in Books

Books from Max’s Childhood

There’s this huge stack of books sitting next to my bed. I’m supposed to be reading them, but I’m not.

Once upon a time (ten years give or take a grade level), in a land far, far away (1,287 miles to be exact), I used to be a big reader. While I could blame it on being very precocious and antisocial, I think the real culprit was that I didn’t have a TV until I was in high school.

I was always going to be a pop culture “enthusiast” but I just didn’t really get the chance until later in life. As I started to get more into movies and television, reading became a smaller and smaller part of my life – until present day, where reading books for enjoyment’s sake has become practically nonexistent.

I’m giving you all this unnecessary history so that I will guilt myself into reading once again. Now that I’ve got some momentum built up, the main part of this post is actually going to be a list of series that I loved when I was a young’un.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

harry potter

This choice is obvious and necessary one, and a huge cliche. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a human soul that is ambivalent toward this series. Okay, maybe slightly, but every person on Earth who’s familiar with Harry Potter either has positive associations or negative. There is no direct middle.

I started reading the series about a boy wizard who attends a magical European academy and battles his mortal enemy Voldemort in third grade, when I was holed up in bed for months, sick out of my mind.

I assume the fever gave me hallucinations so vivid that I thought they were real, and that’s why I ended up devouring all the published books within a week or two.

The first three books were always my favorite, I think, since after that the basic format of the series changed. I’m a big fan of mysteries, as you will see from most everything on this list, and book 1-3 have individual mysteries at their center. That, combined with everyday (for wizards, anyway) antics, made for a funny, exciting read.

I by no means have any hatred for the later books, they’re still very good, but my nostalgia definitely lies with the initial three.

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Photo: Brett Helquist

Photo: Brett Helquist

As I said above, I was a fan of mysteries when I was little. A Series of Unfortunate Events was the ultimate mystery series for kids. Actually, I’d venture that it sort of stopped being for kids after a while, once things got incredibly dire for the heroes.

At the center of the books are the Baudelaire siblings: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, each with a unique skill set that they utilize at different times through the thirteen volumes. The main villain is their distant relative, Count Olaf.

When the siblings’ parents die in a mysterious fire, he’s their first guardian. They manage to escape to various other homes for half the series, before going flat-out on the run, and that’s when things get really interesting.

I don’t want to spoil anything, because this series is built around the mystery of the Baudelaire family history. It’s full of arson, conspiratorial societies, ambiguous alliteration, and anachronistic timelines galore.

All of this spoke to me even at a young age, and now that a spin-off series is in the works, I’m getting excited all over again. I need to know what happens next (or before, if it’s a prequel series). Anything will do, really.

Johnny Dixon Mysteries by John Bellairs

Photo: Edward Gorey

Photo: Edward Gorey

This one is probably the most juvenile on the list, but it’s still awesome. It’s got a really pulpy feel to it, and a classic fifties setting (minus all the scary racism, if I remember correctly).

Our protagonist is Johnny Dixon, a kid in Massachusetts who’s still reeling from the death of his mom and the loss of his dad to war (he really gets some serious shit thrown at him).

His grandparents live next door to a kooky old professor that Johnny befriends. Ah, the fifties, when an unrelated old man and a prepubescent boy could spend time alone with each other indoors like it’s normal.

There’s also Johnny’s best friend Fergie. It’s at this point you’ll realize this is just the origin story of Stacy Ferguson, of Black Eyed Peas fame. Turns out she is actually a greaser boy who got a sex change from a mad scientist and was cryogenically frozen for forty years.

I kid, of course. In reality, the trio does face mad scientists, though. They also face ghosts, zombies, robots, and demons. A lot happens, and it’s pretty entertaining.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Photo: Bill Watterson

Photo: Bill Watterson

I might be stretching the term “book” for this one, but I read this strip in graphic novel form, so I’m including it.

It’s also unique in that it’s essentially the only thing I read as a child that had no mystery element to it. Unless, the titular Calvin was dreaming up a storyline for his pulpy alter ego Tracer Bullet.

The main characters, outside of elementary schooler, Calvin, are his parents, neighbor Susie Derkins, and his stuffed tiger Hobbes, who either comes to life only around Calvin or is simply Calvin’s imaginary friend.

The thing I loved about this series, outside of Calvin’s crazy ability to imagine playful and sometimes deadly scenarios, was his relationship with Hobbes. This is kind of obvious, since the series centers around the two of them.

We never do find out how real Hobbes is, which is really the only way it could have played out. It makes for an instant classic in my book.