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Illustrator Lou Brooks talks about his life and reading – Page 4

Teenage reading and book borrowing...

READERSVOICE.COM: Could you give an outline of a day in your life recently, and how much time you devoted to art work, your notebooks, writing, doing business with clients for your commercial graphics, other activities?

LOU BROOKS: That’s a tough question. There are a bunch of large personal projects mixed in with assignments. Sometimes I get to go to sleep when it’s dark outside, but not all the time.

As far as the notebooks, there are a bunch of them. Some are just left lying around the house along with plenty of pens — on the bed night stand, the kitchen counter, and so forth. Some are specific to projects, and those I keep on my desk along with some favorite books.

RV: Could you give a bit of a history of your reading, if you can recall, say from when you were 18 on? Any authors or significant titles or waves of books you can remember?

LB: On a recommendation from my fifth-grade teacher, my parents gave me a big old used Remington typewriter, a Roget’s Thesaurus, and a Webster’s Dictionary for Christmas. Great presents!

I’d write little stories. “Jules Verne” kind of stuff. Haha! And the teacher would read them to the class. Then, as I hit my teens — for some reason — I started doing a lot of shoplifting.

My Charles Starkweather/Elvis years. I was pretty good at it, and the easiest things to slip down my pants were paperback books from the drugstore.

The trick was always to buy one, but steal three. Mostly science fiction and horror: Bradbury, Del Rey, Sturgeon, Wells, Kornbluth, Bloch, Sangster, writers like that.

I think the horror writers mostly came out of Forry Ackerman mentioning them in Famous Monsters of Filmland, the greatest magazine of all time.

Occasionally, I’d lift other genres just because I could, like maybe Max Shulman or John Hersey stuff. I remember grabbing Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Peyton Place. I’d just skim to the hot parts. You’re only 15 once.

I also had this aunt — Aunt Clementine. She was probably the greatest family influence in my life at that time. Her first husband drove a car made out of cement, but that’s another story. I used to live with her off and on for years, mostly summers, whenever my folks got too worn out by me. She lived in a nice little house trailer. Everybody else lived in houses. And she was always bringing me books as far back as I can remember: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Robinson Crusoe, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Black Beauty. I was reading before I got to the first grade because of her and newspaper comics.

She gave me this Book-of-the-Month library of classics when I was around eleven years-old: Don Quixote, The Vicar of Wakefield, Last of the Mohicans, Shakespeare, a book of greatest poetry, stuff like that. Plutarch’s Lives, if you can imagine! None of these books came with introductions, so in Plutarch’s Lives, it was Greeks, then Romans, then Romans, then Greeks. Mysterious.

My bedroom was wall-to-wall books, a little corner desk and a bed. I had a large pheasant feather which I used as my “quill” sometimes. Really! Just like Cornel Wilde in Forever Amber.

I even marked the book spines like the library did: “F” for “fiction,” for example, followed by the first two letters of the author’s name.

One summer, Aunt Clementine took a job as a ticket taker at the Ringling Bros. freak show. The circus had just moved up in the world from tents to arenas, so they rented out the sideshow for the whole summer to the local amusement park, which was a bicycle ride away. I’d hang out at the freak tent when I wasn’t off riding the roller coaster and bumping cars. Once she took me into the House of Mirrors and convinced me that we were never going to get out!

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