Ole Rolvaag, Silas Marner, and other memories from reading classes…

Not long ago, I wrote about some of my favorite short stories, particularly ones that are oh, so good to read during

The Bookshelf of Sherlock Holmes
The Bookshelf of Sherlock Holmes (Photo credit: bcostin)

this wonderful time of the year—October into November. Of course, there will always be selections of Poe’s best works on my lists and the canon of Sherlock Holmes’ stories so faithfully given to us by Dr. Watson, via the talents of Arthur Conan Doyle. But any list would also have to include many from my school days—those stories I was assigned to read in English reading classes from grade school on up.

Like any young person, I had no idea at the time just how much of an impact many of the assigned reading experiences would have on my life. Writing now, eons later, I can reflect and truly appreciate just how good it was to be “forced” to delve into stories—short & novels—and I would love to turn back time just a bit to re-read many of them in that youthful time frame and, perhaps, glean even more “stuff” from them.

Some of my most wonderful memories stem from my discovery of many a story and author I read for a class assignment. And I really believe that my eventually becoming an English teacher was inspired by the wealth of literature I had the pleasure to experience with each passing year growing up. Granted, I was not enthralled with everything I was expected to read, but there are certain ones that are still with me, all these many years later.

For example, the name of Ole Rolvaag evokes fun memories as an 8th grader, reading excerpts of Rolvaag’s classic Giants in the Earth, which was about Norwegian pioneers trying to make a new life for themselves in the Dakotas in the 1870s. I became caught up in the will and the drive of those determined pioneers. Plus, I would never forget the author’s unique name, one that rolls off the tongue.

Cover of "Silas Marner (Signet Classics)&...
Cover of Silas Marner (Signet Classics)

Later, in high school, I read George Eliot’s Silas Marner, a book that has not been taught in many years, which is a shame in my opinion. The book, which is about a reclusive weaver in the 19th Century, is a beautiful tale of hope and redemption and human goodness, and the author makes some swipes at organized religion throughout. I found the book better and better the farther I got into it. Of course, having an enthusiastic and passionate teacher, who brought the story into our lives and helped us understand the marvelous characters that populate the book, made it all the more worthwhile and inspirational. Because I remember gaining a greater appreciation and love of literature through the efforts and passion of that teacher, I cannot help but believe that my desire to become an English teacher myself had a big “push” from that wonderful literature class in the summer of 1966.

Of course, there are so many more examples of the literature that influenced my life in one way or another, and it will be fun, from time to time, to write about those. For now, though, I will let my mind travel along with those Norwegian pioneers as well as paying a visit to Raveloe, where Silas Marner still tries to find his spot in that world and to clear his name. These are wonderful memories for a sunny and chilly late-October morning….CortlandWriter


Who’s Your Favorite All-time Author?

Asking who my all-time favorite authors are would be like asking me to number the stars. But for this post, I’ll start small and give my reasons why.

First, there was Clair Bee,  former coach, who wrote the Chip Hilton series of which I could never get enough. These stories all had a basic lesson and goodness at their core. I would skip school, feigning illness to stay home, to follow Chip and his friends through another adventure. Writing as a 61-year-old today, I often wonder what ever became of Chip, Speed, Taps, Biggie, Soapy, and Jimmy LuChung as they grew older, even though they were only fictional creations of a good writer.

At the same time in my life, there was the “conglomerate” of authors writing as  Franklin W. Dixon which produced the Hardy Boys series. Predictable and simple as they were, I loved them and imagined myself writing stories for young people some day. I loved the stilted language and decorum of the period in which the books were written. Frank or Joe were always “ejaculating,” and not the way that word has come to mean, either.

Then came Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who introduced me to  Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson  one cold winter while I was bedridden with a leg infection for several days. I had joined the Doubleday Book Club, where the fabulous deal included several books for something like 99 cents when agreeing to purchase a certain number of books within a year’s time. I thought that was a pretty neat thing! And so it was that the mysteries and adventures of the world’s most famous detective and his trusty companion came into my life and have remained forever. The game is always afoot!

Later on, in high school, I discovered Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes, two Brits who wrote stories of intrigue and adventure. Campbell’s Kingdom still ranks right up there as a very favorite by Innes, and I re-read it just last year. MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare sit proudly on my shelves today along with When Eight Bells Toll.

I would include Mark Twain for giving me Tom and Huck and all of their adventures along that great river and the shady and seedy characters along the way. Life on the Mississippi is another favorite. I don’t much care for the later, jaded and cynical works, but I’m forever indebted to the humorous and fun Twain. His short stories, such as “Roughing It”  were fun to read in class.

I have come to love Dickens for more than his standard “Scrooge” at Christmas time as well. I particularly love his characters and their many colorful and unique names: Murdstone, Heap, et al. I love reading about the dark underbelly of London and the wretched folks who move about in the fog and back alleys of the 19th Century. David Copperfield and Great Expectations remain my favorites.

So who would you say were your favorite authors–then and now? Drop me a line and tell me who and why.