I recently finished rereading Anne of Green Gables. It is E1’s copy of the book we gave her for Christmas, and when I read the first few chapters aloud to her, I got hooked again. In the evenings, as she slept, I borrowed the book to read furtively onward. A smile was likely on my face the whole way through to the end, delighted with the character of Anne and the “scrapes” she got herself into.
It’s also delightful seeing E1 also getting taken up in not only the characters and the story of Anne of Green Gables, but of many of the books she’s reading. I look at her and I see myself at her age. I am nostalgic for the books of my childhood and early teens, and for how they made me feel, the childhood memories they invoke, or the lessons I still keep from them. Here are some of them. (Unfortunately, I am terrible at remembering plot details or character names, so please don’t expect a synopsis of these books!)
Nancy Drew series, Carolyn Keene
I have fond memories of going to the small public library in the small Manitoba town where I grew up, and making a beeline to the section where the collection of Nancy Drew books were shelved. I loved borrowing these books and reading about the mysteries that Nancy and her best friends George and Bess solved each time. I was so impressed by their bravery and ingenuity to solve the case and get themselves out of any trouble. I do remember feeling sad that Nancy didn’t have her mother around.
And those Hardy Boys books that were shelved nearby? No way, those mystery solving brothers were clearly aimed at boys, and I would not deign to read them.
Baby Sitters’ Club series, Ann M. Martin
I was taken by these group of girls in the Baby Sitters’ Club series of books. I tried to get my hands on all of them, and in the specific order of the books. I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, but these girls who were entrepreneurial enough to see a need in their town and to start a business to service the need was a great model for initiative.
But, I wonder if the troubles the characters went through with their babysitting charges somehow made me very reluctant to become a babysitter myself? I certain had no interest in taking care of babies and younger children when I was old enough to become a babysitter.
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
This might be the first book I can remember being devastated by the ending. I’m guessing prior to this book, everything I’d read had a happy ending. I suppose this book taught me that not everything has a happy ending, even if there is a silver lining to be found in the sadness.
And even though I loved Charlotte the spider in the book….ugh, I still hate spiders in real life.
A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L’Engle
Stepping through the portals to other dimensions to visit fantastic planets along with the children in this story was my stepping into the realm of science fiction, and finding that I liked it. This was the start of my appreciation and enjoyment of sci-fi.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t exactly have any sort of frank discussions with either of my parents about impending changes to my body as I approached puberty. The classroom instruction in the Manitoba school curriculum didn’t happen until Grade 7 either, if I remember correctly. Reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in either grade 4 or 5 was what taught me about developing breasts and menstruation. Although, I was confused as all out about what a sanitary belt was. Come to think of it, I still don’t know exactly what these look like, they’d all disappeared in the late 80’s, replaced by pads and tampons, at least where I was. Hmm, I’ll probably go off an google that right now…
Christopher Pike novels (Last Act, Remember Me, Midnight Club)
The cover art for these books were hilariously cheesy, with bright neon colours and a slasher font for the title, and pictures of teens rendered in the classic 80’s getup. But it was the storylines that Christopher Pike cooked up that drew me in. The novels were mysteries (my love of mysteries already set), and several had some paranormal elements (which likely primed me for immediately loving X-Files when it came on TV).
I don’t know what it was really that drew me into these books. Pike certainly knows how to spin a story, with duplicitous characters that fool you, and convoluted plots to bend the story. I think I loved the creepiness of the stories. However, I fear that if I were to revisit these books now, 20 years later, I might be disappointed by the quality of the writing.
The Little Prince, Antione de Saint-Exupéry
This gentle story is about a pilot who encounters a lost prince from space who regales him with stories of his travels to other planets. The stories of the encounters with the inhabitants of those planets each teach a lesson. Likely it is not the first philosophical manifesto fashioned as a fiction novel that I read or studied. But, it’s the first one that I still remember, whose philosophies still stay with me. buried deep.
“You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
This was a book assigned in my high school English class, and while most of my classmates groaned about how thick it was, I actually really enjoyed it. I was surprised myself, considering how many pages Steinbeck devoted to describing the dust that blew across the dry landscape of the American west. I found myself really drawn into the story of these brothers, and the failures of one brother that haunted all his relationships with others. I just remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed this apparent “literary” novel, and feeling quite mature and smug because of it.
Daddy Long Legs, Jean Webster
The main thing I remember about this book was how my mom borrowed it from me during middle school to read after I finished with it…and then her LOVING it. She was really into romance novels and this book ended up being quite romantic, with a plucky orphan heroine. Certainly it must have shaped some of my expectations for romance and the pursuit of love of someone who loves you as you are. She asked me to share whatever I was reading in the future in case there was a romance there she could enjoy too.
At the time I thought that was silly and weird of my mom. I mean, why would she want to read books for younger people, now branded as Young Adult fiction? Now as a “grown up” myself, I find myself still enjoying YA fiction (e.g. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Eleanor and Park, Of All the Boys I Loved Before, Anne of Green Gables again). So now I see my future, mirroring my past, as I borrow my daughters’ books to read after they’re finished with them. What they say about daughters becoming their mothers seems to be coming true!