I’m currently taking a class on Teaching Young Adult Literature, and one of my first assignments was to write my Reading Autobiography, which was a detailed description of the sort of reading I did when I was young (focusing on middle school and high school.) I enjoyed going back down memory lane for the assignment, and so I wanted to share it here.
Reading has been a big part of my life from a young age. Some of my earliest memories are of me getting in trouble for staying up late reading beside a tiny nightlight. In that sense, I was always a little ahead of the game. When my siblings and I were elementary school kids growing up in Ohio, I would always look forward to the Saturdays when we’d go to the Bexley Library to hunt for new books. I would always pick up one or two Peanuts or Garfield books, and then go straight to the kids section for the Matt Christopher baseball books. From there, I graduated to baseball players’ autobiographies. I remember reading Orel Hershiser’s and Hank Aaron’s autobiographies when I was in the third grade, and I guess I just assumed at the time that they were written for kids my age (because why else would I be allowed to read them), although looking at their lexile level now I see that they’re at a high school reading level. I think that just goes back to the whole notion that if a student is interested in the subject matter, they’ll read above their normal level. Oh, and I read a lot of the Encyclopedia Brown books, which taught me that if you ever see someone filing their nails after they’ve gotten out of the shower, it means they’re a dirty, dirty liar and shouldn’t be trusted.
We moved to Georgia when I was in fourth grade, and our primary source of books became the B. Dalton bookstore at Gwinnett Place Mall. There was also a Waldenbooks there, but for some reason that always struck me as the “fancy” bookstore. I still remember the locations of all the shelves I would venture toward in B. Dalton: The humor section where I’d get the latest Fox Trot or Garfield collection (the far back wall on the left), the juvenile book shelves (halfway back on the right), and the sports section (along the wall on the right side, just past the magazine rack.)
I read a lot of series books from fourth to sixth grade. The first ones I remember getting into were the Boxcar Children books. We probably had forty or fifty of those, and once I finished them I started reading my sister’s Babysitters Club books. Sure, I wasn’t the target audience for those, but they were still engaging reads (even if I did have to hide them inside a Sports Illustrated when I was reading them at school.) After that was Goosebumps, a series I thoroughly loved and devoured every time a new book came out. I also got into a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books. We had a number of those that I’d read a lot, although now that I’m older I can admit with only some shame that I would cheat and sneak a peek ahead to make sure I wasn’t walking into a trap with every choice I made.
As I got further into middle school, I read more classic series books. I got sucked into the Chronicles of Narnia in sixth grade and burned through all of those pretty quick. In seventh grade, I discovered the Prydain Chronicles and made short order of that series as well. It was also my first experience with a series where multiple characters were killed off. I recall making a chart showing how and when characters were killed during The High King. It was also in seventh grade that I first got into Michael Crichton and read Jurassic Park. Crichton was my favorite author for the next several years, during which time I also read The Lost World, Sphere, Congo, Rising Sun, and Timeline (my favorite Crichton book, which also became the worst Crichton movie.) Pretty much anytime we went on vacation, I’d take a Crichton book with me to read on the plane or while lounging beside the pool.
Starting in eighth grade, my reading habits would change drastically for the next several years, not because of a book but because of a video game. It was in eighth grade that I discovered the Playstation game Suikoden. Before Suikoden, the games that I played were all fairly simple in their approach to story, as few had a plot more complex than “rescue the princess” or “stop the bad guys.” Suikoden was a whole new ballgame. It was an RPG, or Role Playing Game, where the story and character development were just as crucial to the experience as the gameplay itself (even moreso, in point of fact.) I was sucked in by the story of Tir McDohl, the son of one of the Five Great Generals of the Scarlet Moon Empire, whose best friend is killed by the consort to the corrupt Emperor and must go on the run. While in hiding he meets Odessa, the leader of the Liberation Army, a group dedicated to freeing the Empire from the Emperor’s tyranny. After Odessa is assassinated, Tir is thrust into the role of leader of the Liberation Army and must assemble the 108 Stars of Destiny to combat the Empire. It was a life changing experience for me, as the story had brilliant plot twists, moments of great triumph, and heart wrenching turns as favorite characters were killed or sacrificed themselves for the greater good. Almost twenty years later I now find myself playing through Suikoden again, and the story is still as good as I remember it. Additionally, the young adult book that I’m currently writing, Into the Black, is heavily influenced by the Suikoden series and other Japanese RPGs.
From that point on, I couldn’t get enough RPGs. I lost myself in Chrono Trigger, the Final Fantasy series, Xenogears, Vandal Hearts, and anything else I could get my hands on. Anyone who says that video games aren’t a legitimate storytelling medium is an uninformed fool who’s been playing the wrong games (I’m looking at you, Roger Ebert.) And so, on April 27th, 1997, I created my first webpage: IcyBrian’s Suikoden Page. It started out as a resource for information on the game itself: Walkthroughs, secrets, character lists, things like that. The internet was still in its infancy at this stage, and as people found my site they asked me to expand it and make pages for other games, and as I did the site became IcyBrian’s RPG Page.
And then a curious thing happened. Someone sent me a Chrono Trigger story they had written and asked if I would post it on the site. I shrugged and said, “hey, why not. Original content!” I had written little Mario stories when I was younger, so I was already familiar with fanfiction (even if I didn’t know what it was at the time.) Pretty soon, more and more people started sending me their stories to post. From there, the site became less of a resource and more of a community. I met a lot of fellow RPG fans and writers, many of whom are still friends of mine to this day.
For the next five years, IcyBrian.com was the go-to place for RPG fanfiction and fan art on the internet. My site had the largest collection of RPG fanfics anywhere (at least until the advent of fanfiction.net, an automated site where people could post literally anything they wanted without any sort of moderation or quality control, something I totally wasn’t the least bit bitter about in any way.) Throughout high school, the vast majority of my reading was fanfiction. Every day when I came home from school, I’d have a fresh batch of emails waiting for me in my inbox, containing new chapters to stories that were already posted on the site or new stories looking to be approved for posting. I would still read other books, namely the aforementioned Michael Crichton books and a number of plays, but most of what I read in high school was fanfiction. I’d print out chapters and put them in my binders with the rest of my school work so I could read them in class without arousing too much suspicion. I remember that Math class in particular was my designated fanfic reading time. I was good at math but really didn’t care about it, so I was able to get by only paying a little bit of attention in class, while dedicating the rest of my focus to the more important task of reading new stories about the RPG characters I loved.
The RPG site is still up, although a recent backend update on my server broke the script I used for the fanfic section, so I need to get that repaired so it’ll be back up as an archive. I haven’t read fanfiction in over ten years, and I now subscribe to the belief that writing in someone else’s world isn’t the best way to craft your own stories, but I still credit fanfiction with getting me back into writing and with shaping a large part of who I was in high school and in the years beyond.