Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Deuce and Books, part I

I've written previously about my love of Movies and TV, but I've saved the best for last. Books.

How many of you can remember the first book you ever read. Not a book your mom read to you, or a teacher read to you, but a book you read all on your own? I do.

It was 1967 and I was in the fourth grade, and the book was Black and Blue Magic. It was one of the best books of my childhood...and I still have it, all these long years later. It was about a young boy, maybe 12, growing up in San Francisco. His father had died, and his mother was struggling to make a living running a boarding house. One night a mysterious boarder arrived, and having befriended our young protagonist, gave him a bottle containing a potion that when rubbed into his shoulders, gave our young man wings. Real, feathered, giant wings; big enough to lift our young hero into flight. You can imagine some of the adventures that followed, and perhaps imagine the sacrifice he finally made to protect his mother's happiness and his own future. It's a child's book, but read it anyway. Better yet, read it to your own child or grandchild. Experience the magic together.

A year later, my fifth grade teacher read a children's version of Homer's The Odyssey to my class. We were riveted! My first venture into fantasy and adventure...and classics come to think of it. It was great, and played a major role in my life long love of epic stories filled with heroes, villains, monsters and daring-do.

I was in Junior High when I accidentally stumbled upon Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings. It was described in a tiny blurb of the Weekly Reader that we received every few weeks in school. Actually, it was book two, The Two Towers, that I read first. I laugh now at how perplexed I was at the abrupt beginning and equally abrupt end. It wasn't until I finished the book that I discovered it was the second book in a trilogy! I ordered book three, The Return of the King, next, and so knew the end of the story before I had ever read the beginning. I read the beginning, The Lord of the Rings, and after that the "real" beginning, The Hobbit. Even though I had read the story in a haphazard fashion, to say the least, it did not lessen the absolute joy I felt reading it. A generation later, I read the entire series to my kids. They loved it as much as I did, and man did I enjoy reading it to them.

It wasn't until I was a young adult in 1979 that I would read the book that would have the largest influence on my life of all the books I've read, except one. It was Robert Heinlein's Glory Road. It wasn't the high adventure that made this book so memorable for was instead it's dissertations on political ideologies and human liberty that struck such a powerful chord in me. It led me to Libertarianism, which I adhered strongly to for the next twenty years of my life, and though it is no longer my primary political belief system, it still runs strongly in me.

It wasn't far, or long, from Heinlein to the ultimate in libertarian philosophy, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Yet another adventure, but lacking in sword play or monsters ( at least, non-human monsters ). The epic story of individual men and women who refused to bow to peer pressure or sacrifice their own sense of good and evil to "common knowledge", ultimately separating themselves from a corrupt and diseased society of cowards and parasites.

Still some twenty years later, while I was searching for a better understanding of eternity and my place in it, I read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Described by some ever so enlightened critic as the "Christian apologetic for people who's intellect gets in the way of their faith", I read it and was overwhelmed. It is such a simple and straight forward explanation of the deepest mysteries that mankind faces; I was consumed. Ultimately, Mere Christianity let me be content to not understand the fullness of God; that it was okay to be dumbfounded by the mysteries of existence; the existence of myself, mankind and the universe. To be incapable of comprehending the beginning or the end of time. To finally understand what "faith" really means, and to read the Bible like a grand, epic adventure full of heroes, villains, monsters and daring-do, instead of a just a dry and musty text book on how to live a good life.

There have been lots of other great books. More on those in part II.

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