The first book I read by myself remains on my favorite list as explained in an earlier post. I think I made a mistake though. I thought Miss Hillman was my teacher, but she was my third-grade teacher and I read On Beyond Zebra by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Suess Geisel) in first-grade (Miss Wilkins? Time changes memory.) It was released in 1955. I think what first attracted me was the zebra on the cover. Zebras are like horses and I was a horse-crazed little girl. The story was also very imaginative in concept, wording, and illustration.
I continued reading and eventually, probably about sixth or seventh grade, came across Will James' novel Smoky the Cowhorse (yep, another horse theme book) at the Fenton Public Library. At the time I was walking the mile or two there and back at least once a week. I was in love with that mouse-grey horse and cried through the horrible parts of his sad history. The story won the John Newberry Medal in 1927. The Newberry Award is still given for a distinguished contribution to children's literature. James, the author, was a French Canadian artist whose writing covered the American West's cowboy culture, and Smoky the novel, held many of his illustrations. This story has taken a current trend in how horses are treated, not only at rodeos but also at our racetracks.
When I reached fifteen in the ninth grade I started working after school in a local drugstore. For the previous three years I had worked in my family's pet store selling tropical fish and hampsters, and cleaning tanks, but didn't get paid. At the drugstore, I mostly worked behind the soda counter serving coffee, ice cream treats, and some simple to fix sandwiches. I enjoyed the work, and I was earning some money and guess what? The drug store had a sales rack for paperback books. That bookrack introduced me to romance, both current and historical, and to the genre of fantasy. Soon I was reading another of my all-time favorite novels. Andre Norton's Witch World series mesmerized me. The first volume was written in 1963 but I became familiar with the following stories so I searched and found a copy of the first story.
The drugstore's book rack introduced me to many romance authors, but one of my favorites was Georgette Heyer. She could take a reader back to another time. It showed a judgemental public was not just a modern phenomenon. I remember reading many of the titles but the one that left a lasting impression was Devil's Cub, which I probably read in tenth grade. The hero loved his horses, too. Devil's Cub was a Georgian era time-frame story written in 1932. Heyer wrote many historical romance stories mostly in the Georgian and Regency eras, but she also wrote mystery thrillers. I mentioned this title before in the charming villains' post, and it is a story I've reread many times. I think Heyer started the trend for Regency romances which still continues today.
My next favorite was an eleventh-grade reading assignment--Pride and Prejudice, a book written in 1813. At learning the assignment I had severe apprehension about how I could read, or even like, so old a story. I was even assigned to give a presentation on one chapter. For once though, I loved an assigned story so much, it helped me overcome my reluctance to talk before a group. Each student was given a paperback copy, but I wanted a more permanent copy, so I drove to Flint and bought a leather-bound copy at a book store. My daughter has it now. It surprised me several years later that my (male) college instructor for the class masterpieces in English literature talked about this story. He claimed to have read it twenty-seven times. I'm not certain I've read it that many times, not even half of that. I have, however, seen all the TV and movie shows. Some are good renditions, but I get very upset when they change things.
My last listing is the Lymond Chronicles of six novels about the Scot Francis Crawford of Lymond. Another historical novel, but this one is about the era and not so much romance, although there is some. Scottish novelist Dorothy Dunnet also wrote mysteries. This is a wonderful series published between 1961 and 1975. Again, I found it as a paperback in the drug store. From my drugstore bookrack experience, I had become enamored of all store bookracks, although I kept my habit of haunting libraries, too.
According to RR Bowker, at least 275 thousand books (all genres, both fiction and non-fiction) are published each year. That is an overwhelming number. Who knows what great books I've missed?
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