For this year’s Thanksreading series, I’m exploring my development as a reader and giving thanks for the books and people who made me the lover of books that I am today.
It’s Christmas morning. Maybe 1981? Or 1982? One or the other. I’m pretty sure it’s 1981. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends weighs heavily in my memories around this, and that debuted in 1981. I was five days away from turning 7.
Anyway, Christmas morning was a tough time as a kid. The presents, wrapped in brightly colored paper, were under the tree, but my little sister and I couldn’t touch them until Dad got home from morning chores at the barn. And, of course, having been up since 4 a.m. or so, he needed to have breakfast first. Christmas breakfast was the most unbearable period of time in a calendar year when I was a kid.
We didn’t have much money, but my folks always made Christmas special. There was the annual early fall trip to Ames department store in Morrisville, VT to shop and put most of the year’s Christmas presents on layaway. Weekly payments would have them home and wrapped just in time. A few gifts would come from a special trip to Chittenden County, with visits to K Mart and Zayre. And if we were really lucky, there’d be something under the tree that we’d circled in the coveted Sears Wish Book catalog.
This particular year, there was a box against the living room wall, to the back of the Christmas tree. I remember Santa faces and holly covering the wrapping paper. In reality, the package wasn’t that big, but at the time, it seemed enormous, and when I saw my name on it, I decided it would wait ’til last.
I don’t remember much about the gifts I opened that morning, other than that last one. The cliche is “the gift that keeps on giving,” and that’s exactly what was waiting for me under the wrapping paper.
There were a lot of different items I’d circled in the Sears Wish Book that fall, providing careful instruction for my parents’ holiday shopping needs. He-Man and Battle Cat. Coleco mini arcade games. Every G.I. Joe toy. You know. To set reasonable expectations.
But there was one item I circled that I absolutely needed to have. NEE. DED.
It was a set of 12 illustrated classics. Heavily edited, of course, to meet lower reading levels.
Adventures of Robin Hood. Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Oliver Twist. Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty. Huckleberry Finn. David Copperfield. Call of the Wild. Oregon Trail. Tales of Mystery and Terror. Moby Dick. Last of the Mohicans. Count of Monte Cristo.
They were chunky little books, 5 1/2 inches by 4 inches, with colorful covers and comic book-style line illustrations throughout. The line was called Moby Books Illustrated Classics Edition.I didn’t know it at the time, but there were 36 books in total. Had I been aware of it, I probably would have collapsed from the thrill of it all.
Anyway, the gift waiting for me under that wrapping paper was a set of those Moby Books. However, it wasn’t the set from the Sears catalog. It was a slightly larger set of 15 books, with more titles that piqued my interest.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. A Journey to the Center of the Earth. A Tale of Two Cities. Ben-Our. Captain Courageous. Great Expectations. Kidnapped. Little Women. Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty. The Man in the Iron Mask. The Prince and the Pauper. The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. The Three Musketeers.
The only bit of disappointment was missing out on the intriguingly titled Tales of Mystery and Terror, but I got over that fairly quickly.
Those books not only fanned the flames of my love for reading, but they became a blueprint for my fiction preferences. Even to this day, nearly 40 year later.
Sci-fi and Jules Verne? Hell yeah. Roman chariot drama? Not even a little bit. Dickens’ tales of life and suffering in Victorian-era London? Pretty good, but I gotta be in the right mood.
I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped so much the pages fell out. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court was my introduction to both satire and time travel. And Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle began a lifelong fascination with the master detective archetype.
I also learned a valuable lesson one day when I was home sick from school and having nothing new to read but Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a book I assumed had nothing of value for a boy. And boy was I wrong. What an amazing story.
I have vivid memories of being read to sleep by my parents from these books. Also of organizing and reorganizing the books in my room. And having a big, toy tractor trailer, loading the trailer up with the books, and imagining how happy people were when I delivered the books to them.
These books are part of my life only through memories now. Though after writing this, I’m tempted to do some online bidding and get myself a full set.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another look at the roots of my book-worminess. (That sounds a bit gross.) In the meantime, let me know what books and authors you’re grateful for this year. Thanks!