For a guy who’s lived on four continents, I don’t have that many anecdotes. Maybe it was because wherever I was, my nose was shoved in a book. The peak of my reading years was 10-12 years old, when I lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a not-so-bad little city on the border of Minnesota.
The summers in Grand Forks were long and dull — even when I went swimming every day, and regularly went to the Best Western hotel next to the Y and pretended to be a guest so I could play miniature golf on their tiny course. Even when I rode my bike all over town, played baseball in vacant lots, and was home by 3:00 to watch the re-runs of Gilligans Island and the Brady Bunch. Somehow there were still hours and hours to read.
Practically every day I would ride my bike to the Grand Forks Public Library, and check out a couple of books. You could only check out three at a time if you were a kid. Sometimes I would even read one right there, so I’d still have three to take home. I read every one of the Three Investigator series (way better than The Hardy Boys, in my opinion), and all of Danny Dunn. I read and re-read The Great Brain books. I read everything by Daniel Pinkwater and Betsy Byars and Scott Corbett and John Bellairs. I made my way through Narnia and Prydain a few times. There are dozens, or even hundreds, of books I don’t even remember. I read the occasional “grown-up” book, too — Stephen King was a favorite (he writes about kids well), and I loved Watership Down and Flowers for Algernon.
Anything with an animal in it was likely to get read to tatters: The Yearling and Old Yeller (it’s a book, too), and Where the Red Fern Grows (oh, how that book gets to me) and Charlotte’s Web and a book nobody but me remembers called The Year of the Raccoon.
I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, and wanted to write the kinds of books I loved to read. I remember eyeing those grown-up, serious books, and hoping that when I was older I wouldn’t stop reading and enjoying the “real” books, and take up with those stuffy things. I would think, “well, by the time you’re thirty you’ll probably like them” and shudder a bit. I was right, of course, but I’m glad I never stopped reading and caring about kids’ books, and I’m glad that’s what I’m writing now. Kids are the best readers.
When: 1978-1980 (age 10-12)
Where: Grand Forks, ND