Friday, April 6, 2007

The books we read

This is slightly preoccupying ... but:

A few days ago I came across a couple of digital libraries for international children. I saw a few of the titles I used to read as a child; but not the one that left the deepest mark on my memory: "Hasanak Kojayee?". It was an illustrated book about a boy who was going to far lands in search of sun, or truth; he was missing and thus the title "Hasanak, where are you?" Perhaps the reason why that is the book I long for most is because I never read it properly. My mother would talk to my uncle about political metaphors of the book, but I was only 7 at that time; politics was something that was endangering my family; was changing my ways of life; the book thus was engraved as something mighty but dark in my childish mind. I wish I had a picture of the book, or remembered the story; but it was more like a poem; more enjoyed by my mother than by me. When I was young, I liked fairy tales of Shah-nameh (Children's adaptation of Ferdowsi's book of kings); and a series called "Good Stories for Good Children" by Mehdi Azar Yazdi Here is one of his stories, adapted from Rumi's Mathnavi.

So I asked you the kind visitors of neo-resistance to tell me what you read as a child. You see, I am in search of that which binds us together, that which is common between us irrespective of language, religious decree, politics, nationality. I have compiled your answers. If you click on pictures, it will take you to information pages.

I call this a festive break, a vacation via the memory lane, to that innocent world that shaped our persona:

Dr Victorino de le Vega. "To me Norrin Radd was the epitome of cool. He was the ultimate exile: trapped on earth by the “great cosmic barrier”. Victim of an invisible fence set up by an angry God named Galactus. A metaphor for life I thought."

David: I wasn't any sort of a reading prodigy. A school friend gave me The Call of the Wild as a gift. I recall feeling sorry for the dog who was abused by his master. Later in the story, I was happy for the dog when he gained his freedom and found his own way in the world. I suppose that London intended all sorts of analogies to the human world, but at age 7-8, all I saw was a dog."

Guthman Bey: I grew up in Germany [...] and my favorite books were collections of fairy tales by Wilhelm Hauff and, yes, Andersen. The editions I had are still being published and featured very beautiful illustrations by the aquarellist Ruth Koser Michaels. The two fairy tales I reread the most have the same theme: the heart of ice and its redemption. They are "The Cold Heart" by Hauff and "The Snow Queen" by Andersen.

Nunya: [M]y favorite stories from childhood,[...] were the Little House series and I loved them. I own every one in hardback. That was what I wanted for birthdays and Christmas. Even at ten I knew more about how easy we (as modern Americans in the 70's) had it than most ten year olds.

Sojourner: if there is one book that fed my wild imagination just at the right time,it was, the title, if translated verbatim:"the child who flies through the ancient world(times)". It was about a child traveling in time to the distant past accompanied by the narrator's voice which explains how life began on Earth and takes the child on a journey back to the present. [...]

DivaJood:I loved the book, Misty of Chincoteague - I loved horses, and ponies. Read this over, and over, and over as a child.

goatman:I remember liking "Little Black Sambo" as a creature of about 4 or 5. This book is now banned in US as being racist. Too bad. It involved a little black boy a tiger and a palm tree as essential elements. As I recall, the tiger ran around the tree so fast that he turned into butter! Can this be so?

Little Indian: I have been reading from ever since I can remember, in English and in Bengali. We had the complete set of "The Childrens' Encyclopaedia" by Arthur Mee (in 10 volumes). They were my fall back reading material, if I did not have any other books, I would read these over and over again, or just look at the pictures. Thinking back, that must have opened my mind to know about anything and everything.

Betmo: What did i read as a kid? any Nancy Drew mystery/Hardy Boys mystery i could find. Charlie and the Chocolate factory- all of The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls wilder. My mother called me a houseplant because i never wanted to be outside- i was always inside with my nose in a book. i love to read and i love it when people are turned on to reading and books. it opens up whole new worlds- and you get to use your imagination. a rare thing in today's technological age.

Mystic Rose: i loved reading MahaBharata which is the story of long ago India, but more mythical than real.. but love it anyway for all the drama. And I still like Enid Blyton's books...and of course you know I like Sufi poetry.

Coffee Messiah:Although I read Mark Twain, EA Poe, Jack London, Defoe and most of the children's classics, one of my favorites was a book written by Thornton W Burgess, who's illustrator Cady was one of the best. Mostly animals as people, The Log Of The Storyteller was about: Once a week a man would ask a child in the neighborhood to bring a log, and that child would ask the storyteller to make a story up about "whatever" and each week, a different child would bring the log, hence a new story.

... and here are some new suggestions from your comments. I read all of these when I was young:


Damian Zerek said...

I remember the Great Illustrated Classics I even possess a few of these books. But what I most enjoyed in my youth would be stories of epic proportions filled with adventures and great monsters that the hero must battle to see his lost homeland again or to gain vast amounts of treasures. On my list I would put the Odyssey, Treasure Island, King Arthur, large amounts of Polish and Slavic folklore (I am absolutely fascinated by these) and myths and legends of Epic proportions.


Kvatch said...

A lot...I mean a lot...of science fiction (go figure, a geek like me). Starting with children's sci-fi stories like the John Christopher's "The White Mountains" series; Roald Dahl; a lot of the same stuff Betmo read. I read Frank Herbert's Dune at the age of 12, and oddly I have the nagging feeling now that I understood something about it at that age that I no longer can quite grasp.

David said...

Naj, I like the idea of this post, to search for "that which binds us together". Well, an anthropologist might say that culture binds particular groups of people together. Yet there are thousands of existing cultures in the world today, and uncounted, and mostly unknown, tens of thousands that must have existed in the past. However, you seek commonalities that are universal across cultures. Perhaps there are elements of stories that have a universal appeal. You might be interested in the work of Joseph Campbell in the fields of comparative mythology and religion. I have heard George Lucas talk about the influence of Campbell's study of heroic archetypes on his creation of the Star Wars movies.

I always thought The Silver Surfer was quite cool also! My favorite comic book character was The Incredible Hulk. In one issue, The Surfer showed up and temporarily cured The Hulk of his transformative affliction! Poor Bruce Bannor (the Hulk afflicted man) had to beg the Surfer to reafflict him as he needed The Hulk's strength to save the life of someone he loved. The story was a rather sophisticed morality play. I have been a Surfer fan ever since! :)

betmo said...

i see alot of other titles i read as a child as well. it is nice to remember back to reading them for the first time- before they became old friends. the logo looks great! perhaps that is another rung on the ladder of common ground :)

Damian Zerek said...

Oh and how could I forget the Little Prince. A Pilot crashes in the Sahara desert and meets up with a little boy that is from another planet no larger than a small asteroid with a few small volcanoes and a beautiful little flower. The boy goes on about his adventure through space and the different people he meets on the way.


Naj said...

and who CAN forget little Prince, damian?

That is my bible! :)

trust me, i had my share of theocratic discourse for ages to come. It's only silly-grownups-blabber!

No god needs any government!
Desire for ruling is for the weak!

Mystic Rose said...

what a wonderful idea!! ofcourse i did read the ocmments but it is so nice to see the pics of these books and the comments...:)
makes me want to go get them from the library now ...

Mystic Rose said...

ah, welll...(about your poetry)..:)
i think you iwll find plenty of people who iwll nejoy it Naj. I wish i was clever enough to write about politics and social issues that way..:) (in poems i mean)

Sojourner said...

Salam :)

A nice compilation (colorful as promised)...

QUASAR9 said...

Nice post,
great selection of readers & books
I've read alomost all of them, though some I've speed read in film format. lol!
I tend to read books as if they were films and remember the gist or story line that way - with vivid detail.

I would have added Jules Verne, or maybe from the greek 'classics' Jason & the Argonauts ... daring to go where no man has gone before.

And of course anything by Assimov.

Sojourner said...

I liked the adaptation of rumi's mathnavi and got reminded of mullah nasruddin :)
so witty!

Naj said...


I'm so glad you all liked this idea.
I will perhaps add new pictures of the books you are mentioning now as well.

Verne and Assimov, I had a collection of each that I never read. I think I am not very ambitious or creative and am happy with the little earth that I can see/touoch :)

Soujourner: how do you know Mulla Nasreddin?!

Naj said...


speaking of political poetry ... I think it's bad form! Anything that date stamps poetry makes it a non poem for me. (now that doesn't mean they did not gave me a hard time at some point, judging my metaphor heretical and anti-regime, those good old days that I used to write and read my poems to others!)

I guess I have an Aristotelian approach to engaging with politics though :)

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Naj,

Great post- but some of the link don’t seem to be working.

I really love that Rumi tale…
Reminds of Hindu theosophy and other Asian symbolist schools.

BTW have you seen Bananas?

- Yoga. l love yoga.

- Do you really?

- Yoga -it's one of my great passions.
I love Eastern philosophies.
It's... metaphysical and redundant.

- Yes

- Abortively pedantic.

- I know just what you mean.

More here.

Naj said...

Dr V!

No I haven't seen banana, but I must!

Which link doesn't work??

Naj said...

Sooorrry, FIXED! Thanks for letting me know!

little indian said...

What can I say.
It's my childhood you brought back to me.
I do not know where the set is now,
it stayed with my dad
when I had to leave home.

Thank you.

little indian said...

...and I still remember that picture,
used to be inside the front cover of each volume.

Sophia said...

Ouch Naj,
I didn't answer your request on this one but I remember more the books i read to my children than the books I read when I was little. However, 'Les fables de La Fontaine' or the French adaptation of 'Kalila wa Dumna' were a preferred reading, as well as the history of Islam (I used to like the intrigues and conspirations in this romanced history) 'IvanhoƩ' and 'Don Quichotte' (the latter two were actually my fathers stories to us, edited by him and occasionallyt illustrated by his hands for us). I wish I can find these illustrations... All read before I was 10. And when I was much younger, my father used to read poems to me, all sorts, but French and Spanish poetry were preferred readings...

Sojourner said...

Mulla Nasreddin?
There used to be translations of his stories in all sorts of magazines - for kids and elsewhere too. I don't remember much... but it is a genre of stories that every land has: the simple wise man who advises any and all including the king...

Naj said...


Kalila va Demna was also a part of the "Good stories for Good children" series. Of course it came in many different series as well. I liked it too.

I loved Mulla Nasreddin. I thought he was an Iranian concept; I would love to get my hands on one of his translations.

FurGaia said...

Naj, re. the 'preoccupying' part, if you have not done so already, do visit Steven Clemons' blog (& the comments of course),
Gregory Djerejian
's blog, as well as David Wearing's blog.




I don't comment on those issues myself (not competent enough & too many Chinese shadows) but those three are really good political bloggers and I usually trust their insights (and make note of their blunders as well - very telling!).

You will see from their comments that things may be changing "behind the curtains". Saner voices seem to be prevailing (or at least, in the case of the White House, they are starting to prevail.)

Take care!

P.S. You may want to comment at Steve's blog sometimes. I'm sure he'd appreciate your sharp insights. I think he's a good guy, very knowledgeable yet ready to learn & undo some of his preconceived ideas. He is also one of the few (like Glenn Greenwald) who can think outside of the box - not always, as is evident with his piece on Iran, but often enough.

FurGaia said...

Ah! About books! Mine was this:

In French. I remember in particular "La petite fille aux allumettes". So sad!

QUASAR9 said...

"Verne and Assimov, I had a collection of each that I never read. I think I am not very ambitious or creative and am happy with the little earth that I can see/touoch :)"

lol Naj, writing and imagination
enables us to almost touch what is and sometimes what is not

Naj said...

:) I know Quasar9.

Take your MAGNIFICENT blog for example.

I just meant I am deficient in the science fiction compartment. (Although I do a bit of biophilosophy every now and then)

Aardvark EF-111B said...

I can't beieve you missed R.L.Stevenson's immortal works
The Kidnapped

unless you consider it Excessively Classic

Find the original treasure map at

God Bless Wiki

Anonymous said...

Sorry -posted this on the worng thread.

The Secret Garden
The Land of Foam
The Talisman of the Dark City (Telism-e Shahr-e Tariki)
The Children of Captain Grant
The Citizen of the Galaxy
Mooon in Valley of the Lilies (Mah dar Dare-ye Niloo=far-ha)

FurGaia said...

Speaking of reading, any thoughts on this:

Although I am all for acquiring new knowledge, I see Ziocons' hand behind this. Same thing seems to be happening with the Falun Gong sect & China:

[Not to equate the two religious entity, only to draw attention to hegemonic strategy sold to us as concern for minority rights.]

I hope that I am wrong, but I don't think so.

Tara said...

Aside from classics, my best-loved reads as a child were ROALD DAHL's crazy stories ...

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

Great illustrations by Quentin Blake.

Now, as a 25-yr-old, I enjoy his adult fiction such as "Tales of the Unexpected" short stories collection ...
(Tarantino based his "The Man From Hollywood", in the film FOUR ROOMS, on Dahl's original "The Man From Havana") ...

If u havent read his works, even now, I encourage you not to miss the magic! see amazon for details.

little indian said...

Hi Naj,
I wanted to say
that I just bought
a set of those Encyclopedias from eBay.

For me those volumes
were chest full of treasures.
I lost them once.
So many years after,
I have them again.

I do not care
if they are out dated,
or I am too old to read them,
I simply do not care.

A big part of me
was shaped by those books.
Thanks to your blog,
I have found my dearest old friend.

goatman said...

Thanks for posting my "Little Black Sambo" book. I hadn't realized that the child seems to be Indian or Persian; with turbin and curly-toed shoes. Don't remember knowing that when I first read the childs' book.
Just read the following facts in the NY Times recently and had to come over to say them: Books published by Iran in 2002 are 35,854; Persian titles published in English translation in the US last year are 23!
No wonder we are suspicous of each other. The fact that we in US cannot read your books is incredibly sad. How can we get along if we don't understand each other's cultures by reading?
At least we can blog.