Madeleine L'Engle said that.
And I'm off on a new project.
The first thing to understand is that my mother bought nothing new. Nearly nothing. At some point in my school career, new books were necessary to my existence, and I was allowed to own many of them, but always there were very old ones as well, from garage sales and what used to be called junk shops.
Mom went “junking,” in the early 70s, and we had a lot of interesting things around our house. 18th century farm implements, old school desks, old baskets, Depression glass, a few very old pieces of furniture, etc. A few years later, junking became known as “antiquing,” and all the prices were raised, plus, people began trying to pass off junk as antique; an absurd irony. It changed the landscape and cut out a lot of the long time participants, including my mom.
But throughout my childhood she brought me lovely little pieces of china from several areas of the world, which I collected in an antique metal trunk. I used an antique metal lunchbox in 6th grade, til other kids made fun of it. I had old dolls and other toys. And I had all those books. Besides a fairly complete collection of the 60s/70s versions of the Bobbsey Twins, I had all the Trixie Beldens, most of the Nancy Drews, Encyclopedia Brown, and lots of books from the 40s onward from the Scholastic Book Service and other low cost paperback lines from the big publishers. These books were about girls learning to navigate school and friendships, and finding out who they were. Most of them were what you’d now call “progressive,” because they showed girls figuring out how to think for themselves while still fitting into the big picture around them.
That was important for me, because I didn’t fit in anywhere. I still don’t, but I’m generally okay with that now. It’s confusing when you’re a kid, though. But these were not exactly girls like me; they were just in circumstances they had to negotiate in order to move along in their lives. And I admired them for how they did it.
The second thing to know is that while I was a highly precocious reader, alternating between Agatha Christie and Caroline Keene, and following Watergate intently all while I was in third grade, I never stopped reading kids’ books at all, just picked up more adult ones. So I can’t say if I was 7 or 11 or 14 or 38 when I read many of my favorites, though for a few, there are concrete memories to go along with them, which indicate the likely year. Also, and this sounds like a humble brag, but it isn’t, I got to reading well over 100 pages in an hour, I don’t know how much more, and so I’d just consume books like potato chips and thus have read far too many to have any idea of the scope of it all. These days, I do not let myself read so fast, though it’s still easy to get going at a ridiculous clip. Savoring is so much better than just consuming.
Today I’ve chosen five of my favorites in this narrow category to reread and share thoughts on here. I still own two of them, in ragged condition having been bought used and read many times over the years, and have ordered two of the others. I’m hoping to find the fifth one at the library, but I might order it, as well.
A Girl Called Chris by Marg Nelson, 1962
Bright Island by Mabel L Robinson, 1937 (Mabel Robinson sounds like some kind of literary hero)
Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling, 1959 (Here is an obituary for Ms Sterling; she sounds entirely awesome.)
Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna, 1946 (Such interesting women these are!)
Just the Beginning by Betty Miles, 1976
Oh, but there are just so many more! So many favorites. Thus, I’m also going to start talking about other books I read as a child and teenager, and I think it will be a good way to talk about me as a young person, which I believe will be enjoyable or interesting to most of the people who know me online.