This continues the saga of how I became a bookie, following up the blog entry titled ‘In the Beginning.’ Hopefully those hundreds of emails begging me not to leave you hanging any longer will stop.

Sometime during 8th grade two seminal events occurred in my life: first, I discovered that chess wasn’t a waste of time and, second, I discovered that people who wrote books were allowed to make things up. It’s called ‘fiction.’ I knew they were allowed to do this with comic books but nobody had ever told me it was legal to put things in actual books that weren’t historically accurate. Whoa.

The chess story we’ll save for another day; I can only bore you for so long, after all, with all of this reminiscing glop.

I should make it clear that by 8th grade I had long since discovered the greatness of comic books. This was the 60’s, remember…when Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands I was actually old enough to have read the title on the cover. (not that Mom would ever have let me buy such nonsense) My best friend, Dan, and I, rode to the drugstore on the corner of Poplar and Mendenhall at least twice a week to check out the new deliveries of comics. (Native Memphians will instantly spot the radical change in the city since those days; nobody in their right mind would let two young boys ride their bikes on Mendenhall these days, much less go anywhere near Poplar. And yet we did it daily. ) This was the store next to what is now the Mr. Pride car wash. On the other corner, near Wild Oats, was a Rexall drugstore that had a real honest-to-goodness soda fountain and banana splits that were made from a recipe sent directly from Heaven. If you were sick they would deliver your prescriptions and whatever other stuff you might need. But they didn’t sell comics.

So Dan and I would buy comics and trade comics and talk about comics and, in general, make sure that our parents had no idea how much money we were spending on comics. I preferred Marvel, all the usual suspects. X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Avengers, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commadoes. Dan preferred DC, especially Justice League and Teen Titans. We both devoured Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace. There were no action figures of these guys, we had to actually imagine what it would be like to be a superhero and go around bashing the bad guys. We were so deprived.

Anyway, around the time of 8th grade I discovered fiction. I can’t remember what the first novel I read was, all I know is that the earliest novels I remember reading were Conan by Robert E. Howard and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. How I gravitated to the two best examples of their genres I don’t know. Maybe I had a mentor that is now forgotten, maybe I was lucky or maybe it was divine intervention. I like the latter. That way, I can claim that this blog is God-approved and everything in my life was leading up to this.

By 9th grade I had read enough fiction to know that the non-REH Conan stories were inferior, that Elric was a warped but fascinating counter-point to the stoic Cimmerian and that Tolkien only got better with successive readings.