Stretching the Mind

July 11, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Posted in Family History, History, Reading | 3 Comments
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Stretch your mind

High School: In my first year of high school I discovered a new book series that I loved. I had to take a train (steam) to school in Wollongong and had a little time between leaving the school and catching it, so I would often call in at the Children’s library in Crown Street (it has not existed for many years now).

Teddy Lester's Schooldays

A series of books I found at the library was meant for boys. I wasn’t interested in most girls’ books, preferring boys’ adventure stories. The Teddy Lester series by John Finnemore, was set in an English boys’ boarding school.

They opened up a world I was completely unfamiliar with; a world of class privilege, bullying, prefects, cricket and rugby, but also of striving against difficulties to be the best at what you did. When I look back to 1961, I am rather surprised that the children’s librarian allowed this twelve-year-old girl to take out books that had been written for boys.

LittleWomen cover

I did also read some girls’ stories, and enjoyed Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and its sequel, but I never heard of the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also missed out on Pollyanna, Anne of Green Gables and the Nancy Drew and even the Hardy Boys books. I never discovered C.S. Lewis either (but he wasn’t a Catholic, so he would not have been mentioned).

In my high school years, we had to read various novels for English classes. I could never understand why other kids hated reading them. We had Vance Palmer’s The Passage, Frank Dalby Davison’s Man Shy, Patrick White’s The Tree of Man, and plays like Pygmalion and Douglas Stewart’s The Fire in the Snow. I wasn’t really into Shakespeare, though I did like A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

wuthering-heights EmilyBroye

In my teens I really got into classic fiction: books by two of the Bronte sisters – Charlotte (Jane Eyre, Villette, etc) and Emily (Wuthering Heights), and by Jane Austen (Emma, Persuasion, etc). But I read other kinds of stories too.

Dad had a set of hard cover cowboy books written by Oliver Strange, the “Sudden” series, that he’d brought out from England. I devoured all those, along with Mum’s complete set of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan, Mars and Venus books. I also read historical fiction by Alexandre Dumas, Rafael Sabatini and many others.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes Whitman Cover

Because Dad was my hero and had been a fighter pilot in WWII, I read a lot of pilot and prisoner-of-war books, like The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams, and several of Paul Brickhill’s books, including Reach for the Sky, The Dam Busters and The Great Escape. I also enjoyed several of Australian novelist J.E. MacDonnell’s novels about the navy and others.

The Wooden Horse

College: I also had books to read for my college English courses. Among these was the 1872 novel Erewhon by Samuel Butler, a satire on Victorian society. This was the first time I came to understand the concept of the social satire novel. I really liked the idea.

As a result, I read all of Johnathon Swift’s Lemuel Gulliver novels. Many people don’t even realise that there was a series of four books, and not just the well-known, often bowdlerised story set in Lilliput. I fondly remember Brobdingnag in the second book, with its Big-enders and Little-enders as well as the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos of the fourth book.

Gulliver's Travels cover

I also read The Mayor of Casterbridge, some of The Canterbury Tales, and other classic novels of early England.

As I had when a child, I spent a lot of time as teenager with my head in a book.

What literature did you devour as a teenager? And how do you shell your boiled eggs?

what-we-think-determines-what-happens-to-us-so-if-we-want-to-change-our-lives-we-need-to-stretch-your-mind

© Linda Visman

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