They were my father's before me; I guess that they would almost qualify as collector's items. They were the sort of book with a bound set of central pages which you had to use a knife to cut through and open (that was how they guaranteed that the book that you were buying had never been read before). The paper was almost as rough as the stuff that is now used to make supermarket bags, and the cover illustrations were quite naïve.
These particular books' author was Emilio Salgari (page in Spanish). He was Italian, born in 1862 in Verona. He wrote a series of adventure books, the action taking place in far away places like Malaysia, India and the US, even though Salgari himself never left the Mediterranean. I guess that his most successful character was Sandokan; some of you might even have seen the TV Series.
Salgari was an extremely prolific writer, by the end of his life having written more than 70 novels. Even though some of his books enjoyed quite a success, he led quite a difficult life: his publishers paid him very little, so, he lived on the edge of poverty. He committed suicide in 1911 by disembowelling himself with a kitchen knife, leaving a letter for his publishers that read:
To my editors
You have grown rich through my efforts and suffering, while keeping my family and me in semi-poverty or worse. The only thing that I ask in return for everything that you have taken from me is that you pay for my funeral.
Although I quite liked Sandokan, my favourite was Capitan Tormenta. This cycle took place during the Ottoman wars, and told the tale of Capitan Tormenta, a hero of the Lepanto battle. The twist was that Tormenta was actually a woman, looking for his beloved, believed to be a prisoner of the Ottomans. There were extraordinarily accurate renditions of historic battles like the Famagusta siege, the bad guys were really bad, the good guys were really good and there was no moral ambiguity: great growing-up stuff.
One interesting consequence of reading his books was that, since the historical background was extremely accurate, I was left with quite a lot of useful knowledge, school-wise. And it was not painful to acquire at all: you just sat at home reading adventure novels. It beat reading stuffy school books.
That was what I read when I was 8. What did you read?
NOTE: I am now halfway through the Sandokan series (currently on "Conquering an empire"), enjoying it every bit as much as I did when I was a kid.