Books That Stayed With Me
Me, upside down last winter.I’m an upside down person. Always have been. So it’s funny that I just truly realized this as I sat down to type these words.
Whether it was as a young kid, doing gymnastics (you could find me in a headstand in any corner of our house when I was 8), or a tween, lying upside down across a chair in our living room with a good book in my hands, or an adult, now, flipping through the water, or turning my photos on facebook on end to let figurative gravity rush to my brain.
Indeed, that image of me as a tween – upside down with a book in my hands — may be my strongest I have of my adolescence. Coming in from school and making a beeline toward whatever Judy Blume (or Paul Zindel) book I was devouring at the time.
Because, yes, as a kid and a tween, I devoured books. I was one of those kids who read a novel a day, maybe more. Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, was only the tip of the iceberg. I mean, there was Deenie, and Rachel Robinson, and Sally J. Freedman, and, and, and… *hyperventilates* Tony Miglione. . . !
Shoot!I knew it.
I knew when the Nerdy Book Club asked me to write a blog post on how and what I read as a kid, this was going to happen. This.
THIS thing where I want to stop what I am doing, and run to the library right this second, and sit in a corner rereading all these books. Paging through them as their words flood back like the memories of old friends. For these books shaped me, shaped how I viewed the world, and how I viewed myself. And how I write now.
They taught me both that I wasn’t alone, but, also, that not everyone in the world was like me. That some lives were, sure, more exciting than mine (I mean, do I hear Freaky Friday calling to me?! How about A Billion for Borris?!), but that others were filled with hardship and were light years from anything I knew or would experience, or would ever want to (The Outsiders, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. . .).
* breathes. Tries to calm down.*
If you ask me what made me such a rabid reader, the answer comes easy: my mother.
From the youngest age, I can remember my mother reading to my sister and me from the giant book called A Children’s Treasury: Fairy Tales, Nursery Rhymes & Nonsense Verse, making each tale an adventure she took us on (with voices and all). From that first huge tome, to A Child’s Garden of Verses, or Kipling’s Jungle Book, or our big book of Aesop’s Fables, every last one of the latter’s lessons explained and, later, expertly applied by my mother as new childhood challenges arose, this I remember (and will always remember), the feeling of my mother reading aloud.
My favorite, and, perhaps most vivid, memory was when I was 8 or 9 and was very sick (with a high, high fever), and my mother began to read aloud from Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, by the stunning E.L. Konigsburg. As I dropped in and out of fever-induced sleep, I recall that feeling of trying to keep my eyes open, my head propped on my pillow, to hear just one chapter more. And, awakening, to find her still sitting there, on the edge of my bed, ready to read to me again.
So that, through reading, even the hardships of my childhood – fevers, chicken pox, and even hospitalizations – were transformed to positive memories. I hope I have done this, even the smallest bit, for my own boys.
By the time I was a kid and tween, and reading more and more to myself, it became my most constant activity. I read everything I could get my hands on, starting with Pippi Longstocking’s adventures, to Paddington’s, eventually graduating to Blume, Hinton, Zindel, and L’Engle. There was nothing more unputdownable than a book from (what was then) the Time Trilogy: A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
For those who understand, was there ever a more page-turning, terrifying story, than the one to discover whether Meg would save Charles Wallace from IT?! And, oh, the scene when they arrive in Camazotz, with the children all skipping rope and bouncing balls in unison.
This is what I love about children’s and YA fiction best, that those who once read this book themselves, not only know what I mean, but feel it viscerally in the heart of their minds.
Perhaps the biggest testament to how much these books meant to me as a child is the fact that I – I with the worst memory in history – can still remember not only the titles and covers of these books, but the characters who filled them by name (as well as the indelible moments that drew you in, if not the plots in their entireties). When I set out to write The Pull of Gravity, more than anything, I wanted to do that one thing: create characters that a reader would care about, who might remain for years in the heart of their mind. That they might carry Nick, Jaycee and the Scoot, the way I have carried Meg and Charles Wallace (or Deenie, or Johnny, Soda Pop and Pony Boy) always with me.
I wrote from the time I was little — poems and short stories mostly — but after college, I went to law school and, for over a decade,replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs, contracts, and agreements. It wasn’t until after my sons were born, I returned to my first love of writing. I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved as a child. The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret”nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down – Don’t Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you read that book, please send me an email!
I live on Long Island with my two teen boys, my lawyer husband who sings, and two very enthusiastic cockatiels. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming, either in a pool or the Long Island Sound.