Monday, December 28, 2009

"Dear Rival Gang Leader Tom Logan:  If You Ever Try to Take Over My High School Fortress-City, I Will Lob a Molotov Cocktail at You, Which Will Be My Only Recourse Since It's Not Like I Can Go Tell My Mom, What With That Virus Wiping Out Everyone Over the Age of 12 and All"

When I was a kid, I read this one book.

Oh, all right, Sherlock Hemlock:  I read about 4,000 books.

Approximately 3,800 of those reading experiences have fallen into the crevasse carved into my brain that night in college when I drank too much Jagermeister.  Fortunately, I still carry the imprint of the other 200 books (only 93 of which were written by that cranky Laura Ingalls Wilder and her enabler daughter Rose).

To this day, I adore the Betsy/Tacy/Tib series and wish I could take to my bed with "the grippe" and a pompadour.  To this day, I remember the heft of The Velveteen Rabbit, and I particularly like that my memory of the story stalls out when the rabbit is tossed into the fire and doesn't extend to the arrival of that improbable Nursery Magic Fairy who turns shabby toys into real bunnies after all!!!! To this day, I remember clutching Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret to my already-increasing bust with disbelief and then hiding its horny older sister, Forever, under the covers as I whipped through its illicit pages (characters had the sex in it, and they weren't even married to other people yet). 

I'm currently reliving my childhood reading of Island of the Blue Dolphins, as I lead the girls in my daughter's class in discussion of it each week.  Mostly, the girls' book club is gratifying to me because I'm, like, so sure I would have had astute things to contribute to the discussion in 4th grade, such as "Wow.  I would never kill a cormorant, just to make a skirt. That's so harsh. Why doesn't she just make a decorative shawl out of otter pelts and have it double as a mini-skirt when she goes out clubbing in that scary Black Cave of That Ancestors that has all those creepy skeletons in it?"

Even more strongly, I remember laying under the desk that held my Billy Joel-laden turntable while reading The Good Earth.  Then again.  Then 16 more times.  Interspersed between readings of Pearl S. Buck were readings of Gone With The Wind.  Then again.  Then 26 more times.

And that was fifth grade.

Sometime around fifth grade, I also read a book that still haunts my imagination:  The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson.  Researching it now, I learn that the book contains the tenets of Ayn Rand's theories of Objectivism (explained by the Wikipoodle as:  "the advocacy of reason, individualism, the market economy and the failure of government coercion," a definition I supply for those of you who never read The Fountainhead in high school and therefore never acted all pretentious and pompous for about four months afterwards--and then there's the part the Wikipoodle doesn't cough up:  despite the fact that such poseurs didn't really understand everything Howard Roark was so moody about, they remained certain that they'd stumbled across the sole intelligent creed ever put to paper, yet even as they held themselves above the ignorant masses and scoffed at the plebes' ignorance, they pronounced the author's name "Ann" instead of "Ein").  Interestingly, I never picked up on the Objectivism in The Girl Who Owned a City, probably because I was 10 and am kind of dim and had never heard of it and was too distracted by the notion of a virus that killed all the adults in the world (But where did their corpses go, I ask you, O.T. Nelson?  Where did their corpses go?).

Even without detecting the underlying political message of the book, I was transported by its premise.  Indeed, all the adults have died.  Fortunately, even in their absence, electrical power plants continue to work (So, um, readers who work at power plants?  Maybe quit, 'cause, clearly, you don't really do much).  Despite there being light, the kids of the world, especially in the neighborhood of one 10-year-old named Lisa, quickly turn to gangs and warfare and fighting over food. Lisa emerges as a "leader"--if "didactic dictator" is your definition of leadership, although I suppose unreasonable and selfish are instrumental traits to success in a post-apocalyptic society, so if you see a bomb falling, run real fast to the nearest Trump Tower and yell "Take me to The Donald!"

Anyhow, eventually Lisa takes her gang, whom we readers are rooting for (Well played, O.T.  Well played), and builds a Kingdom of Happiness in the local high school.  She turns the place into a fortress, and they start growing their own food, and then the rival gang leader shoots her in the arm, and then the whole thing ends on an uplifting note, with the implication that Lisa will lead her minions to safe and productive lives under her watch.

Until she turns 12, I suppose.

Then the Kingdom of Happiness is going to need a new leader.  And they won't even be able to bury or burn or eat Lisa's corpse, what with there not being one.  At least they can not find her corpse with the aid of fully-powered 100-watt bulbs, though.

And here's the thing, and I'm sorry to get honest and straightforward on you at this late point:  this post is actually just supposed to tell you about my amazing Christmas Eve, except when I sat down to type, I realized the amazingness of my Christmas Eve needed the preamble of a backstory about how I read books as a kid and this one book in particular.

So now you know enough to understand why, when I laced up my hiking boots during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and stepped outside for Walkies in the darkness,

I felt like Lisa.

Except with boobies and a mommy.

The clacking world had gone still and silent--hunkering down, staying off the slippery roads, opening presents with family, watching Charlie Brown.  I stepped off the porch and was immediately enveloped by the sensation of being the only person left alive on the planet.

I waded through the drifts and slush, feeling my heels rub against the stiffness of my boots, my glasses fogging with drops of precipitation.  Obscured vision closed me even more inside myself, inside a place where it was quiet.  Peaceful. 

I walked for an hour: 

No car lights dilated my pupils.  No tires splashed past me.  No dog walkers grunted hello.

Christmas decorations sparkled on every block.  There wasn't a corpse in sight.

And I was all alone, smiling, humming, owning my city of solitude.

19 comments:

Becky Cazares said...

Ahhh, thanks for taking us on your walk! I swear I felt my sinuses freeze at the icy air intake!

Oh, and every kid everywhere HAS to read Half Magic, by Edward Eager.

jess said...

Oh this reminds me both of a book I read about a world where only a few brilliant pre-teens have survived (what was the title, what was the title...?) and, coincidentally, also a snowy midnight walk I had a few years ago on a silent campus- just me and my camera- feeling like I was the only person in the whole world.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Aha! I too am a Betsy-Tacy-Tib fan-atic! Hello, you!
When I go into the woods alone I often think of Jack London's books...I've never read the one you referred to. It's good to feel alone and the only one alive.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Apparently we read all the same books in our misspent youth--except for The Girl Who Owned a City, which I will search for at the library this very day.

yinyang said...

I read Lord of the Flies in the fifth grade. I would hope that no one's Christmas Eve resembled anything in that book, except for maybe that one scene where they're all happy and getting along before the fighting and deaths start.

Fragrant Liar said...

I was not much of a reader when I was young. I blame it on Mom, who made us do nonstop chores; cuz if we sat down, we were labeled quite vehemently as "lazy." (Dear god, no! Not that!) So I don't know the book of which you speak, but now I too am wondering where the corpses went. I think that's got to be a new title for a book: Where the Corpses Are.

kmkat said...

I have never heard of The Girl Who Owned a City, probably because I was practically a hundred years old when it was published. (Why, yes, I AM well preserved for my age. Thanks for noticing.) But I just requested it from the library to correct this situation.

What does it say about me that I walked around all smug and arrogant for YEARS after reading Ayn Rand's books? Well, maybe I can be excused because I read all of them, not just The Fountainhead. So my smug meter was pegged, so to speak.

chelle said...

Wow now I want to read that book. I do recall reading Judy Blume and wondering if those exercises could very well have the opposite effect and get rid of the bosoms that were already haunting me.

Funny the feeling you describes makes me think of The Stand by Stephen King ... but he did deal with the corpses ... in smelly, gruesome detail ... *shivers*

ds said...

Thank you for sharing your blessed city of solitude. Alas, I have not read one Betsy/Tacy/Tib book, nor any Judy Blume (am I still allowed to visit?). Instead I fell early into the hands of Eleanor H. Porter and the many volumes of Pollyanna books (several too many--they had been my mom's). Thank goodness for BFFs with good taste in mysteries. And Harriet the Spy. Every girl who reaches the age of 10 MUST read Harriet the Spy.

Thank you also for the link you left. Powerful stuff. Why does it take so much for people to recognize and do the right thing?

phd in yogurtry said...

The character in Fountainhead that sticks with me most, that comes to me most often, is the guy who previews plays for the town newspaper. His view that people's opinions are like lemmings, ready to follow instead of think for themselves. A chronic thought during election season.

And that might be the only book you have mentioned that I have read.

What did I read in childhood? I am frustrated that I cannot remember. Little Women; biographies of Helen Keller and persecuted women saints (shudder). I don't remember there being much in the way of youth fiction available, or at least, not that reached my small town library.

geewits said...

How weird. I was recently thinking about "Island of the Blue Dolphins" but I couldn't think of the name of it and then it came up on "Jeopardy!" (Most people forget to add the exclamation point.) Oh and then I was all, "I was just thinking about that book!" Wait, I forgot what we were talking about. oh yeah, fifth grade. I read "The Exorcist" in the fifth grade.

secret agent woman said...

That was a reading-intensive time in my life as well. A Wrinkle in Time, stumbling into science fiction and beginning the Lord of the Rings series, all the Jusy Blume books. Good stuff.

lime said...

those walks alone have a certain clarity that books sometimes lack....at this coming from another book hound.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

That book sounds a bit like Lord of the Flies, but with girl-power. So what do YOU think happened to all the superannuated ones?

My favorites at age 10 were Gulliver's Travels, Mistress Masham's Repose, and The Mill on the Floss. Plus Mad Magazine and anything about Pocahontas as well as Psychopathia Sexualis, stored on the highest shelf but which I fervently hoped would provide certain information I sadly lacked. (It didn't. Whenever it was about to get interesting, Dr. von Krafft-Ebing switched to Latin.) But I developed some exceptional climbing skills.

actonbell said...

I'm so glad to hear that you didn't find any corpses! That would have ruined the whole effect, maybe even the entire evening.

Wow, you read lots of stuff as a kid. I'm kinda embarrassed about all the stuff I never read. I didn't read Ayn Rand until I was out of school, but that was too long ago for me to remember who John Galt was...

That sounds like a most interesting book! I missed it.

actonbell said...

"That" was meant to refer to The Girl Who Owned a City."

Jeni said...

As much as I read as a kid and as a teen, the only books I read then -that you gave a passing mention to were those by Laura Ingalls Wilder. To this day, I have never read "The Fountainhead" or anything else by Ayn Rand for that matter. I did read GWTW at least three times in jr/sr high school but my first really big book -adult type -was "Not As A Stranger" which I read first when I was in 4th grade, read it again in 7th grade and re-read it when I was either a jr or sr in high school. It was amazing how much more I got out of it with those subsequent readings though! My Mom just looked at me with a slightly askew glance when she saw I had brought home the Not as a Stranger thing from the bookmobile. A lot of other parents would have frowned on a child reading a book as involved as that was but Mom never told me what I could or could not read as long as it wasn't those aweful junk magazines like True Story or True Romance that some of my friends (and their mothers) always had on hand. My favorite book though as a child was one I read first in the summer after 5th grade (another bookmobile find) and I passed it on to my best friend to read. We re-read that book every summer for several years afterwards too as it became our favorite book. That was "Jonika's Island" by Gladys Malvern. I'd love to get a copy of it and re-read it again and have it to give to Maya in the future but it's out of print and I did see some copies of it being offered on e-bay for a mere $250 buckaroonies! Don't see that book being in the cards for Maya to read in about 4-5 years from now and that makes me sad to think of what a great read she'll miss.

Michelle Wells Grant said...

So sorry to have dropped off the radar and even sorrier when I realize what I'm missing here with your brilliant, hilarious, entertaining and poignant posts, all rolled into one! And love, love, love Betsy, Tacy & Tib, AND Island of the Blue Dolphins was the best ever. Read many times! OK, you've inspired me ... I'm finding copies!

Jazz said...

Oh. So you took a walk!!!!