Second Childhood: A Moment of Literary Senility
Posted by Emmie Mears
Last week I stumbled across a very interesting blog called Broke and Bookish, which has a fun tradition of creating Top Ten lists each Tuesday on predetermined topics. The one for this week snared my attention, so I thought I would participate. I spend a lot of time thinking about the sorts of books that influence my writing, as well as the ones that lived right at hand during my childhood and adolescence, and this list describes those. Some are perhaps a bit embarrassing, but that’s quite all right. Perhaps you might even like to check some of them out if you haven’t read them yet — though I doubt you’ll track down all hundred plus BSC novels.
Top Ten (Or So) Childhood Faves
1. The Baby-Sitters Club, books 1-bazillion.
This series occupied many years of my childhood. I skipped over the Baby-Sitter’s Little Sister series, because even at age 7, I found it too juvenile. I loved the idea of young women starting a business and succeeding at it, and I read these books over and over again. I knew to always skip chapter 2, because it only described the club members (and I knew them well enough to recognize them if I passed one on the street). I longed to visit Stoneybrook and knew that all their phone numbers began with 555 long before I realized that was the go-to fictional number prefix.
I modeled my fashion sense after Claudia Kishi — on my 10th birthday, I wore (just picture this) a black leotard, black tights. Over that I wore a pair of knee-length white shorts and a pair of white socks. Black shoes. White plastic pearls. I also was known to create this outfit in red and yellow, which I called my “Ketchup and Mustard Motif.”
I was not very popular.
2. Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia Wrede
Going with my trend of strong women, Princess Cimorene quickly became one of my first heroes. She wanted to fight with swords. She wanted to have adventures. She did not want to sit in a castle and embroider cushions, which sounded frightfully like a lifetime of hell to me as well. Instead, she volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, sends all her suitors away with a scoff, and saves the dragon king (who is female) from scheming wizards. What a glorious book! I might go read it again tonight.
3. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
I’m not quite sure if I’ve ever found a more pivotal book in my life. Some fiction reaches out and grabs hold of you, never really letting you go. The story of Jonas living his life in ignorance of color, animals, sunshine, and things we take for granted every day touched me in a way very few books ever have again. The Book Thief, which I mention often, wriggled into my heart in a very similar fashion. The realization of the ritual of “release” in the book and the sheer weight of one person bearing the memories of loss, war, famine, disease, and death — even tempered by love and kittens — was overwhelming to me, even as a child. If by some strange twist of serendipity, you have not read The Giver, I hereby give you leave to stop reading my blog, go to the library, and get it now.
4. The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
If you grew up in the American school system, no doubt you came across this book ad nauseum during those formative years. I am pretty sure I was assigned this book no less than four years in a row, and I probably saw the movie about eight times, if not more. And yet for all that, it was one of my favorites. I could relate to Pony Boy, growing up poor and the struggles he coped with, if not the violence. I didn’t fully understand just how poor we were until I went to college, so I was perhaps spared that sledgehammer when I read the book. I will say that I pronounced the word “Soc” wrong in my head for several years until I read a book by L.J. Smith that spelled it out “Soshe.” I have a warm place in my heart for this novel.
5. R.L. Stine‘s Fear Street Saga
R.L. Stine. This man woke a love of horror in me. My mom used to stare at me in wonder as I would devour one of his Fear Street books immediately before going to bed. I remember the imagery of purple rotting flesh, of maggots and empty eye sockets, blood and vomit and monsters. Again, as with the BSC books, I mostly passed over Goosebumps, though I did read them a bit later. I fell in love with the historically themed Fear Street Saga, which showed how Fear Street got its name and its horror-charged atmosphere, starting with the witch hunts of Salem, where a falsely accused Sarah Goode ended up burned at the stake alongside her mother, when her father was the real witch. He cursed the Fier family in return, starting a blood feud that would span centuries and destroy both families.
6. Anything Ramona that came from Beverly Cleary’s mind
Not only did I fall in love with Ramona’s antics, but we lived in Portland, Oregon at the time, and I was obsessed with the fact that I lived in Ramona’s city. Did you know Klickitat Street really exists? Yep. I’ve seen it.
I loved tales of Ramona and her urge to “boing” Susan’s long curls. I loved learning via Ramona that the idiom “for the present” had nothing to do with gifts. I didn’t understand why her calling Beezus “pizza face” was such a big deal. I learned a lot from this little pest.
I also learned that even twenty years ago, Algernon would have been a very unfortunate name for a baby.
7. L.J. Smith‘s Night World — pretty much anything by this woman.
If R.L. Stine was my guru for purple flesh, L.J. Smith was my goddess of vampires. This was years before Twilight, around the time of the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice, but Daughters of Darkness was my first vampire novel.
Bam, snap. Love.
Her Night World series reigned supreme in my world. One of her characters was even from Montana (where I moved at age 11), though I remember getting annoyed that she was set in a non-existent county. Montana has 56 of them, and I thought she ought to have chosen a real one. I have waited almost 13 years (or more) for the release of Strange Fate, the conclusion to the series. If it doesn’t come out soon, I will cry.
8. Lynn Beach’s Phantom Valley
Are we there yet?! Three more. I read all of these books, from the chilling starter The Evil One to Curse of the Claw. They were chilling and terrifying, and I gobbled them up. Dolls that wanted you dead, mummy cats, youth-stealing witches, and mirrors that formed portals to other centuries — I couldn’t get enough.
These books have been out of print for some time, but I bought a few of them not long ago and am trying to flesh out my collection. They fed my love of the horror and thriller genre. Looking back, I really did love a scare at those young, tender ages. Probably explains why I’m such a weirdo.
9. The Druid’s Tune
Almost there, phew! O.R. Melling can be credited for inciting a love of the type of fantasy where characters from our world end up plunked into another. Such is the case in this book, where two teens from modern America are sent to Ireland for the summer and end up transported into the time of Queen Maeve and Cuchulain, fighting over magical cattle. The book focuses on the mythological story of Tain Bo Cuailnge, and oh, did I ever wish for that kind of adventure to happen to me. I think I still get a little hopeful every time I wander a ring of standing stones.
Not to mention the fact that whenever that happens in books, the women end up with dashing suitors who find them otherworldly and charming. 🙂
10. David Eddings’s Belgariad and Malloreon
I don’t know how I missed this, but whilst searching for the image to go with this blurb, I discovered that David Eddings passed two years ago. I am suddenly quite devastated. He was my Tolkein, my Lewis. While I liked Narnia, I fell in love with Eddings’s world and characters. I grew up with Garion as he became a sorcerer and battled the Angaraks for the freedom of the West. This series is high fantasy with a dry, witty skepticism sprinkled throughout that is both refreshing and delightful.
I know Mr. Eddings was quite old, but this is heartbreaking. I don’t know how on earth I missed his death for two years. His writing style and wit will be deeply, deeply missed. He was one of the biggest contributors to my love of fantasy, and I’m rather shell-shocked to hear of his passing.
Well, that is a lengthy 10, gentle viewers. Bravo if you stayed with me till the end. There are probably a hundred other books that influenced me, from the Berenstein Bears to Laura Ingalls Wilder, from the Boxcar Children to Wayside School — so many books, so many beloved stories.
There is no doubt in my mind that books shape us. I believe my character has been wrought at the hands of authors and the characters they created for me to befriend as a rather lonely child moving from school to school every year or so. I credit the books on this list for helping me learn what I love to write, for always being there when I needed a friend, knowing that every cracked spine and dog-eared page is only a sign that, like the Velveteen Rabbit, my books have been brought to life with love.
This post can only be dedicated to David Eddings, master world-smith and purveyor of words. I am thankful for his life’s work.