What were your formative reads? Which books did you love as a child/teen? How did your reading habits and choices change (if at all) once you moved to the US?
My father considered himself to be in charge of my education, which meant that I was handed books like 2001 Space Odyssey, Collected Works of Shakespeare, and Greek Plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides and expected to have a go at it. Sometimes I bounced because I was too young. Three Musketeers was not a go at 10, but I tore through the entire Dumas backlist at 12.
In addition, I was given free rein in the family library, which consisted of floor to ceiling shelves in my parents’ bedroom. This is the reason why I’ve read Carlo Gozzi, Prosper Mérimée, Jules Verne, Maurice Druon, etc. A lot of my understanding of American history was shaped by Thomas Mayne Reid, whose work didn’t age very well. A lot of stuff that we had available was “classic,” and colonialism was strong. It took several years in US before I realized the context.
I violently hated Hemingway’s entire body of work and still do. I think it’s an exercise in overwrought navel gazing by a man deeply insecure in his masculinity. I refused to read Miguel de Cervantes, because the idea of an older confused gentleman, clearly mentally unbalanced, being the laughingstock of society is too much for me. Read Dickens. Read Victor Hugo. Didn’t like either. Life was bleak enough.
But parallel to all of this, I was still a kid and I was in charge of my own fun books, which I obtained from the library, so here is a brief list of fun kid books I read in between all the serious reads. I would go to the library and then drag a giant stack of books home.
Warning: some of these did not age well. At all. So exercise caution and take these less as a recommended list and more as an interesting glimpse of my weird childhood.
For the sake of speed I am linking everything to Amazon, or I will be here all morning.
Adorable trolls and various friendly critters live in Moominvalley and have adventures. It is so charming and yet it sometimes had these gently scary moments. It has a kind of magic. I still remember the illustration of a dark hobgoblin riding his panther looking for rubies and the flood. It is very popular in Russia.
Astrid Lindgren is probably best known in US for Pippi Longstoking and Russia for Carlson on the Roof, but this was my favorite. This is where the forest in the Edge came from.
Gerald Durrell is best known for his nature books about his adventures of going to foreign lands and kidnapping wild animals for British zoos. This particular book is a fantasy. It was available under the title of Talking Parcel and it used to be one of my favorite reads. I can’t read it in English. I was so excited when I found it. I was going to read it to the girls and … I can’t find a sample from this book, but here is an excerpt from Bafut Beagles.
The Cross River picks its way down from the mountains of the Cameroons, until it runs sprawling and glittering into the great bowl of forest land around Mamfe. After being all froth, waterfalls, and eager chattering in the mountains, it settles down when it reaches this forest, and runs sedately in its rocky bed, the gently moving waters creating ribs of pure white sand across its width, and washing the mud away from the tree roots, so that they look as though they stand at the edge of the water on a tangled, writhing mass of octopus-like legs. It moves along majestically, its brown waters full of hippo and crocodile, and the warm air above it filled with hawking swallows, blue and orange and white.
Just above Mamfe the river increases its pace slightly, squeezing itself between two high rocky cliffs, cliffs that are worn smooth by the passing waters and wear a tattered antimacassar of undergrowth that hangs down from the forest above; emerging from the gorge it swirls out into a vast egg-shaped basin. A little further along, through an identical gorge, another river empties itself into this same basin, and the waters meet and mix in a skein of tiny currents, whirlpools, and ripples, and then continue onwards as one waterway, leaving, as a result of their marriage, a huge glittering hummock of white sand in the centre of the river, sand that is pockmarked with the footprints of hippo and patterned with chains of bird-tracks. Near this island of sand the forest on the bank gives way to the small grassfield that surrounds the village of Mamfe, and it was here, on the edge of the forest, above the smooth brown river, that we chose to have our base camp.
Durrell, Gerald (2017-02-20T22:58:59). The Bafut Beagles . Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
My eye is twitching. This is actually not too bad for him, because he has no problem saying things like “Jim!” I ejaculated joyously. “We found it!”
There has been some criticism of Durrell for his representation of African natives as well and if you are interested, you can read more about it here. Regardless, this book was a big shiny part of my childhood, so here it is on the list.
In late 1930’s Alexander Volkov decided to translate the Wonderful Wizard of Oz into Russian. What he ended up with was fanfiction of Baum’s original novel. It was cracktastic. It had Harry Potter like popularity in Russia and then he wrote sequels. I wish the whole series would be available in English in a bit better translation because the Seven Underground Kings was a thing of beauty. You can read more about his biography and body of work here. I would love to translate this. With illustrations. Someone make this happen, haha.
And there you have it.