In the fall of 1989 my family moved to the Oregon Coast. For those of you not familiar with the climate there, it rains from mid-October to late June. Compared to the fun-in-the-sun of the Willamette Valley, also a fairly wet locale, it was dark and dreary. I was in a new school, a private school, a religious school, one that made sure to divide students into gifted and non-gifted, holy and unholy, sheep and goats. We were told to work at our own pace, but when my pace exceeded the recommended level, I was told to slow down and complete the average amount of work per day. It was a cubicle hell for children, with hands off and aloof teachers who could not explain any concepts whatsoever. It was brutal, and combined with the weather I was miserable.
What I did discover is that, when left alone, I could find a comfortable reading pace. With the help of my finger as a guide, I could even read and comprehend fairly quickly. Reading aloud was the bane of my existence, so I avoided it at all costs. And with my new found enjoyment of reading, the library became my favorite place to be in the last months of the 80s.
Religious and conservative as my parents were, they knew the value of reading books, good books, books of various subjects and topics. Which is how I broke out from the children’s and young adult (I don’t think that was much of a category back then) sections and into the full, open and so much more interesting “adult library”. I read naval histories of the war of 1812. I read Silent Spring. I read Louis L’amour. And I found the Science Fiction section, and I was hooked.
Now, you might thing Westerns and Silent Spring aren’t really 10 year old reading material. You’d be right. But I really hit the wall in science fiction. Here’s a sampling of some of the books I read before the end of the year.
- The Best Science Fiction Volume 2_B, featuring Isaac Asimov’s _The Martian Way, by far my favorite of his short stories)
- Neuromancer by William Gibson; wonderful book, and made me a lifelong fan of William Gibson. I don’t recommend this for 10 year olds, generally speaking.
- Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card; Shit, I was the same age as the main character by the end of the book. This one scarred me for a while. I remember having vivid nightmares about the Giant’s Game.
- Guardians of the Flame: The Warriors by Joel Rosenburg; I might not have understood RPGs and I still didn’t after this series, but I knew I never wanted to be transported to a fantasy land. Because the library didn’t have the second volume, I only realized there was more to this series when I saw a collection of Guardians of the Flame at a beach rental my wife and I stayed at in 2016.
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman (The movie is amazing, but I really prefer the book’s story about reading the story. I read it in a day, staying up til 3am to finish it. The only other book I’ve read as fast was Jurrasic Park.
Geekery became my “thing” at the library. I’d check out a few scifi novels, maybe a short story collection, then grab some issues of Compute! and Byte, check in with the John Dvorak and Penn Jillette articles…who’s this JRR Tolkien guy?
The librarians, seeing I was a lost cause for going back to the young adult section, started recommending authors, so I always had something new to try every Monday night. “Have you read any Heinlein yet? Let’s see, how about Ursula K Le Guin? I think you’ll really enjoy Ray Bradbury.” They brought me to some of my favorite works, the juvenile series of Robert Heinlein, Dandelion Wine. Those librarians saw what I loved to read and knew enough to direct me to other genres as well, guiding me through Raymond Chandler and Raymond Carver, Zane Grey, Tolkien, Lewis, the poems of John Donne and Charles Bukowski, Steinbeck, Hemmingway, C.S. Forrester.
If it wasn’t for the librarians at the county library taking an interest in me, and my parents making Monday night into Library Night, my reading would have atrophied, my love for writing dying on the vine, the course of my life taking a poorer, sadder turn.
The golden age for my library reading was November 1989 to June of 1991. I know the date exactly, because the local library got in a sparkling new copy of Heir to the Empire, one of the first Expanded Universe books for Star Wars. It set me on the path of being a media tie-in junkie and consuming far more Star Wars, Star Trek, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, BattleTech, Wing Commander, and so many other gaming and movie/TV novels. I don’t regret that, but I do regret focusing on it to the point of no longer looking at modern fiction, mysteries, Westerns, anything outside that walled garden of science fiction and fantasy media.