The Joy of Discovery

Note: This post constitutes the 20th in a series of Friday Forgotten Books, this time in the form of a brief memoir about discovering books. For more Friday Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott’s blog.

There are few things more pleasing to readers than the discovery of a new-to-them author or book that really clicks with their tastes and preferences in reading, whatever those tastes might be. I call those Joy of Discovery moments, and I’ve had many over the years. I suppose you could say that almost all of my reading has resulted from such occurrences.

Certainly, the earliest of these wasn’t made by me but was instead a result of selections made by my parents. The beloved children’s books from my now-distant youth were selected by them: Winnie the Pooh, Millions of Cats and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, to name just three very early childhood favorites, were in the house and often read to me, as they had been to my older brother.

But early on, often it was the books I somehow discovered for myself that made a difference. My reading skills were weak until I found things I really wanted to read, and that surely wasn’t the adventures of Dick, Jane, Spot and Fluffy. It was The Hardy Boys books, the Chip Hilton Boy’s sports series (here), Tom Swift Jr. and especially the Winston Science Fiction series (covers and endpaper art here) that really got me reading. The Hardy Boys got me reading mystery fiction, and though I set that genre aside for many years I did come back to it, as a result of one of those discoveries mentioned above. The Winston books were real science fiction, by authors who wrote for both youth and adult audiences, and that led to my life-long love of the genre, which I still read avidly. I don’t remember how I discovered the Winston books, but I’m pretty sure it was because my brother had read them, and they were available in the local library, an important consideration.

Okay, enough ancient history, let’s get on to some of those discoveries, shall we? I’ll start with something I’ve mentioned in passing several times in posts and reviews: Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Street and Smith published this one, and John W. Campbell edited it during the time I was reading it. My brother (yes, him again) had a subscription, and the issues were kept, carefully and in good condition, in his room. At some point either he allowed me to read them or I did it surreptitiously. Whichever, what is important here is that there were great covers, really good stories and the interior illustrations added a huge amount to the experience. The novelettes serialized over three months kept me going to the next issue, as if I needed any prompting! That’s where my love of the work of Kelly Freas originated. I guess, though there are many really top SF interior illustrators out there, he remains my favorite.

Inevitably, those issues of Astounding –later Analog – led me to the paperback racks, first in the local Woolworths, then in an actual bookstore, where a combination of cover art and author name I recognized from the magazines (I’d also begun reading Galaxy by this time) informed my purchases, and some of those books were more happy discoveries: Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Leinster, Anderson, Clement, A.E. Van Vogt. I still read those authors – occasionally – today.

So I happily read SF for years, and in the process of visiting the book store, I came across something else new: fantasy. Thinking back (foggily at this distance) it was probably Fritz Leiber who got me started with the 1970 collection of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, Swords and Deviltry. I went on to read them all. I still love them. Fun, atmospheric, clever, not taking themselves too seriously but providing great adventure and fun, I ate them up. Wonderful! After that start, a lot of the fantasy available was a little hard to swallow. The Castle of Otranto and The Worm Ouroboros and their like such were not so much fun. Of course there was that fellow Howard and his character Conan, that was good stuff.

But then I came across an English writer who’d done something darn good, a fellow named Tolkien. Now there’s a gigantic “joy of discovery” moment, and once again I have my older brother to thank for it. He read the books, he said they were good. I heard a little more and went out and bought copies in a small book store – now long gone – in Laguna Beach, CA. I took them home and read them. Wow! Author/book discoveries like that just don’t come often enough in life.

Remember there was no Jordon, Eddings, R.R. Martin, and all the others at that time. Tolkien was the ne plus ultra. Many believe he still is, and I may be among them, but that’s not the point.

I hear you asking “how about that happy discovery of mystery fiction you mentioned earlier?”. Well, I was just getting to it.

I’d read and really liked Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and novels. I had many friends who were avid fans of the mystery genre and often suggested other authors and books to me, but I had a couple of lukewarm contacts with the stuff and had decided to stick with rockets and elves, swords and sorcery, gravity wells and magic, thanks very much. Then on a trip to the mountains four of us got snowed in. I’d finished the book I’d brought with me, and began looking for something else to read. All I could find was an Agatha Christie novel featuring some guy named Hercule Poirot.

Joy of Discovery moment! It could have been the snowy weather outside, the company in the house or the mood I was in, but that day, that book was just right. I loved it, and it wasn’t long before I’d purchased a few large handfuls of Christie paperbacks, a reader’s guide to the Poirot novels, and was on the way to reading all of them. I even branched out and tried a few of the Miss Marple books, but preferred Poirot.

That led to other similar authors, from Allingham to Arthur Upfield. So much to read, suddenly, in the genre, and I was still reading SF and Fantasy. I was already well on the way to having more books than time, and eventually more books than space, or – perhaps – even common sense.

Then a friend of mine told me about a book I just HAD to try. An absolute must, he said, even if I did usually read Christie, et al. It had an odd title, but I got a copy and read it, while on vacation, lying on a beach in Mexico, as a mater of fact. The title? The Simple Art of Murder. with that great Tom Adams cover. (For more of the great covers painted by Adams, see here)

The ground shook, the sky cracked open, I had a Joy of Discovery moment unlike any other since Tolkien. Raymond Chandler’s writing and plots hit me like an exploding light bulb. I bought and read every Chandler short story I could lay hands on. When those were gone, I went looking for the novels.

That led to Dashiell Hammett and all the other past and current hard-boiled writers around. Poirot stood unnoticed in the shadows for a long time, and hard-boiled is still my preference in mystery fiction, or “crime fiction” if you prefer. Give me a P.I. on a case and most of the time (level of writing allowing)I’m a happy reader.

Not that I’ve forsaken SF and Fantasy, and there continue to be Joy of Discovery moments in those genres: last year – or was it in 2008? – John Scalzi, late last year it was Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Jay Lake. Most recently it’s the hard SF Sector General series by James White. I could go on and on, but I hear you thinking “You’ve gone on long enough!” and you’re probably right.

So I’ll end here. Happy reading to you all, and may you have Joy of Discovery moments soon and often!

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Friday Forgotten Book, Humor, mystery, Personal Opinion, science fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to The Joy of Discovery

  1. Bill Crider says:

    I’ve had some of the same moments you have, Rick, especially my discovery of the Winston juvies and the work of Chandler. Ah, those were the days.

  2. Richard says:

    That they were, Bill! What’s cool is that these moments continue to happen, with Friday Forgotten books and great suggestions and recommendations I get from blogs. The ‘net is amazing.

  3. william says:

    Nicely done. Obviously, I really enjoyed this one. Brought back many good memories.

    Take Care,

  4. Richard says:

    I got the love of reading, and love of and respect for books from family. I’m forever grateful.

  5. Jeff S. says:

    I totally understand what you mean by ” The Joy of Discovery “. I think for all of us who LOVE reading we can think of several books/authors that have given us that feeling over the years. It’s kind of like a reader’s “high” when you connect with a new book/author in that special way.

    For me as youth I felt that way about The Hardy Boys novels. Upon entering the 7th grade I was assigned to read The Hobbit by Tolkien which lead me to a life long love of fantasy.

    Other Joy of discovery moments include; A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, The Rolling Stones by Robert Heinlein, Conan by Robert E Howard, Dune by Frank Herbert, The Sword Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe, and Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

  6. Richard says:

    Ah yes, Jeff, DUNE. That was another one for me, and I first came to it when it was serialized in ANALOG, with the great John Schoenherr illustrations. (published under the title Dune World, the cover is here.) Unfortunately, I liked each successive novel less.

  7. George Kelley says:

    Your path to Enlightenment is eeriely similar to mine: Tom Swift, Hardy Boys, Winston SF, Leinster, Heinlein, Andre Norton, John Brunner, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, etc. Glad you’re enjoying the Sector General series.

  8. Richard says:

    And we’ve eerily arrived at similar places, too. How about that? Secotr General review or three of them if I break it into the books instead of doing the omnibus, coming shortly. Today’s post is my FFB, by the way.

  9. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Good choices, Rick. I’d read one Christie (AND THEN THERE WERE NONE) before we went to England in 1971 and bought two of her paperbacks, more or less at random. (For the record one was the late, very bad Poirot, THE CLOCKS, the other was THE MOVING FINGER, a Marple). That and seeing THE MOUSETRAP set off a Christie binge, which led to Sayers, Marsh, Tey, Allingham and others.

    Hammett and Chandler came later.

  10. Richard says:

    Jeff – After reading that one in the snowbound cabin, Thirteen At Dinner, it might have been, I started with the first one Peril at End House.

  11. Jeff S. says:

    WOW! What a great Analog cover for Dune World. Thanks for the link as I had never seen that cover before.

  12. Nice post. I’ve had a lot of those moments myself, many of them along the same path you followed. One discovery leads to another.

    I don’t think today’s young get that sort of thing. Too many other distractions in the way.

    One of the nicest things ever said to me was when my niece, speaking of her oldest son(he was twelve at the time), says, “He’s a little you!” He’s just turned sixteen and, as far as I know, still carries a book with him at all times. I’ve been told his teachers say whenever they have free time, he pulls out a book. The librarian says he’s her best customer.

    Sorry about rambling on. I’m just proud that he’s apparently inherited that love of reading.

  13. Richard says:

    No problem, Randy, I enjoy your ramblings. That’s pretty much what I do around here. That IS a really nice compliment, and to hear of a fellow who has a book with him most of the time, and isn’t middle-aged, is a pleasure.

  14. Drongo says:

    I think pretty much everyone who visits this site is nodding their head in agreement and pleasure. If I live to be a 100, I hope that my old friend, The Joy of Discovery, is still there with me.

  15. Carl V. says:

    Oh my! Where to begin?

    First of, “Joy of Discovery”–great phrase. I firmly believe that this is one of the fundamental reasons why reading is such a pleasurable experience.

    The Winston books…killer! I would love to own some of them. Virgil Finlay, Alex Schomberg, etc. Their art is wonderful. And those end papers are great, so full of the sense of wonder that represents childhood discovery of science fiction.

    My earliest Joy of Discovery, outside of Star Wars, was Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat books (I know, not surprising!). I sat in my grandmother’s house, on my uncle’s bed, and just got lost in the world he created.

    Reading Dracula by Bram Stoker was another JoD moment. I was 11 or 12 and checked it out of the library, not knowing exactly what to expect. While much of the depth of the story went over my head at that age, I vividly recall being scared out of my wits as the slow suspense built and Jonathan Harker discovered just what he was up against.

    As I read your post I couldn’t help but realize just how many of my Joy of Discovery reading moments were prompted by television and film. My first Agatha Christie reading experience (which was just last year) came about after another round of watching the David Suchet Poirot movies which my wife, daughter and I are so fond of. My first reading experience with Dashiell Hammett: because of the Thin Man Movies. Lord of the Rings? Thank you, Peter Jackson. LOTR was a BIG JoD experience, especially when I sat down and read The Silmarillion for the first time. Tolkien’s ability to build worlds and create history is practically unparalleled. The film version of Casino Royale pushed me over the edge to finally try Ian Fleming and I was blown away with how enjoyable the novels were. I have read 5 or 6 thus far and every so often get the itch to move on to the next one. That lead to trying out other authors of detective fiction and I’ve found myself enjoying some of the reprints by Hard Case Crime as well as novels that I am collecting because of Robert McGinnis cover illustrations.

    A sudden “discovery” of the art of Frank Frazetta, shared with my friend Jeff coupled with the Dark Horse comics adaptations lead me to the joyful discovery of both the John Carter of Mars books and Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. I was probably more blown away by Conan just because it so far exceeded whatever preconceptions I had (most likely from Schwarzenegger films). This led to the Fritz Leiber stories. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve been collecting the Dark Horse reprints.

    Despite really being impressed with the Sandman series, it wasn’t until I read Neverwhere, my first Gaiman novel experience, that I had that Joy of Discovery moment which even today keeps Neil Gaiman firmly perched near the top of my all-time favorite authors. Something about that book corresponded to childhood daydreams I used to have and it just clicked with me in such a profound way. I get something new out of it every time I read it.

    John Scalzi was another big JoD moment, as I discussed in my recent reread review of Old Man’s War.

    Previous to a few years back I hadn’t any real desire to read any translated works, and then, after a good friend’s encouragement, I picked up a short story collection by Haruki Murakami and there it was, another JoD moment!!!

    Working up the courage to finally read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy is another one that springs to mind.

    In the last 5 years of blogging I can look back on each year of reading and in between many pleasurable reads there are those Joy of Discovery moments that just stand out and with them come a flood of memories of that ‘first time’.

    Sorry to post something so long, but this is the kind of post that gets the juices flowing!!!

  16. Richard says:

    Drongo – thanks. This one has been rolling around in my head for a couple of weeks, and this morning I woke up at 4:30 and thought Get up and write it! so I did. It was a lot of fun to put together and decide on the images, too.

  17. Richard says:

    Carl – what a great comment, thanks very much. The term Joy of Discovery just came into my head a couple of weeks ago (see above comment to Drongo) and this idea has been there since, encouraged along by the things YOU have been posting lately.

    Hey, long comments are welcome, especially yours.

    I have a lot of other JoD moments (like the abbreviation, let’s make it official) with art, music and lot of other things. Hey, had one when I met my wife! Also architecture, tons of stuff. I was pretty excited when I got my first look at the Apple IIe computer, my first one. It goes on and on.

  18. Carl V. says:

    “Hey, had one when I met my wife!”

    Somebody just got some brownie points! You ol’ softy!!!

    You are certainly correct in many JoD moments outside of reading. The internet has more profoundly affected my JoD in music and art than it has in reading. Every time I turn around there is some new musician or artist, new to me that is, that I hadn’t ever heard of but am suddenly in love with!!!

  19. I forgot to mention. On the subject of the Winston series. I didn’t remember that. They were always “those rocket books” and I used to haunt libraries looking for them in my own long ago youth.

  20. Richard says:

    Carl – It’s the truth, often much to the despair of my bank account.

  21. Richard says:

    Randy – I spent many happy hours reading those things, and loved the end papers. I never got to them all, but more than half of them, the ones in the town library. Some of them still hold up pretty well. I’d be surprised if there aren’t a few on eBay or in ABE.

  22. Patti Abbott says:

    I have never entered a used bookstore without the hope and often the joy of discovery. If there was one institution that I hope survives this frightening age, it is that. The joy of finding a book you never knew existed and taking it to your home, to your heart.

  23. Richard says:

    Patti – I know that feeling of hope. It’s great. I used to feel that way especially when I walked into the Pickwick Bookshop in Hollywood. God what a wonderful store that was.

  24. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Carl, I agree with you on NEVERWHERE, a book I really loved. I’ve liked other Gaimans since but none as much.

    True, most kids today don’t read – they recently had a statistic claiming “young people” (don’t have an age or know who did the study) spend an average of EIGHT HOURS A DAY on one electronic device or another.

    But some still read, like our 10 year old niece. We send her books regularly. She loves Harry Potter (of course) so we sent her A WRINKLE IN TIME and books by Diana Wynne Jones and Rick Riordan’s THE LIGHTNING THIEF.

  25. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Patti, I regularly have dreams where I’m somewhere in England and walk into a used bookstore I don’t know that has rooms and rooms of old Penguins and other paperbacks from the pre-Modern era.

    It’s always a happy dream.

  26. Carl V. says:

    Jeff: Glad you feel as passionate about Neverwhere as I do. I do love a lot of Gaiman’s other work, but Neverwhere will always occupy that special top spot.

  27. Jeff S. says:

    Jeff: I will say my kids both love to read ( Ages 13 and 10 ). Both of them love the Harry Potter series as well. In fact is rare to catch my oldest without at least a book or two with her wherever we go.

  28. Richard says:

    All this talk of young ‘uns who like to read is starting to give me some hope for the future.

    Jeff M – I saw something on the national news about that hours per day, I thought it was teens, and it was six hours a day, but regardless of the number, 6 or 8, it’s a huge amount of time that isn’t being given to other things, and it didn’t include watching television unless it was on a computer. I know most high school kids claim they study on the computer while listening to music and texting and emailing all at the same time, but I really can’t imagine how anyone could concentrate in that environment.

  29. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I’ve also read stories of kids who leave their cellphones on next to their beds at night and wake up whenever a new text comes in!

    It’s a lot different from the world we grew up in.

  30. Richard says:

    And the majority of these kids have a cell phone why? So parent s can stay in touch or to call home in an emergency? Right.

  31. Carl V. says:

    My daughter is not a big reader, but occasionally she will get the urge and will dive into a book. Even though she is almost 18, she still loves to be read to, so she does ‘read’ a lot of books by listening to them on CD in her car or on her Zune. When she was younger we tried to cut down on tv time and did insist on daily reading time during the summer months just so that she was engaged in doing something other than sitting in front of the tv.

    Now she, along with so many other much younger children, is part of the texting generation. That thing is buzzing all the time. I know personally that it would annoy me to death being in that kind of constant conversation at any time of the day or night. I don’t even like chatting online. I prefer this method of communication. It is enjoyable but doesn’t mean that ever 10 seconds my phone is buzzing at me demanding my attention.

  32. Richard says:

    It’s that “demanding attention” part I don;t like. To people who say these electronic devices give them freedom, I respond that they (the devices) are a leash. I don’t have a cell phone, a landline is good enough for me. Wife has one, though, which is fine, so long as I don’t have to fumble with it.

  33. Carl V. says:

    I dislike that as well, Richard. My wife and I were just talking about that they other day. Instead of the “good old days” when your dating child would talk on the phone and you knew it and could say, “all right, that’s enough”, now they have constant contact and you don’t really even realize it. Young people dating aren’t the best judges of wise use of time anyway, and when there is this unbreakable contact I just don’t think it is healthy. We’ve begun to discuss this with our daughter, giving her some things to think about so that she will hopefully make wise decisions on her own since she is almost 18.

    I resisted a cell phone for ages, myself, until work finally forced me to get one. Now I cannot imagine being without it simply because I am all over the place with work and need to be able to track my people down at a moment’s notice. Plus its nice to have for emergencies, and my daughter has had more than one as a driver where I’ve had to run out and fix flats, start the car, etc. and I’m glad she was able to get ahold of me instantly. I’m not a text person though, have that turned off on my phone. Don’t want to be!

  34. Evan Lewis says:

    Yikes! That covers a lot of territory. I’ve read and enjoyed most of that stuff. Can’t say I’ve heard of the Winston books before, but looking through the cover gallery I sure remember reading a lot of them. Too bad they were all from the library, or I’d still have some.

  35. Todd Mason says:

    So, Richard, when were you reading your brothers’ ASTOUNDINGs…in the 1950s? And you never stumbled across THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION in those years?

    Also, niggling, but the three-part serials were of novels…novelets were (almost always) complete in one issue, novellas usually so, though DUNE was initially cobbled (back?) together for book publication out of two serials.

  36. Richard says:

    You’re right, Evan, about the books coming from the library. I’ll bet there were a lot of these in ex-lib condition, available at library book sale rooms and even at garage sales, at one time, but a peek at eBay and such outlets shows they are not common. eBay has just one listing, but I’m not the most talented search guru with eBay.

  37. Richard says:

    Hey,Todd! You’re right (as usual), the serials were novels, but I used the term to indicate that they were not the same as the novel since almost always they were edited and sometimes “filled out” when published as paperbacks.

    Yes, I looked at and very occasionally bought an issue of F&SF, but it was third in my ratings, with Astounding, then Galaxy, then F&SF. And yes,it was the 1950s. He had from about ’56 on and I later went back and filled from Jan 1950. Wish I had those issues today, but they were stolen in 1986. Too long a story…

  38. Carl V. says:

    Richard: Too long a story?!?! You think you can throw something out like that and we all won’t be sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear it?

  39. Maybe someday. Not today. It’s a tawdry little tale…..

  40. Carl V. says:

    Those are the best kind. 🙂

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