Anthony’s Navel: Mark Paxson on growing up with books

May I introduce to you the one and only Mark Paxson, or King Midget, in the first of my Saturday guest post series ‘Anthony’s Navel.’

Enjoy Mark’s piece below, follow his blog to hear more of his stories, and happy Saturday.

I don’t know if this book changed my view of the world. But I do think it changed my view of what a story could do to a person.

I grew up in a family of readers. It’s what we did. My parents limited our watching of the ol’ idiot box and, back in the day, before cell phones and video games and all of these other technological “innovations,” there weren’t many options. Play outside. Play cards. Read a book.

We did all three. A lot. And there was always a stack of library books on each side of my parents’ bed.

I was the youngest of four with two sisters between me and my brother. As such, I would say that I was somewhat feminized in my upbringing. My brother had no time for me – the age gap of five years too much for him to want me tagging along. As a result, I grew up more influenced by my sisters and my mother.

Those sisters read a lot too. They had a shelf of Nancy Drew mysteries which I never shied from, and we all regularly read and re-read the Little House on the Prairie books. And who knows what else. Those books were great – they introduced me to the joy of a story well told. They took me to places I hadn’t been, like the frontiers of the West in the 1800s.

I remember, too, checking books out of the library and reading all sorts of other things. The one book I remember the most from that time was Man O’ War – the true story of a thoroughbred that dominated horse racing for a year or so back in the early part of the 20th century. I have no idea why, but the story fascinated me. I checked it out and read it a number of times and decades later, just a couple of years ago, I remembered the book and ordered a copy via Amazon and read it again. It didn’t disappoint. I marvel now at the idea that as a young lad I read that book back then. It’s not necessarily a mid-teen reader.

This isn’t about any of those books though. It’s about the first book that I think had an impact on me. In the sense that a book could make me feel. It could make me cry. Or laugh. Or fear.

At some point – I think it’s when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old – I read my first Stephen King book. I started reading it. Got a little way through it. And then one glorious day, I went through hundreds of pages of the thing and read it to its glorious end.

It was a Saturday. My brother and sisters were not at home. My parents had gone to play Pinochle with Lynn and Yogi, friends from my dad’s time in the Air Force. I was home by myself. Reading the master of horror (who sadly has withered over the years).

I can remember, now more than thirty-five years later, these moments. Reading the book in my bedroom and needing to go to the kitchen for something. The kitchen on the other side of the house. Down the hall and around the corner and down another hall. I remember turning on every light in the house. Of looking around the door frames and the corners and making sure there was nothing there before I meandered to the next corner, door frame, or other place in which danger could lurk.

Reading in the family room and realizing there was something in my room I needed to get and doing it all over again. Lights on. Walk slowly. Tiptoe. Look around the corner. Flick the light switch for more. And continue on. Over and over again that night.

Heaven forbid what I did when I needed to go to the bathroom!

There have been few instances since then when a book has impacted me. For the most part, novels are just stories that allow me to escape during the course of the reading. It is a rare thing that a novel does more to me. But I have craved that deeper impact for just as many years. To read a book that makes you fear what the characters fear, to cry over the pain the characters experience. To feel just in the words of the author, in a story well told.

There was this one other moment when it happened. In spades. A few years ago, I read a series of three books that left me in tears at the end. Everything Matters by Ron Currie. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Each of these novels, read essentially one after another, left me in tears at the end. For different reasons.

But, you know, 99% of what I read (and I still read voraciously) leaves me interested, but unfulfilled. I want that story that leaves me frightened like The Shining, leaves me in tears like those three books, leaves me feeling like my soul has been altered by the reading of the story. It is both the most frustrating thing about reading – that those stories are few and far between – and the most exhilarating, exciting thing about reading – you never know when you’ll find that diamond in the rough. The story will hit you where it counts. It’s why I still read and will always read. To feel.

Categories: Memoir, musings

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

26 replies

  1. I try to remember that the first question I should ask every person I meet for the first time is:
    What was the first book you stayed up all night to read?

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s super, and really nice to hear from you Rick! Secretly (or not so secretly) hoping you’ll send me a story of your own we can feature here, you probably have many to pick from. Bill


  2. Love those memories, Mark, of feeling so scared you need to turn all the lights on, of not wanting to go to the loo in case … That’s what books should do, isn’t it? And you’re so right, we spend alot of our lives trying to recapture those intense emotions that bleed into us from the best books we’ve read, the ones that really sucked us in. And feeling a little disappointed when it doesn’t happen!
    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you, good sir, for sharing this with your readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No thank you, and for going first! Great read as always. And any time I can be reminded of The Shining and those twin sisters, well thank you for that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s time to ride that beast again. Been a long time since I last read The Shining.


      • There’s no good that can come from that. What was the last book of his you liked? I stopped in the late 80s I think. Maybe Tommyknockers but I really liked that one…I think he said he was high on cocaine for the writing of that one, talks about it in his book on writing. I also saw him read at the Starbucks corporate office once. How unusual he is.


      • Been far too long since I read a book of his and liked it. Far too long to remember anyway. But The Shining is worth a do-over every now and then.

        Yes, he definitely a little off.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Totally agree on The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Book Thief. All the Light We Cannot See is akin to The Book Thief, one of my favorite reads of the last half century. The books that stay with us are the best. I read a lot also and often forget the plot within a week, which I blame on being an old broad but also has something to do with the book itself, since I can remember a lot about the books that really absorb me. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. thanks for sharing – book thief impacted me in a way i’ve never forgotten. steven king freaked me out and i loved his stuff and then i stopped reading him as his books took a turn, i’m going to check out the art of racing in the rain after reading this –

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As much I love books, I agree with you, Mark, that it’s the rare one that really hits an emotional bulls eye. That probably says more about me than the books, but let’s face it — stories are personal and everyone has different buttons that get pushed.

    Believe it or not, I’ve never read a Stephen King book. Always figured he had enough admirers. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’m so happy it’s Sunday because I can start on the first of these three books, now. I love learning of books that someone else has said impacted them. Hey, think the last book I read was also a suggestion from your blog, 1984.

    For me, the book with the biggest impact was probably Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It inspired me to move to Scotland, and now I live in London with my Scottish boyfriend. 🙂

    I’ve only read two Stephen King’s​, the first was the Gunslinger. It was a page-turner, but too dark for me, which kept me from continuing the series. The other was by his alt-name, Richard Bachman, and I didn’t like it at all.

    Anyway, going to go get started on these! Enjoy your Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And I hope you enjoyed yours Cali! So great to hear from you. Hope 1984 was “ok,” I don’t know what else to say about that. Not really “ok,” not at all. But interesting for you reading it there, in London. Read on, enjoy the season. Peace to you and yours. Bill


  8. Absolutely relatable piece, Mark. Those moving books are rare and it’s a worthwhile chase.

    Liked by 1 person


  1. Anthony’s Navel: Mark Paxson on growing up with books | Arise Server

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