Fun, Follies and Loss of Innocence in Novel Land

How I killed my birthday party

Stack of comic books

My guests were pissed, hopping from foot to foot in exasperation.

Let’s head back in time to attend a formative literary event in the annals of writing.

It was a birthday party for me, but whether I actually “attended” it is up for debate. You see, I was three years old.

It’s not that I didn’t understand the concept of a birthday party at that age . . . believe me, I was all for it.

So, there I was, seated on a chair. Whatever preceded my sitting down, I don’t recall, nor do I remember what followed after I got . . . The Best Present of All Time.

Before I got it, though, all the other little boys and little girls were standing in a semicircle around me. Mom handed me the first present to open.

A great shock

I tore off the gaily decorated party paper, pulled up the box top and there it was: underwear. UNDERWEAR! Are you kidding me? As a birthday present for a little boy?

Then some girl attendee said it was her idea. Oh, yeah, she was a future mom in training, because that’s what moms do. They give guys what they need.

But we don’t want what we need. We want what we don’t need. Why do moms — and later on, wives — do that?

Obviously, that was not the best present of all time. It was the worst, most embarrassing present of all time.

The best present of all time came next thanks to some other kid’s mom. That mom actually had a clue — in fact, she had more than a clue, she was GENIUS LEVEL.

The big birthday reveal

I took that present and removed its wrapping paper to reveal: Ten Comic Books. Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and more.

I had never seen a comic book before then. I opened the first one and was immediately entranced. Cartoon pictures. In color. I studied every panel. Intently. Page after page.

You see, these were not the lame-format comics of later years that had only 32 or so pages with a number of them containing ads for joy buzzers, blackhead removers, sneezing powder, throwing one’s voice, and the like.

No, no, no. These gorgeous babies were a full 52 pages for 10 cents. Ten comics for a buck! And nary an ad in them!

I forgot all about the party. It came to a standstill. My guests were pissed, hopping from foot to foot in exasperation.

They didn’t give a rat’s . . .

. . . about the comics. They wanted to see what the other presents were. Too bad, I was in another world, and they weren’t.

So what happened to the party?

Mom couldn’t get me to stop looking at the comics. Since I was in another dimension, she gave all the other kids permission to open my presents.

I spotted them doing it out of my peripheral vision, but I didn’t care. And I didn’t care what the presents were.

I was reading 520 fabulously entrancing pages. In other words, I was reading before I could read.

That was the beginning of my love for books and the words in them.

I’ve been working with words all my life, and now it’s time to use them to create books of my own.

NEXT:I Get Run Off the Ranch

QUESTION: How has your reading habit ticked off other people?


  1. Chuck Bartok

    Fabulous share. Written in a style I like. Memories can go back if we focus. I remember much about a cross-country train trip in 1945 at 18 months. Mom and I went to visit my dad who was on leave in Long Beach.
    The Railroad Porter and his fabulous care really stands out even today.

    • Phil Cobb

      Trains are special, at least back in the day. One of my memories is of a train ride with Mom when I was four or five…don’t remember where we were going…but I still recall the two soldiers who entertained me with stories and jokes to make the trip seem so much shorter.

  2. Jo Hawk

    My mom read to me and I memorized the words she spoke so I could read too. From there my reading took off and I was reading years before I ever went to school. Great story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Phil Cobb

      Jo, same here! I also memorized what my mom read to me, and then I amazed my friends by “reading” to them.

  3. Debrah

    Loved your post. Reminded me of when I first became aware of reading. It was magical! So thanks for sharing.

    • Phil Cobb

      You’re welcome, Debrah! And that word “magical” is a perfect description of such a moment.

  4. welland

    fabolous post! i just remembers when i was a kid and my mom gave me my first favorite toy car. It really hard for me reading the car name

    • Phil Cobb

      Thanks, Welland! Your comment reminds us that the discovery of words wasn’t confined only to comics.

  5. Anita Ojeda

    ???? my ability to read in moving vehicles has always ticked off those who get carsick! I can read for hours—on curvy roads, at night, when I’m driving…wait, not when I’m driving…mostly.

    • Phil Cobb

      Anita, I envy your ability. Not being able to read in a car on a long trip has been one of my great laments.

  6. Lila Diller

    I had met this guy in Freshman Speech the year before in college. Then he tried to engage me in conservation while I was diligently working in the cafeteria. I couldn’t remember his name, so I quietly mumbled “hi” and skirted around him. Then the next year, I had found a seat for our Junior class meeting and was enthralled in my latest novel. I looked up to see who was coming down the aisle to sit next to me. The guy I liked at the time was heading towards me, but the Speech guy had beaten him to it, and he sat beside me, with my crush on the other side of him watching. I didn’t know what to do. I still didn’t remember the Speech guy’s name, and I didn’t want my crush to think I was flirting with him, so I ignored him and kept reading. The Speech guy didn’t give up. A year later, we started dating, and now he’s my husband of almost 17 years. 🙂

    • Phil Cobb

      Oh, wow, Lila! I thought your reading was going to save the day and keep the Speech guy away. The twist at the end got me laughing.

  7. Kirsty

    Haha well you definitely got a present that you wanted and I can understand how you got carried away. Time flies when you have a good book! I don’t think it annoyed them too much, but my grandparents did get exasperated with me sometimes because I would go to bed, turn off my light, then read Braille books for hours in the dark when I was supposed to be going to sleep. I’m blind, and I don’t usually sit in the dark because I can see light sources if they are bright enough! But I don’t actually need the light to read with my fingers, and I was happy if my grandparents thought I was asleep.

    • Phil Cobb

      Kirsty, you reminded me of when my parents would say “Put that book down and go to sleep!” But who wants to go to sleep when they’ve got a great book? A real reader always keeps reading. Thanks for your great comment.

  8. Diane Stephenson

    Great memory. Thanks for sharing. As a child I did not like reading at all, but when I became a young adult, all that changed. I have read more books than I can even remember, and now once I start one it is hard to put it down to go to bed or to get some chore done. Now it is common for me to have a half dozen books on the go at the same time. But they have to be ‘real’ books. None of those e-books for me. I love the feel of a book in my hand.

    • Phil Cobb

      I know what you mean, Diane; sometimes you just have to put other things off when a good book demands your attention. Like you, I also love “real” books, and have several bookshelves of them still to read, but I’ve found that my Nook and Kindle are great for taking a “library” with me when I’m on the go.

  9. Yami

    I ticked EVERYONE off with my reading habits as a kid. I read all the time. In class? Reading. Dinner? Reading. Bed time? Nope, reading.

    I’m the only person I know whose teachers actually took their books away. I am the reason my family barred books from the dinner table. (Dictionaries were banned later thanks to a 3 hour long dinner debate, but that one wasn’t my fault.)

    Eventually reading led to writing. I got in trouble repeatedly for being in bed but on my laptop, writing when I was supposed to be asleep. I have a dent in my ring finger from writing by hand in notebooks for hours at a time during my formative years. My nail is actually warped from pens pressing against it. I remember being forced to socialize at my elder sister’s birthday party one year, and I sat on the couch with my notebook, writing. After a while, one of my sister’s friends asked me “wow, are you still writing?” I was confused. Of course I’m still writing, you can obviously see that. What do you mean? She clarified. “You’ve been sitting there with that notebook since I came in. Doesn’t your hand hurt?”

    No, my hand didn’t hurt. My hand never hurt. AP tests with essay questions were a bane to others, as their aching knuckles rebelled at the finish line. I had no such problems and they begrudged me for it.

    From annoying people with my reading to annoying them with my writing, literature has been my vehicle to ostracism since my earliest days.

    • Phil Cobb

      I love it: “annoying people with my reading to annoying them with my writing”

      If there were a Reading & Writing Hall of Fame, Yami, you would be a shoo-in.

  10. Preeti Bhandari

    Wow… Never could have guessed from the title, what it was about. It was nice surprise. Such sharings bring back good old memories. I wish I could inculcate such great reading habits in my kids.m.brilliant though!

    • Phil Cobb

      I long ago concluded, Preeti, that the world is divided into readers and non-readers, and ne’er the twain shall meet.

  11. Heather

    What a great story! Those gifts are the best! The ones that make a lifetime impression.

    • Phil Cobb

      Indeed, Heather. That gift set me on a lifetime course from which I have never deviated.

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