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.
What a great post. You had me at the first sentence …
And I did love these two lines, too:
“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.”
I think a common thread about the power of books is that we connect to special ones that become an alternative lifeline to the world, and those connections (if strong enough, and for Nerdy Bookies, that is never a question) remain steadfast over time, even if they get put off in some dusty corner for a spell.
How funny! I just put Dinky Hocker up on display with other problem novels. All of these books still get the occasional reader.
This is such a timely post for me. I started to work on my Scholastic “bookprint” yesterday and the first novel that I absolutely had to include was “A Wrinkle in Time”. Then, of course, I had to have the book RIGHT NOW to reread, so I bought the ebook. (Even though I own 10 copies and they are in my classroom library).
This brings me back to one of my own recent Facebook posts:
“There are moments in our book lives that linger in the soul. Several of those stick with me from childhood – Peter and Susan being told they couldn’t return to Narnia because they had “moved beyond” it, Leslie and Jess in Terabithia – and Jess leading his little sister in as the new queen; and more recently – Snape murmuring, “Always”.
What books moments live in your souls? What will live in our children’s souls?”
That’s my goal as a mom and a teacher – helping children find those moments that will linger forever in their souls.
Thanks for a great post!
Love your post. You description of yourself as a kid fits me too. When I reread Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret this year I knew when she went to her friends house and borrowed her swimsuit, it would be a yellow swimsuit. I laughed when I realized this, how many times over the years did I read that book? My books from my childhood are old friends and I love visiting them again.
Thanks for this post.
I have never quite forgiven my children’s librarian for not introducing me to Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin and Sandy and Dennys. (IN her defense, I’m sure she thought we’d already met since I read every book I could get my hands on.) But I didn’t meet these friends until college. I still remember the shock I felt walking into a bookstore and seeing Many Waters. (What–the twins have an adventure. They are the normal ones.) For me, the characters that accompanied me to the hospital were Susan and Peter and Edmond and Lucy. I traveled with them through the wardrobe into Narnia over and over. Of course, I also hung out with Deenie and Ponyboy, too.
Thanks, all, for your comments!
Marie, yes, live in your soul!
And, I’ll have you all know, I DID run out to the library that night, and The Effect of Gamma Rays, now sits at the side of my bed, already half re-read.
Thank you for this. Textual lineage is a powerful thing. Your post makes me think about how so many of us have read the MG/YA classics you’ve listed and the different ways in which reading them has shaped our adulthood and our adult lives as readers. It’s boggling to acknowledge that people having a shared cultural experience (reading any of the titles you listed) each take away something different, remember a specific scene, character, or line of dialogue that resonates. Countless adults would list one of these books as a childhood favorite, a book that made them the reader they are today, but all for different reasons. Good stuff.
Oh! And I’m an upside-down person (and reader) too- always have been, suspect I always will be. To this day, at 35, I often read upside-down, head dangling, feet propped against the wall.
I spent so much time at our library when I was in elementary school and middle school. I loved books about unicorns, reading the Bunnicula stories, The Babysitter’s Club and so much more. I don’t know what happened in high school, but thankfully one of my college professors brought me back to reading. When I think about the books I loved growing up, it makes me want to reread them as well. I don’t read upside down, but I’ve always read cuddled up with a blanket and my pets. Still do 🙂
I guess all of us who feel good when we read your post are readers through and through. One of my favorite things about growing up is that I could share my love of reading and books with my children, and about being a teacher is to share that love (as well as the loved books) with my students. Now that I’m a grandmother, I get to do it all over again with those same beloved characters and with new ones, like from your book. And the circle, it goes round and round… Thank you!
I love remembering the books I loved as a child. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Galdone’s version of The Little Red Hen, Bartholomew Cubbins and the Oobleck, The Country Bunny and the Golden Slippers. I graduated to LIttle Women, Little House on the Prairie, Trixie Belden. As an adult I discovered a love for Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Graham’s Wind in the Willows – I could finally appreciate the humor. I love traveling memory lane when it comes to books. I think that one of the things that makes me saddest is that many of my students do not have those memories. Every year I ask what their favorite picture book is. I get the same answer 95% of the time: Dr. Seuss. I love Dr. Seuss too but oh, how I wish they had more book memories.
Love, love, love your description of remembering what books you read and wanting to drop everything and run to the library. I had that sensation as I was reading your post – I want to go pick Sally J. Freedman off my 6th grade daughter’s shelf this instance.
I taught a class today to pre-service teachers and asked them to remember themselves as a young reader – some of them had similar stories and some did not. The fantastic thing was that regardless of their experiences they all have the desire to help students have similar experiences to yours.
so true! Even for those books that resonate widely, each reader’s experience is still different. I just got back from my very first private book club meeting (twenty-somethings who had read my book) and we were talking about one of the climactic scenes after Nick learns some tough information, and some of the readers were mad at Nick for they way he reacted and others said they would have reacted the same way. The fact will always be that we bring our view of the world TO the books we read, as well as letting the books shape our view going forward.
Again, to all, thanks for commenting. Love to hear the books that have stayed with you…
A book that has stayed with me is “Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back” by Shel Silverstein. Someone bought this book to me in second or third grade and I still own that copy. My parents found me reading and rereading this book (and many others) past my bedtime, by flashlight, and with the covers pulled over my head to hide the crime of breaking my bedtime curfew to sneak in a few more minutes (or hours) of reading. It is a book that I recall with a smile 25+ years later and one that I fear rereading as an adult because the memory is so beautiful. The image of the marshmallow suit…… joy.
You have inspired me to reread Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack-provided I can find a copy of it! I had forgotten about that book and I loved it as a child. Thank you for that!
oh, gilkat, let me know how it translates!