Friday, March 13, 2015

The books that shaped our lives

Most of us retain a certain nostalgic affection for our first books, those read to us when we were small children and those we read ourselves when we were a few years older. Roy Peter Clark of Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., took these warm feelings to the extreme. He decided to form a library of all the books he remembers as being important to him during his formative years, "from cradle to college." His collection, now complete, includes some 300 books.

Clark seems like the ideal choice to lead a discussion called "The Secrets of Formative Reading" yesterday afternoon at Poynter Institute. Thirty or 40 people gathered to listen to him talk about the important books from his youth and to share something about the books that influenced their own lives.

Among the books Clark spoke about were Mr. Blue by Myles Connolly, a book familiar to many Catholic school students of his generation; My Greatest Day in Baseball, a beloved book given to him by his uncle; Nuremberg Diaries by G.M. Gilbert, a book he thinks he may have stolen in his youth; Parnassus on Wheels, a classic by Christopher Morley; and Assignment in Space by Blake Savage, the pen name of Hal Goodwin. Clark said the most difficult book to find was one with the generic title of Children's Stories. Yet he tracked it down, recognizing it by the cover illustration he remembers from his childhood.

One woman, now a teacher, still has the worn copy of Bunnicula she read repeatedly as a child three decades ago. She told of getting the author, James Howe, to sign it for her in 2011 and how much that meant to her.

Two women had copies of A Wrinkle in Time with them. Other attendees spoke of The Velveteen Rabbit, Dan Frontier and Travels with Charley.

One of my most vivid memories of my youthful reading finds me stretched out on my bed glued to Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. As I remember that day, I just couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I reread the novel decades later and found the story hardly stirred me at all. I guess that illustrates what Clark said about books changing as we change. And sometimes it is the books themselves that change us.

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