WARNING: Reading Can Lead You into a Life of MisAdventures…

Cover to Edison Marshall's book, Caravan to Xanadu

My mother’s uncle wrote swashbuckling historical fiction that took his heroes all over the world. My early reading of his books gave me a desire for travel that has never left me.

 

In last Friday’s subchapter from MisAdventures, I moved from being the world’s most average student under the stern glare of Mrs. Young in the first grade to being a ‘teacher’s pet’ under Miss Jone’s more supportive environment in the second grade. 

 

While I wouldn’t describe Ruth Jones-Hall as being lax, she taught me that education could be fun and, more importantly, got me excited about reading. Reading became my opportunity to shine. I must have been a pain in the ass to the other little kids: waving my hands with an urgent “me, me,” reading in a loud voice, pronouncing the tough words and tearing through the dictionary to find definitions before anyone else could. My greatest triumph came in the third grade when Miss Jones had laryngitis and asked me to take over reading the noontime story. I still remember the book, Laura Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Unfortunately, another classmate was given equal billing and I had to share the glory. (Sharing was another one of those areas Mrs. Young had marked ‘needs massive improvement.’)

Reading was much more than an ego-booster; it unlocked a treasure chest of new worlds that expanded my universe far beyond the outskirts of Diamond Springs. I started out swinging through the trees of Africa with Tarzan of the Apes and kept going. Robin Hood took me to Sherwood Forest where I joined the fight against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham. Robinson Crusoe introduced me to sailing on the seven seas and surviving on exotic islands. I discovered dog books and horse books and cowboy books and read them all. There was no such thing as having too many books or not enough time to read.

I read so much that finding books became a challenge. At first, a combination of parents, school and friends filled the need. Friends were good for comic books. Parents provided more serious materials such as Five Little Firemen, and the school offered the usual Dick and Jane fare. As I grew older, Christmas and birthdays brought treasures like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. But these were special events and far too infrequent to fill my voracious reading appetite. Summer created the greatest problem. When I wasn’t out wandering with the dogs, I could be found out in the back yard with my feet propped up and mind lost in the book of the day.

Fortunately, right about the time I exhausted all of my normal sources, I discovered the county library. It was located in an old house in Placerville at the bottom of the steep hill where Highway 49 deposited people from Diamond Springs and other points south. Few things excited me more than my weekly pilgrimage to its book crammed rooms. I developed a Pavlovian response to the smell of books that exists to this day.  I could have spent hours lost among the shelves and would have except for an impatient mother. My time was limited to how long it took her to consume two beers at the Round Tent Bar on Main Street. On occasion, however, when she exceeded her two-beer limit and got lost in the alcohol, I had to go fetch her from the bar when the library closed.

By the time I was 12, I had solved the problem of summer reading material by hitch-hiking the three miles to Placerville and spending as much time in the library as I wanted. My only frustration was that the three books the librarian limited me to taking out the door were not nearly enough to occupy me for a week’s worth of reading.

Growing older also gave me access to the almost nonexistent family library. Pop didn’t read much and preferred his books technical or Holy. He read like he talked, slowly with his lips moving as he pondered each word. Mother’s reading skills were greyhound fast in comparison and her tastes were more eclectic. But she liked her books short, as in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books short. We had quite a collection. The total library was housed in a small bookcase possibly two feet wide and five feet tall located in the ‘office.’

What intrigued me most was that it contained a number of autographed books written by my Grandfather’s brother, Edison Marshall, who wrote exotic historical fiction that focused on wanderers like Marco Polo. Uncle Eddie, as my mother called him, had a long history of writing that dated from the 20s up through the 50s. Nine of his books were turned into movies. The last one, The Viking, came out in 1958 and starred Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Ernest Borgnine, and Janet Leigh. Orson Wells was the narrator.

Books by Edison Marshall

While I never met Edison, who lived in far off Georgia, his books served as a mentor to me.

Back cover to Edison Marshall's Caravan to Xanadu

The back cover to “Caravan to Xanadu.” How could a young boy not be fascinated by such exotic fare?

Map from Edison Marshall's book Caravan to Exanadu

Even more than the cover, I was pulled into the book by the map of Marco Polo’s journey. We had a set of encyclopedias that Edison had owned in the 1920s where he had mapped out his big game hunting trips all over the world. I would sit for hours following the routes he had inked out, including into the heart of a still unknown Africa.

Edison’s depiction of historical figures gave me a fascination for both history and travel that would never leave me. A bit of sex in his books also caught my attention. It would earn a PG 13 rating in today’s world but was considered racy at the time. Check out the woman on the cover of Caravan to Xanadu. I’m surprised he got away with exposing a breast in the 1940s. I’d fly through the pages, and then slow down, way down. His accounts were infinitely more entertaining than anything included in my elementary, high school or even college history books. It’s too bad the creators of history textbooks have to make the subject so dull. Including a bit of intrigue, adventure, humor, tragedy and sex (i.e. real life), might lead to a more educated society. Old Ben Franklin didn’t just represent the US in France during the Revolutionary War. He spent a lot of time chasing French women. Early to bed, early to rise, indeed!

Edison Marshall and his home in Augusta, Georgia

Edison grew up in the town of Medford, Oregon, living for a while with his extended family that included my mother as a child. His writing brought him fame and fortune, including this mansion near Augusta, Georgia. It was a long ways from Diamond Springs.

Edison Marshall and his Agent Paul Reynolds

He sent us this photo of a meeting with his agent, Paul Reynolds. Reynolds also represented authors like Alex Hailey, Irving Wallace, Howard Fast, and, surprising to me, Malcolm X.

 

SATURDAY AND SUNDAY’S POSTS: I’ll provide some background information on the World Traveler, Bone, since he, or possibly she, is going on the Grand Canyon trip. This includes an actual interview with the wily character.

Bone celebrates having received official Coast Guard approval on Kodiak Island, Alaska for his PFD (personal flotation device).

 

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34 comments on “WARNING: Reading Can Lead You into a Life of MisAdventures…

  1. I thought I too read a lot until I met my wife. We used to need an extra bag on a 2-week vacation just for her books, paperbacks at that. Kindle made that part of life easier although we still prefer the feel of a book in our hands. Like you, Curt, we had Condensed Books in the house when I was young, and I consumed them along with anything else I could get my hands on. I had a particular interest in biography, history and historical fiction.

    • Laughing about the need to carry books when traveling. Kindle makes a difference, Ray, especially with airplane travel where weight is limited. I still find us carrying more books than we could possibly read whenever we take off in our van or truck, however. The first time we took off in our van to travel for a year, we must have had a hundred books along with us. Sounds like we had a similar passion for reading as kids. –Curt

  2. The problem with books is that they take up too much space and I find it impossible to get rid of them. I have tried Kindle but it just doesn’t work, the words are the same but it doesn’t have the right feel or aroma!

    • Boy, I recognize that, Andrew. Our house is crammed full of books. On the other hand, I can’t think of very many things I would prefer to be surrounded by. I think of them as representing different phases and interests in my life, a sort of historic, and in ways, exotic decor. As such, they are hard ‘to get rid of.’ I do try on occasion. The other day I packed up 50 and sent them off to be sold to help raise funds for our local library. –Curt

  3. Always good to see Bone being recognized around the world! If he could only talk, eh?!
    I always considered reading a book as going on an adventure. One would think I’ve read so much I might not know what reality is anymore, BUT – I decided that reality is a wild concept developed in one of those books and now I’ve misplaced it!

    • Wow, you are ahead of us, Peggy. We only have nine! 🙂 But you are absolutely right, I would love your house. You might not see me for several days as I made my way through bookcases, however. –Curt

  4. Although not as intense as your quest for books, my childhood was filled with reading. From a rural spot in the Canadian prairies I traveled the world. Your post brought so many wonderful memories rushing back.

  5. I felt the same about books, it didn’t occur to me that when I grew up there would be any problem in my becoming Richard the Lionheart, King Arthur or Robin Hood. Romans and Vikings were my friends. I was very lucky in that our home was stashed with generations of books.

    • Children are fortunate when they live in a book-rich environment, Hillary. Good for your parents! I am pleased to see that so many books are now being aimed at the teen and pre-teen market. I certainly could have lost myself in Harry Potter. –Curt

  6. You seemed to have confirmed my suspicion that bloggers tend to be readers. I remember a pre-teen time in my life when I set a pillow on fire when I rested a lamp on it, under the covers in order to keep reading after the lights should have been out! To this day I don’t know how I got away with it, but I flushed the pillow down the toilet, little bit by bit… I’m not at all sure how my mom survived raising me.

  7. One thing I dislike about getting involved in the blog scene and reading lots of other blogs is how seriously it’s cut into my book reading time. Both can be escapist fare, but there’s something about a book…

  8. Thanks for sharing your early remembrances of reading even when access to books was scarce at best. If it hadn’t been for the bookmobile driving down the streets of my very rural Louisiana subdivision, I don’t guess I would have had books at all — except for one set you mentioned: Reader’s Digest Condensed Books! Oh, my.

  9. I was lucky to have parents who read and who nurtured my early reading. By the time I began school at four, I already was reading, and I never stopped. I may have told you my favorite reading story. My mother finally forbid books at the table, particularly at breakfast, since I’d forget to eat. One day, I asked her if we could change cereal brands, from cornflakes to raisin bran. She thought it curious, but agreed. The truth was, I’d been reading the cereal box, over and over. Once I had it memorized, I needed some new material.

    • Just think what you could do today with all of the different brands on the grocery store shelves, Linda. At a box a week, you could easily make it through a year! I suspect your mother might have balked at Sugar Pops, however. Fun story. 🙂 And good for your parents. I was three years behind you in learning to read. Sigh. But I’ve made up for lost time. –Curt

  10. What a fascinating bit of family history! I’ll have to see if we have any of his books in our library… Your dedication to feeding your reading habit is also impressive 🙂 I just caught my eldest trying to walk and read a book at the same time- That’s my girl!

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