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2003-03, 337, Janet Robinson, Literature

EARLY BOOKS IN MY LIFE

I am responding to the comments made by Ben Haneman, in the recent reprint of his original article in Biblionews of June I995. Guess I’m one up on him as, being a girl, I could enjoy Heidi by Johanna Spyri, Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, without being criticised, but could also hoe into so-called boys’ adventure books by Ballantyne, Jules Verne and R.L. Stevenson.

Once I got through the Snugglepot and Blinky Bill stage, and was at High School, I read everything that Mary Grant Bruce had written – particularly the Billabong series – and still have a sneaking regard for them, though they are now considered racist.

Fortunately for me, my Mother and her sister had a collection of the novels of Ethel and Lilian Turner and I devoured these – particularly the Cub trilogy.

Luckily, I had an older brother who had The Gorilla Hunters and Coral Island by Ballantyne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne and Anthony Hope’s Rupert of Hentzau. The Mowgli stories by Kipling and the Tarzan books were equally fascinating. With the exception of the Just So Stories and the novels of Violent Needham (borrowed from the Gordon Municipal Library, in New South Wales, when it opened up), I didn’t care particularly for fantasy.

Now, from local libraries, you can borrow 6 or 8 books at a time. At Gordon then you could borrow two non-fiction, or one of each, and biographies of musicians seemed about the only nonfiction possibility at the time! So I would walk to the Library, from Pymble a couple of times a week.

Does anyone remember the Champion comics? I once had a great pile of these – no doubt collectors’ items now. You could look forward to stories of your favourite heroes – from detective fiction, sporting and the underground in France . Wish I had kept a sample. I seem to remember “Rockfist Rogan of the R.A.F.” and “Red Fury”. Girls were supposed to enthuse over the Girls’ Crystal but I considered that was for the birds – very English and with absolutely no relevance to anything!

How could one not be rapt in the works of Sabatini and John Buchan and the exciting exploits of Bulldog Drummond by Sapper? I guess James Bond is the modem equivalent.

I have been surprised recently to come upon a biography of Dornford Yates (the pen name of Cecil William Mercer) by A.J. Smithers and equally surprised that the author put him in the same class as John Buchan and “Sapper”. However, I have to admit that his Berry books and the exciting adventures of Jonathan Mansel helped tide me over that difficult period between reading what were considered children’s books and adult fiction.

At school we never once studied a book by a living author. Kipling’s Kim was fine and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was bearable but I found Pickwick Papers monumentally boring. I’m glad we studied Shakespeare and poetry, but Ogden Nash appeals to me more now. However, since I was a teenager, books have been written specifically for that age group and my children studied contemporary writers, which are far more relevant to our lives today.

To be honest, I think I would enjoy some of the above more today than many modem novels. But perhaps this has something to do with nostalgia. With the exception of historical novels, such as the Hornblower series by C.S. Forester and the Sharpe adventures of Bernard Cornwell, set in the Napoleonic wars, I now find real life much more interesting.

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