Then and Now: Favorite Books From Childhood ~ Good lessons or violence in training?

Daily Prompt: “What was your favorite book as a child? Did it influence the person you are now?

Books to me are friends, new and old ones. I love the freshness of a new book and cheerfully crack the spines, bend the pages, whatever it takes to read comfortably. Not that fond of hardbound books because they tend to break my purses, as well as hefting them around begins to stress out the shoulder-blades, causing neck crooking and strange leanings to one side. My old books are dusty. Well, let’s be truthful here, all my books are dusty, but they are in appropriate sections and then alphabetized by author, over 3,500 of them. Somewhere along the line, I got into the habit of imitating whatever the characters were doing in the books. Still do to this day…, which can be good and/or dangerous, but always interesting.

Around about 10 years old, I became addicted to “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott. It appealed to my love of family, of writing, the do-gooder in me. I stunned my mother for a brief while by standing when she entered the room, offering to clean the fireplace, and to bring her tea. After a hard day’s work, she came home and gratefully accepted my offer. As I left the room, she reminded me to leave the teabag in as she liked it strong. I cam back with her favorite tea cup, she smiled and thanked me, lifting the cup and saucer from my hands and took a sip. An involuntary spasm crossed her face and she brought the cup down and glanced at the contents. I had used a family-sized teabag, more for a pot of tea than for a small, graceful teacup. Because of “Little Women,” I learned how to knit, sew and cook. I read 18 editions of “Little Women,” having no understanding of what “edition” meant and afraid I’d miss something if I didn’t read them all. I took about 11 of them with me to the hospital when I got my tonsils out. They had prepped me for surgery and I was parked and staring up at the ceiling in aggravated boredom when an orderly walked by. I asked him if he would bring me a book from my room, which was close by. Goodnaturedly, he agreed. He popped out of the room and yelled, “Which one?” “Doesn’t matter.” I yelled back, “Just pick one.” As noted in another entry, I adapted the scenes to my environment. Jo used to go up to the attic to write with a basket of apples she would munch on throughout the day. Ummm, we didn’t have an attic. I took eight apples up into our avocado tree in the backyard and munched all eight in about a half hour. Couldn’t eat more than a quarter of a slice of apple for about 25 years….

By 11, I had the largest collection of pornography in the neighborhood – admittedly at the time it was two smutty books and one of my best friends got caught with one of them. Her mother was horrified and immediately forbid our associating for a while. “And, that child has such an excellent vocabulary!” I remember my friend and I discussing it on the way to school, once out of sight of home. “My mother read the book and she says all that stuff about orgasm simply isn’t true.” We thought about that for a while. “Well, I dunno, Liz. All the books talk about it. Maybe your Mom just never had one?” My own mother, when questioned about what I was reading, shrugged. “If I forbid it, it looks even better. Frankly, they are poorly written. She will become bored and go looking for something else.” I was listening from the living room and her reasoning was so accurate, they lost their attraction almost overnight and I was onto better stuff.

A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle (1962) fired my imagination and I still remember what a tesseract is. “Harriet the Spy” caught all our imaginations and Liz and I sat across the street from our apartment building, eating pomegranates, spitting out the seeds, and noting the comings and goings of our neighbors in little bound books, thereby freaking out grown adults. Nancy and I loved the idea of being spies and one memorable day, Nancy challenged us to special training, which included jumping off the roof of her apartment building to land in a postage size stamp of ivy. Fortunately, the apartment manager caught us before I could go first.

I loved “The Hobbit,” by J.R.R. Tolkien and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach,” and years later bought all my favorites for my roommate’s eight year old son. The books sat off to the side for a long time and one day, I sat down to read them again. Hmmm. I was shocked by the violence in them, thinking I had no inkling at the time, but satisfaction at the comeuppance of the creepy kids in the Roald Dahl books, who truly understood what kids wanted, which is what gives me pause when adults go hysterical over kids punching each other, or chewing a cookie into the shape of a gun. When I was young, it was normal to fight it out. We learned really quickly how much that hurts, but it was a full contact sport, done after school ended for the day. The words “I’ll meet you after school,” could turn a whole day edgy, but we didn’t have one shooting in the entire time I grew up. Yes, we did have bullies, but we pretty much policed ourselves. Kids have certain rules that are or were the core of our childhood code. You didn’t tell tales out of school – you didn’t rat out your friends, you had adventures you would never, ever tell your parents about, and loyalty and friendship meant everything. I look today at what parents must deal with, what the kids themselves must deal with and I am sorry they cannot experience what I did, none of which I appreciated at the time.

When my nephews were growing up, one was born with the birth cord around his neck and we feared for him. He had learning difficulties beginning with dyslexia, so he was not fond of reading, but became an avid videogame player from the moment he could hold one in his little hands, maybe three years old. He developed superb qualities of patience, fortitude, and sheer plain stick-to-itiveness because he would not give up on those silly videogames, mastering each level until he had mastered the entire game, playing hours and hours, far outdistancing anybody else’s skill levels. Both boys were avid collectors in completely different areas. This one fell in love with “Magic The Gathering,” and he had shoe boxes full of trading cards for this game. None of us could figure out how to play the game, no matter how many times he tried to show us. We were talking one afternoon and I asked him about the value, if any, of the actual cards he had. He barely looked up from what he was doing with them. “Oh, yes. Each card has a monetary value.” “How do you keep track so when you’re trading you’re getting a good value?” “There’s a magazine that publishes the going rate of each card.” “Do you have a copy available?” “Nah, I don’t collect ’em for that.” “Okay, but you have hundreds of these cards. I think it would be interesting to know the value of your collection.” He looked up. I said, “How about if we go and get one?” Well, that worked really well. We came back and walked through the prices for the cards he had and how much he had invested and how the value had grown. This game was a money maker and, once we clearly established the value, no one made fun of his passion again. And, that is when I learned to keep an eye on this kid’s interests because he was always ahead of the curve of what would become a trend. If he liked it, it was wise to buy stock in the company.

My mother had said it did not matter what a child read, so long as he/she read because we change so fast growing up that every six months you had a new person. The boys were visiting me and I took them to the local Barnes & Noble and turned them loose, saying I would buy them one book no matter what it was. The videogamer picked out a younger person’s book that was more horror than anything else, but he read it and told me about it. Based on what he liked about it, I turned him onto science-fiction, especially “Ender” by Orson Scott Card and from there to Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. It was this boy, who after 9/11, insisted that viewing the attack over and over again would be very hard on little kids.

Up until he began to read, he had had no interest in computers, which his younger brother gloamed onto instantly. But because of “Ender,” this challenged 12 year old began writing online book reviews, and establishing a website honoring the W.O.T. series, garnering more hits than any other. At 15, he had established a working staff across the world to monitor chats and presentations, walking out of his room one memorable evening, saying he had had to fire somebody because they were not keeping up with their responsibilities to the team…. He ran into IT problems and would call the techs and patiently hold their feet to the fire, getting refunds and fixes to his site. I remember my surprise and jealousy when he was asked by Mrs. Card to review the pre-publication of the latest book by Orson Scott Card. I made him promise to lend it to me when he was done. He shook his head, “Can’t. I agreed to a confidentiality clause.” Nobody was surprised that he wanted a career in video games, but we were stunned when he calmly moved across the country to be with a girl he had met online, and then analyzed the market of the video stores in the town he was in. Unemployment was rampant and nobody was hiring. He offered to work for free for one chain that he had analyzed as being the best in the overall market. They hired him after one week, he became a manager and then one of their top managers in the country. It was this man I turned to after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre for his input regarding violence and videogames. This is what he wrote to me (names changed for privacy):

Hey Aunt Hunt!

Finally have a little bit of air! I am SO sorry it has taken so long to write you back. It has been a very hectic season for us and it is still going! I have thought a lot on your question. At the end of the day I do not think that violent games encourage people to act differently than they normally would.

If someone has violent tendencies then they may use games, movies music or books to live out or focus their aggression. But at the end of the day people are responsible for their actions. When it comes down to Columbine or CT I feel very wary when someone tries to remove any responsibility from the person who decided to kill or hurt people by passing blame on something else. Video games are pretty easy to target because most people who do so do not play them. What they assume is that games are for kids and so games made with violence are made for kids. In reality the average age of game players in America is 30 and games are not just for kids.

If Lacey and I divorce, would it be my parents fault?
If I watched the Italian job and then drove recklessly and hurt someone would it be the movies fault?
If I read a Stephen King book and dressed like a clown and terrorized a group of kids would it be IT’s fault?
If I killed a family while texting and driving is it AT&Ts fault?

So point one: People are responsible for the things they do, and passing blame to anything else removes accountability, which I am against.

Point 2. Lyndon is 11 and we do not let him play any game he wants. There are so many different games out there, many of which have no violence and are fantastic. When we decide what he gets to play we use the ESRB rating system (like the MPAA but instead or rated PG13 its rated T). Then we watch him play it to make sure it is okay with us. The ESRB helps parents make the right choice when it comes to what games their kids play. _______________ (actual store he works for) has the highest compliance with the ESRB and employees who choose not to follow it and sell games to underage kids lose their jobs.

That being said one of the things that I have an issue with is even when we inform parents about games with mature contents sometimes they don’t care and say moronic things like ‘he has seen worse at school or on tv’ or ‘I don’t think he should play it but he wants to’ and it drives me nuts. I do think parents are responsible for choosing what they kids play and watch. And if the parent is okay with violent video games than that is their choice. But a some parents don’t look into it before buying the games and then are surprised later on when someone on the news tells them that the game they bought it violent. Drives me crazy.

But are parents to blame when someone makes poor choices and hurts people? See point number one.

I could keep going, but I need to get ready to go to work. What do you think so far? Love to discus this with you.

Love you!

I am with Chad on this one.

5 thoughts on “Then and Now: Favorite Books From Childhood ~ Good lessons or violence in training?

  1. Pingback: Blue Moon | Paul Scribbles

  2. I’m also with Chad on this one.
    Very easy to blame externals for screwing up – it’s the Human Condition I’m afraid.
    As for the books you read – some I’ve heard of, some not.
    Of course I also had my favourites as a child, but they were all Afrikaans books, so I did not think it worth doing the prompt with books nobody would know or could even go read up on. But they did have a huge impact on my life, and remember them to this day.


  3. Pingback: NIGHTY NIGHT….LITTLE GIRL | hastywords

  4. Hunt, I clearly stand in the corner with Chad. It truly erk’s me when something tragic happens, the 1st thing we do is start the blame game, and immediately commence to pointing fingers. It also goes to other running conversation we have had regarding “free will” and predestined to action. I play a lot of video games, but no 1st person shooter games. I just didn’t find them fun. So I stick to my racing and sports games, and that sure as hell hasn’t made me a pro racer or golfer. As to books, I love to read, I started reading for enjoyment when I was in the 9th grade. I don’t remember any of the early authors, but the topic of those 1sts loves were “hot rods,” fictional WWII pilots books, and then Science Fiction. I do remember Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov (the Foundation series). My love for reading grew and grew. When we moved from VA to FL, we donated 500 hardback books, and almost 2200 paperbacks to the public library. Now I emulate some of my favorite fictional characters. I drink the same bourbon that Stone Barrington drinks in the Stuart Woods books, tis a shame I am not as suave as he is, but alas we all have our faults. LOL LOL. But art does copy life. I could see myself being a Jack Reacher kinda guy. Or Lucas Davenport, or Matthew Strudd, all characters in novels I like that all have morals, and idea about justice, and right and wrong that are resident in me. As important has as it is to me, my wife and I have instilled those same values in our Daughter, who is passing them along to our granddaughter. I am all over the place with this response, when you read it I hope I make some level of sense, and am close to actually responding to the post. – Please take care, Bill


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