Snuggle Up With A Good Book

Last week I made another visit to the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s Disneyland for crafters and thrift shop junkies.

I struck gold.

In their huge book section, I picked up a green hardcover book that had the telltale color, texture, size, and aroma of an old school library book.  It still had the little pocket pasted onto the inside of the back cover.  And, tucked into that pocket was the original card.

The book originally came from Tom’s River High School.  Coincidentally, Tom’s River is very close to where my mom grew up.  The first time it was checked out, it was due November 20, 1962.  The last time it was returned to the high school library was January 8, 1979.   

The book is Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Her Betsy series was one of the written joys of my life.  I read and reread these books whenever I felt lonely; and for a kid in a military family, it was more often than you might think.

The books go from early readers to Betsy’s marriage and the beginnings of WWI.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were my closest friends, and B’s family was my second family, always there for a singalong and an onion sandwich at Sunday night lunch. 

To honor the books that I loved so much, I thought that I’d tell you about my all-time favorite books; the ones that I stayed up late reading and the ones, like Betsy, that I’d pull off the shelf when I needed its comfort.

Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly.  Written in 1942, it’s the story of Angie Morrow, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.  I read it in the sixth grade, and it set me up for all kinds of disappointment when I was going through my own 17th summer.

Hey, not all of us can be willowy, self-possessed, blond cheerleaders.  I adore the book and whole mood and energy I get when I read it.

Chesapeake, by James Michener.  I read this in the 9th grade on a two-week class trip to Mexico.  It was my first Michener. I love all of his books, but this multi-generational novel about families on the Eastern shore of Virginia is my flannel pajamas, cozy Michener.

This is my own copy.

The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, and Hotel New Hampshire, all by John Irving.  In one page of this author’s work, he can make you cry, laugh, and want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

His work is easy to read, but hard to digest.  All of his characters seem like real people, full of quirks, nobility, and faults.  I have never read a book with odder, yet more believable characters. 

John Irving

John Irving will challenge you and your whole world.

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  This is the nonfiction account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer, HH Holmes, who used it as his personal hunting ground.  Larson writes history that reads like fiction.  I read everything he writes, and not only because reading nonfiction makes me feel smart.

During this apocalypse that is our lives, I’ve been reading lots of thrillers; it makes me appreciate that at least I’m not being stalked by a crazed killer, and I love a good twist.  Recently I read, Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris.

It’s astonishing.

So, if I may suggest, Gentle Reader, put down the remote and pick up a book.  You can take a trip without a mask that will change you forever.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Are You Gonna Read That?

Although the vast majority of raising The Kid has been fun, rewarding, and taught me about the unending nature of a human’s ability to love, there is one area of deep disappointment.

The Kid doesn’t like Trixie Belden books.

My generation Trixie.

Trixie and her friends, the Bob-Whites, have adventures and solve mysteries in the Hudson Valley.  Growing up in a military family that moved every three years or so, these kids were constant friends.

I so looked forward to sharing them.  When The Kid was a toddler, I found the first sixteen at a used bookstore, bought them, and put them away until my child was ready.

Trixie, The Next Generation

I was so excited when it was time.

Yeah, huge bust.  The Kid didn’t like them. 

There are books we both love, but all those daydreams about passing Trixie books along and having breathless confabs discussing plot, characters, and settings went up in smoke.

The Kid’s very favorite book. Petey and I found an autographed one for a birthday one year that has become our child’s most prized possession.

But, recently, it’s happened.

It’s not those childhood faves, but a genre that’s captured us both.

They’re modern reinterpretations of the thriller.  They are the fast-paced combination of mystery, adventure, and psychological studies.  But the thing we love the most about them are the twists.

If the perpetrator is someone completely unexpected, or the entire story flips in the last chapter in an organic and believable way, we are all over that book like a pair of brand-new spandex yoga pants.

I discovered them and introduced them to my bookworm child.

Can we just change the subject?

They have been a godsend for The Kid, who is high risk and thus, self-quarantining.  You can only have so many deep conversations with the dog before the dog starts talking back.

During these preposterous, unprecedented times, it’s imperative to have new stuff rattling around your brainbox—preferably new stuff that excites you and which you can share and discuss with others.

The Passengers, by John Marrs, is the novel that started it all.

This ridiculous cover hides a terrific story.

It’s set in England, in the near future, when self-driving cars have become mandatory.  Your five-year-old child or your ninety-year-old blind grandmother can travel both in safety and solitude.

Until.

Until eight cars are hacked and held hostage, taken under the malevolent control of a mysterious mastermind, and every second of their terror is live-streamed to the world.  On almost every page is a revelation that will make your jaw drop.

The Kid finished it in one sitting, and we still talk about it.

So, I started making recommendations.

Another one we loved was, No Exit, by Taylor Adams.  It’s the story of a group of travelers snowed in overnight at a mountain rest stop.  But, one of them is a psychopath.  It’s a cat and mouse game where they have no idea who the cat is, what he’s done, or what he’s capable of.

The Night Before, by Wendy Walker, is a race against time as a fragile woman goes on an internet date, and doesn’t return.  Her sister works backward to find her, along the way discovering secrets about her husband and her own life.

Currently, it’s I’m very excited to be reading The Splendid and the Vile, not a thriller, but new nonfiction by the king of meticulously researched, eminently readable nonfiction; Erik Larson, author of Devil In The White City.

This one’s a year in the life of Winston Churchill and his inner circle beginning on the day he was named Prime Minister.  During this time, the Nazis conducted the blitz on London, raining down an astronomical 30,000 bombs, and killing 40,000 citizens.

Now, like then, we all need diversion.  So pick up a book and take a mental trip.

Might I recommend a girl named Trixie Belden?

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.