A few years ago I registered for a library card, and nothing's been quite the same since.
I started reading books voraciously. Not that I hadn't before. But my reading list back in the day was mostly Civil War history, or World War II history, or sports, with very little room for great works of fiction.
Until one day I had to humbly admit to a friend that I'd never read "To Kill a Mockingbird," and here I was, an adult in his 60s. I felt the self-inflicted shame of having not been truly well-read.
But after I got my library card, I went on a rampage. Shortly after "Mockingbird" came "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "The Great Gatsby," "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland" and a host of others that should have been on my summer lists back in high school.
I did read, back in my junior high years, William Schirer's monumental "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which took me all summer to get through. But, again, that was history.
Just to let you know, since Mockingbird and the others, my reading has continued unabated. Oddly enough, my reading of history has led me to explore new fiction — and vice versa.
A few months ago, I was on a Pearl Harbor kick. I read Robert Stinnet's "Pearl Harbor: A Day of Deceit," which tries to show (unconvincingly, I think) that President Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance in hopes to get an isolationist United States into the war to aid Great Britain in the struggle against Nazi Germany.
I read another book — I forget the title and the author — about the early years of the war and it made mention of an office clerk who typed dispatches at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His name was James Jones, and he went on to write "From Here to Eternity," which I promptly checked out of the library. Great read.
Meanwhile, I was also checking out the entire Tom Clancy library over several months, trying to read everything chronologically written from "The Hunt for Red October" to "Command Authority." The guy did his research and he could surely put a sentence together. Wow.
A week or so ago, on a lark, I picked up "Trigger Mortis," a brand-new James Bond thriller written by Anthony Horowitz with the permission of the estate of Ian Fleming, who created James Bond. In it, the book made mention of No Gun Ri, a Korean War atrocity that I'd never heard of. In fact, I thought it was simply a plot invention to move the story along.
Until I googled "No Gun Ri" and I found this. Oh, my. So fiction had taught me some real history.
And I also got curious about Ian Fleming. I'd seen most of the James Bond movies, and so I had an idea that Bond was a cool, collected and rakish womanizer who could work his way out of any outlandish predicament.
But the other day I checked out "Moonraker," which was written by Fleming in 1955. What I discovered was Fleming was quite the wordsmith. Witness:
"To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond the cliffs of Ramsgate, showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles in the sky."
Jeez, that paints a picture. And Fleming could tell a story, too. The cinematic version of Moonraker (a moonraker is a sail at the highest part of a clipper ship's mast), while fun, is pretty ludicrous. Fleming's Bond, however, feels real and vulnerable.
It's a little bit funny how much I've taken for granted in literature — until I actually check out a book and read it. There seems to be surprises for me on almost every page.