the long and winding road -- of books

I've fallen in love with Calvin O'Keefe.


Of course, depending on how you look at it, he's a little young for me. Fourteen on the page. But, the page was first published in 1962, which was 19 years before I was born. So... gross no matter how you cut it...

(Sidenote: Shouldn't 1962 be way more years before I was born? Honestly? Gah.)

Ok, back to the books.

I was up late last night re-reading A Wrinkle in Time, quietly applauding Madeleine L'Engle's bullet-proof awesomeness. Chuckling at Calvin O'Keefe, who managed to hit on the "just as you are" line long before Mark Darcy.

Of course, being a teenage boy, the lines run more like this:

'"I wish I were a different person,' Meg said shakily. 'I hate myself.'
"Calvin reached over and took off her glasses. Then he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped her tears. This gesture of tenderness undid her completely, and she put her head down on her knees and sobbed. Calvin sat quietly beside her, every once in a while patting her head. 'I'm sorry,' she sobbed finally. 'I'm terribly sorry. Now you'll hate me.'
"'Oh, Meg, you are a moron,' Calvin said. 'Don't you know you're the nicest thing that's happened to me in a long time?'" (p. 53)

C'mon. Let out that chorus of "awwws" you're holding back. As if you wouldn't have loved to hear that when you were, I don't know, 12? Or, as if you wouldn't have loved to have had the guts to say that when you were a teen.

As Lizzie Skurnick puts it, "Loving. Him. LOVING HIM."

See, it's Skurnick's Shelf Discovery that has me wandering down memory lane, remembering books once loved and (thankfully!) not lost.

That said, I'm not wholly certain I would recommend this one. Skurnick's book's third sub-title identifies it as "A Reading Memoir," and I have to tell you, it's not quite that. In fact, I'm not quite sure what it is.

While it is certainly entertaining, it's not terribly personal. Nor is it academic, although Skurnick manages to contextualize many of the books we loved within the times they were written, and within a feminist (or not feminist) off-the-page balance.

"If you ask me, it is truly a symbol of the great injustice of life as we know it today that the only girl heroine's name that can truly be said to have entered the vernacular is 'Pollyanna.'.... It's an even greater injustice that the appelative, of course, is a pejorative. It's not only that, out of the 9,000 exciting heroines you could mention, our language reflects only one. It's that the one character elected for immortality, the linguistic ambassador for young women in the world, is a prating goody-goody who spreads her good cheer with the relentless force of a Caterpillar." (p. 7)

By dealing with the friendships, loves and family relationships of youth, Skurnick does remind the reader of the promise and curiosity and confusion with which all these great books were first approached.

The problem, however, is many of the book descriptions run to summary.

Now, for those of us who have read many of the books summarized, this is sort of a treat -- for example I now finally remember the Judy Blume book I wanted to take to book club years ago because it dealt with divorce, not periods. (Sorry Andy. I meant to choose It's Not the End of the World.) Also, suddenly you remember goofy details, or lovable lead characters. Or you discover the books you read for fun were actually thinly-veiled lessons in women's equality.

On the other hand, the summaries get a titch tiresome. Which, perhaps, is why two of the best essays are not written by Skurnick, but by Jennifer Weiner and Meg Cabot.

Cabot launches her thoughts on Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret from Africa, where young women a school she is visiting are well aware of Margaret's trials and tribulations. It's oddly comforting and sort of surprising to realize Blume's international reach.

Weiner, meanwhile, explains how Blubber is not, in fact, about the bullied girl known as Blubber at all. And so, it is left to a new generation of writers to figure out how a chubby, dislikable girl might be the heroine of her own life.

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