My first real reading experience was a peculiar one. The first book I can recall reading from cover to cover was nothing less than the Leatherstoking Tales by James F. Cooper, and that at the age of 13. It was a German translation, and although it was abridged, it was more than 800 pages. I finished it in about 2 weeks.
I remember that the whole class went to the library and our teacher encouraged us to borrow a book. At that time I was interested in Red Indians and Cowboys, so naturally I was attracted to the cover that depicted a Red Indian standing next to a waterfall. But what inspired me even more to read the book was the fact that it was huge. I wasn’t afraid of huge book. The fact that the book was huge meant that the story was long and deep. I remember that the librarian was pretty amazed by my choice, and so was everybody who saw me carrying the huge book. Their look made me feel proud.
At the beginning I wasn’t able to read much of it. It was in a language and a style that I wasn’t familiar with. My German wasn’t that good at that time, and I didn’t understand everything at the beginning, especially that Cooper loved to describe things in full detail in style that was suitable for the 19th century. I didn’t touch the book after my first reading attempt. However I got an extension and I tried reading it again. This time I persevered. And then suddenly I was hooked. I got this experience of deep and solid concentration. An isolation of the outside world. A state of constant amazement. Ecstasy.
What I loved about the book was the respectful depiction of Red Indians and their world. Their values spoke to me. But so did the personality of Natty Bumppo, the protagonist of the tale. He was an introvert. Humble, reflective, honourable, and brave. I wanted to be like him.
It was also about history. History and Geography were my favourite subjects at School. The New World interested me. The Leatherstoking Tales were all about that. I didn’t consciously think about it this way, but I think I was puzzled about how great America was as a nation and yet how bloody and cruel its history was. Through this story I was early introduced to some deep contradictions in the history of mankind.
Another realisation was that life was not rosy and that not all love stories end well like in the movies. It was the first story about love that I had read. I was so intrigued and in favour of the rather implicit and polite love relationships that were going on between the characters. People were not vocal about their feelings, but they didn’t have to. Their actions and gestures were saying it all. The tale showed in a wonderful way the noble and quite side of love, and not the side that is related to lust and desire which is prevailing in many other love stories today. I remember how deeply saddened and depressed I felt when the women Natty and his friend loved had to die.
I think that I was lucky to start my reading life with such a great book. It could have gone wrong, just as it happens so often with many. People choose a book that is difficult for them to read, and then give up trying to understand and with that develop a dislike for reading. I remember that I reread the book the year after. I had a feeling that the story wasn’t complete, but at that time I didn’t verify. Only recently I found out that I was right. The original tales are about 2500 pages in print. After about 20 years, I’m going to re-read the Leatherstocking Tales, this time in their complete version.