Books · Quotes · Reading

Books & Beginnings V

LordOfTheFliesI cried for days after finishing Lord of the Flies. I knew those boys described in this devastating tale. I was friends with boys very like Golding’s British school children.  I knew in the same circumstance, more of them would be Jack (a violent bully) than Ralph (the kind, logical, courageous, and thoughtful protagonist). All I could think about was the fat kid, Piggy. Everyone has known that insufferably awkward and shy kid. I had mistreated and lost him as surely as Ralph did when I was a young beast myself.

Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.   – Lord of the Flies, William Golding

It terrified me to realize children are NOT innocent. They are basically cruel beasts when absent security and supervision. Without guidance and love, they turn into little monsters that grow well-fanged. Yes, most children are like the bullying Jack. Few are like the logical Ralph or the empathetic Piggy or the strange and mystical Simon.

People like Ralph often stand alone;  isolated, despised. Power and fear cannot abide logic and light, and often the masses will rise against such voices. It takes such courage to defend the Ralphs of this world, simple and logical who speak unpopular truths.   To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when people stumble upon the truth, they often run away as fast as they can and pretend nothing has happened.

In the course of this brilliant book, the mystical Simon, also an outcast, makes a chilling statement that echoes through time. This simple observation destroys our desire to find some external enemy to defeat so as to solve all our short-comings.

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

assorted books on shelf


Lord of the Flies is the beginning referenced in Books & Beginnings IV. Do not watch a film adaption of this book. Read it. A film cannot do it justice.

Next up, I found a very thin book hidden in my parent’s now infamous bookshelf. It was by an author I had already enjoyed. It had a funny title and strange format. It was a book of great humor that made me think in ways that I never had before. Then it kept making me think for the next forty years and counting, the mark of great literature.

I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands.

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them…


Books · Quotes · Reading

Books & Beginnings IV

img_1099Watership Down by Richard Adams both traumatized and delighted me. The story ensured I would never look at rabbits the same again nor would I ever eat rabbit stew again. This masterful tale is an engaging and amazing story of family, strength, courage against impossible circumstance, and vulnerability born nobly. This was the book’s beginning from my post Books & Beginnings III

The next book enraged me, sent me into despair, and informed me on the corrupted nature of my fellow man.  It turned the playground bully into a monster. I had met in some form or another every character in this book.

When I finished it, it was a summer evening. I was nine years old. My parents were on the screen porch having a drink. I ran out, book in hand which I had finished in a single day,  and slung it at them. I wished my mother had never told me of its existence. It haunts me to this day.  It is brilliant. It is true. It is fiction. I wonder if you recognize it.

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.

“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!”

Books · Quotes · Reading · Writing

Books & Beginnings III

img_1098The Once and Future King by T.H. White propelled me further into a world where reality and fantasy melded into truth about humanity. A disturbing and tragic truth. This masterpiece is the beginning from my last post, Books & Beginnings II. It starts happily enough. Disney even adapted it into The Sword and the Stone. I was little prepared for the tales that came after young Wart became King Arthur. I had not, in my young mind, conceived of such tragedy as wrought by Mordred and the love of Guinevere and Lancelot.

T.H. White’s masterpiece was rendered from Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur which inspired Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Hence, my fascination with “Idylls”.  It also began my love affair with poetry.

BlankBookNext up, a book I read when it was practically brand new to the shelves. It had only been out for four years when my mother handed it to me and bade me to read. It was a thick volume and I took it, skeptically. I was nine and had decided I was done with anything childish. This book seemed to many pages of text to be what my mother claimed. It was such an odd sort of novel. It was not fantasy nor a mystery or a thriller. And it certainly was no child’s story.  This story transcended all expectations and my admitted limited experience of literature. And forty years later, it still does.  There are precious few books that can claim the imagination of this classic. Can you guess it?

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was filled with rabbit holes.

Books · Quotes · Reading · Writing

Books & Beginnings II

At age eight, books turned from escape to pure magic. I would read them out loud to anyone or anything that cared to listen from the perch in a tree house my friends and I had constructed in the little stretch of woods that ran behind our houses and the neighborhood next to the lake.

img_1095In Books & Beginnings I my mother brought me A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine D’Engle.  At the time, the book had been out for more than ten years but to me it was fresh and new. This was one of my earliest influences apart from the obvious. These great books will continue in the general order I discovered them.

img_1097I read madly. It was late in my 8th year or early in my 9th year, I became enamored of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  Those I would read every year through my university studies. And then there was C.S. Lewis – it started with The Chronicles of Narnia. These were the obvious influences on the writer I grew into. I found great truths in these volumes that many cast aside as trite fantasy.

I discovered Agatha Christie and her mysteries in the shelves of my mother’s family beach house along with a constant deluge of mysteries and thrillers that my parents called “beach cozies”. I read them all.

As my eighth year ended, my grandmother on my father’s side, began my instruction in two areas I loved, history and theater. We began to attend plays together and she instructed me on European history going back to.before the Romans began their conquest.

It was these stories that influenced the next great beginnings. It was near my ninth birthday when my mother dug deeper into her bookshelves and came out with a thin book of poetry, the most gorgeous verse I had ever imagined, and a thick paperback that encased a story based on that verse.

TreehouseUp to my treehouse I went. The birds, squirrels, snakes, my English Springer, Winston, standing guard below,  and myriad of insects, and the neighbor’s fat orange hunting cat joined me on an adventure that changed the way I thought of story.  I read every word out loud, staying until the light was too dim for me to read another word. It made me often late for dinner.

By the time I received this amazing book, the pages were browned with age, making the story all the more authentic to me. I loved the scent and feel of old books on my fingers. The opening of this volume suggested a routine life familiar to my own. One that sparked into adventure … and great tragedy. I never gave this book back to my mother. It became one of my treasures.  Can you guess the title?

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was Organon, Repetition, and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles.

Books · Quotes · Reading · Writing

Books & Beginnings I

img_1061-1I learned to read at age three. It saved my mother from having me muling for her to read me a story night and day. By eight or nine, I had exhausted my love for children’s literature and started at my parent’s bookshelves where I found such treasures as Plato’s Republic and Dante’s Inferno. My parents both studied literature in college.

My cousin gave me J.R.R. Tolkien at age nine but between eight and nine was a difficult time as reading was a fierce addiction for me.  I no longer enjoyed children’s books and my parents bookshelf had an upper shelf I could not reach. They refused to assist me in acquiring the books on the top shelves. They told me I was too young or some such nonsense. It was a condition I easily outgrew, but not at age eight.

One day my mother brought home a book from the library. She made a game of trying to find something that I would love. I could not fathom Dante and Plato was a bit boring, at least when I was eight.  She held the book up and said this was a book written for children like me. She was right. I wonder if you will recognize it as well.

This book, one of the greats of all time for young readers, starts in a way writers are cautioned never to begin their books. With the weather. Funny, how the best writers always break the rules. Funny, how when they do, it is in such a sublime fashion. Recognize this? Such wondrous magic.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

It was a dark and stormy night. 

In her attic bedroom, Margaret Murray, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. 

Do you know this? Feel free to comment.