I do not actually recall a time when I could not read, although I know I was taught by my mother and brother. This, of course, means that I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading. As a… confused young child, I was shocked and horrified to discover that not everyone shared my love for literature. I hid books under my desk in elementary school in order to read during class, for which I was justly punished. Much as I do with local libraries now, I heartily abused my middle school library in order to read Anne McCaffrey and the Royal Diaries. (I am severely disappointed that the latter is now out of print.) In short, I have always been a Literary Omnivore.
The first book that I really fell in love with wasn’t anything my mother read me. No, it was The Illustrated Book of Myths: Tales & Legends of the World, as retold by Neil Philip, and, most importantly, as illustrated by Nilesh Mistry. (Here’s an link for it on Amazon.) I have no idea when it came into my childhood home–it was released in 1995, and I’ve always remembered having it. As the title obviously states, it’s a collection of myths and legends. It’s aimed at preteens, so it’s written simply, but it’s by no means dumbed down. There’s a horrifying image accompanying one of the Irish myths of a boy’s battle fury, where his right eye tries its hardest to escape from its socket. I’ve always been struck with both the brutality and the efficiency of the Norse creation myth, which involves murdering a giant and using his various parts to create the world. It’s organized by the types of myths, but at the bottom of each page, there’s the page numbers of the previous and next myths of that culture. It covers all the great myths, and then some–Norse, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman mythology are mixed with Sumerian, Finnish, and Serbian myth.
These are stories and images that have stayed with me. I can’t imagine Coyote as anything other than how Mistry illustrates him, especially a piece where he howls in agony for his dead son, fading into mist. Every time I think of the Holy Grail, I always see the redheaded Grail virgin dutifully revealing it. While reading American Gods, the book’s image of Odin definitely colored my view of the proceedings. There were also the stories of powerful, stubborn women that have stuck with me. Sedna, the Inuit Mother of Sea Beasts, rejected all the men of her village for the company of a dog, and her foul moods must be appeased by someone braiding and cleaning her hair–she has no fingers to do it herself. Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, is so offended by her brother’s abominable behavior that she shuts herself up in a cave, only to be lured out by another goddess’ burlesque routine. Even minor characters possessed astounding grace and power–Scathach, a Scottish woman warrior, is considered the greatest warrior in the world in an Irish myth. Where some girls longed for strong female characters in their media consumption, I had more than enough in the myths of the world.
I have the book in front of me as I write this. The spine still complains when I open it, and it smells like the bookcases in my first house in Georgia. My mother wrote my name and phone number on the inside cover, as she is wont to do. I am just as in love with this book as I was when I was just a wee lass. I hope I can share it with my brother’s children someday.
In other news, I neglected to previously mention that I am both doing and hosting The Lord of the Rings readalong! Teresa at Shelf Love, Eva at A Striped Armchair, Maree at Just Add Books and I will host readings of one of the Lord of the Rings novels starting January and ending in April. I will be hosting The Fellowship of the Ring in February here. I made the button using Aviary, although I have now recovered my copy of Photoshop Elements after six months of searching. (Never leave me again, Photoshop!) I just picked up a copy of The Hobbit today, as I actually don’t own one. I’m a bit picky about presentation for series (I have a lovely box set of His Dark Materials that spells the series’ name out on the spines when they’re placed together), but I doubt I’ll find a copy of The Hobbit that will match my movie set of The Lord of the Rings. If I could justify the cost of replacing all my Harry Potter books with that trunk set, I would. If you feel up to the adventure, go sign up at Shelf Love!
What book was your first literary love?