Note: This post originally appeared on tobinelliott.com
This is the Second in a series of blogs where I go back and examine the books that deeply affected me and became part of the foundation of the person I am now.
Click on the titles to read the others
Somewhere around 1971 or 1972, the year I would have been in Grade Four, I somehow discovered the school library. Now, before that, of course we had been trooped down to the library regularly, and had books read to us by the librarian. But none of the books we’d been read had ever made an impression on me. None of them were as exciting as the science fiction movies I was regularly watching on television. How could some kid’s adventures on boring old Earth compete with spaceships and aliens?
I don’t remember what ultimately shook me from my stupor and got me to walk around the library to scan the books, but I do remember finally seeing a section that was labelled Science Fiction and I stopped dead in my tracks.
Wait a minute. Hold on. There’s actually science fiction books? No way!
I scanned the titles, with very little grabbing my attention. Some seemed just too…old…or boring…for me. Then I came across this author that seemed to not only have a bunch of books, but ones with titles that seemed to jump out and grab at my eyeballs. Robert A. Heinlein. How the heck was that even pronounced? Hyne-line? Heen-leen? Didn’t matter. He wrote what appeared to be cool books. I started with Rocket Ship Galileo, simply because it was about some kids that work with their uncle to convert a rocket ship and travel to the moon. So…here was a kid’s adventures…but mashed up with spaceships and aliens. Well, I wasn’t sure on the aliens, but still…spaceships!
It involved kids getting to the moon and discovering those dastardly Nazis had established a moon base. How evil! How unspeakably…cool!
I ripped through that book like Elvis through a fried-banana sammich. And I wanted more. More!
The next time I was in that library, I went straight over to the SF section again and quickly found the “H” authors. And the next book that called to me was Space Cadet. Okay, this one had a guy actually signing up for and becoming a Space Cadet.
Sidenote: Ah, the early Seventies. Back when Space Cadet was still a term that was considered cool (well, at least it was to me, then again, I was a nerd), instead of someone who’s shockingly lacking in the required volume of marbles. End of sidenote.
So this one had even more action and adventure. This one went farther than the Moon. Hell, we were out in the asteroids, we were on Venus. And…spaceships!
Over the next few weeks, I proceeded to burn through every single Heinlein book in that library. And when I ran out of his, then I moved on to…
Well, that’s for the next post, isn’t it?
How did these books change my life?
I lumped Rocket Ship Galileo and Space Cadet together because, quite frankly, I read them back to back with virtually no break in between. These were my first forays into literary SF, instead of the crazed aliens that wanted to take over our planet every Saturday night on television. And, aside from the Chariots of the Gods? book, these were the first novels I’d read.
Heinlein gave me characters a little older than myself that went on grand adventures throughout our solar system. He captured my attention with young protagonists, something a horror author would do a few years hence, and gave me a rollicking good story. Well, at least, a story that the almost ten-year-old me thought of as rollicking. I learned that novels didn’t just have to be about stuff that happened on Earth.
But more than that, he gave me imagination. Like I said, I hadn’t read anything like this before, so all my SF came from Star Trek reruns and SF movies from the 50s and 60s. I was so used to seeing the strings holding the spaceships, and the cardboard buildings wobbling under Godzilla’s rubber foot. I still loved the stories, but the visuals were flawed. I always had to force myself to ignore the zippers on the back of the beast and the cheesy special effects. But when I read…oh, when I read, the visuals were what I created in my head...and they were so much better.
Heinlein gave me that.
Heinlein showed me a universe that was vastly larger and more exciting than I had ever truly expected up to that point. Heinlein gave me wonder. He filled my mind with questions, with more worlds to explore. He gave me the hunger to read.
These days, if I’m ever asked who are my most influential authors, I’ll throw out a series of fairly well-known authors. I’ll talk about books I’ve read in the past couple of decades. But it occurs to me that, without Heinlein first hooking me, I may never have gone on to discover any of those others. He was the one that got me started. He’s the one who wrote the first novels that I actually found on my own or sought out and enjoyed.
Heinlein was my first discovery, and he planted seeds in a garden that continues to bloom more than four decades later. Hell, I’ve even begun planting my own seeds.
Thank you Robert.
Did you ever read something that changed your life?
Did you ever wonder what your life would have been like if you hadn’t been able to read? Stop and think about that for a second: what if you couldn’t read? How different would your life be?
What if you couldn’t read Facebook status updates? What if you couldn’t read well enough to Google whatever you need to know? What if you couldn’t read to your kids? What if you couldn’t read a street sign? What if you couldn’t read the instructions on the pill bottle? What if you couldn’t fill out that job application?
What if you couldn’t read?
I’m the person I am now because I can read. I couldn’t imagine a life without a constant influx of words to entertain me, to irritate me, to make me laugh and make me cry.
But I know there’s many out there that can’t read, or at least, can’t read well, and I’m trying to help them. Please, if you read and enjoyed this blog, or if it made you think back to a book that changed your life, please consider helping me help those who are trying to read.
I’m participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a 72-hour event where 40 writers try and write as much as they can, while raising money to fund Literacy and Numeracy programs for adults in the Simcoe/Muskoka area. And the program works. One of the lucky people who went through their literacy program has now joined our group as a writer. How often can you donate money and look at the walking, talking, reading and writing result?
If you can donate, any amount is sincerely appreciated.