Friday, December 09, 2005

The essay I wrote for Nearby U.

We spend time together almost everyday: Josephine, Margaret, Frances, Georgette, Dana, Jane, and I. One-on-one, we share lunch or that quiet time after my son Muffin Man is in bed. Every time I see them, I experience something new. There are others I have lunch with, or spend those quiet hours with, but Josephine and the others are my core-group of companions. We take trips together. We meet on visits to the doctor’s office. Often, one will go with me when I get the oil changed in my car.

Aside from Frances, they are a different set of friends from those I had when I was young. Back then it was Frances, Laura, Lucy, Paula, Noel, and Agatha. They rode the subway to school with me. I sat with them at lunch and recess. My fifth grade teacher actually had to limit my time with them, because my other friends were feeling left out.

In bed at night I used to hide under the blankets with a flashlight just to steal one more half-hour with one or another of them. My mom learned pretty quickly to come and check on me often. "Lights out, Little Miss Mystery Mommy. Put the book away. It’ll still be there in the morning."

Joesephine Tey, Margaret Maron, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Georgette Heyer, Dana Stabenow, Jane Austen. Such wonderful writing, such fascinating worlds: The United Kingdom during the Regency Era, the Victorian Era, and between the World Wars; Our own present-day heartland, cities, and wilderness. I fall in love with the places as much as the people. And when I come back from reading or re-reading one of their books, I get a new appreciation for my own small world, seeing it through fresh eyes.

More than any one person, these authors have influenced who I am and what my morals are. From Laura Ingalls Wilder I learned to be grateful for what I had - how could I complain when she had subsisted on hand-ground whole-wheat bread for an entire winter, twisting hay into sticks for the fire? From Noel Streatfeild I learned about how war affects children and that even children can help their families earn enough money to keep afloat. Paula Danziger taught me to face disappointment with humour and that my family’s odd arrangement of four parents and joint custody might not be so unusual after all. Agatha Christie (and before her, the authors of "Nancy Drew") taught me to pay attention to the littlest details. And that "humour" is spelled with two u’s.

I said that these authors are my companions, but really it’s their books that have been my friends. Their books have taught me and nurtured me, comforted me and helped me to grieve. Beloved old familiar books, intriguing newly discovered books. Used books that smell of pipe tobacco. New books with shiny fresh covers. Library books, reluctantly returned. Memoirs, mysteries, science-fiction, histories - how delightful just to read, and laugh, or weep. And now that I’m a mother - with a young son who needs me rested every morning - how strangely sweet it is to say to myself sometimes, "Lights out, Mystery Mommy. Put the book away. It’ll still be there in the morning."

16 comments:

Running2Ks said...

I am so with you on that: Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, Beverly Cleary, Carolyn Keene--and on into Stephen King. My life was defined by books. I read voraciously as a child--eventually, my mom gave up on asking me to go to bed.

Songbird said...

As a sister in reading who wedged books between the bed and the wall to read by the night light, I greatly appreciate your essay. Nice work!

Phantom Scribbler said...

The Pistachio Prescription was one of my all-time favorites.

liz said...

"Pistachios, the red ones, can cure any problem."

susan said...

This post is timely for me--the very last time I checked your blog I thought "you know, Liz doesn't write about all the authors she names in the blog header nearly as much as I wish she did." What a cool post.

I, too, was...am...a bookworm who was quite taken by mysteries and British spelling as a child.

halloweenlover said...

Awww, I thoroughly identified with this post. I have always loved to read, and I have to tell myself to put books down also. When we go on vacation, Josh begs me to put down the books and pay attention to the location. It is just such a joy to be able to sit and read uninterrupted for hours.

Great post.

Fuzzball said...

*HUGS*

I KNEW I liked you! I feel EXACTLY the same way about my books!!!

Genevieve said...

What a terrific essay! No wonder Nearby U. wants you.

Ah, the Pistachio Prescription. Is that the one with Cassie who tweezed her eyebrows off? Or the one with the eighth grade girl who took a class on children's rights, and dated a seventh-grader, which led to her being called a cradle robber?

OK, I've read all of Josephine Tey (and started a colleague reading Tey) and Jane Austen, and the main Frances Hodgson Burnett books (just got her autobiography on ebay). Which books do you recommend by Margaret Maron, Georgette Heyer, and Dana Stabenow? I don't know them except for Heyer, but given your other likes, I'm sure I'll like them.

Have you read Laurie Colwin? You might really like her books - especially A Big Storm Knocked It Over, Happy All the Time, and Goodbye Without Leaving. (Yes, Phantom, I'm pushing Colwin again.)

liz said...

I'm going to put Colwin on my wish list, obviously I've got to read her.

With Margaret Maron, you could start with "One Coffee With" (first in the Sigrid Harald series), "Bootlegger's Daughter" (first in her Deborah Knott series) or one of her stand-alone books or one of her short story collections. She's fabulous.

For Dana Stabenow, start with "Break Up", even though it's the middle of the series. It shows her sense of humour off very well and doesn't spoil the earlier books.

And Georgette Heyer, well, you can start almost anywhere. All her books are divine. Her mysteries are Christie/Teyesque (she's a contemporary of theirs) and her romances are lovely Jane-Austen-like confections. I started with "Frederica" (romance) and "Envious Casca" (mystery).

If we EVER meet in person (cough, cough, hint), I'll loan you my copies of Burnett's "The Shuttle", "Robin", and "The Making of a Marchioness"

Genevieve said...

Ooh, ooh, I was looking at those Burnett books online a month or so ago! (when I ordered her autobiography instead - when I finish it, I'll lend it to you.)

Having trouble scheduling things b/c both I and the kiddo have been sick. But this Saturday would work, I think - would it work for you? Brunch/lunch at the Silver Diner with the kids? (I can't do an adults-only get-together b/c I'm doing one of those on Sunday and my boy has been All About the Mama since he's been recovering from pneumonia.) If not this weekend, and presumably not Christmas or New Year's weekends

Suburban Turmoil said...

This is wonderful and I totally relate. Books shaped my growing up years and continue to do so, although I no longer have the time to read that I would like. Books make great friends!

Julie said...

Great post! Some of your authors are on my list, too, though I'd have to add Louisa May Alcott, who showed me how to keep my temper and how not to let the sun go down on my anger.

purple_kangaroo said...

I love this post!

Dana Stabenow said...

That is a wonderful essay, and that is some company I am keeping. Thank you!

Margaret M. said...

Oh, Dana, I'm so honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with Josephine Tey, one of my all-time favorites. (Can never choose between Brat Farrar and Miss Pym Disposes.) Have you read Rumer Goddin's China Court? I just gave it to Dorothy Cannell and she loved it as much as I do.

liz said...

I am so happy that the two of you commented! And now I have a new book to read, too!!