Thursday, November 1, 2012

Remembering the Farm - Reading opens every door.

Author Lynda Beck Fenwick (blog HERE, Facebook page HERE) has written several blog posts and Facebook comments about the importance of education in both homesteading times and today.  She emphasizes the role of literacy and accompanying love of books in formal education and in continuing one's education throughout one's life.

That got me thinking about reading and books in my own life and the lives of my children.  Before I started school, I drove my mother crazy with questions.  I wanted to know everything and especially WHY?  Once I started school and learned to read, her life was much simpler.  By the end of Grade 2, I was reading at an adult level, which is to say, anything around the house.

Reading was a struggle for my father.  I don't recall him reading anything other than farm papers and The Bible.  He preferred to read early in the mornings when he felt at his peak.  One of the weekly farm papers ran serial fiction, one of which was called "Death and the Gentle Bull" featuring a Black Angus bull.  Dad had to read that and got hooked on the story.  We teased him ever after about "getting up early in the morning to read a murder mystery.

Mom loved to read.  I have no idea how or even if she did anything to foster my love of reading other than make sure there was lots to read.  The farm papers, Canadian Cattlemen, Country Guide, The Western Producer, Free Press Weekly, and  Family Herald (the latter two ceased publishing long ago) interested me, especially as I got older.  But Macleans and Chatelaine magazines interested me from day one.

They were quite different then from today's versions.  Both were monthly or bi-weekly, I forget which. Macleans was more literary than news magazine and I loved the stories and articles. Chatelaine was targeted at the 1950's housewife with a great deal of human interest and educational stuff.  Especially educational stuff.  I have no idea if my parents ever had "the talk" with my younger siblings but mom knew I was getting my education from Chatelaine so she didn't worry.

My first real book was Black Beauty which I got for my 7th birthday.  I had two Robin Hoods; one by Howard Pyle and one by Henry Gilbert.  Preferred the latter as I grew older.  Kipling's The Jungle Book or All the Mowgli stories was another favourite.  I was about 11 or 12 when someone gave me Zane Grey's "Spirit of the Border" and I was HOOKED.  Read a great many of his books, graduating over the years to Ernest Haycox (the best) and Louis L'Amour.  Westerns are still my reading to relax genre.

Dad was able to buy us the World book encyclopedia in the late 1950s.  He had no money but managed to find enough for the cheapest no frills set.  The lady who sold them was someone Dad had worked for back in the 30s and I think gave them to us at cost. It was our "internet" and provided hours and hours of reading.

No idea when I joined "Book of the Month Club" but was a member for over twenty years, maybe more.  My library was starting to grow.  Used book stores and the bargain shelves helped add volumes without exorbitant cost.  Couldn't say exactly when I morphed into history but by my mid-20s for sure.  If I had it to do over, maybe I wouldn't have taken Animal Science but History instead.  though reading it is likely more fun than writing it.

Ella was also a reader.  Mostly human interest stuff, biographies, that kind of thing.  And Harlequins. And Royalty.  When our kids came along the house was full of books and we made sure that there was lots for them to read too.  Little Golden Books, Berenstein Bears and Dr Seuss.  I can likely still recite Hop on Pop or Hand Hand Finger Thumb.

Likely I am responsible for warping my kids' minds with my interpretations of their books. The Three Bears opened with "Once upon a time there were three bears who lived in a house in the woods. Papa Bear pounded nails in the roof; Mama Bear watered the flowers and Baby Bear did tricks on the lawn".  I would explain to the children that I had no idea who Tricks was and that since she was never mentioned again must have been unimportant.  This horrified adult listeners but the children were oblivious.

The public library became a favourite haunt.  When we lived in Kindersley and our youngest was a wee new babe we had a blizzard that shut down the town.  So we bundled the kids and pulling two on the toboggan, we walked through the drifts to the Library - which was actually open.  When we moved, the Regina Public Library closest to us soon knew us all by name and our tastes by heart.

Our house continued to fill with books.  More and more shelving units were added.  One NEVER discards a book.  EVER.  The kids used to say that for any topics concerning WWI or WWII they had only to go to my books for their highschool reports.  They began accumulating their own libraries and by the time they began moving out it was "20 boxes of stuff and 20 boxes of books".

My oldest daughter has similar reading tastes to her mother.  After two degrees (Human Justice and Social Work) she swears she will never read anything on purpose from which she might learn something but on occasion she lies. My son reads history like his father but likes good novels even more.  If you take any newspaper's "Top 100 novels ever written" he has likely read 75 of them.  His thinking ability is far ahead of mine.  History helps me understand what happened and why.  Novelists invent the future.

My second youngest daughter is finishing off her dissertation for a PhD in Victorian Literature.  Everything between Jane Austen (pre-Victorian and L.M. Montgomery post-Victorian.  And my youngest daughter took her history degree and a Masters in Library Tech and is now a Librarian in a highschool in London England. She specializes in reading Young Adult books as those are her students' reading material. Oh, yes, and Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis.  (By the way, LynnieC, there are several new Latin translations of Harry Potter books available).

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.     Erasmus

17 comments:

  1. Good on you, Papa, for knowing Jane Austen is pre and LMM is post-Victorian. Austen was a big influence on and LMM was hugely influenced by the Victorians, so it's a good way to bookend it.

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    1. Thanks, Ky. And you thought I wasn't listening.

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  2. Got any Playboy's I can borrow to read? I'm to cheap to buy them.

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    1. I suppose you could describe Playboy as a woodworking magazine Billy but it wasn't the kind of woodworking I subscribed to.

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  3. Good post. You did well to pass on a love of reading to your children. My daughter's a PhD too, and also an avid reader for pleasure. But her taste in fiction has hardly developed beyond her teenage reading. Now and then we might appreciate the same book (e.g. she introduced me to Donna Leon's wonderful series of Venice-based detective stories, which are about the only books in this genre that I've ever enjoyed) but that's about it. I've tried to get her to read quality fiction, but it does nothing for her.

    Also, my husband and I used to be avid book collectors too, but he started years ago giving away his books, and I'm now doing the same. I only keep what I think I might reread plus a small collection of books whose purchase and reading were, for one reason or another, earth shattering experiences for me (e.g. the four volumes of George Orwell's essays I bought for the princely sum of US$40 in 1969, and which I read from cover to cover during my four-week voyage by freighter to Australia). Now we rely almost exclusively on our wonderful local library, though we recently also got an e-reader as a gift. So I occasionally buy e-books, which can serve up chunks of text in the larger-size typeface my husband's faulty brain requires (aphasia has impaired his ability to process too much information at once - both in print and orally). I can't imagine a life without reading and writing. I only hope the macular degeneration that blighted my mother's last 20 years doesn't turn out to be hereditary.

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    1. Thanks, Char. I read fiction to relax or if it is historical fiction, to get a taste of life in that time period (eg Anna Karenina at the moment) so I read westerns and John LeCarre, though I have read some classics and quality.

      I gave away most of my books to family when I moved. There were some none of them wanted and they were sold which broke my heart. I have not yet gone e-book but know I must, simply for ease of shipping and storage.

      I hope you can read and write as long as you life. I cannot imagine otherwise either.

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  4. I love this post...so fun to learn about your evolution as a reader and your gifts to all your children, transmitting a love for reading. Thank you for the links! We just returned from a two week trip to Philadelphia, combining history, art, and gardens--absolute joy for me. Of course I came home with a stack of books and promptly went online to buy more. One of the sites we visited was the Brandywine River Museum, which has a wonderful collection of Howard Pyle paintings along with many H. C. Wyeth illustrations. I bought a signed illustrated book by Jamie Wyeth there, and we toured H. C.'s house and studio, as well as Andrew's house with studio. A few years ago we were in the Texas Hill Country in an antique shop and found what must have been someone's entire Zane Gray collection. We bought the entire set, and although it is not everything he wrote it is quite a collection. This was more of my husband's idea than mine but is a nice addition to my illustrated children's literature collection...as he loved western stories as a kid. We can never read enough, can we?

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    1. I have seen Howard Pyle's and N.C. Wyeth's illustrations/paintings in books only eg Robin Hood, Treasure Island. I love Andrew Wyeth's paintings and once owned a coffee table book of his paintings which I was forced to leave behind. To visit museums and see their work for real would be so wonderful. I have not seen any of Jamie Wyeth's work.
      An entire Zane Grey collection must have filled your car if it was in hardcover. I think only Louis L'amour was more prolific. I hope you never have to leave your books behind

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  5. Great post Al. Not only does your love of reading and books shine through, it's obvious you have great recall. This week in Canada the Giller (literary) Prize was awarded. The prize is sponsored by Jack Rabinovitch, husband of the late literary journalist Doris Giller. I heard a clip from the awards on CBC radio and (apologies if I attribute this incorrectly), Rabinovitch said to the audience 'For the cost of eating out in a restaurant, you could buy all the books on the short list (for the Giller). So eat at home and buy books!". I think he's been reading your blog.

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    1. I agree. Eat cheaply and buy books! I have read a number of Canadian fiction authors but not consistently. W.O. Mitchell of course. One cannot be a western Canadian without reading his books. I love Alice Monroe's short stories and I must read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Most of the Canadian authors I read are history writers - popular such as Burton, Mowat, Newman, McEwan, Gray and the serious ones - MacMillan, Creighton, Dickson, Granatstein. I have just been going down the list of Canadian writers on Wiki and guess I have read more than I thought.

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  6. I seem to remember that the editors of Chatelaine declines to publish any of Betty Friedan's _The Feminine Mystique_ because they had been running articles on women's equality and personhood for years and didn't want to be redundant. Good thing your dad never read them or you might not have got the chance.

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    1. I don't think Dad read either Macleans or Chatelaine. And yes, you are correct; they had a great influence on me. At age 10, Charlotte Whitten was one of my heros.

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  7. I think Black Beauty was one of my first books, too - a ragged, coverless copy with torn and brittle pages, excavated from the depths of some storage room. To this day, I don't know how the story begins, because the first page was missing. Guess I should go look it up on Amazon.

    Our family encyclopedias were third-hand and already ancient by the time we got them. They still had some good information, though, and I remember referring to them frequently.

    We grew up on a farm in the middle of Nowhere, Manitoba, so our big event was the day the new catalogue arrived from the extension library. We'd pore over the listings, agonizing over which two titles we'd each be allowed this week (there were three of us, and we were only allowed a certain number of titles). Then we'd send in the order form, and in a few days the wonderful canvas sack of books would arrive in the mail. We'd gobble down the books and then hurry back to the catalogue to repeat the process. I still remember the excitement.

    I'll skimp in a lot of other areas, but I always seem to find money for books. :-)

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  8. It has been a long time since I read the book. Maybe I should do it again. A wonderful story. We never did buy a set for our kids. We lived in Regina with easy library access and also inherited most of a set from my sister-in-law. (Three were flood damaged).
    You had a library that sent out a book list? wonderful. When I was in 9th grade, Mom started getting books for us from I think a library in Regina. My introduction to Churchill as a writer.

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  9. must read books for young adults

    Few adults very passionately read the stories which are related to creatures like dogs and cows. In these they have stories like farmer and cow. These are liked by most of us.

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  10. Oddly enough, I just got a book for you yesterday and was planning on asking Bron the best way to get it to you. Didn't want to bug her after her first day at a new job, so now I'll just ask you! What should I do? Mail it, and you can get it either never or a year from now, or wait for someone to be visiting?

    Also - I've read all but one Louis L'amour, a good number of Zane Grey, but I've never even heard of Haycox! Dad and I are the Western readers in the family. I still re-read L'amour all the time. Do I need to start reading this new guy?

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  11. Good blog, Daddy-o. Thanks for making me love books as much as I do. I'll have to get my latin back up to snuff and try the newest translations.

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