The other night, Beth asked me what I read when I was ten or eleven ish, and I had this instant image of my room back then: twin bed, chaotic floor (lava!), Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets and curtains, pale yellow walls. Me, sprawled on the bed, legs propped on the wall while I read. My bookshelf was small and contained books I’d outgrown but would never get rid of (not even to this day — though I did send Birds in My Drawer to a dear friend and her kidlet, because some things should be passed along).
Books were not something easily come by (we just didn’t have the money — at one elementary book fair, I tried to steal a book because I couldn’t pay for it (and I say tried because of course I was caught)), so whenever I got one, I usually read it to tatters because I kept going back and back. The books that remain from this time show some wear — if you open some of them, pages will pop out. Charlotte’s Web is especially worn — I’ve since bought a new copy, but have also kept the older one, the one I read countless times, not because of some pig, but because of Charlotte, the spider who was a writer. (And this book contains a fair, of course it does — my how my own writing roots begin to show.)
My holy trinity as a kid was The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My original copy of Alice did not survive, so well was she read. I loved stories where girls went on adventures — Alice and Dorothy would naturally lead to Nancy Drew, who in turn lead to all those gorgeous Sunfire romances. But first, there was adventure. Island of the Blue Dolphins? Yes, please. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was fine and brilliant, but I didn’t love how the girls turned into blueberries or vanished into the bowels of the factory until much, much later.
At eleven, I was gifted with my first copies of Tolkien; I loved The Hobbit, but couldn’t wrap my head around Lord of the Rings. I absolutely wanted to load myself into a barrel and float down a river with those hobbits. Around the same time, I also got the boxed-set of Narnia. I have a very specific memory of reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in my grandparents’ RV, as we drove across Washington State. I was in the bed above the front seats — feeling like a princess in a tower because I was reading in a moving vehicle.
What do all of these books have in common so far? Male authors. In fact, every single book pictured up there has a male author.
The women authors I remember include: Judy Blume, Louise Fitzhugh, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder (talk about girls having adventures!), and when I was older, Francine Pascal.My reading probably followed a predictable path — when I graduated from the Sunfire romances, I went straight into First Love by Silhouette, and Sweet Valley High (some of those I do still have!). Girls were still having adventures, but now those adventures also included kissing.
Blume was especially dear to me — most of those books did not survive, but I clearly remember throwing their tatters out when the time came. I sobbed, because I knew they wouldn’t be easily come by again. Imagine how much of a revelation ebooks are for a person who grew up like this. Imagine how treasured a friend’s book becomes — I have friends who write books? It still blows my mind.
And I write books? Of course I do — I couldn’t do anything else.