Growing Up With Books

Growing Up With Books

When I was growing up, the first books we read as school boys were the Five Find-Outer mystery stories by Enid Blyton. We found it quite fascinating to read about these school children and their dog, led by Fatty, investigating mysterious crimes in and around their village, much to the annoyance of the village policeman, Mr Goon. Fatty, whose real name was Frederick Algernon Trotteville, was a master of disguise and deduction, ventriloquist, escapologist and macaroon-gobbler .

I also recollect reading books from the Secret Seven series by the same author but the Five Find-Outers still occupy a special place my memory. In fact, Corinne and I still reminiscence about the stories of this intrepid quintet as they hunt for clues, don disguises, interview suspects, check out alibis and ultimately solve the mysteries.

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As books were prohibitively costly to buy, an inexpensive way to whet your appetite for books was to join a circulating library. These libraries were sometimes a mere hole in the wall with some book shelves but all had innovative schemes in place.

You could either join a monthly scheme, which allowed you to borrow one book per day for twenty five rupees a month. As opposed to the monthly scheme, the cost of borrowing a book  for up to seven days was two rupees. For voracious readers the monthly scheme was a bonanza, especially during the summer holidays. Of course, some libraries that stocked newer books or were fancier charged a bit more.

When I entered my teens, I discovered that my Dad had in his large collection of books of various genre. Among these were the novels by Earle Stanley Gardner, whose works of detective fiction mostly involving murder, portrayed Perry Mason, an unconventional defense lawyer. Mason was assisted in his cases by his secretary, Della Street and a private detective, Paul Drake.

Whilst I enjoyed the Perry Mason books, I preferred the stories about the private detective firm of Bertha Cool and Donald Lam, which were written by Gardner under the pen name A. A. Fair. Unfortunately, my dad did not seem a big fan of Donald Lam aka Pint Size because of his height, the main protagonist of this series of novels. Lam like Mason had an unconventional approach to solving cases, again mostly involving murder.

Inadvertently, my dad was also responsible for introducing introduced me to books by Louis L’Amour who wrote western novels or as he called them ‘frontier stories’. One day when I had a school holiday, I chanced upon a western titled ‘Kilrone‘ by Louis L’Amour that my dad had left at home whilst he was at work.

Feeling that I was partaking of some ‘forbidden’ fruit, I started reading the book. And I got hooked on Louis L’Amour, an addiction that only recently has been in remission. Thereafter, my dad and I used to share the novels borrowed from the circulating library. If I recollect correctly, we had two accounts with the library. Of late, though, I have gone off these stories and no longer do they appeal to me the way they did when I was younger.

Later, through other Western buffs, I was introduced to novels by J. T Edson, who used real life characters as ‘guest stars’ in his books. The main characters of his books were Dusty Fog, who was insignificant looking but suddenly became a giant when facing the bad guys, Mark Counter who was tall and handsome and the baby faced Ysabel Kid who dressed in black and was adept with a bowie knife as well as a rifle. I also did read some Sudden novels by Oliver Strange where the hero was a mysterious gunman, again was clad in black, who appeared out of nowhere and before disappearing disposed off the villains.

Whilst westerns were my favorite genre, I did enjoy reading the thrillers by Alstair MacLean, particularly those relating the the WWII like Guns of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and HMS Ulysses. In fact, I am still quite fond of reading about WWII, maybe because it was,  in my mind, the last time that good and evil were so clearly delineated. Or maybe, its because the victors write the history.

As I mentioned earlier, new books were prohibitively costly. So you either borrowed books from the circulating library or friends or picked up second hand books at the ‘raadiwala’, who sold off books that he bought by weight along with old newspapers.  But despite knowing that there was no chance of buying books,  I quite enjoyed going the Happy Book Stall, the local books stores on Hill Road.

Books still fascinate me and though, for some unfathomable reason, for a few years I was off books. Till I recently acquired a tablet, which I mostly use as an e-reader. In fact, I have read more books in the last couple of months than in the last three years. Maybe, it is just the convenience of carrying your library with you, but I am certainly glad that my love for reading has been revived and I hope to share some book reviews with you in the days ahead.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

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48 thoughts on “Growing Up With Books”

  • This took me back to my first novel reading days with Famous Five and the Secret Seven by Enid Blyton, and moving on to Alistair MacLean and his entire series of books related to WW II and other similar stories. Although the reading habit did die out in the middle due to work pressures and lack of time, the purchase of a Kindle back in 2007 and the increased travel and commute times meant that books have made a huge comeback in my life right now.

    Looking forward to reading some of your book reviews sir, bring ’em on!!!

    • Please stop calling me ‘sir’. My wife is objecting as she believes it may become a precedent.;)

      I too have read the entire series of Alistair MacLean, but though the WWII novels were my personal favorites. Ice Station Zebra was also a great read.

      Yes, an e-reader has certainly made a huge difference in my reading habits. If you get bored with one book, you can always switch to another.

  • Your journey with books was a pleasurable read… i too aim to buy a Kindle paperwhite- carrying ebooks is really convenient… but we have to agree that nothing can replace the joy and experience of reading a hard copy…

    • As you live in India, Kindle may not be a good idea because it will remain just an e-reader. For some reason, on a Kindle you cannot access the Google Play Stores to download android apps. Check out the Google Nexus 7. Flipkart was pushing it for under Rs. 10k.

      I don’t know whether I can agree with you regarding the joy of reading a hard copy… I have got quite used to reading online and somehow I couldn’t get myself to read ‘real’ books. With an e-reader, it has changed.

  • This happened to me too. I was off books for a while in between. I remember reading quite a few of Perry Mason books in a row when I joined a new library here. I was wondering why I haven’t read them before. 🙂

  • I guess all children graduated from Champaks, Nandans, Amar Chitra Kathas to Enid Blyton. True, as kids we rarely bought books. It was the school library and then the library at the club of Dad’s company. And then circulating libraries near home. I remember, at one point of time I was reading one book a day and the person at the library was mighty pleased by my reading speed and I was the first person to read the new books in his collection. And then once I started working, buying books was my fav activity and it still is. Have to move to e-book reading soon as they occupy so much space.

    • Don’t remember Champaks and Nandans, but Amar Chitra Kathas, yes.

      Given my ingrained frugality, buying new books was an anathema for me; rather, I build my personal library by buying second hand books from the road side. Remember picking up ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at a street corner in Kolkata for a couple of bucks. Only in the last few years, probably influenced by my wife, I have been buying some new books on Flipkart. But as far as e-books, till date I have restricted myself to the free offerings.

  • Since you mentioned the tablet, I have to ask, how do you like reading on one? I have a Kindle but it sits untouched despite the fact that the entire local Public Library is available in Kindle format absolutely free of charge. I find the experience of reading on an electronic device leaves me cold. I wonder if other people feel the same way.

    • As I mentioned in the post, I was off reading books for a long time, which dismayed Corinne to no end. But after acquiring a tablet that serves as an e-reader, I have once again got into the habit of reading books. Maybe that is because I do most of my other reading, including newspapers and magazines online.

  • This prompt brought back a a deluge of memories of Champak, Chandamama, ACK, Famous Five ,Secret Seven, Perry mason, Danaielle Steele, etc.
    Books were expensive and we joined a circulating library and we turn to exchange those rented books among ourselves and thus made the optimum use of a rupee. I call this Value For Money.

  • Wow Jose! Perry Mason, Louis A’mour and Alistair MacLean are nostalgia! I was so hooked to Louis A’mour that we used to behave like the cowboys at home 😛 Alistair’s ” The Last Frontier ” is still one of my favourites!Thank you once again for a magnificent post.

    • Glad you liked my post.

      Yes, Louis L’Amour can be addictive. I guess I have read many of his books three or four times over the last few decades. But off late, somehow the frontier stories no longer appeal to me and I don’t think I have read any Louis L’Amour novels for a while. Among the Alistair Maclean’s, I still think that HMS Ulysses was the best of the WWII novels whilst Guns of Navarone was better to watch on the big screen,.

  • Ah the lovely Enid Blyton days…you put me there in a flashback mode with the photos of Poor Mr. Goon and Fatty! Haha! Each summer my Aunt would gift us each cousins a book, all year I would look forward to the summer holidays for this reason. At home, Papa used to get us novels from his office library. I like to hold the book and read it and sleep by its side….still not moved to Kindle and stuff!

    • Like someone mentioned in an earlier comment, without Enid Blyton to nudge us along we may not have become readers. Guess if you are still happy reading the ‘hard copy’, no need for a Kindle. except the convenience of carrying your library with you when you are out.

  • Interesting post. The Famous Five were my reasonable favourite but I loved Fatty too and I totally loved how he managed to fool Mr Goon each time. Yeah books were so out of reach those days. We’d depend on our school library or read up inexpensive Russian books. What fun days they were.

    • Yes, the House of Soviet Culture in Mumbai had a largish library. Visited it a couple of times with a college friend who studied Russian.

      Somehow, I don’t seem to recollect the Famous Five, though I am quite sure I must have read those books too. We were voracious readers whilst in school.

      • Came back to help you recollect the famous five… Can’t have you not remembering my favourites :-D… They are a group of four kids Julian, Dick and Anne.. Their cousin Georgina (who likes to be a boy and calls herself George) and her dog Tim or Timothy. Come on now.. Remember…

        • The name Georgina rings a bell somewhere in my memory. But Fatty and Find Outers stays vividly in my mind. I still recall being fascinated when I read that if you wrote a message with orange juice and was invisible, it could be read by pressing a hot iron on the paper.

  • While I’ve read most of the authors you’ve mentioned, my favourites were the William series and the Billy Bunter series. Perry Mason was another favourite. I remember irritating friends during heated discussions with Mason’s / Burger’s “Objected to as incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial!”

    • Yes, Billy Bunter was fun. I remember a friend of mine, who was so fascinated with Bunter that we would intersperse his sentences with phrases from the books, like ‘it ain’t me’. Read just one William book and that to in the Readers’ Digest.

  • Enid Blyton still tops my list of all-time greats. Possibly what got me into writing in the first place 🙂 Thank you for another brilliant trip down memory lane

  • If it wasn’t for Enid Blyton maybe there won’t be so much of book lovers here. She’s a legend! And your post was a journey down the memory lane… with some beautiful books. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • i started off on Blyton and the usual suspects – Hardy Boys, Sherlock, Agatha Christie, Three Investigators. But the ones I really loved as a kid were Wodehouse… later on, that love for fun and innocence would give way towards more darker murder mysteries, im afraid.

    • I never took to Wodehouse, at least the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves series; preferred PSmith, though. Not too interested in whodunit, so I did not take to Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. Too much cerebral stuff, I guess. Preferring the bang, bang, instead. 😉

  • The Secret Seven and the Famous Five, I could find in almost all the posts that I read today. Hubby was a voracious reader and had finished of the fiction category from the four Delhi Public Libraries around his house. 🙂

  • Well my first books are Harrypotter, Famous five and Secret seven. I can’t remember which i completed first but it took a long time. For one i wasn’t introduced to reading but i discovered it! So obviously the intake has been slow but i now i do read a lot in murder, mystery , romance, sci-fi, fiction. Your post took me through all that 🙂

    • I enjoy reading Harry Potter books. Except for the last two books published, I think I have read all the others. Maybe in the nineties Harry Porter has replaced Enid Blyton as the starting point.

  • Like you I am an avid book reader and actually had the amazing job of ordering all the materials for our local library which allowed me to put holds on titles before anyone had a chance. Loved that job, but eventually left it to have children. I still am a frequent visitor to the library and have managed to instill my love of books to both of my children. ♥

    • Lucky you. That is a great job you had ordering books at the local library. When I was in college, I remember helping in the church library. No salary, but only a bonus; read all the books you want.

  • Jose – After all these years, I am happy you listen to your wife ;).. that makes you a rare breed.. And those circulating libraries took me back down memory lane.. That was fun, and just those experiences and interactions taught you so much – about that books and life.. In fact we’ve made so many friends because of similar reading (or non-reading) interests.. Lovely post!

    • Thanks for your gracious comments and I hope my wife reads about me being one of a rare breed.

      Circulating libraries seem to have disappeared as a business. People now have enough money to buy books, I guess.

  • The first book I recall enjoying are the Three Investigators!!
    I used to read Louis L’Amour as well!!
    Guns of Navarone , Where Eagles Dare and Perry Mason books are my all time favorites!!
    I have most of Perry Mason’s books at home! 🙂 🙂

    I used to bring home books from our neighborhood circulating library too! Its so sad that most of them are out of business now!

  • Yes, times have changed. People can now afford to buy books, so the demand for lending libraries has gone down. We came across a library in Bandra but the charges were hundred bucks per book that must cost five hundred bucks. In the old days, the borrowing cost was about two bucks and the cost of the book must have been one hundred bucks.

  • Like and most of your readers here, I am one among those who grew up reading Enid Blyton. I still remember the days when I would fantasize as one of the characters of her books 🙂 Later on, the reading habit stopped and picked again and is still going on in the same phase. I would love my son to read Enid Blyton, but unfortunately we don’t get her books in the U.S. I think I should buy some on my next trip home.

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