Rumble and ramble in
Billions of berries for
Rockets shoot by
I’ll admit it; most of my book picks are low-hanging fruit. However, there are two books in the Wolves series by Joan Aiken, the two that directly follow her YA classic, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, that are just as fantabulous, and that I read almost as often.
4th-grade: I started Black Hearts in BatterSea. I did not know that there was such a thing as a sequel. I understood that a series such as Little House followed the same characters through many a book. However, the Wolves sequels took secondary characters from The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and made them primary in Black Hearts in BatterSea. The same in Black Hearts as it progressed to Nightbirds on Nantucket. All my old friends! One, die-hard enemy! Sequels!
I would rank Black Hearts in BatterSea marginally over Nightbirds on Nantucket. Black Hearts is set during the Hanoverian Wars. When we came to studying the period in History class, I was well up on my game–though for the life of me, I can’t remember much beyond the phrase “Hanoverian Wars.” Bonny Prince Charles?
The plot of this astounding novel by Michael Chabon involves the invention of the first superhero comics in the face of decimated Jewry by the Nazis, and includes segues in and out of graphic arts. An so much more. When I read it, I understood my place in the writing world. I was not the inventor of wild tales. I was and remain a teller of stories from the the agreed upon reality. (Mostly.)
Am I less imaginative?
It is all in the telling, my friends.
Yesterday, we had my Bad Boys of Crime. Not to put too gendered a point on my transition, but here we are: two books about girls read by this girl when I was maybe ten years old. Read over and over.
I love them both, but if the house was burning, I would grab A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It’s the coming-of-age story set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the story of the desperately poor Nolan family, with a focus on Francie. They are desperately poor because her charming father is a hopeless drunk. I loved the descriptions of the family eating raw potatoes instead of apples and of the mom making dinners out of nothing but flour and ketchup. Later, playing imagination games based on A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I certainly romanticized poverty. When I reached the point in my life where real poverty threatened, it sucked. Never had to substitute an potato for an apple, however.
AND OF COURSE…
Margaret. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of the seminal Judy Blume YA novel, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: Blume sets her half-Jewish and half-not heroine on a crash course with puberty that is nothing short of incredible. Margaret published precisely when girls my age were the exact right age for it. We were the first readers for it. I always felt as if Margaret was especially mine – exactly the way the every girl on the planet felt, I am sure.
Several years ago, I published an essay in Word Riot based on my relationship with Margaret. That essay was nominated for The Best of the Net. See; she really was ‘specially mine.
A confession: There is a squishy place in my heart for crime novels. (What? Ms. Snoofy Litmag Writer? Ha!)
When a writing teacher, Michael D. Collins, told me my work had the ring of Elmore Leonard, I could not have been more pleased. In my opinion, Get Shorty has the best final line in literary history (well … tied with Alice Walker’s in The Temple of My Familiar.)
Ladies and Gents, give it up for Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty for Best Crime Fiction Ever.
Followed not even closely by the trash piece of awesomeness that is Bangkok 8. Move over, Tale of the Genji. Take a break, Mahabharata. This pure garbage swims in prostitution and drug dealing. Poorly written, predictable characters, a protagonist who is a monk, a police detective, and a virgin (for 2/3 of the book, anyway). Unremittingly marvelous.
God, I loved this book when I read it, the summer of 1986. Terrified me.
Now, it really terrifies me.