Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hey kid, who are you REALLY?

How does what we read as a child affect our reading tastes as adults? I often see my childhood self in what I read today. Something in the books that we were made to read forged a fire within me that still burns now.
There are some mysteries I am yet to solve, but overall, as if looking into a crystal ball, I can pinpoint when precisely my favourite genres formed, by looking back at what books I was introduced to as a burgeoning reader and a developing human being.

Naturally, there were some titles and interests that stayed in my childhood and didn't follow me out.. (even if I have tried to resurrect their adult counterparts I have failed). ie..books about ponies (Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka) and teen sleuths (Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew), but those really were my choice. Books chosen by a child's mind. I can see their influences in my adult reading history, but they are more connected to reading phases and not to an everlasting passion for genre.

It all started in primary school (other countries have different names for this period of education, so to define, primary school in my country when I was growing up, was 5 yrs old to 12 yrs old).
Of all the books we were asked to read in school, I am not sure who was electing them. I am not sure if there was some list put out by the Education Department or if the books were a mix of Education Department recommendations and a few personally chosen by the teacher. I guess I will never know as it has been a few decades since I was in Primary School and those teachers have long moved on.

It is surprising, considering that two books we read as a group of children in school were The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe and The Hobbit, that I didn't go into the fantasy genre more than I have. But, while the fantasy genre is the obvious link to those two books, there is also a not so obvious link.
Those who read them as a child and were drawn to the magic and dragons and mythical creatures may have gone on to love the fantasy genre as an adult. And I find that those that learned to love the fantasy genre as a child, will go on to love it for the rest of their life. They may have years without reading a single book, but they will always love fantasy. 

For others - such as myself - it was not the magic and mythical creatures that struck a chord with me as a child, it was the escape to other worlds for dangerous journeys and wild adventures.
To this day, because of these reads, I still want to and like to escape into other worlds, into the adventures and journeys of colourful heroes and heroines, only it isn't into fantasy worlds, it is into our own history through the genre of Historical Fiction.
I went through a brief phase in my twenties of reading some fantasy, but I have never been passionate about the genre. That was during a period when I did not know historical fiction existed (thought it meant romance) and all my friends were reading fantasy. It seemed only natural to read fantasy too.

So, my focus is adventure and journey. Through the beginnings with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Hobbit, and then complimented by other journey or adventure juvenile fiction like Watership Down or The Incredible Journey.
The fact that these are animal journeys made no more difference to my developing self than if the journey were with hobbits. 
Now I love books like The Whale Road (and all the books in the series that came after it) by Robert Low, the Raven series by Giles Kristian, the Warrior Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, Byzantium by Stephen R. Lawhead and even The Shardlake series by C.J Sansom  (set in Tudor England, but Matthew Shardlake gets around a lot, having adventures).

What of those Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew books then, and my draw to modern military non fiction?
I know I read the teen mystery series' because my peers were reading them and the protagonist was a popular girl. Two influences that were intoxicating to a young schoolgirl.
As an adult, there came a time in my twenties where I went through a full blown crime thriller phase. It only lasted a few years and I attribute that more to wanting to have something in common with my father (something else we can blame childhood for).

As for the war..
Can it have come from these two books? I Am David and My Brother Jack? I think it must.
It was those books that created an interest in reading true war stories (never fiction, I have never been interested in fiction war stories), coupled with seeing the Peter Weir directed movie, Gallipoli.

I find it an eye opening thing to suddenly realise where my adult reading interests came from.
I always thought they came from who I am now. In this moment!
I never looked deep enough to realise my reading tastes, the ones I am most passionate about, are fed from a childhood memory. That the movies and other things I am getting into now, I have been into before. Decades before. They are all influenced by moments in my childhood.
 Is that stupid of me?  Has everyone else realised this already? Am I just slow to the blocks?
I had never thought about it until last year when a conversation with other readers and a past blog post of mine here on the Ancient & Medieval Mayhem blog, got me to thinking.

Hard to believe sometimes that even now, as a fully fledged adult, with my vast (?) maturity, vast (this is true) mortgage, and my vast (I am not as old as that makes me sound) life so far, filled with many different roads laden with a thousand life experiences....that I am still learning such simple things about myself. And how that, over multiple decades, the reader I was learning to be as a child never truly went away. She has been leading me by the nose my entire life and I only 'thought' I had shaken her loose with my much more superior and lofty adult matureness.

I guess I had better thank those couple teachers for their wise book choices then.
So, without further adieu....Thanks!.......whatever your names were. 
 (names withheld due to childhood grudges). :)

- MM


  1. Very interesting introspective. And quite a different conclusion than I've always thought about for my formative years.
    I've always assumed that I had certain interests and that it just took me some time to find my reading niche. But now that you bring up the possibilities of those interests being formed, well, that gives some real food for thought.
    I'm going to think about this this weekend and see what conclusion "I" come to :-)

    1. hey mate, ;)
      Once you have chewed it over i would love to know what books you read as a child in school (or out of) and whether you do think those particular books affect your genre and sub genre preferences now.

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  3. Well, after thinking about things, I tend to think that I had the tastes and bent already.

    I grew up on Little House on the Prairie by Laura Wilder, whatever books took my interest at the library and at 12 I discovered Heinlein. THAT was when I found out about SFF and I've not looked since.

    I wrote up a post here, , about it.