Saturday, January 21, 2012

Confessions of a Pre-Teen Book Junkie

When I was growing up, my mother bought a bookstore. It was a tiny little shop, appropriately called a nook, which was situated just off our town's historic square, with its Victorian courthouse and Belle Epoque mercantile buildings. Our building was neither historic nor particularly beautiful, but that was fine by me. All I cared about were the books inside.

My sister and I were avid readers, and this new source of material only whetted our appetites for more. During the long, lazy, scorching Texas summers, I would dust the shelves with one hand, while propping a new book open with the other. In those days, it was not unusual for me to devour two books a day. We could read all the stock we wanted, as long as we took care not to break the spines. I learned a special way of holding the book open one-handed, so that the book stayed in mint condition while I cannibalized the insides. To this day, I still hold books open in this manner--so while I am an avid reader, all my books remain straight and unbroken.


I was in junior high, and that meant I discovered Young Adult series fiction. The Babysitters' Club and the Sweet Valley Twins' ghostwriters could not write fast enough to keep up with my demand. I started Sweet Valley High but never got as into it--the characters' problems were way over my head. What would I do if rich boy Bruce Patman got fresh with me? I shuddered to think. Instead, I turned to the Anne of Green Gables series and could not get enough of LM Montgomery. I read every book, every anthology, every scrap of paper that crossed her desk. I spent dreamy hours planning my trip to Prince Edward Island, and even sent away for a travel guide. In those pre-Internet days, that meant a handwritten letter and a series of stamps, my friends.


But even LM Montgomery wasn't enough. My sister and I were fast depleting Mother's stock. So, when Grace Livingston Hill's books were reissued in the 1980s, we devoured them as well. I had one particular favorite, The Enchanted Barn, wherein a poor family moves out of their tenement flat into the country, fixing up an old barn so that it becomes a beautiful, cozy home. My sister never read this book and for several years insisted it didn't exist--"The Enchanted Barn" entered our vernacular as something vividly imagined but not real. "Must be an Enchanted Barn kind of thing," we'd say when, for example, we remembered a restaurant but not its name or location. Twenty years later, when Grace Livingston Hill's works were reissued yet again, I was able to track down a copy in a dusty thrift store, and waved it under my sister's nose in triumph.



As a history nerd even then, I turned instinctively to books by authors who long since passed. Then I discovered the Sunfire series. Each book followed a similar format--set in the past, usually during a momentous event in American history, the plucky heroine must decide between a wealthy suitor or a dashing but poor young man. Usually, she went for the poor guy. If I close my eyes, I can still see the covers--the heroine in the foreground, her name in blazing script across the top, and her suitors in the background, one on either side of our beautiful heroine. My favorite was Darcy, because her story was set during the devastating hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900--at last, a story about Texas that was elegant and refined, and not about stomping around in boots with the cattle!



These series not only entertained and beguiled me during my youth; they also set the foundation for the kind of fiction I wanted to write when I grew up. When I decided to try my hand at writing fiction, my heart immediately chose historical romance. What about you? What did you read when you were a child? Were you an RL Stine nut? Or did you prefer the Saddle Club? 'Fess up!

13 comments:

  1. I LOVED The Baby-sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins- and later, Sweet Valley High. And I too devoured all of the Anne of Green Gables series, then the Rebecca series. I also read the entire Little House on the Prairie series, starting with The Little House in the Big Woods. I think these two series started my love for historicals, I was fascinated by how they lived, how different the times were.
    When I was a teen, though, I pretty much only read sci-fi/fantasy. I burned through the Dragons of Pern series, The Dragonlance Chronicles and anything by David and Leigh Eddings, along with countless other authors. It's only in the past ten years that I started reading romance at all.
    Great post, Lily!
    P.S. Did you know that you can visit an area of Prince Edward's Island called Anne's Land? Yes, you can vacation in the village that the story was based on, and spend time roaming the same beaches, valleys and woods that Anne did, lol! I have already told my husband that this is a goal of mine- plus, the vacation cottages are really reasonable and PEI is so pretty. :D

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  2. I love the Little House books too. I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to read chapter books and I can introduce her to Anne and Laura. I've still never been to PEI--but Anne's Land? We are *so* there! I want to see the Lake of Shining Waters.

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  3. Um, Lily George, are you sure we weren't separated at birth, because holy shmoly we read and lurved the EXACT SAME BOOKS!!!!

    Did you ever read The Strawberry Girl? I can't wait to share these with my 7 year old. She's already started devouring The Secret Garden and Little Women. :)

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  4. I have to admit I loved Sweet Valley High. I also loved Little Women. That book made such an impression on me and I think was probably one of the reasons I eventually turned to historical romance. I also read the Little House on the Prairie Books and as a younger girl, I loved Are You There God, It's Me Margaret, The Beezus books, and Nancy Drew. I did toward the end of high school go through a stint of devouring Stephen King books. I was all over the place back then!

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  5. What a nice trip down memory lane!

    Ah, Trixie Belden. Read them all. And suffered a silent crush on red-haired Jim. I still like redheads. :-)

    Beverly Clearly. All the Marquerite Henry books. Yes, Marquita--the Strawberry Girl! The Motoring Millers. Then I went on to Pern, the Prydain chronicles--Eilonwy of the red-gold hair!, Xanth....somebody stop me!

    Another confession--I'm still reading pre-teen books! Reading with my kids, and can hardly keep up! It's a little different coming from the male perspective, but I'm enjoying it!

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  6. Like Marquita, I feel we may have been separated by birth, Lily! LOL! LOVED Sweet Valley Twins and High. LOVED LOVED LOVE Babysitters' Club. And, of course, being a redhead myself, I devoured the Anne of Green Gables books. Make sure you invite me when you plan the trip to PEI. I want to go so badly!

    I also read a lot of Inspirational Historical YA stuff as a pre-teen/teen. My favorites were the Mandy series and the Love Comes Softly series.

    Oh, but the main reason we're so connected is because I NEVER break my spines!! :)

    Great post!!

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    1. Omg. I forgot about the Mandy series and her thumb being Cherokee! :)) I need to compile a list! Thanks, Jerrica, for reminding me of those.

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    2. Oh, you mentioned Cherokee and that reminded me- I loved the Indian and the Cupboard books too. And the other Land of Oz books, after Dorothy. I wanted a flying couch, with a stuffed deer head and a broomstick to steer. ;D

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    3. This has been such a trip down memory lane for me...I loved Little Women, Little House, and the Love Comes Softly series. I didn't much get into horror--too chicken! Oh, and Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume. I also remember the Anastasia Krupnik series...did anyone else read Anastasia Again?

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  7. I loved Trixie Belden, and I too had a crush on Jim! I also read Sweet Valley High and a series about these girls in a New England boarding school, but I can't remember the name. I know one of the characters was named Caitlin and she rode horses. Did anyone else read this series?

    Samantha, who is stuck in the Miami airport

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    1. I'm so sorry you're stil stuck, Samantha! But at least you had fun reading the blog, right? ;)

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  8. Omgosh I read all of these and more! Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley Twins and the Hardy boys! And the baby sitter's club! Omg walking down memory lane as we speak. I would sit in my room for hours on Saturdays and just read. My mother would come in and say "Aren't you going outside to play or go to so-and-so's house?" My answer, "Nah, I'm okay."

    And I was! I loved being in my own little world and just reading! I love that I have so many people out there who're just like me! Way cool! Great post, Lily!

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    1. LOL, Suzie--I never wanted to go out and play. I was always in my own world, reading. And you're right--I didn't miss anything!

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