Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reading to Escape - part 2, other kids' lives

(Love this opening image because she is reading books and wearing orange - THOUGH LOOKS NOTHING LIKE ME!) Now, back to the Sarah blog...

I always had a library book with me during the school day, and despite whatever noise was going on, if I finished my in-class assignment early I would take out the book and read. I would never say I coasted through school – I was obsessed with grades so I spent a lot of time on my class work – but given some of the unfortunate others in my class that were part of our main stream…let’s just say I almost always had time in class to read my book.

I never read nonfiction – probably didn’t read it voluntarily until my 30s, except for biographies or autobiographies. (Correction: I used to do the summer reading program at our library where you had to read a certain number of books including science and social studies – I remember forcing myself, in great boredom and other discomfort, to read a book about flower stamens, and one only a little less boring about life on an Israeli kibbutz.) I only wanted to read about people – people with more fun lives than me – which meant biographies or FICTION.

One of the thousand reasons I never considered myself smart in grade school was that I shunned the Newbery Award children’s books. They were always on a special shelf at the town library, which was proud to have them – but I couldn’t make myself like them. I remember one had details of an Eskimo boy chewing whale blubber, and another had a Middle Eastern girl embarrassed by her farts, inevitable since her diet had so many chickpeas. Now, who wouldn’t rather read a late 1950s/early 1960s teen romance, with hardly even a kiss at the end, but lots of description of 50s clothing and dates at coffee shops and soda fountains?

I am proud of and grateful for my family, but frankly the family element of a lot of books I read was a big part of my escape. Families where both original parents were living – where the younger siblings were not too bratty – where although dating didn’t come easy, there was usually a bad boy (safe-bad) to be rejected and a boy-next-door to be accepted. These books sound really old, don’t they! They were possibly nowhere in circulation other than the Tomball, TX library by the early 1970s.

One of my dad’s early dates with my stepmother was a Christmas concert, to which of course I took my book. Basically I took a library book to everything but church – trust me, if I could have gotten away with it, I would have been reading during church services too. Dim concert lighting? No problem – I would squint and just not read as fast. On this particular date that I remember, my youngest stepsister-to-be Debbie came along. Debbie was friendly but shy-me soon ran out of dialogue. I remember her saying, “I’ll just let you read your book,” and thought, uh-oh, I hope I didn’t seem rude. But really, I DID want to read my book. The heroine and her mother were baking a family specialty for her birthday, brown walnut cake – I think they used burned butter – it sounded kind of like a cake my maternal grandmother used to make, but better… I think the heroine was in the school play, there was some kind of drama going on, centered around her birthday – her life was not without conflicts but the book was very upbeat in a Midwestern kind of way. Actually this book was not set in the 1950s!, a rarity for me. I remember loving it. I wish I could remember the name of it…

As an adult I almost never reread books, but back then I read lots of my favorites multiple times. Yes, I guess this was partly due to the poor selection… But in retrospect it was a good thing I absorbed them so thoroughly, since today I could not find those books if I tried! (And I HAVE tried to locate a couple of them online.)

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A few of my favorites, murkily remembered:

A motherless girl spends her last few years of high school with a relative in Florida, visits an orange juice stand shaped like an orange (actually I have seen such a thing in the real Florida, but that’s irrelevant), finally comes to appreciate the relative she lives with (uncle? aunt? step-somebody?) and make a new life for herself – gains a nice sweet dark-haired boyfriend who at first was “just a friend.”

A girl in a largish family spends all the money from her summer job on herself – she buys grownup clothes like a black sheath dress, a linen jacket, linen pumps – just as she is about to make a deposit on an apartment for after high school, she comes to her senses, re-embraces her family (she will live at home during college), and returns the unworn professional outfits to the boutique where she bought them.

(I have saved the best for last:) A plump, surly teen loses weight, learns French, and gains savoir faire while on a study program in France. When she returns to her family in New York City, she has become poised enough to sing a solo on her father’s TV program (I kid you not), something she had whined about for years but was never truly ready for, before. As she sings on live TV, she half-closes her eyes and thinks with sweet sadness about the French boy she left behind.

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OK – excuse me for digressing, but here is a final image as silly as some of those plots. The official title is, “teenage girl holding book.” Holding – not reading! Excuse me, this is soft porn! (It came up when I searched for Young Girl Reading Book.) The photo, not the book, is porn…there’s no telling what is in the book. She certainly doesn’t know.

1 comment:

Courtenay said...

Sarah: I wish we were closer...geographically!