Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bernita Harris's Celebrate Reading Pick: T. TEMBARROM by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Today, we welcome Bernita Harris as our Celebrate Reading Month Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: With all due respect to an otherwise respectable alma mater, Bernita Harris acquired a Master's in English Lit. solely on the basis that bullshit baffles brains. At one time she was a forensic consultant in occult-related material, events, practices and beliefs. Now she writes magic realism/urban fantasy -- without vampires and shape shifters. Her short story "Stone Child," a Lillie St. Claire adventure with trolls, is published in Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Stories (from Wildchild Publishing, a small e-book and print press). "Corpse Candles," the next of the Lillie St. Claire exorcist tales, is due out late this month in the second Weirdly anthology; and she's about to query a novel -- another Lillie St. Claire Chronicle, A Malignity of Ghosts.

My mother read to me and then I learned to read.

One quiet, lonely afternoon, sitting on the floor in an oblong of soft summer sunshine from the tall west window, beside the brown dresser where she kept the children's books, turning over the bright pages of Peter Rabbit, hearing her voice from the evening before, it happened.

Comprehension clicked, just like the light bulb in cartoons. Truly. The connection between sound and sight made all at once, exactly like the language transfers favored by SF writers.

This series of black symbols fitted the sound "Peter," that collection of letters matched "Rabbit," and another arrangement meant "garden." These were words. And so it went, page after page of discovery and excitement.

Memorization – and my mother – became redundant that afternoon. I was three years old and I could read.

And so began the insatiable hunger for books. I not only read books. I keep them, like an irascible dragon on her gold hoard. Though few of them are rare and many are tattered, all of them are precious.

To select a single title that has influenced my life as an omnivore is impossible; I fear that all of them have, in some form or substance. I cannot go there, to be so simplified by a single book. No one ring rules them all.

Nevertheless, to satisfy MoonDear's conditions, I'll mention a book I keep and re-read sometimes and why I do: an old, forgotten and thoroughly entertaining edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's T. Tembarrom, published in 1913 by The Century Co. of New York.

Basically, the plot revolves around a lost heir to an old English name and fortune, replete with inevitable conflict between class and custom, when the young, plebian and thoroughly American hero takes up his inheritance in the land of his ancestors.

Of course the story celebrates the superiority of the American character and democratic convictions over the rigidly aristocratic Old World conventions – World War I had not yet convulsed that world – and as such the tale reflects certain a sweet and noble idealism frequently represented in the popular literature of the period. The novel provides, in essence, an easy form of social and literary history.

I also re-read it because of the sheer charm and humor of the story and style -- and because it offers, for me, an escape from the sometimes suppurating cynicism of today.


cindy said...

i love the voice in this post--which i guess is your voice, b. i wish i could remember when i first began to read in english. as it was well into age 7 probably?

and am so excited about finding a used copy of this book perhaps. i do love her writing and her storyteling. would be interested in reading a tale she wrote for adults. i wiki'ed her and she came over from england as a teen and lost both parents fairly young. she raised her other siblings by writing!

great post, b!

writtenwyrdd said...

I've read some old cowboy tales from the 20s for the same reason, the sense of a happer and less stressful time (this despite the shootings and deaths and all that pepper these books) because they are HEA books and the mythology of America. White hats adn black hats and I know the good guys will win.

Ello said...

But I don't know this one at all! I must find it immediately! Thanks for the lovely post!

Charles Gramlich said...

This is not one I've read. But I remember a magical book for me called "Pagoo," about a little Hermit Crab left on his own in the tidal pool and how he finds his way into the big ocean and survives. Years later I found the author had written other books about small creatures and I wish I would have found them when I was young.

Lisa said...

What a lovely post. I can almost see you on that sunlit floor, discovering ...everything.

kmfrontain said...

You made me remember how I was with comics. I swear I learned to read because of comics more than anything: my father's comics, Tarzan at first, later, Conan the Barbarian. Yep. That's why I like fantasy adventure, I guess. And nearly naked men.

ChrisEldin said...

Another vote of support for this author!

I agree with Cindy--I love your voice here. Especially the beginning, I felt as though I were truly there in the room with you when you made the connection between the symbols and the words.

Your understanding at the age of three is truly remarkable. I worked with both of my children, and each knew all of the letters around the age of one. They could identify (by retrieval in various forms and media) any upper and lower case letter. But it took another three years to associate sounds with the letters, and another year after that to connect it to words.
Were your children early readers as well? It's always been a topic of keen interest for me.

btw, great review!!!

laughingwolf said...

very well said, bernita, thank you :)

i find myself going back to joseph campbell, his beliefs parallel my own, and i was astounded when i first discovered anyone thought like i did

Bernita said...

Thank you, Cindy and everyone.Especially MoonDear.
Cindy, you'll enjoy it. There's a love story - two, actually, and her usual wonderful characters like the old Duke of Stone. Yet Burnett's "types" never become stereotypes.

Chris, some did, some didn't.
It's like squares and rectangles. A child who reads early is bright, but not every bright child reads early.

Robyn said...

The biggest boon to literacy this world has ever known is a mother reading to her child.

raine said...

Beautiful post, Bernita.

I can't remember the first book I read on my own (I suspect it was an old waterlogged copy of "King of the Golden River", rescued from the Goodwill store).
But I certainly remember reading on the floor in front of my window, just the sun, dust motes, and my entranced self.
You paint a lovely image.

writtenwyrdd said...

I recall that moment of comprehension, too. I was also 3 (really a bit younger) and it was The Cat In The Hat. My brother, who is 9 months and 3 weeks the elder, taught me to read.

moonrat said...

you guys are all so smart. i learned to read when i was six, at school. haha.

Bernita said...

As I said, MoonDear, not all bright kids read early.

James Goodman, Author said...

Great post, Bernita. That is fantastic that you learned to read so early. Another excellent example of why reading to a child is so important.

haunted author said...

Someone asked me the other day- "How do you get your kids to read so much?" And the answer is- read to them when they are little. Literally from day one in the case of my daughter-she was colicky and the only thing that satisified her was for me to hold her and talk to her- I was trying to finish "Old Jack" by Wendell Berry at the time, so I just read aloud to her. She loved it! Now at fourteen, she reads to me! Ive done a fair amount of driving lately, as well as a couple of sewing projects, and as I'm doing these things she is reading "Good Omens"- Terry Pratchat and Neil Gamon. To my dismay, she never liked the books I loved as a child- She wouldn't touch "Secret Garden," She thought "Little Women" was boring. She liked the "Little House" books ok, though she didn't read them over and over like I did. She adored the Harry Potter series- I am so glad she had those as a child!

I don't remember when I first started reading, or the first book- Its so cool, Bernita, that you have those memories! I do know I was reading in Kindergarten, because my teacher didn't beleive me and she tested me with several books. I remember my mom buying "Little Golden Books" at the grocery store to keep me quiet in the store.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow. I haven't read this ir heard of it before. Thank you so much, Moonie and Bernita, for this treat. :*)