Books for the Well-Read Ancient Toddler

When I first went to school I rocked a Big Chief tablet with light-blue lines spaced an inch or two apart and a thick green pencil with an indestructible lead. Home was plywood housing designed for migrant tomato pickers that originally housed the onslaught of temporary workers the war industry demanded and now functioned as married students’ housing for the local State College. We didn’t have a car; we didn’t have a television; we didn’t have a bathtub; but we had a radio and we had a library card.

I’ve mentioned before that I generally prefer the radio to the television: even more so as I get older.

I vividly remember going to the Ocean Beach Library with my Mom. I was lucky: she was an insatiable reader and back then she would read to me from books like the Old Mother West Wind stories. Funny thing: even a glance at my timeline suggests that I was at best a well-read toddler.

We started out in rooms in Greensboro, North Carolina where my Dad was stationed in the Army Air Corps. We then moved to a garden apartment in San Diego close to my Mother’s parents’ house, and then to the aforementioned plywood domicile that later made way for the Route 5 off-ramp. I hadn’t started Kindergarten but I remember the move. Then when I was five Dad graduated from college, started teaching, bought a no-money-down tract house in the wasteland east of San Diego. And we moved again.

Note that when you construct houses in the scrub desert of the Southwest, you may claim the land but all the creatures who once lived there tend to migrate to the dark back corners of your garage or the warm snugness of your shoes and slippers. We’re talking lizards, snakes, scorpions, and spiders … big spiders.

At school the pencils had gotten thinner. We still painted with our fingers but brushes began to appear. We were even introduced to a fairly new device called a Ball-Point Pen. These pens first required that we burn the paraffin coating off the nib. Blackboards turned green and we were forced to learn cursive writing by following the samples posted above the blackboard. My seat-mate was left-handed and when I scored low on a penmanship test I always blamed it on his goofy back-handed style confusing me. It was about this time that, in the midst of an oral book report, I learned the correct pronunciation of the Sioux people.

My favorite book around this time was The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois. I recently bought a Puffin Classics copy for my grand daughter but I’m holding it until she’s a bit older. In the meantime, these are the books I’m planning on reading in June:

  1. Forest of the Pygmies — Isabel Allende
  2. Cat’s Eye — Margaret Atwood
  3. History of the Thirteen — Honoré de Balzac
  4. The Women — T. C. Boyle
  5. Still Life — A. S. Byatt
  6. The Ruin of Kasch — Roberto Calasso
  7. Strong Motion — Jonathan Franzen
  8. Sophie’s World — Jostin Gaardner
  9. “G” Is For Gumshoe — Sue Grafton
  10. A Laodicean; or, The Castle of the De Stancys — Thomas Hardy
  11. If He Hollers Let Him Go — Chester Himes
  12. Ulysses — James Joyce
  13. The Assault — Harry Mulisch
  14. Mystery, Inc. — Joyce Carol Oates
  15. A Tale for the Time Being — Ruth Ozecki
  16. Joseph Anton — Salman Rushdie
  17. The Late Monsieur Gallet — Georges Simenon
  18. The Cossacks — Leo Tolstoy
  19. Redhead by the Side of the Road — Anne Tyler
  20. Happy Birthday, Wanda June — Kurt Vonnegut

2 thoughts on “Books for the Well-Read Ancient Toddler

  1. At the school that I teach math at, the IB Seniors read The Assault as one of their novels. I always try to read whatever they are reading, that I haven’t previously read. I thoroughly anjoyed The Assault (and Dom Casmuro as well). I recently read A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes, and thought it was great. Ulysses has been staring at me for years, taunting me. I know this is your 5th or 6th reread. Someday.


    1. Oh, Ulysses is a fun read .. git ‘er done!

      Thinking about it, I was assigned Ulysses three times in college; read it a couple of times on my own and one time when my daughter was reading it in college. However, I probably pickup Ulysses (or Finnegans Wake) several times each year, especially around the important upcoming date. I say “pick up” because I don’t necessarily start at the beginning (like Swann’s Way it can seem so familiar and too tedious) and I don’t read the whole book. Just portions: a smooch and a lick.

      It’s been a while since I read the whole thing so you see it on this month’s reading list.

      Oh, I forgot about WBAI: every Bloom’s Day they used to read the entire novel over the radio. Although life went on around the house, I know of at least three times I had the broadcast on in the background. Do they still do that on the radio?


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