Last week, I mused about the joys of learning to read pre-toddler, primarily being read to by a loving parent before bedtime. Not everybody gets this opportunity and they can find a path later in life. And while sketching out this week’s musing I came to realize when my passion for collecting first emerged!
I will start with a fictional character. Teresa Mendoza, born in Mexico but ended up in Spain. She is the protagonist in Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Queen of the South. I don’t want to give too much away on this fabulous novel. (I may do a future musing on this wonderful Spanish author, who I have been collecting for a few years.) At one point she is in a Spanish prison and her cellmate is a lover of books and has a few books in the cell. Her cellmate gives her a book and Teresa, who confesses to having never read a book for pleasure, starts to read it. And she gets hooked – of course! And later goes on to build her own considerable personal library – of course!
The author does not mention the title of the book, until well into the novel, but Teresa drops hints. She mentions “Chateau d’If”; “Abbe Faria” and then “Edmond Dantes”. After the first clue, I knew the title of the book – it was The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I was feeling quite chuffed with myself and was thinking everybody should know that. And how appropriate it was that she was reading this book while in prison.
Then, I said to myself, why am I feeling so smug about my literary knowledge since I have never
read the book.
My secret – I read the Classics Illustrated, comic book version of the book. And I read some other 100 titles of famous world literature the same way. And they were numbered! The Count of Monte Cristo was #3 and they published 169 titles from 1941 until 1969. And I started to collect them probably when I was ten years old or so. And they enticed you by printing on the back cover a listing of all the titles with an order form. Too bad they stopped; they were an easy introduction to great literature.
The other example of experiencing the joy of reading, other then as a toddler, is the impact the Harry Potter books have had on the world population. It is estimated that 37% of kids in the U.S. have read a Harry Potter book. The seven-volume series has sold more than 50 million books worldwide in 80 languages. In fact, there is what is called in publishing circles the Harry Potter effect:
1. Fattened the size of Young Adult books. This as the first series to surpass 300 pages
in a book and later titles reached 800 pages. From 2006 to 2018 the average middle-
grade book increased from 174.5 pages to 290 pages.
2. Merged literary culture with pop culture
3. The series increased empathy in children
4. Kicked off the boom in young adult reading
5. Opened the door to more Young Adult series
And, of course, adults have been caught reading these fat books too! I can’t believe that some parents are trying to get the books banned because they involve witchcraft! They are about good vs evil, as noted in point 3 above.
J. K. Rowling brought readers into the fold who had not previously enjoyed the pleasures of reading for the pure enjoyment of the experience. I think I just might read the first book in the series Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone but not a first edition thereof. I can’t afford that collectible treat!