Some books from my childhood

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I was a big fan of this book and still am. It’s basically a who-dunit detective story, as an assortment of eccentric characters attempt to figure out a murder in order to win an inheiritance. This novel taught me (among other things) the lyrics to “America the Beautiful,” a song I have yet to hear, even to this day.

(Speaking of detective novels, I read a very interesting article on Borges and his short story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius that had the following to say about the detective story: “the detective story, unlike the novel, accepts from the start that the logic of fiction is not the logic of life and that as a fictional construct its prime duty is to be interesting, not realistic.” I think this is a wonderful sentence, not only in regards to Borges, but for fiction in general!)

The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden

One of the books responsible for sparking my interest in India, along with my parents’ tales of their epic Peace Corps adventures. Also responsible for sparking my fear of ever getting pregnant. My favorite scene is still the one where the Indian servant boy helps the heroine with her geometry homework; the mathematical language that they speak in this scene was by far the most exotic sounding thing to me in the book.

In Dark Water by Mermer Blakeslee

Wow, is this ever an obscure book (the only image I could find was from Amazon). I don’t even know if I should count this because I never actually read the whole thing. I only read the first part, the one that was narrated by the daughter, since that was the bit that interested me. The second half–narrated by an omniscent narrator in country bumpkin dialect like this: ”They was aimin’ for the rock where the sun land just south of the barn. Outta Beulah’s line of sight.”–was understandably of absolute no interest to me. But I liked the 11-year-old narrator’s descriptions of her mom going crazy, of playing let’s pretend in the grass at night, and her evil smile that drives her mom round the bed. Crazily enough, I first heard about this book in a review in Seventeen magazine (can you believe that?! I wonder if they even have book reviews anymore).

Daughters of Eve by Lois Duncan

I went through a big Lois Duncan phase there between third and fifth grade: The Third Eye, Summer of Fear, Down a Dark Hall… mm-hmm. Oh man, wikipedia has just informed me that apparently she also wrote I Know What You Did Last Summer (not so surprising) and the Boys & Girls Club favorite, Hotel For Dogs (a shocker)!

In general, Daughters of Eve was somewhat of a disappointment for me in Duncan’s canon. I wanted there to be more violence at the end. I wanted the crazy feminists to do something more RADICAL other than just smash up school property and shave the nasty popular boy’s head. But Duncan does have a good ear for teen dialogue (it doesn’t even sound that horribly dated now, as it takes place in the Midwest). I’d definitely let my preteen daughters read these.

I also have to mention that this the first image that comes up in the Google images search for the book’s title.

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher

A very educational, classic formative book in my youth. I was constantly stealing this from my mother’s bedside table. How else would I have learned the difference between bulimia and anorexia? How else would I have learned that cutting or burning yourself with cigarettes is an erroneous form of self-therapy? I think it’s good that my mom let me read this, because it definitely left me with the feeling of “Wow, I do NOT want to get involved in this kind of craziness at all,” i.e. drinking, prescription drug addiction, sexual prolificness, focusing on being popular and pretty, etc. Instead, I survived my adolescence relatively intact. And then right before going to college, I saw the movie Thirteen, and was like “Oh my God, I am never going to fit in after I move to America.”

Another thing I liked about this book was the author’s personal anecdotes about growing up in a small town in the rural Midwest in the 60’s. It all sounded so quaint and foreign and so far away from what I was familiar with!

Starring Sally J. Friedman As Herself by Judy Blume

I can never find the images of the book editions that I own on Google. It makes me wonder where the heck my parents got them, if they cannot be found in the archives of the internets. Anyway, this is a great book that has stood the test of time. I read it in first grade and dug it a lot; re-read it last night and still really enjoyed it. The references to Easter Williams, Kilroy Was Here, The Shadow radio show and other such antiquities from the 40’s mystified me as a seven-year-old and still do. This book is also responsible for teaching me who Adolf Hitler was, and for triggering my primary school fascination with the Holocaust, which in retrospect was maybe a wee bit creepy for a seven year old. I would always order any book that were about the Holocaust that appeared in the Scholastic catalog (which used to be the main way we got books–I remember whenever my box arrived ,it was always the biggest of any other kid’s in the classroom, as they would usually just order one or two. Ha Ha Ha!). My friends and I would also play Concentration Camp together, or pretend we were running away to escape from the Nazis. I’m pretty sure I actually wished I was Jewish a couple of times, too. Oh Judy! Gotta love her!

It’s also important to say that there a quite a few references to sex, drugs and alcohol in this book that I definitely didn’t catch the first time around, that still seem quite brave for a children’s novel. For example, the scene in which the mother gets drunk on champagne, the definition of “bordello”, references to “tits” (which shock me more now than they did then, weirdly enough!) and of course the classic eponymous phrase “Love and other indoor sports” (which my sister and I still use to sign our e-mails with sometimes, ha).

Tell Me If The Lovers Are Losers by Cynthia Voigt

I was a big, big Cynthia Voigt fan: When She Hollers, Izzy Willy-Nilly, A Solitary Blue, the Homecoming series… these are all great books. In comparison to these classics, Lovers is not really a standout. And yet, back in the day I would reread Lovers over and over again mostly because I was interested in its descriptions of college. I guess maybe I thought my college experience would be similar: I’d be friends with the same two or three people throughout (check), I’d be the star of the volleyball team (uhh… no), and get excited about writing papers about Shakespeare (I think this happenned like once). I bet if I were to reread this, it would seem REALLY dated. The ending is definitely a little melodramatic. An astute reviewer on Amazon observes that the three girls represent “Mind, Body and Spirit,” which is maybe going a little deeper than what I’d give the book credit for.

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I stole this book from a fifth grade classroom that wasn’t mine, another example of my shameless lifelong book thievery. Man, I was into this book! This book was a good example of my back-in-the-day interest in witchcraft. I was OBSESSED with the Salem Witch trials and just like with the Holocaust, I would definitely order any book related to witches that appeared in the Scholastic catalog pages. I really wanted to be like the (retrospectively bratty) teenage daughter, stompin’ around the house in her goth black boots, with her pet crow and her seances. Oh man, how I would have killed to have black eyeliner like hers! I always did have crushes on the Goth kids at CTY summer camp…

Eva by Peter Dickinson

This along with A Bone From A Dry Sea (also by Dickinson) are great pro-nature books. The ending of this book still strikes me as remarkably powerful and relevant, as humans start committing mass suicide together by holding hands and walking into the sea while singing. I would definitelystill recommend this book to anyone (both children AND adults) interested in apocalyptic themes or man’s relationship with nature.

I think that’s enough for now… to be continued, maybe…


Filed under books, colombia, kids

2 responses to “Some books from my childhood

  1. omg, i remember those peter dickinson books. eva is the one about the girl who gets put in the body of the chimpanzee to save her life, right? i think i still have crazy dreams about that book sometimes.

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