By Jeff Salter
As sometimes happens, my take on this 4F1H weekly topic may veer a bit. In discussing books (and stories) I’ve shared with friends or family, I’m not taking the “share” part too literally. In other words, with three exceptions, these are stories I’ve read either right before or right after the friend/relative read them. So we shared them in the sense of each reading them while we had the titles available… but in most cases we did not read them “together”.
Let me begin with the three exceptions:
First is that my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Josie Hyde, read a novel to us when class time remained and all other scheduled work had been completed. So all [ ? 30 ? ] of us kids heard the story as she was reading it. There may have been more than one, but the title I remember was “Miss Minerva on the Old Plantation.” It was probably dated even then and now many readers would object to the racial stereotypes. But in the late 1950s we just saw it as the comical adventures of a diverse assortment of small town kids who played together (and often got into mischief).
Secondly, after the popular musical “The King and I” came out, my mom (briefly) read to us three kids from the book, “Anna and the King of Siam,” (on which the movie was loosely based). However, it was so unlike the film, we all lost interest after a while.
Lastly, I frequently read books to my own two children. My specialty was doing different voices for the various characters’ dialog. Don’t remember most of the titles and there were too many to list, though some got read over and over (of course). And for several of my grandkids, I’ve read children’s books. [I remember a time when I tried reading a story to my own young kids and some visiting cousins (slightly younger)… but they were way too fidgety and just wanted to bounce off the walls.]
Beyond those exceptions, as best I can recall, reading (for me) has been a solitary – and thoroughly enjoyable – life-long experience. But here are some of the things I’ve read in close association with others reading the same titles.
As a kid, my brother and I read each other’s comic books. I knew what he’d just gotten and as soon as he finished reading it, it was my turn. And vice versa. Sometimes we actually traded, but more often we just borrowed and returned. With friends, I think there was more trading than borrowing. Superman and Batman were my favorites, along with Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny.
That is to say, when I was a young one-stripe airman at Cannon AFB NM and my wife and I didn’t own a TV. So we had plenty of time to read. She’d go to the public library in Clovis NM and check out books for herself… and would also pick out some I would like. Occasionally, these tastes crossed over, as in the case of Nathaniel Benchley’s humorous novels. As best I can remember, we both read every book Benchley had written to that point. The story you’d be most familiar with is “The Off-Islanders” which was made into the hit movie, “The Russians Are Coming… the Russians Are Coming.”
Another set we read during that pre-TV period were the first three or four of Walker Percy’s novels… which I partly discussed a few weeks ago. The one Denise most remembers is “Love in the Ruins.” James Dickey’s Deliverance came out during that period and we each read that.
This book came out after I’d left the Air Force and returned to college. Peter Benchley, son of Nathaniel and grandson of humorist and actor Robert Benchley, published a novel about a shark. Denise says we both read Jaws at about the same time. I remembered the book, of course, but had forgotten she read it also.
I had read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels by the time I was a high school freshman, and my brother and father were reading them around that same time.
Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series came along around that same timeframe, but Hamilton lived longer and was still writing them at least until I was in my mid-20s. I remember, during my Air Force hitch and the few years afterwards, I’d spot the newest Matt Helm at the newsstand and would buy it. After I read it, I’d loan it to my dad, who’d gobble it up. We both thought the Helm books were better than the Bond stories. Wiki says there were 27 Helm novels, but I believe the last one I saw was # 17 or 18. Not sure why I stopped at that point. [By the way, the awful Dean Martin movie versions of two or three of the Matt Helm stories are ludicrous and share hardly more than the title and characters’ names with the actual books.]
Band of Brothers, by Stephen Ambrose, was another book my dad and I shared — though decades later than the others mentioned.
I’m sure there have been other books Denise and I have “shared” but the series which sticks in my mind was popular during the time we were at my first public library job in Catahoula Parish LA. James Herriot, a Welsh veterinarian, had a hit book called “All Creatures Great and Small.” Denise got me hooked on it by reading some of the funniest parts. We both read that one and at least two which followed it. [We also enjoyed the PBS series inspired by these books.]
There are likely other tiles, or authors, or series which I’ve read in association with either family or friends, but these are the main ones I recall.
Have YOU enjoyed sharing books or stories with others?