. . . Kenneth recalled the hours of pleasure he had enjoyed in Sir Walter’s blood-stirring novels. He had been introduced to the British novelist by way of an English Reader that had been issued to him in school. Later, he had used his hard-earned, newspaper delivery money to acquire a copy of The Waverly Novels, a red Moroccan leather-bound, collected works edition that contained both the Ivanhoeand The Talisman novels. He well remembered running his fingers over the raised bands and engravings on the book’s spine as he immersed himself in tales of chivalry, virtue, romance, violence, and deceit––all brought to life by Scott’s richly descriptive prose and finely drawn illustrations. He still owned the volume and would dip into it now and again, randomly revisiting its dog-eared pages. The Waverlytext, in its well-used condition, was emblematic of his zeal for Scott’s tales. Its pages were expansively annotated; its endpapers were filled with observations, insights, and questions, so legion that they required the reinforcement of numerous sheets of similarly-covered foolscap stuffed inside the book’s bulging covers.
Scott’s works were Kenneth’s favorites, but they were just the tip of the iceberg in his youthful reading adventures. His enquiring mind led him to spend countless hours at the Worcester Public Library; and he spent countless more hours at home, poring through their circulating volumes. One of his fondest childhood memories was of his mother reading him and his siblings to sleep at night with the Just So Stories of Kipling.
Later, Kenneth’s interests expanded: biographies, such as those of Bonaparte, Washington, and Lincoln; autobiographies by, among many others, Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt; any history books he could lay his hands on, including pictorial histories of England and America. The Civil War was of special interest to him, and, The Photographic History of the Civil War, when it was published in 1912, was a particular favorite. This latter book’s ten volumes contained thousands of images exemplifying both the glories and the horrors of war.
The apple of his reading eye, however, was fiction. He was strongly attracted to works of the imagination, especially novels of adventure and romance, and if the two genres of fiction and history coalesced, so much the better. At the head of the fiction class, of course, was Shakespeare, perhaps the keenest observer of the human condition. Fascinated by the school-required readings, Kenneth sought out the balance of the Bard’s plays, narrative poems, sonnets, and especially, for some reason, the tragedies. Beyond the Bard, Kenneth’s favorites were Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, Melville’s Moby Dick, Conrad’s Lord Jim, Galsworthy’s Man of Property, Forster’s Howard’s End, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Wister’s The Virginian, and suchlike stories of meaning and substance. In the end, all this reading had left him with three inexorable desires: to live a life worthy of being written about; to experience true adventure; and, to find true romance. Heraclitus had also said: “I am what libraries and librarians have made me.” And Kenneth was the embodiment of that great philosopher’s dictum . . .