Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Making of a Bookworm

I became a bookworm because my brother needed a break from his annoying little sister.

I was 9 and he was 18, home from college, jet-lagged and worn out by playing with me. Eventually he handed me a book so he could have some peace and quiet. So of course I pestered him incessantly about the meaning of the words I didn't understand. (To his credit, he remained unfailingly patient.) After a couple of pages, however, I was so caught up I just skipped ahead. There was a story to be discovered, what were a few unknown words?

Peace and quiet for him, a lifelong love of fiction for me.

I need to back up and tell you that my siblings and I were born into a household of reading materials: Chinese classic texts and literature, foreign stories translated into Chinese, issues of National Geographic, a set of encyclopedia. I read mostly Chinese books when I was in grade school. In English, I read captions for National Geographic photographs, jokes from Readers' Digests, and comics from the English daily newspaper. My vocabulary was limited. (And often skewed by my misunderstanding of lyrics in American pop songs.)

Turned out my brothers had a whole collection of Enid Blyton books: on boarding schools, adventures, mysteries, fairies and gnomes and elves. I spent the next years devouring all of them, multiple times. I enjoyed the Famous Five adventures and boarding school stories. I even wrote a story, when I was about 13, that took place in a boarding school in England, with a protagonist named Bronwyn or Beatrice or something else with a strong British flavor. Yes, my characters had midnight feasts and drank ginger beer and routinely turned as red as beetroot. I still remember characters from Mallory Towers and St. Clare's: Darrell and Felicity Rivers, Pat and Isabel, Alicia, Mary Lou, a perfect head-girl named Rita, a teacher named Nosy Parker, and a new girl who was unjustly sent to Coventry. I longed to be allowed to wander around an island with my cousins and solve mysteries, and craved bacon and eggs for breakfast instead of milo and bread with kaya.

Sigh. Memories.

Despite all the criticisms of Enid Blyton's work, I am enormously grateful that she chose to write. These books opened my eyes to lives in foreign places and unfamiliar customs, made me a fluent reader, and laid the foundation for a habit of reading.

What are the first books that hooked you?

Fellow readers who grew up with Enid: which were your favorite books? What are some phrases you remember from her books, besides "red as beetroot?"Did you want to be one or another of her characters?


aquafortis said...

You know, I don't think I've ever read anything by Enid Blyton. I know I should try at least one.

It's hard to remember exactly what reading material first hooked me, but I know WHO did--my mom. She taught me to read early, read to me and with me, and set a bookworm-ish example. I have early memories, though, of the Narnia books--I started the series being read to, and by the time we got partway through Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I was reading them on my own. :)

Laoch of Chicago said...

I loved the Enid Blyton books when I was small. I first read one when I was living in Ireland as a small child.

My favorite book when I first started reading was Jules Verne's book,"Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Yat-Yee said...

Sarah: I'm not sure you need to read any Enid Blyton now. I think it was the only game in town when we were growing up in Commonwealth / ex-colonies type countries. I love how you describe the seamless transition from being-read-to to reading-on-your-own.

Laoch: Did you grow up in Ireland then? Jules Verne: that's quite an undertaking for a child. Nice!

Solvang Sherrie said...

This is going to sound so lame, but I loved my Dr. Seuss books. Not just Cat in the Hat, but Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now and Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. I was so excited to share my battered copies with my kids.

I've been a lifelong reader. From Danny and the Dinosaur and Big Max, to Pippi Longstocking and Little House on the Prairie, I read everything I could get my hands on, and I pretty much still do!

Yat-Yee said...

Sherrie: not lame at all! I actually don't know those particular Dr. Seuss so I'll have to find them!

Mizmak said...

I also tore through tons of Enid Blyton growing up, and especially loved the "Adventure" ones ("Island of Adventure", "Sea of Adventure" etc.) although my sister annoyed me by nicknaming me "Freaky Kiki" after the parrot.

I also wrote (and illustrated) my first "book" at age 12 to entertain the kids I was babysitting, and it was all about girls in a boarding school!

-Alexandra MacKenzie

Domey Malasarn said...

Cool post, Yat-Yee! I don't remember which books I loved most as a kid. I remember the Sweet Pickles books, and now that I'm thinking about it, maybe that's why I love epics so much? There were so many characters involved. I also really liked the Little House On The Prairie books.

Bish Denham said...

I was hooked on wolfdog stories. Call of the Wild, White Fang, Kazan the Wolfdog, and the Silver Chief series.

chongchian said...

Yes ! Lots of Enid Blyton and Famous Five for me. I think it was "Island of Adventure" that I read, and re-read many many times. Thanks for bringing back memories ! Niya is reading her first Nancy Drew. (copyright 1940s, I think)

Yat-Yee said...

Mizmak: we were fan fiction writers long before we even knew about fan fiction!

Domey: I don't know the Sweet Pickles books. Need to rectify that.

Bish: I remember reading that about you somewhere, about Call of the Wild.

Chong Chian: Thanks for commenting! Your Niya sure is a bookworm! Yay!

Lavanya said...

ooh fun!!! Enid Blyton books were the first books I ever read (I think I started with the Noddy series when I was 4 or 5 and then the short stories- goblin's hat or something like that)..I absolutely loved the midnight feasts too and craved bacon and eggs and strawberry scones..I took forever to get over reading Enid Blytons and still have some on hand for old time's sake..:)
My favorites were the School series (Mallory towers and St. Clares's)..Also loved the Five findouter's mystery series and the magic faraway tree trilogy. And all the stories that were set on farms (Willow tree farm, cherry tree farm..:))..Oh and the circus books..:D

I probably wanted to be Fatty from the five findouters- the one who used to disguise himself..
I remember being in love with her use of delicious (delicious morning etc..I even used that term in an English test (composition) when I was 12 or 13, much to my English teacher's annoyance)

WHich character did you want to be?

Yat-Yee said...

Lavanya: I love Mallory Towers and St. Clare's the most too. Who did I want to be? I actually wanted to be Anne, the little sister of Dick and Julia. She isn't a well-drawn character, now that I think of it, but I wanted to be her because I would get to hang out with George and her dog, and I'd have two older brothers to "take care of me." Yeah, I wasn't a brave girl.