Where I got started
I learned to read during the summer between kindergarten and the first grade. My aunt tried to get me to read Dr. Suess but I thought his drawings were creepy and his stories full of mushy moralizing. If it had been me in Horton Hears A Who! I would’ve grabbed the Raid and finished off the noisy little critters. The Who-villians in How The Grinch Stole Christmas were marshmallows, soft and chewy. I didn’t understand why they didn’t grow a collective spine and run the Grinch over with a Buick. My neighbor had the complete L. Frank Baum Oz series. Those stories really creeped me out. Every time I read one of those books I kept a baseball bat within reach.
I did have favorites. One was about a saguaro cactus who lost his friends. He got very sad and lonely and cried, “Woe is me.” Other than Olive Oyl in Popeye I never heard anyone say, “Woe is me.” A couple of days later I over-inflated the back tire of my new bike and blew a hole in both the tube and tire. I walked my bike home and felt so sad, just like that cactus. The only words to express my sentiments were, “Woe is me,” which I repeated all the way back to my house. Another favorite book was called Dots or something like that, which looked like a Dr. Suess book except that it had better drawings and a cool story about a bear-like creature who could throw colored dots over anything.
My dad turned me on to novels. I was in the sixth grade when I read his copy of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I remember putting the book down and wondering how this story could become so vivid in my head. That discovery made me love to read novels. In the summer my mom would call the Branigan Memorial Public Library and ask the staff to send me home. Over by Surplus City there was this used bookstore where you could buy a paperback for fifteen cents. I bought stacks of John D McDonald’s Travis McGee books, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series, and all kinds of science fiction, mostly with money my best friend Ron and I got from collecting pop bottles.
I’m still buying paperbacks, though new ones because I know how much writers enjoy getting their pittance of a royalty. Fortunately I no longer have to pay for them with pop bottles.