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.
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.