to be able to do the same.
It wasn't a big leap over the next few years from Poe to Stephen King. During my later teen and early adult years I read most everything published with King's name on it. I still remember fondly sitting on a balcony at Myrtle Beach, the air filled with the gentle sound of ocean waves rolling up on the shore, a teeny little queasy feeling in my stomach as I read Survivor Type. That's the thing about King – he has such a way with story telling, hitting you right where you are with the normal, everyday stuff that's around you. I still pick up Salem's Lot and reread it every so often, and a few weeks ago I finished Pet Semetery (which, somehow, had eluded me all these years).
After a while I grew tired of reading novels, if you can believe that from a writer. The immediate tasks of raising a family, supporting them (which sometimes meant multiple jobs), chasing down non-fiction freelance assignments all took a toll on my time for reading – and writing fiction as well.
In recent years the pressure to support the family has not lessened (on the contrary, with four teens in the house and one who thinks she's a teen, that has in many ways become a more challenging task). But I've also returned to reading more. Douglas Clegg is now one of my favorite writers. I've seldom seen a person who can combine absolutely stunning story telling ability with such beautiful prose. Sometimes, when reading his work, I stop and reread a sentence, not because it was difficult to understand, but because it was written so well – I just want to read it again, slowly, to enjoy it.
If there's one other writer whose work I enjoy as much as Clegg's, it is the late Robert Parker. I'm a slow reader, but once I stumbled upon his work, I think I managed to read his entire Spenser and Jesse Stone series of works, as well as assorted other novels he had written, within a couple of years (that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 novels), and found myself over the past couple of years anxiously awaiting the arrival of his latest at the local library.
Unfortunately, Mr. Parker died in January 2010. I recently completed the final Spenser novel he wrote (Sixkill), and was a little sad to read a publisher's note stating this was the last Spenser work he completed before his death.
What about you? Do you have a favorite author, either one you read now or a particular writer whose work you enjoyed at some other point in your life? Tell me about it. You can e-mail, of course ([email protected]), but I'd far prefer you share that with all of the good folks who read this blog – use the comment section to tell us.
Categories: Horror, werewolves, spinetinglers, saint, scary, ghost, revenge, vampire, shape shifter, buried alive, Writer, Frank Stasio, WUNC, public radio, interview, Halloween, scary, horror, literature, erotica, anthology, fiction, Mad Men, Robert Parker, Douglas Clegg, Alfred Hitchcock, Jesse Stone, Spenser, reading, Betty Draper, Edgar Alan Poe, Stephen King, horror,