Wednesday, 29 July 2009

BOGOF: What vampires were you reading about when you were 10?

Looking back on what you were reading at 10 is generally both rewarding, toe-curling and woeful in equal measure.

It's rewarding first and foremost because people are often surprised by the sheer expansiveness of their reading habits at a young age. At first they might remember a few select readings that have stuck with them (for better or for worse), but given a few minutes and some gentle nudging, the reminiscing snowballs until they realize that once upon a time, life wasn't just a series of Big Brother episodes and album torrents. We used to read! How woeful it is to think that we read more as children than we do as big-brained smartypants growed ups.

Some of us still do, of course, but speaking for myself, I've yet to recapture that ridiculous hunger for books that I had when I was younger, before it was something I was obliged to do and something I wanted to do. It's a piss poor excuse to blame your lackluster reading habits on school "ruining" literature for you (it didn't, and you don't have much room to complain when you majored in literature in the first place), but there is a nugget of truth in the story. These days I read at an incredibly leisurely pace, picking up and dropping various books and juggling between Aisleyne's autobiography and Kafka as my interest waxes and wanes. At 10? I couldn't put something down once I'd picked it up, and I'd get through trashy little Point Horrors a day at a time.

I was prepared today to wax lyrical about R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series - repetitive spookfests for the '90s generation that followed the flawless ("flawless") Dan Brown rubric of a false climax at the end of every bloody chapter, some of them hilariously half-baked ("and then Billy opened his lunchbox to a terrible surprise - he'd taken his sister's tuna melt!") - but upon further inspection, it appears that was my pre-10 reading. And looking at their publication dates and the dates when I was in primary school, I really did get through them like a terrifying book vacuum, sucking in everything I could borrow from wealthier friends whose parents had bought them the books that filled the gaps in my own budding collection.

But that was pre-10. I was 10 in 1997, the beginning of Buffy's TV run and my unfortunate obsession with a sassy teenage girl who was actually 20something. So naturally the book I most remember reading that year is the perennial classic and toe-curlingly awful Halloween Rain, an original Buffy adventure that would later be pissed upon from great heights by the cruel canon gods (it establishes that Halloween is a very mystical holiday - fans of the show may scoff at will). It's a convenient choice for a number of reasons - it introduces my penchant for trash, my championing of genre fiction, and my need to make up for being absent last week without a note. Because, you know, vampires!

There are actually very few vampires in Halloween Rain. It is about Buffy's Halloween being totally ruined by some low-rent Jack Skellington bitch getting up in her grill. He's an evil scarecrow, possibly with a pumpkin head (because of course), and he's resurrected every year with...magic rain or something. Anyway, Buffy defeats him by drawing a pentagram in a barn with her lipstick, a brilliant tactic that showcases her post-feminist mixing of girly trappings with superheroine baddassery. When I was first reading this book I was asked to write a paper during class on "whatever book you had with you", so there's a good chance that 10 year-old me wrote something like that as an "analysis" of the book's climax in complete sincerity. Oh dear.

That's not all I was reading! Oh no! Aside from being busy not reading Harry Potter (I was such an iconoclastic little bastard and much preferred Ibbotson's The Secret of Platform 13 - guess I called that one wrong), I was also very busy ratcheting through my parents' book shelves for anything and everything. With me, reading was very much something I did to imitate them, precociously scurrying into the room whenever they were reading and grabbing something far too hefty for my little post-Goosebumps mind ("The Stand isn't as good as the TV series with Gary Sinise, mum"). At 10 I was likely getting addicted to Terry Pratchett, possibly the best introduction to the fantasy genre ever, and from there I worked on my Gaiman cred with the fantastic Good Omens, a nice little apocalyptic read that I should return to some time.

In other vampire news, my dad was a big Anne Rice fan, and yes I have since busted his chops about his combined love for homoerotic vampire fiction and Cabaret, but at the time I thought Lestat was very edgy. It worked well with my babygoth aesthetic. As did my mum's copies of the Hannibal Lector books, which I inherited with much glee around age 10. I suppose, looking at this reading list, that 10 year-old Andrew saw books as a way to indulge in the kind of crude, over-the-top splatterhouse gore that I wasn't allowed to watch on TV. I mean, reading about mutilation and blood-letting is far more cerebral and useful in a child's mental growth than just watching Saw, right? Right.

It's only natural, then, that a few years later I'd be declaring Jane Eyre my favourite book ever, its gothic romanticism a convenient gateway from Goosebumps to the kind of rags to riches troubled romance that characterised my foray into what I looked up to at the time as "proper literature" - I didn't have time for trash anymore. Oh, how we change.

I'd also like to break from this week's theme to point towards one of the first things I ever read. Recently I was discussing it with my mum, and as it was a rather innocuous poetry and storybook, neither of us could remember the title of the collection but rather a single poem from it. Lo and behold, when I returned home from vacation this week I found a shiny new copy on the kitchen table - My Best Bedtime Book, in case you're wondering - with a homemade printer paper bookmark on the page of the poem we both remembered. "Because I'm good!!!"
Let me share its sweeping and majestic beauty with you:

Llamas in pyjamas
Make a very funny sight.
They keep them in a cupboard
And they put them on at night.

They wore them once in public,
And the people laughed and laughed.
So now they wait until it's dark
For fear of looking daft.

Llamas in pyjamas
Are aware that they look silly,
But when they snuggle down at night,
At least they don't feel chilly.



Michael said...

Good Omens! Hold that thought. I was thinking of doing an actual Gretchen Weiners Book Group (because The Gretchen Weiners Book Group Book Group, right? Totally got the name and worked backwards) at the end of each four week block, and I've been wanting to read that one for a while. May as well kill two indulgences with one highly-praised fantasy novel that I still haven't bought, because the new American covers are nice but the British cover makes me vomit.

Anyway! Good post! We should so do a 'TV/film tie-in books' week, I have a very impressive review of a Byker Grove book that was about a decade out of date when I read it kicking about somewhere (sneak preview: 'this was so boring - zzzzzzzzzzzz'). Also, wWhen Callum and I moved in together, he brought - and I'm not kidding - two carrier bags full of the Buffy tie-ins (his parents are pretty minted, he always has duplicates of the stuff he had as a child, it's very odd). I read one about Oz and... some... mean fairies. And I was all, 'Fairies DO NOT WORK in the Buffyverse!', and then they went and put them in the comic and they were even worse.

God it's early. Ten to nine flu ramblings are so hot right now.

Andrew said...

I love the Book Group Book Group idea! Plus, you know, audience participation (i.e. roping our friends in to read along at first).

TV/film tie-in books would be great, but I'd have to hunt down stuff I lost or sold over the years. I read the Jumanji novelization I also have a few other Buffy tie-ins lying around and I remember getting a - wait for it - X Files novelization out of the school library at some point.

Good Omens is a good choice for the first read! Like I said, Gaiman cred, plus 'urban fantasy' blah blah blah, quite British and whimsical and, well, that's us, innit. I hope you're not dissing this cover though:

Because it's BEAUTIFUL. The good angel's looking foine there.

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