Thursday, May 15, 2008

What books obsessed you as a child?

I have been talking in LibraryThing with many, many people I could never have met anywhere else, and meanwhile or course thinking more consciously about books. Of course anyone who knows me knows that I always seem to be thinking about books, but at the moment it's quite overt.
In order to divert myself from book aquisition (right now it's spinning and weaving books; what are you buying, hm?), I'm turning my thoughts to what I read as a child. One of the great things about parenthood for me has been introducing my children to books I knew and treasured myself at their ages. Yes, today they have Harry Potter and The Quiltmaker's Journey and many other worthwhile reads which hadn't yet been written during my childhood, but I can't tell you the joy I have felt when they've read (or listened to) and loved Heidi, Charlotte's Web, The Secret Garden, The Velveteen Rabbit, and The Hobbit. It doesn't bother me that none of them get the least bit excited about The Happy Hollisters, Malory Towers or Cherry Ames; I guess those really are once and for all dated.
The one book which I read, and read, and read as a girl, though, was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I had multiple copies which I kept in my room. I don't know when I discovered it, but once I had devoured it once I returned to it regularly. I never stopped crying when Sara fed Anne; I never got over the cruelty of the rich girls; I never felt much sympathy for Lottie; I always felt for Ermengarde. Oddly, Sara Crewe herself seemed less a human figure to me than some of the secondary characters; she was too perfect, rather like Mary Ingalls always seemed in the Little House books. The rat and the monkey always amused me quite a lot, though.
While The Secret Garden is a beautiful story hidden within a children's tale, A Little Princess is more a pre-adolescent's paradise story; a tale of a child who is important not because of who she is, but what she is inside and what she can do. Her riches at the end have more to do with what she has accomplished as a person than what the diamond mines her father has left her will offer. Every adolescent girl sympathizes with Sara because every adolescent girl (boy too I imagine, but I think it's more prevalent among girls) feels underappreciated, undervalued, and holds a child's self-absorbtion within a persona expected to express an adult's selflessness.
Of course, it would be nice to wake up one morning and find you own diamond mines, wouldn't it?
So what are your favorite childhood book memories, or childhood books? Which ones did you treasure as opposed to the books you now as an adult value?


Anonymous said...

Hi, found your blog on LT. I'm only just making my way around to everyone's blogs. I love "A Little Princess" and "The Secret Garden". In fact, I recently bought them for my nine year old cousin when I heard she hadn't read them. That was when I also discovered "Little Lord Fauntleroy" by Burnett. If you haven't read it, you should check it out. I thought it was just as good as ALP and TSG. I look forward to more of your reviews :)

Elizabeth said...

Hi - I also found your blog at LT and wanted to say hello. The books that really define my childhood are the Anne of Green Gables series. I literally wanted to BE Anne. I memorized "The Highwayman" because Anne recited it. I read through several copies - wonderful!

Leesy said...

It was one of my sisters who loved Anne (I'm waiting for her to comment--I know she's around here somewhere). Of course, the difference between us was that I was knowledge- and book-obsessed while she was genuinely intellectual and literary.

You might get a kick out of the story below on the blog of my developmentally delayed 11 year old deciding he should read "War and Peace" because they read it in "Because of Winn Dixie."

And I have no idea why LLF never appealed to me when I loved the other two Burnett books. I actually wondered that as a child even!

Anonymous said...

Hi, another LibraryThinger here. I love this thread so commenting here. I still cherish my children's books - some have followed me physically into adulthood, some have had to be repurchased. I loved the Hodgson Burnett books, the Anne books, and all of Noel Streatfeild of course. Also the pony books - Jill, the Pullein-Thompson sisters' books... One I was shocked by was the Black Stallion series, though. A fellow BookCrosser sent me a stack of them. In the last one, the world ends! Didn't recall that one!

Anonymous said...

If the sister you mention is me-- than I am being misremembered (dis-remembered?).

I read Anne only after seeing the Canadian miniseries when I was 19. Hardly intellectual. Coudn't read it any younger. Anne was too chatty.

However, I did like Little House, Little Women, Short People, etc. AND the Happy Hollisters, Trixie Belden,Anna Karenina.

Your parents stocked a variety of books I must say.

Leesy said...

That wasn't them, that was me. I bought all the Happy Hollisters and all that stuff at used book stores as a kid. Well, the 'rents provided the Little House books and Little Women. I had the extra bonus of helping you watch slime molds and other important concepts on PBS.