When my pal Eddie and I were in grade school, we read for fun. Like some who love to eat, we loved to read, and we were always hungry.
We didn’t have any literary discrimination. We read everything we could obtain, even though the Oak Park Public Library tried to limit our choices to the children’s section where books were lined up by topics of interest to children — stories about animals, kid adventures like Toby Tyler, and simple stories about American historical figures.
Eddie and I raced through these books in no time, finally gaining admittance to the adult section where our choices multiplied dramatically.
Before we made it to the adult section, we developed another source of supply.
My next-door neighbors, the Dunne family, had accumulated scores of books for their five children, four of whom were grown and living elsewhere.
The youngest child was four years older than Eddie and I and had little interest in reading, so Mrs. Dunne was happy to load Eddie and I up with the adventures of Tom Swift and other boys as ingenious as Tom, who, by the way, made his own airplane.
The Dunne family collection also included the more advanced adventure tales of such popular writers as Zane Grey and one-time Oak Park resident, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
We also sailed with delight through Sabatini’s Captain Blood as well as Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.
We elevated our tastes when Eddie’s mother bought an encyclopedia set which came with a bonus of the collected works of Mark Twain and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables [English translation].
Much of what we read would be classified as pleasant nonsense by some people, although we didn’t see it that way.
Many of the books we read were great fun, stimulated our imagination, and set us swinging through the jungle canopy with Tarzan or fighting at John Carter’s side against Martian enemies, and riding into many a western frontier town.
Another source of supply for books other than a friendly neighbor was available, but required cash. Many of the local drug stores had a book section as did Woolworth’s Five & Ten, with many of the books priced at 25 cents.
Eddie and I would also ask for books for Christmas and our respective birthdays.
A problem we faced, however, was that some words we came across in our reading were beyond our command, so we simply figured out the meaning by the context or to be more exacting, we went to the dictionary.
We did read more than fictional stories, however. We were fascinated by accounts of ancient man and prehistoric times. I remember I was really interested in my grandfather’s books written by Roy Chapman Andrews in which Andrews told of his expeditions to Outer Mongolia, North China and Central Asia where he discovered dinosaur remains.
We also subscribed to Boys’ Life, and our families subscribed to National Geographic with its photos of exotic societies in far regions of the world.
Schooling for Eddie and me was found in more than the classroom, and because of encouragement from my teachers and family, I became a lifelong reader.