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Sunny, With a Chance of Nostalgia

Part of The Great Move (still yet to be completed) has included sorting my possessions. I never realized I had so much stuff!- and the largest category of things to be sorted is, of course, books. I didn’t make a proper count of them, but I estimate I have between twelve and fifteen hundred. And that’s after donating about a hundred to the local library. Medieval monks would weep with joy to have access to the sort of library that I’ve accumulated in less than thirty years, with very little money.

Most of these books will travel with me- one small box to come along immediately and the rest to be sent later, once I have a permanent address and space for them. Luckily, my father is being very understanding about this entire process, and is allowing me to leave a room full of boxes. Over time, he’ll send or bring me about forty linear feet of books and slightly less than that in shelves for them.

But there are also two or three rather large boxes of books that will stay at my father’s house for another few years, even after I’m settled out West. These are the children’s books that I’m saving for my own kids (that I don’t have yet). Any children of mine are likely to be voracious readers, and I suspect that, like my parents did for me, I’ll spend a lot of time scrambling to find sufficient quantity of books that are age-appropriate while being difficult enough for an advanced reader. These two or three boxes will serve as my buffer zone, my breathing space, if the supply of books in my house ever hits a bottleneck.

Most of these books were my favorites as a kid, and even if my kids aren’t as obsessed with horses or history, they might find something to their liking. The Saddle Club series was a favorite when I was seven or eight, and so were series like Dear America and The Royal Diaries. I got into the Redwall series when I was in middle school, but I don’t think any of those ended up in the box because they belong to my brother.

Then there are the perennial favorites. Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles are traveling with me; I find them a hilarious form of escapism even as an adult. And I stopped the sorting process for an hour or so when I found The Witch of Blackbird Pond, so I could reread it, sitting on the floor, surrounded by a mass of books (does anyone else do this? It’s a perpetual hazard of cleaning for me; I find a good book, get sidetracked, and come back to Earth an hour later with the clutter still glaring at me).

I even found children’s books that I’d bought as an adult. Johnny Tremain was one of these; I had never read it as a kid, heard it recommended by a zillion people, and decided to buy it, read it, and save it for my kids. I go through periodic bouts of suspicion that TPTB are editing the classics without telling the reading public, and end up buying paper copies of all sorts of things, just so I have a record of the original content. I’ve heard this is happening to the Nancy Drew series, for example, which makes me happy that I saved those.

And during the sorting process, one occasionally wonders, how did I end up with this? I found a pair of novelizations from Full House (the t.v. show from the 80s and 90s) and I have no idea where they came from. I never watched the show, and neither did anyone else in my family. Presumably, they were gifts from a now-forgotten benefactor, or my mom found them in a pile of free books (Mom had a great nose for a bargain) and gave them to me in desperation at a time when I was sans reading material (quelle horreur!). Child-me could be rather obnoxious when I had nothing to read.

Some of my reading choices were simply terrible. My Side of the Mountain was good, but its sequels are preachy beyond belief. I used to be more tolerant of awful books; even if it was bad, it was still something to read, but I’ve gradually moved away from that mindset. Life’s too short to read bad books.

My favorites usually had one thing in common: the message- if there was one- didn’t overshadow the story. I’ve been known to read message fiction- Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was one of my favorite books in my late teens, because it was so contrary to everything I’d been taught as a kid- but most of the time, I want my fiction to be entertaining, not preachy. Non-fiction is a different ball game, because it exists to inform the reader about a topic.

It sounds ridiculous to say that I’ve become a more discerning reader, given the size of my library, but it’s true. If I’d sorted my books a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to give any of them away. Every time I picked one up, I’d say to myself, “But I might want to read it again!” and it would go in the ‘keep’ pile. The local library can tell you that is no longer the case. I’ve also increased the proportion of non-fiction (mostly history) books in my collection. As a child, I found most non-fiction slightly boring, because there was no room for escapism- my primary reason for reading in the first place. Now that I think about it, that might explain why I found school in general to be about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Enough of my blathering. Tell me about you. What books were childhood favorites? Which ones stood the test of time, and which ones have been consigned to the ash-heap of history? How have you changed as a reader- not in terms of skill, because I’m sure most of you aren’t decoding words sound by sound anymore- but in terms of your taste in books?

31 Comments
  1. My fave – hands down, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series. Although very early on, I did adore the Freddy the Pig series, to the point where Mom was saying, tiredly, didn’t I want to get anything else from the library?

    May 2, 2018
    • Loved those. I still need to get Pioneer Girl, which was her original adult-level attempt at a biography. It apparently has a lot of the nastier details that she left out of the kid-level fictionalizations.

      And is it really a surprise that you’ve taken to historical fiction with a favorite like that?

      May 7, 2018
      • Shouldn’t be … and in Daughter of Texas, I deliberately tried to mimic the Little House books, in tone and detail about housekeeping stuff.

        May 7, 2018
  2. Had to be the Narnia Chronicles. Read them to pieces several times. Reminds me, I need to pick up another set because the last box set got destroyed in a flood.

    May 2, 2018
    • Narnia here, too. And CSL’s “Space Trilogy”, and Treasure Island, and Ivanhoe, and The Call of the Wild. I haven’t read them all of Lewis, and never quite made it through Ivanhoe for ’em, but the others (and the Jungle Books, and the Just So Stories, and Hans Brinker, and Journey to the Center of the Earth) are childhood favorites on my shelf as much to read to the kids as for any other reason.

      May 2, 2018
    • Look for the late-90s original cover editions with the Pauline Baynes art restored and colorized (by Ms. Baynes herself!) And then re-sort them into publication order.

      May 7, 2018
  3. After I graduated from college (and rather to my astonishment got a job!) I packed off probably half my books to the library. My method was “well, I’ll always be able to find those again, if I want to reread them.” So I just kept favorites and the books I thought might be hard to find.

    I don’t know that I was right about availability, though, because I’ve never felt the desire to read all the Tarzan books again, all the Black Stallion series (I kept the first one), Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, Who knows how many others that I’ve forgotten.

    Like so many other people, I left SF for Mystery for awhile. Then back to SF after I discover Lois Bujold, and followed her to Baen.

    The main change in my reading has come with writing. I don’t have the mental space or physical time for the voracious reading I used to do. All my “sense of wonder” has diverted to creating rather than reading. Well, not all. But the TBR pile that used to rarely survive three days after the trip to the library is now teetering and threatening to collapse and trap me . . . wish it would hurry up.

    May 2, 2018
  4. John R. Ellis #

    The Chronicles of Narnia. Prydain. The Dark is Rising. L’Engle’s Time books. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of N.I.M.H. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The Journeys of McGill Feighan. So many, many Agatha Christie books…The Last Unicorn. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Robin McKinley’s Beauty. I, Robot…so many fond memories…

    May 2, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      …I have noticed that as an adult, I’ve tended to drift away from the angsty, pessimistic stuff I was fascinated with in my late teens and twenties and have gone back towards the stuff that gives me a bit of the old Sense O’ Wonder…yet still has emotional resonance.

      May 2, 2018
  5. Christopher M. Chupik #

    The Mushroom Planet, the Tripods and Prince in Waiting trilogies from John Christopher, Burroughs and Tolkien . . .

    May 2, 2018
  6. The Tailor of Gloucester, The Winged Watchman, When the Dykes Broke, Caddie Woodlawn, The Good Master and the Singing Tree (Hungarian life in 1915!)… A particularly lovely version of The Snow Queen in a green book (My Book House?) along with an Egyptian Cinderella, and a fairy tale about a girl whose hair turned to water when it fell out… plus everything above.

    May 2, 2018
  7. The Dark is Rising series. Narnia. The Blue Sword and Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. Beauty by Robin McKinley. Caddie Woodlawn. The Little House Books (I lived in that part of the world for many years.) The Colored Fairy Books by Lang. Holling C. Holling’s books (Seabird, Tree in the Trail [live there, too]). The Just So Stories, Puck of Pook’s Hill. Space Cat. The Boy who Saved the Stars (Boris Vallejo. Yes, that Boris, but 100% kid appropriate).

    May 2, 2018
    • Oh, and if you can find them, _Ashante to Zulu_ and _Children of the Sun_. Not politically correct in some ways, but beautiful pictures.

      May 2, 2018
    • ❤️❤️❤️ your choices.

      May 7, 2018
  8. Too many to list, but the greatest portion of my childhood reading was World Book encyclopedias.

    May 2, 2018
  9. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    There was a time when my favorite author was Jean Craighead George, and favorite book was Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinsion. A good complete edition of Wyss is higher on my list of vague intentions than George. Read quite a bit of other things too, from Aiken to Zahn. Shonen Jump was more something I came across as an adult.

    Taste? More tolerance for Horror and Romance, sometimes I even seek them out.

    Given the phase of life I’ve been moving through, I’m much more sensitive to time and money costs.

    More ability to handle ‘literary’ stories. But Kratman, not Joyce or that sort.

    May 2, 2018
  10. Mary #

    The Phantom Tollbooth. Narnia. the Alice books.

    May 2, 2018
  11. TonyT #

    So many awesome books already mentioned, so I won’t repeat those.

    I read a lot of Hardy Boys, but that was a temporary phase. However, we managed to score an unabridged one recently (apparently they were all abridged a long time ago, like the 1950’s). I like it better – the pace is slower, but the writing and characterization is better.

    I was lucky because my father read to us every night.

    My favorite RL Stevenson is Kidnapped.

    I’ve read the Lord of the Rings too many times, plus the rest of Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Silmarillon — and first in Spanish, later English, Farmer GIles, Smith of Wooten Major, and Leaf by Niggle). Tolkien’s back history/created world is amazing.

    The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia McKillip. Charlotte’s Web, The Thirteen Clocks, Rascal. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    I need to go through our little kid books and donate the ordinary books. The ones with good/great artwork, or memorable writing, will be kept such as anything by Ed Young, Jan Brett, Francis (e.g. Bread & Jam For Francis – and note that her dad smokes a pipe!), Beatrix Potter, and books like Five Minutes Peace and Petropolis.

    May 3, 2018
  12. Evenstar #

    The Little House books, Narnia, The Prydain Chronicles, The Dark is Rising series, the Oz books, pretty much everything by L.M. Montgomery, Little Women, An Old-fashioned Girl, Calvin and Hobbes, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Perilous Guard, Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Mara Daughter of the Nile.

    May 3, 2018
  13. Zsuzsa #

    To the ones that have already been mentioned, I’ll add the John Bellaris books: House with a Clock in Its Walls, Curse of the Blue Figurine, etc. I think those have held up.

    For ones that didn’t, I’m tempted to say Nancy Drew, but maybe that isn’t quite fair. When I was in about the 4-8 range, they were some of my favorites, but even at 12, I found them not up to snuff. The mysteries were trivial to solve, and Nancy…well, I didn’t know the term “Mary Sue” then, but I didn’t need a name for it to recognize that Nancy was one. However, I think 4-year-old me might still like them.

    (Oh, and someone mentioned above that the Hardy Boys were pretty heavily abridged in the 50s. The same is true of Nancy Drew, but I don’t think the originals were much of an improvement. Ordinarily I don’t care for PC edits, but even as an adult and knowing the attitudes of the time, it’s pretty jarring to see Nancy being casually racist, and as for characterization, Nancy is an even more insufferable Mary Sue in the originals.)

    May 3, 2018
    • We had the first twenty or so Nancy Drew books (the revised versions). Someone who knew I read (but not what) gave me a Nancy Drew book when I was twelve, a couple of years after I’d outgrown them, and it was a recent Nancy Drew. I glanced through it and was appalled at the level of writing as compared to the originals.

      May 7, 2018
  14. Luke #

    Not yet mentioned: Captains Courageous, Poe, assorted collections of short stories, Thurber…

    But Narnia, The Hobbit, Johnny Tremaine, and a book of fairy tales were the ones I made a point of saving for my kids.

    May 3, 2018
  15. The Old Sarge #

    “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” — Peter De Vries

    May 3, 2018
  16. mrsizer #

    The first books I remember reading were a series of anthropomorphized animals. I think they were by Burgess, but I’ve never found them again. Andre Norton. The Fabulous Four series (I was so disappointed to find out that “torch” was just British for “flashlight” – I had imagined torches). Tom Corbet, Space Cadet. Tom Swift and Tom Swift Jr (and his amazing atomic airplane!).

    I remember getting a little plastic trophy for reading more than 100 books in second grade. I have no idea what any of them were.

    May 3, 2018
    • You can get some of Thornton Burgess from Dover. They hold up well as descriptions of what an animal will Do.

      May 3, 2018
      • I have the full set in hardback. My paternal grandfather gave them to me when I was four or five.

        May 3, 2018
    • TonyT #

      I don’t recall reading Thornton Burgess when I was a kid, but my mom recently recommended him for my kids – and the kids and I are happy we listened.

      Dover is probably higher quality, but I bought this one off Amazon (pictures are low res scans, formatting is a bit odd, but overall quality is fine and the price is right):
      https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1502576570

      I will be getting buying more volumes.

      May 3, 2018
  17. Ben Yalow #

    Heinlein juveniles. Tom Swift (Sr — my father’s; Jr – mine). Andre Norton. Alan Nourse.

    May 3, 2018
  18. Brett Baker #

    Louis L’amour, a couple of the Danny Dunn series my relatives had. Although I don’t know if they’re still around, I would like a set of the “We Were There” historical fiction series if I ever have kids.

    May 3, 2018
  19. I loved the colored Fairy Tale books by Andrew Lang, and have several of them for reference purposes. One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. A lot of the aforementioned books. Decent retellings of fairy tales, both light and dark. Anne of Green Gables led to me acquiring just about everything of L.M. Montgomery that I could get my hands on—and I’m speaking as an adult, here. I have no shame when it comes to reading kids’ books. I can knock them out in an hour or less, perfect for certain situations.

    Most of the rest of my favorites have already been mentioned in excess, but nobody’s mentioned Carol Kendall. She wrote The Gammage Cup, which has conformists and anti-conformists at a kids’ level, and The Firelings, which speaks of fear and mob mentality at a YA level. (The latter is one of my all-time favorites, and involves a small civilization cut off from outside influence on a volcanic peninsula. I’d love to see it filmed.) I also liked Stowaways in Paradise, by Don Blanding, which will probably never get reprinted because it’s… very much a product of its time. But for a sheer adventurous introduction to the Hawaiian islands, it’s amazing. And Pua, the secondary protagonist, is a bit more than a sidekick.

    May 7, 2018

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