If never have you ever flipped open the cover of a new book –– or an old one, I'm not judging –– and taken an appreciative sniff, just keep scrolling.
Or give it a try. Page-sniffing is a thing.
I don't know how others turned into readers. The conversion interests me, seeming to divide the world into two groups (yeah, yeah, those who divide the world into groups and those who don't?). A hard binary system of readers and non-readers.
My sister is a reader. She wasn't for a while, and then in around fifth grade, she suddenly was.. I think it was a biography of Miss Harriet Tubman that swallowed her up during –– was it a car trip?
I want to remember the name of the paperback book Freedom Train, but I was a bystander, and this only my recollection. Did she read it over and over? I think she did.
So perhaps when I found a book that worked its wormy magic on me, I was only following her steps.
There I was, awake in a hospital bed, contemplating the small but disgusting remnants of my appendectomy, bored at age 8 as I had never imagined being bored.
It's a signifier of years under my keel that back then I spent 5 days recovering in the hospital. After the first dramatic 18 hours, the novelty of ginger ale, a nurse on call, limitless Jell-O, and four industrial-green walls wore off quickly.
Mrs. Horack, fourth-grade teacher and all-round civilizer of the savages we were, brought a small bouquet and a get-well package of cheerful messages from my erstwhile tormentors and classmates and –– oh joy! –– books from her latest Scholastic order.
A small stack of cheap paperbacks.
There was a Disney movie novelization called The Mystery in Dracula's Castle.
And one of Clifford D. Hicks' Alvin Fernard series –– Alvin Fernard's Secret Code perhaps?
A third that might have been another Disney novelization. I'm not sure. The Parent Trap with movie stills of Hayley Mills and Maureen O'Hara, maybe? Anyhow, forgettable fiction.
And...tahdah! Walter Farley's The Black Stallion.
The story of Alec, a boy who tames the heroic black stallion. While marooned on a desert isle. And who brings the wild creature home to Queens.
It surprises me a little that –– it appears –– nobody has based an academic dissertation on the works of Mr. Farley. The storytelling was like a barn fire: a smoulder for maybe the first sentence, followed by a five-alarm blaze for 18 chapters. Action! Horses! Danger! A Big Race!
The Black Stallion was published in 1941, the product of a college boy who knew and loved horses (it shows), which means it's had 80+ years to percolate through popular culture. The movie version, thank you Francis Ford Coppola and crew, is gorgeous.
I believe that JRR Tolkien produced the granddaddy of all modern fantasy novels in his Middle Earth (not that there weren't ancestors before then, but still –– not one Dragon, not one Dungeon, not one Song of Fire or Ice but which can trace its ancestry...) Anyhow, I likewise believe that The Black Stallion is, if not the first (hello, Anna Sewell's 1877 masterpiece, Black Beauty, not to mention Smokey the Cowhorse by Will James, which won the Newbery in 1928.) then it's the ideal exemplar of the horse-story.
The Black Stallion went on to sire a whole line of descendants. Not just look-alikes when kid meets horse, kid tames horse, horse and kid win big race, but Walter Farley wrote close to 20 sequels, and a son continues to produce new books in the series.
ANYHOW, I veer from me me me and my experience. The Black Stallion was the book that gave me my first immersive escape from physical surrounds. I dove into the dark and salty ocean with Alec and the Black while their tramp steamer foundered, forgetting about the discomfort an IV needle and the too-tight bedclothes, the scent of infection and Lysol, the hunger and weariness. It was magic.
The experience of reading and immediately re-reading the novel ––the pages of my copy are watermarked and foxed, scarred by tea and littered with petrified toast crumbs –– made me into a reader.
Of course I had pretty specialized taste at first. Researching for this blog sent me to a Pinterest page showing column after column of vintage horse-story books. So many old friends among those covers!
Horses and books, books and horses. Not all my book friends had horses, but a surprising number of friends know this two-pronged hayfork: Mumsie herself of course, and Cousin Shirley (Hiya!), the gang of Jill and Sheryl and Megan, plus Robyn, Jekki, Wendy, Arial, and more.
Decade after decade I crack open a book or swipe the Kindle awake, press the delta of "play" for an audiobook, absolutely certain that I'll be visiting a new world between the covers of one book or another. Right now there are two SF novels beside the bed, the latest Robert Galbraith/Cormoran Strike audiobook on the phone for Mr. Linton and me, and a handful of who knows what options on the Kindle. In fact, I should go update my Goodreads list.
Gentle readers, name the book that made you part of this strange clan. Or say what book you're reading now. Or which one bucked you off like rodeo bronc.
You know, talk bookly to me...
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