I call this bibliographic essay "Damage Control" because I don't know what kind of psychopath I could have grown up into without books. My childhood was not usually actively bad, not most of the time, but it tended toward lonely and boring for various, mostly inevitable reasons. And then occasionally it did get actively bad. I read a lot, and was happy to somewhere find an identity as a bookworm.
Actually making a list and putting it up was inspired by Meng Weng Wong's Books That Made Me Meng. I liked the idea, though I don't know Meng personally, and I noted that I actually have several favorites in common with Meng (so parents, you'll know what those particular books can do!) And I liked this Amazon.com setup where anyone who clicks on the links here to buy the books listed earns me a small commission. I know I hate trying to track down books by the method of randomly trying every bookstore in the area. (NOT that I don't like spending time in bookstores, you understand -- I just like to spend my time looking through what they actually have rather than hoping there's something else.) You could probably find the out-of-print ones not in Amazon through ABEbooks (who I have no commission arrangement with).
Early StuffI learned to read quite early, before I had turned five. This is not surprising -- I had no siblings and not much chance to hang out with other kids (to which my dad attributed my very grown-up vocabulary for a preschoooler). Plus my mom's a reading teacher and my dad was, at the time, a graduate student (and always an SF fan) -- how I could I not find reading inviting?
What do I remember?
- Not much actually, not the earliest stuff. I'm sure I read picture books first, but the first book I remember was my dad reading me Robert Heinlein's The Rolling Stones sometime around kindergarten. We sat in the battered yellow armchair in his bedroom and after the first one, went through The Star Beast, Farmer in the Sky, and then Space Cadet, which I finished off myself while he was off at some convention. I don't remember even being baffled by the ballistics or astronomy scattered through out Heinlein's juveniles, the rest of which I gradually went through in elementary and middle school, starting a lifelong fanhood. And now my dad can't find his copy of The Rolling Stones, so I've just bought him another one so he can read it to my six-year-old brother Will.
- Thornton Burgess' animal stories, like Old Mother West Wind and Mother West Wind's Children. (There's a big bloody lot more; just go to Amazon and search for "Thornton Burgess.") Like many kids, I was big into animal stories. My dad had these from when he was little and says it was actually in these that I first started picking out words. I don't remember that, but I do remember the battered blue hardcovers with the stories about the little animals who lived like humans in the woods.
- The Childcraft series. Fifteen volumes, of which I still have only four (the rest went when I was 13 and Mom dragged me kicking and screaming from South Carolina to Florida, and forced me to get rid of the majority of my book collection in the process of packing, for which I still haven't entirely forgiven her. How can a reading teacher throw away books?!) I remember following the mazes through forests, the right path chosen by identifying a leaf correctly. I still can recite the poems from the first and second volumes, and much of my geography was first learned from the "Children Everywhere" stories from around the world. I even read the fifteenth volume, the one that was the parents' guide, and annoyed my mother mightily by quoting it at her ("the BOOK says a kid's allowance isn't supposed to be payment for chores!") Eventually Mom forbade me to read that volume anymore -- the only time she ever tried to censor my reading.
- The Real Book About... series. Another set of hand-me-downs from my dad's childhood. The Real Book About Alaska said that they were still considering whether to become a state, but I didn't care. That one, and the Real Books About Trains, Gold, Spies (a great favorite because of the chapters on women spies), and others probably introduced me to nonfiction.
- The Trixie Belden books. All 34 that had been published when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades. Second grade was the year I suddenly became a real bookworm, largely because of time to kill before school and the teacher telling us to bring a book or activity book, not just something to color. I liked Trixie because her mysteries took place in a real world where people had school problems, got older (Trixie turned fourteen in book 10) and seasons actually went in order. I did read others, like the Nancy Drew books, but the never-changing setting of those bothered me.
- In 3rd grade, my homeroom teacher Ms. Brunson read from Shel Silverstein's A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends to us in class. I promptly got my parents to buy me the former, and its poems ended up copied out and tacked above my mom's desk as well as read aloud every night.
- "Know all the questions, but not the answers,
Look for the different instead of the same,
Never walk when there's room for running,
Don't do anything that can't be a game."
That's the formula for never growing up from The Changeling by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. A book with not an ounce of real magic in the plot that still is still pervaded by a wonderful feeling of otherworldliness. Two girls, Martha and Ivy, just playing pretend and growing up, but wanting to pretend the same things I did, that the world was a magical place. Fighting to believe it. Snyder's good at that; another book of hers I loved that hangs on playing pretend is The Egypt Game.
- Books that did have magic in the plots. Every one of them that I could find, from collections of folktales to grown-up fantasy novels. I think my all-time favorite of elementary school, though, was Madeline L'Engle's A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I liked A Wrinkle In Time and A Wind in the Door (all that had been published in the series at the time) too, but Planet just grabbed me. Poetry and history and magic, all in one book. I copied out the poems from it into a notebook as if they really would do magic.
- Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden, Forbidden Flowers, and Men in Love. I read these just after hitting puberty, and I think they saved my sexual development. They were tremendously educational about what the hell sex was, in all its great variety, and that it wasn't anything to be scared of. No one would tell an eleven-year-old these things so bluntly, but they probably should. And, of course, the series has been updated since then with Women on Top.
- Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. A medieval fantasy world where women sat and sewed, but with a teenage girl who wasn't going to let being female stop her from becoming a knight! Definitely a favorite when I was starting to be faced with with figuring out what being female was going to mean to me. (I didn't get a chance to read the other three in the series until much later.)
- Gone with the Wind. I think this is about the only novel my mom and I both like. All our lives are described in comparison to scenes from the book, and Scarlett O'Hara (Hamilton Kennedy Butler) is one of our heroines. Possibly the only woman who's both our heroines.
- The Rainbow Cadenza by J. Neil Schulman. The Madeira Beach Public Library put grown-up science fiction next to the children's/YA section, so I read a lot of SF in 8th grade when we lived on the beach. This one, a future story where men outnumber women 7 to 1, has some unusual human experiences that somehow resonated with my experiences.
- For the same reason, Diane Duane's The Door Into Shadow. She's a bloody wonderful writer, as I had already discovered with So You Want to Be a Wizard and Deep Wizardry, which latter I renewed three times in a row for a total of nine weeks straight out of the library. But The Door into Shadow is about a woman with a past like mine. I still wasn't thinking about having been abused, not consciously; that wouldn't come for another three or four years. But Segnbora's swordsmanship, her broken-with-her-own-hands horse, her cause and her fight against the Dark impressed me. (It turns out I love those of the series The Door into Fire and The Door into Sunset, which don't focus on Segnbora, just about as much, though.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and sequelae, by Douglas Adams. I think this series set the pattern for my sense of humor, this and Daniel Pinkwater (most of the ones I read then are in this Pinkwater compilation). I like absurd humor (and even absurd not-humor: I became the sort of high schooler who would read Waiting for Godot or The Bald Soprano for fun.)
- Much more Heinlein. I think I read Stranger in a Strange Land in middle school, but everything he wrote after it I went through in early high school. I remember getting teased a bit at school for reading the paperbacks with the naked women on the covers, but I kept on. Like half the people on the polyamory mailing list, I attribute my first thoughts of polyamory as a viable alternative to the books featuring the Long family. "Minerva Long" was my first net.alias, because of the description of her in Time Enough for Love , until I kept finding places on the Net where someone else was already using it. Expanded Universe showed me that I wasn't the only one thinking the school system was full of holes, and Job: A Comedy of Justice helped crystallize my already-agnostic view of the world.
- The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee. A teenage girl with no father and a mother who wants her daughter to be something other than what she is -- how could this one not strike the heart of a fifteen-year-old girl? Yeah, so the perfect guy comes and helps her escape all that, but at least in this one he's a robot -- it ain't no romance novel in the traditional sense. I think Jane was a role model in being myself.
- Whole lots of people-being-used stories -- I've always seemed to get lost in them. Says something about my personality, I suppose. The Handmaid's Tale. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead ( Xenocide and Children of the Mind not having come out yet). The above-mentioned Rainbow Cadenza. A fair chunk of Harlan Ellison. A good thing I had my Douglas Adams and and Monty Python scriptbook All the Words, Volume 1 and Volume 2 to balance it all out!
CollegeI wouldn't even know what to list for college. My first time with access to more than a small branch library -- I had 6 floors of university library, plus borrowing privileges from my dormmates' collections. And some money to buy my own. Robert Anton Wilson? Anaïs Nin? Lois McMaster Bujold?
I wasn't grown up when I entered college, or even now. But that's just the help in growing up that I found without even looking for it, because I didn't know what to look for except an engrossing read.
I believe in damage control. That's why I put up this list of books that kinda worked for me, helped keep me from becoming the sort of people who visits her own abuse on other innocent victims, and that's also why I maintain this list of resources about abuse that are written for children. I hope someone else benefits from being handed a book the way I did.
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