When I was a teenager, my mother plied me with books. Some were entertaining. Then, there was Knut Hamsun.
Knut wasn’t a fun sort of author. In “Growth of the Soil” he wrote about the grim, hardscrabble life of the desperately poor farmers trying to survive in places where obviously no humans were supposed to be living. I’m not sure why my mother felt I should read these books, but I know I found them depressing. Not like my regular life was such a bundle of yuks that I needed something earthier to keep me from flying off into the world of the rich and giggly.
I was not rich and nor was I giggly.
I slogged my way through Growth of the Soil and I felt really bad for those sad people. This book was followed up by one of my mother’s favorites, “Jean-Cristophe,” This is the novel in 10 volumes by Romain Rolland for which he received the Prix Femina in 1905 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. It is actually a fictionalized story of the life of Ludwig Von Beethoven. And although it is certainly interesting on many levels, it is also really, really, really long. About 1800 pages in small print.
I read it. All of it. But I was not yet finished with Romain Rolland. There were a few more — and they were also long, though nothing (except “Lord of the Rings”) was ever longer than “Jean-Cristophe.” Actually, I’m not sure how long “Lord of the Rings” is since it depended on the printing, font size, and so on … so let’s call them even. But “Lord of the Rings” was far more fun. We had eating and drinking parties while dressed in appropriate Middle-Earthen costumes.
Hobbits were also fond of the soil. They lived in houses dug into the earth. I hope it didn’t rain as much in Hobbiton as it does around here. A house in mud doesn’t seem as much fun as a warm, cozy hobbit hole.
I’m pretty sure that this early exposure to painful books about grinding, desperate poverty may have skewed my reading interests into lighter weight subject matter. Lighter weight everything. Between learning everything I might ever need to know about the Holocaust and my mother’s policy of serious reading, nothing made me happier than the discovery of historical romance and science fiction. Maybe that was really the idea?