Sunday, January 8, 2012

The books I remember...beyond the stories

We all remember certain books we loved as a child, but often there is no story behind the story; there is just a gauzy recollection of joy.

For me, many classics fall into this category:
Goodnight Moon, The Cat and the Hat, Caps for Sale, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day, Harry and the Terrible Whatzit, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Leo the Late Bloomer, Humbug Witch, Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Weirdos, Where the Wild Things Are.

Then there are certain books we remember because of a story surrounding them. These personal stories might take no more than a line to tell, and these books weren’t always favorites, but they nonetheless remain a memory.

These are those books for me.

Moose, an out-of-print 1971 picture book by the prolific, diverse Michael Foreman, is a paean to peace and very much a product of its (Vietnam War) era. Of course, when hearing the story as a child, that allegory completely escaped my awareness.

It contains a scene I remember scrutinizing: a bear set up in a room in the woods. The very idea of this—a room with no walls, human trappings blended in with the treeswas riveting to me, and the detailed drawing amplified it:

It’s no surprise that I love superheroes now, and probably no surprise that this dates back to childhood. I remember loving the chunky, portable format of Aquaman: Scourge of the Sea, not to mention the fact that it was about one of my favorite heroes (and one who was the focus of relatively little merchandising, making this a novelty).

Another superhero book I loved—also chunky, but not portable—is one I pored over in the den in our house; I believe Superman From the 30's to the 70's was a Chanukah gift. As an adult researching Superman’s creators for what became Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman, I was startled and angered to learn that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names do not appear in the book even once.

Like many males of my generation, I gobbled up the Hardy Boys. I remember toting the blue-spined hardcovers to my grandmother’s in New Haven and reading them on her chair until what felt like the middle of the night (but was probably only 9 p.m.). Even then I was attuned to—and interested in—the time period that produced them.

Around age six, I stood in the front hallway of my house and pleaded with my mom to let me take the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Golden Book to school. She wasn’t against me reading it or even owning it but did not feel it was appropriate for a Jewish child to bring in a Christmas book for show and tell. Mom 1, me 0.

The Power of Light by Isaac Bashevis Singer had eight stories, one for each night of Chanukah. I can’t say for sure I read one per night but do remember feeling it would make my Sunday school teacher proud if she were to find out I had it.

Chancing upon the novel Frankenstein's Aunt in my town library, I was fascinated to see a story about an icon told from a different perspective and with characters not in the source material; it may have been the first time I’d seen that. Today it’s quite common to see new interpretations of public domain figures.

This is the only cover of this bunch I’m not 100% certain about. I do know that in fourth grade I read a paperback about Squanto. Of all the covers I saw online, Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims came closest to a ka-ching, but I feel the one I read had trees and more color.

Also in 1982, when I was ten and Raiders of the Lost Ark was one, I tried to tackle the paperback novelization, which I got from my dad’s old-fashioned pharmacy/luncheonette in New Haven. A google showed that various covers were produced and at first I didn’t find the one I remembered: blue foil. I started to doubt my recall until I did come across the very one I pulled out in fourth grade free read. The language was tough so I didn’t finish it, but didn’t need to; I knew the film probably line-for-line.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man was another adult novel I read (but this time, at fifteen, I was a ways closer to actually being an adult). In a sense, it relates to the concept behind Frankenstein’s Aunt in that it is an update/twist on an existing archetype. I remember devouring it on my waterbed (sadly true) the summer of 1987 and feeling very grown-up about it.

And permit me to show a few that have no extra story but whose two- or no-color glory compelled me to revisit them with my own children.

The two middle-grade (if that’s what they are?) novels that seemed to linger strongest with me were built around small animals: The Mouse and the Motorcycle and The Cricket in Times Square. I still like my covers better than the various revisions I’ve seen since.

And, of course, this one.

There are more I can’t remember at the moment. I hope I do eventually and will then add to this post.


Anonymous said...

What comes to mind for me (at age 50) are:
"Island of the Blue Dolphins"
"The Pigman"
"Harriet the Spy"
"From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankenweiler"

I actually don't remember the plots of any of these, but each evokes emotions of a time and place that's stuck with me all these years.

Of course, so does the "Jimmy Olsen 80 page Giant" I used to read on rainy days under the backyard patio...

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Odkin, BLUE DOLPHINS is one I already bought for my kids when they're old enough even though I, too, don't remember a thing about it. Another in that category: THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND.

Mel said...

growing up I actually read some novelizations before I saw the movies: Superman IV, Bad News Bears, etc. I read "The Natural" (the original novel) way before I saw the movie, and they were very different.