Five Books That Made You Feel Like an Adult Reader
There comes a time in every reader's life when he or she graduates from kids books and young-adult titles to nonfiction with no holds barred and fiction that draws on the full resources of the language in portraying complex human relationships. My friend Jack is entering this phase now in Webster Groves, Mo., and I had the idea for this blog while Christmas shopping for him. The switchover doesn't happen all at once, of course, but there must have been a night when kid lit provided all the thrills and fascination I could handle, followed by a dawn when it seemed blah. Here are five books, read when I was about 14, that told me my mind was catching up with my developing body:
1. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie.
My mother was a mystery-addict, and probably some sort of genetic transfer occurred because I ended up reading more Hardy Boys books than anybody else in my grammar-school class. And then one day I picked up this book, which, though not gory (Christie, after all, is the Queen of the Cozies), featured one murder after another, along with perhaps the cleverest plot in all of literature. For years afterward, I read a new Christie (new to me, that is) whenever I needed a break from more serious fare.
2. The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck.
This one was assigned for English class my freshman year of high school, by a Jesuit who made it clear that we shouldn't read it just for pleasure. Look for the super-theme, he urged, which was no easy task because the novella's fourth and last section, The Leader of the People, has no obvious connection with the rest. (By the way, I've hung on to my 25-cent Bantam paperback edition ever since.)
3. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.
Whoa, Nelly -- a catch-phrase that actually works in this case because the servant Nelly Dean narrates the tale. And what a tale it is, throbbing with passion poured into a love affair so intense that it becomes destructive. Again, I still have the copy I read a half-century ago: Pocket Library, 35 cents.
4. A Short History of the Civil War (also known as Ordeal by Fire), by Fletcher Pratt.
If anyone had told my young self that I would become a Civil War buff, I would have laughed derisively -- I didn't even like war comics. But after resisting this one at first (another school assignment), I found Pratt to be a superlative storyteller and phrasemaker: He summed up the Battle of Chancellorsville as "the truest, the most splendid victory Robert Lee ever won, against all odds and a commander who had half shut a trap around his army -- an absolute masterpiece, beyond which no further art is possible." By the time I turned the last page, I was even poring over the battlefield maps!
5. Dracula, by Bram Stoker.
This novel is gory, and reading it was an act of rebellion. Over the Christmas holidays in freshman year of high school, we were supposed to read Ivanhoe. Snooze City. Couldn't finish it. Went to the drugstore, bought a paperback copy of Dracula and devoured that instead. I think I even got the sexual subtext.
Send in your own recollections of those transitional books that got you reading as a grownup.
-- Dennis Drabelle
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