Posts Tagged: Beverly Cleary

Many Happy Returns

1922 sepia photo of girls who look like Beezus and Ramona

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday today, here’s a photograph Bookherd gave me a few years ago. The back says “Taken at Albany, Ore. 1922,” but as Bookherd noted, don’t they look like Beezus and Ramona?

I feel lucky that my lifetime has overlapped Mrs. Cleary’s so that a garage-sale paperback of Ramona the Pest was waiting for me as soon as I could read chapter books. Ellen Tebbits, Otis Spofford, and some of the Henry Huggins books were around the house, too (it probably helped that my sister is three years older than me). In 1977, both Ramona and I were seven years old and I got the new hardback Ramona and Her Father for Christmas. So I’ve had the pleasure of reading books written 20 years before I was born, with their slightly retro topics of guppies and woolen underwear, and also the excitement of spotting brand-new Beverly Cleary books.

I’ve read and watched a bunch of tributes in the past few weeks. I think my favorite is this set of two anecdotes by her longtime editor David Reuther.

To me, Beverly Cleary is one of my lifetime’s great writers. I hope she feels the love today.

Dandelion Cottage and other books

the real Dandelion Cottage

Just finished Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll Watson Rankin. 1904, middle-grade by today’s categories: four girls get to use a delapidated cottage, owned by the church on their block, as a summer play-house. I checked it out because Beverly Cleary mentioned in A Girl from Yamhill that it was a childhood favorite of hers. (And I see, browsing Goodreads, that I’m not the only one who read it for that reason.) There is lots of housecleaning! And entertaining a real live boarder for three weeks, and a culminating dinner party for the kindly landlord and favorite neighbor.

One thing stood out compared to contemporary books: the rotten new girl who steals, wrecks stuff, and otherwise makes things no fun doesn’t get the note of sympathy or redemption that would be required now. Laura’s parents are mean and negligent, and although the four Dandelion Cottage girls keep reminding each other not to sink to her level, no adult or narrator points out that Laura hasn’t really had friends before, has a tough family life, et cetera. I wonder when sympathy for bullies and “bad kids” became de rigueur– sometime before Mary Stolz’ A Dog on Barkam Street led to The Bully of Barkham Street in 1963?

There are two brief mentions of playing Indian, early in the book. No other content warnings that I can recall.

Dandelion Cottage would make a lovely pair with Elizabeth Enright’s 1958 Gone-Away Lake. And it has a school-story sequel called Girls of Highland Hall, which I have snagged to read on my phone.

The rest of my current reads:

  • The Swan and the Seal, by Kristi Lee. She went indie with her sequel to the m/m novella Surprised At Nothing and changed the point of view to my favorite character!
  • The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Audiobook. I like the relatively subtle questioning of right-and-wrong, and Simon Jones does a wonderful sardonic Bartimeus! The disappointment is that I was sure Martha Underwood would turn out to be sneaky and powerful. She got Nathan’s real name out of him in the first five minutes! She walked right in on her husband’s meeting with Lovelace! But no, apparently not. :(
  • The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds. He has such a strong, easy prose style. It makes me feel like I know the characters, like we hang out all the time.
  • Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think I’ll always have a book of hers at hand for odd moments, because something interesting happens on every single page. Moment-to-moment interestingness.

2013 Books

These are the books I’ll be adding to my Librarything collection this year, along with the description I jotted down for each one when I put it on my running list of books read. They’ll bring the collection to 99 books I love–although more are represented, because I let one book stand for a series and sometimes for a whole author.

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. Profane, funny book about kids making bad films, having inappropriate thoughts, and having different connections with each other than the adults think they do. Love Earl’s black-Pittsburgh language.
  • Winterbound, by Margery Bianco. 1936 novel of siblings navigating a country winter in New England. By the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, incidentally. Not much happens, but I liked the characters and the details of day-to-day life.
  • A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Ridiculous yet addictive. Oh, Sara Crewe!
  • Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer. 1969 novel of a girl at boarding school who wakes up as another girl in 1918, and they switch each night. A time-travel story that raises questions about identity and whether the people around you see the “real you.”
  • Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and her twin are both freshmen at UN Lincoln; she’s the shy, anxious one and is also semi-secretly a top fanfic author. Romance, friendship, and family drama ensue. (Note: I only just finished this before the end of the year. Curious to see if it stays prominent in my memory or fades.)
  • The Gentrification of the Mind, by Sarah Schulman. The interrelation of the AIDS epidemic and its fallout with the gentrification of New York City, followed by ruminations on what has been displaced, forgotten, and lost in gay culture and politics. Outstanding, with personal stories about her choices as a teacher and her interactions with Kathy Acker and other icons.
  • Among Others, by Jo Walton. A Welsh girl goes to English boarding school after her twin dies in an auto wreck. The fairies she knew in Wales, are they real or part of her psyche? Many SF and fantasy book shout-outs.
  • The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto, trans. Michael Emmerich. An art student in Tokyo falls for her neighbor, but he has heavy secrets in his past. Liked the even-toned writing style and subtle emotions; my opinion kept flip-flopping on whether this romance was advisable or not.

What my LibraryThing additions don’t reflect is that this was a wonderful year for rereading. Lots of Mary Stoltz. The Ramona books plus Henry and Beezus and Henry Huggins. His Dark Materials. Zahrah the Windseeker. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.

Also, I combined picture books, poetry, comics, and graphic novels into one category, 22 books (including rereads), yet no new Librarything additions are in that category.

Fic Corner 2013

Remember how I was rereading all the Ramona books to get ready for a fic exchange? [edited to add: oh wait, you don’t, because it was a secret!] Now all the stories are up!

And I feel so so lucky, because the story I got is wonderful, and is about Nsibidi in Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker. Tall, bold Nsibidi who is friends with the idiok. Here it is.

The story I wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Quimby is here.

I’m still reading through many of the others. This is one I liked a lot, a Code Name Verity fic.

And speaking of fanfic, I just finished Wishing for Tomorrow, Hilary McKay’s sequel to A Little Princess. I was really a Secret Garden and Lost Prince person myself, but I like Hilary McKay, especially her dialogue and one-line deadpan events, and this was a fine Hilary McKay book.

My reading life’s been good lately.

Reading Wednesday

I signed up for my first fic exchange, The Exchange at Fic Corner 2013! About a hundred people signed up, and assignments will come out tomorrow. The fandoms I requested are:

Ramona Series – Beverly Clearly
The Melendy Quartet – Elizabeth Enright
Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E. L. Konigsburg
Zahrah the Windseeker – Nnedi Okorafor
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Arlene Sardine – Chris Raschka
The President’s Daughter Series – Ellen Emerson White

As you can probably tell, it’s a kidlit and YA exchange. My letter here has more of my thoughts about these fandoms and what I like and what I wonder.

So I’ve been keeping the Melendy Quartet by my bedside (I like syndicated comic strips or many-times-reread children’s books for bedtime) and reading the chapters all out of order. I wish there were a Great Brain at the Academy type book about Rush at boarding school. That’s the kind of book you dream about reading and then wake up and feel so disappointed that it doesn’t exist after all.

Things I was surprised did not get nominated for The Exchange at Fic Corner: anything by Daniel Pinkwater, The Westing Game, Jean Little’s books about Kate and Emily, the Little House series, and The Hunger Games.

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Meanwhile, I read the first book in the British YA adventure series about Alex Rider– Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. Oh, it reminded me so much of reading Nancy Drew books! Better prose, but since I didn’t notice the bad prose in Nancy Drew as a kid, that felt the same too. Our hero is fourteen and always knows how to land the necessary karate kick, except when he doesn’t and gets tied up. So much aplomb, plus spy toys and a giant Portuguese Man o’ War! There was a movie version, but it got a whopping 33% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Wednesday Reading Meme, Lesbian Edition

Just finished: Sorry, Tree, poems by Eileen Myles. Most have short lines and are from one to three pages long. I like how their associations reach farther than my logical mind, but somehow I don’t feel lost. The endings feel like endings, but not overly tidy.

Here’s a bit from “Fifty-Three” that reminded me of my own desire to just look at trees and hang out with them:

I desire a big book about
this not better than them but
their friend.
Who doesn’t love the text?
a book about trees
it’s like a park
except that all its windows
face outside
you look up at the world &
go: oh

a book is
a web I suppose

saying you come
here to go
out an
incessant
trembling bridge
which a tree
is
I imagine
a tree
my best friend

By happy coincidence, Myles will be reading at Reed! On Thursday, April 4, 6:30 PM in the chapel.

And also, though non-thematic: Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine and The Talented Clementine. I picked up Clementine because someone said it was reminiscent of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books. Well. Clementine doesn’t name her doll Chevrolet, she names her cats after things in the bathroom. She isn’t told to “sit here for the present,” but she notes that being in gifted class has not resulted in getting any gifts yet. She gets in trouble for messing with the hair of the overachiever girl. And there’s a definite Henry-Huggins/Ramona dynamic between her and that girl’s older brother. It wasn’t reminiscent, it was downright distracting in its parallels.

I got past it, though. It is a little strange how the Clementine books are written in first person, but have more knowing smiles over the main character’s head than the Ramona books do in third person. But there are funny moments and Clementine has a great set of parents. I’m going to keep going with the series.

Reading now: the draft of a friend’s novel. I like the main character’s heartfelt voice, which reminds me of Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky or Poly a bit. And I’m getting a glimpse of a cultural moment I missed but not by much– a decade, a degree or two of church immersion. Such a luxury to read an editor’s draft, too…hardly any typos or grammatical clunks!

About to read: A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet, by Judy Grahn. I read a little, not much, of Grahn’s work when I was in college. I dunno, I’m having a fling with the old-skool. Lesbiate and Smash the State!

The reason I know I’m about to read A Simple Revolution (and also What If All the Kids Are White?), or at least give them a try, is that I got them through interlibrary loan and therefore can’t renew them. Which brings us to

Sadly must return mostly unread: Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, by Heather Love. More academic than my usual reads, but I was intrigued by its focus on the shadow side of queer identity. Pride is compulsory, but what about the feelings it demands we get rid of, like shame, loneliness, and regret? Not that those are my favorite things to feel, but they’re key to our collective history, (see The Well of Loneliness and so on) and certainly part of most (?) of our individual and family coming-out histories.

What really made me take this book home was that I opened it to a quote from another book, José Esteban Muñoz’ Disidentifications, that I found fascinating and spooky in equal measures. Disidentifications is probably also too much theory for me, but here. “Recounting a joke that he shares with a friend, Muñoz describes plans for a ‘gay shame day parade’:

This parade, unlike the sunny gay pride march, would be held in February…Loud colors would be discouraged; gay men and lesbians would instead be asked to wear drab browns and grays. Shame marchers would be asked to carry signs no bigger than a business card. Chanting would be prohibited. Parade participants would be asked to parade single file. Finally, the parade would not be held on a central city street but on some backstreet, preferably by the river.

So now that’s here, and I can go to the book return tomorrow with a light heart.

Opaque and Transparent

Authors whose books I admire greatly but have to read over and over again because I never quite get a complete understanding of them:

Ellen Raskin
E.L. Konigsburg
Diana Wynne Jones
Henry James

Authors whose books I read over and over because they are transparent to me and show me myself (they feel too close to me to say I admire them greatly…though of course I do):

Beverly Cleary
Jean Little
Daniel Pinkwater
Lois Lowry
Jane Langton

ETA: when I typed tags for this entry, all the authors on the opaque list were already in my tags. Only DMP from the second list was already there. I guess there is a trying-to-understand motive when I blog about books? (unless it’s a showing-off motive.)