I wasted my childhood like your average kid. I collected cicada shells from tree bark, belched enough soda to fuel a hot air balloon, sang into a hair brush in front of the bathroom mirror while wearing nothing but my dad’s aftershave. I was as full of promise as a new-born litter of kittens. Neither a prodigy nor a golden child, I was Mowgli without the Jungle or the Book.
Although our family owned books, our parents didn’t read to us. Nor were we encouraged to read. I grew up believing books functioned as merely shelf décor and, being a poor reader, often confused time spent with them as a form of punishment. So TV and movies were my only viable sources to story telling.
This impression wasn’t dispelled once we left the house to visit our grandmother. On weekends, she’d drop my brother and me off at the movie theatre and we’d spend all morning and afternoon watching matinees back to back, sometimes the same film. This was back when it was safe to leave children alone at a movie theatre.
As I got older I discovered the miracle of reading and found it generally to be a superior form of entertainment to film, as well as potentially a more enriching experience. I continued to frequent the theatre, but over time I learned that lasting joy can’t be gained from a careless knee to the back. The incessant whisperings of impatient patrons or their obnoxious cell phone jingles during a film will only make you wish you’d brought mace. Besides, chancing 10 bucks in the hopes of scoring that one summer sleeper amid a score of silver screen flops ain’t worth it. Thankfully, you and I, dear reader, have options.
Without giving too much away, anything that could go wrong on their expedition does, and Verne exploits these obstacles fully, stretching out the suspense and revving up the drama while our three explorers journey deeper within the bowels of the earth. Worth your time.
For those who like epic tales of antiquity, I highly recommend The Siege and Fall of Troy, by Robert Graves. This is two of Homer’s books in one: The Iliad and The Odyssey, both in prose form.
Graves really knew his stuff (see his wikipedia page) and he breathes new life into these tales, resurrecting myth altogether. Graves was a prolific writer. His love of this material is evident in his rendition. If you like reading stories full of brave and harrowing deeds, sorrow, heroism, revenge, violence, all told simply and wonderfully, you’ll enjoy this. As a side note, I preferred Graves’ translation of Homer’s Odyssey to Robert Fitzgerald’s. Also Graves’ translation of The Iliad is better than W.H.D. Rouse’s, which, by the way, ended with Hector’s funeral. In other words, in Rouse’s translation, you miss out on the bit about the Trojan horse.
The Martian Chronicles, 40th Anniversary Edition, by Ray Bradbury. Yes, Bradbury recently passed away, but that’s not why I include him here, though that wouldn’t be a bad reason. Instead, I’d like to think I’m just a fan of good writing. Bradbury was one of my favorite writers and this is a great summer book. If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 (the temperature at which paper burns), you’re missing out. Some of his predictions in that book about technology, published in 1953, are prophetic. Some have already come true (parlor walls, interactive video games, books rendered as relevant as the harpsichord by the vast majority of the populace). But never mind Fahrenheit. I want to recommend Martian Chronicles this time around.
If you’re into short stories as opposed to all-out epics or full-fledged novels, treat yourself to Sinbad's Seven Voyages and other stories from the Arabian Nights, retold by Gladys Davidson. The four classic stories are: “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad,” “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and “Abou Hassan or the Caliph's Jest.” I wished I’d read these as a child instead of cooking ants with a magnifying glass or stomping on corn stalks in an effort to shape my own crop circles. Highly recommended.