Wednesday, March 31, 2010
For this, my 666th post, I have to make what may be the most embarrassing admission a writer can make.
I wasn't always that much of a reader.
Not that I couldn't read. I read above my grade level from the time I started school. I just didn't read. At least not much.
It may have been Verne who did it to me. I was ambitious when I started 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, perhaps too ambitious. And it wasn't just Verne. In my enthusiasm for the classic Universal horror and science-fiction movies, I attempted Bram Stoker's Dracula as well, and also hunted down a copy of The Invisible Man.
Well, I made it through to just past the death of Lucy in Dracula before giving up, and it turns out I had checked out the wrong Invisible Man from the library. It was Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man I was reading, a depressing wade through racism and crap that I barely remember, except for one throwaway moment where there's a boxing match or something with a bare-breasted ring girl, so being a good Christian boy, I sensed the book was going into places I didn't want to go and quit.
The Hardy Boys I liked, and Lester Del Rey's The Runaway Robot I read over and over. But every time I tried to read a "classic," I was disappointed. I made it through Ivanhoe, though thinking back, I think it may have been some kind of movie adaptation or something. Plus, I had a major problem with it. The Sword in the Stone, which I tried to read after seeing the Disney film, shocked me mainly because it was full of cursing--damned this and damned that--so I never finished it. Nor did I finish A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which I found grungy and ugly compared to the comedy of the movie.
So by my young teens, I had sworn off books, at least books that were too "mature" for me. Because I didn't like being disappointed and I didn't like losing.
I got really good at faking my way through English classes without reading the "classic" novels I was supposed to be studying. Barely read a sentence of Great Expectations. Didn't read Silas Marner twice, once in seventh grade and once in eleventh or twelfth. In high school, I read Dune and The Lord of the Rings, the first couple of Anne McCaffrey Dragon novels, and a ton of Bradbury, but that was about it. Oh yeah, and some early C.J. Cherryh, but that was just because she was local. I liked to write, but I didn't really like to read.
And then I got to college. And it wasn't the classes which got me into the habit of reading. It was gaming.
I would sit around the table with the other gamers, and they would start discussing some favorite book or another, Elric or Corum or Conan, and I would just sit and nod silently, because I had no idea what they were talking about. I felt stupid next to these guys who had a wealth of knowledge that I just didn't have. So I started reading.
And maybe it was just that I was reading more modern stuff, but I actually started to enjoy it. I read a bit of sword and sorcery, mainly Moorcock and Brian Daley's Coramonde books, but I also branched out to read quite a lot of horror and science fiction. This was before media tie-in books started crowding the shelves; there were no Dungeons and Dragons novels, nor Battletech, nor Star Wars (apart from the movie novelizations and Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye). Instead I was reading Fred Saberhagen and Stephen King, Peter Straub and Alfred Bester.
And the game tie-ins, of course. M.A.R. Barker wrote a tie-in to his Empire of the Petal Throne game, The Man Of Gold. I read it even though I had never played the game. I read Raymond Feist's massive Magician, based on the Midkemia series of game supplements. I read Joel Rosenberg's The Sleeping Dragon, about a group of gamers who are drawn into the fantasy world they've been playing. I didn't read Rona Jaffe's Mazes and Monsters, which had been made into that awful TV movie starring Tom Hanks, but I did read John Coyne's Hobgoblin, about a disturbed teen who gets obsessed with a role-playing game and then thinks a monster from his game is stalking him and his girlfriend. And of course, I read Niven and Barnes' Dream Park several times. Loved that book.
College was ultimately not a successful endeavor for me, but the love of books and reading I developed, which grew out of gaming, shaped my life later. And as an added bonus, the friends I was making in the gaming club I could relate to much better than my high school friends back home, with whom I had never really fit in. Gaming was giving me an actual life, or at least a fuller, more well-rounded one.
So of course, some assholes had to come along and ruin my good time, starting with a guy who actually died before I started gaming. A guy named James Dallas Egbert III.
But that's next week.