After my parents, what really made me the me I am was the Finnish library system. You got a card just by writing down your name and a few details, and then you could borrow anything you wanted.
Stories of the Three Detectives. Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Jules Verne translations. James Bond books. Clive Cusslers, Isaac Asimovs, books about the history and fall of the Third Reich, and glossy picture-and-diagram books of the greatest battles of all time. Tutorials for DOS and Windows and Unix. Frank Miller’s Give Me Liberty. Milo Manara comics (!) and collections of Finnish editorial cartoons. Travelogues. Guidebooks to visiting Japan, New York and Australia. Histories of England and the Middle Ages. Biographies. The Lord of the Rings, and the Hobbit (the latter through interlibrary loans), the Songs of Distant Earth, the works of Stanislaw Lem. (On reading Lem, I remember getting these pangs of “I see what you did there! You brilliant bastard, I see what you did there!”) Books about exotic writing systems, about ancient Roman ballistae, about the paranormal and psychics and aliens and collections of abductee tales, O’Donnell’s The Bunker (about the last days of Adolf Hitler), endless piles of Enid Blyton books (I liked the Adventure series the best), the whole range of the Dewey decimal system.
Books that, if you had asked an adult and given him or her time to think, probably had bits that were too dark, too violent, too sexy and depressing and horrible and seedy for a child; but I got it all and I’ve never suffered any harm from it.
Really, you can trust me. Have you ever heard of a person lying to make themselves seem better and wiser?
As far as I recall, my parents (or the library lady) never, ever asked me “Do you really want to read that?” or said “I don’t want you to read that.” I was a ghost in the library, I sat down to read what I wanted, I loaned what I wanted, I read all I came across and felt a fancy for, and I must say I feel I’m a much better person because of that than I would have been had there been someone to screen my reading.
I never got into reading classics, classical works, famous books. That’s probably not something to be proud of. I’ve never read Moby Dick, Ulysses, the Catcher in the Rye, or the similar works the English-speaking world values. I’m even more deficient in the Finnish sphere of hoary old valued literature.
I’ve read a few of Shakespeare’s plays, though. That’s why I know the French expression “baise mon cul”, or “kiss my ass”; it was a footnoted version, I was fifteen or sixteen, and I was cackling with laughter.
Later, there came the big library in the next municipality over, fifty kilometers added to the twelve to our village. For a few years, dad found something to do there once a month, and I accompanied with a big carpet bag and a shiny library card. There I found Iain M. Banks and David Eddings and Terry Pratchett and the true joys of reading English stuff in the original language. Also, the joy of reading roleplaying game sourcebooks and rulebooks on your lonesome. It’s probably because I could find that entertaining that I ended up studying maths.
Also, our village library was a simple, functional place. This new one was a temple to books.