Annoying Childhood Books

My niece is reading the last chapter of a book I read when I was her age (and loved) out loud and it is super annoying.  I remember my oldest sister being somewhat annoyed when I read those books (out loud) but I didn’t understand why.  I loved them… until I didn’t.  A fast reader I sped through the series probably a lot faster than the author or publishers ever intended.  I would be finished with a book in a day or two and move on to the next one.  That one done in the next day or two, I’d be on to the next.  I read so many of those damn fucking books in such quick succession that I started to hate the protagonist.  She was such a pushy know it all, I couldn’t figure out why she was such the darling.  Why were those other kids friends with her?  Why did all those adults put so much trust in her?  Why was that boy so devoted to her when she treated him like crap and flirted with other, wealthier boys?

Reading that series was like reading the soap opera of Christian tween mysteries.  The series would be as if Encyclopedia Brown and Sally Kimball were dating, but Sally was seeing Bugs Meany on the side; however they all put their differences aside once a week at Sunday School.  That was this book series.  And if that were the premise of the Encyclopedia Brown stories, they would be just as tedious as the other (with the female protagonist – lest anyone accuse me of finding her tiresome because she was a girl).

All that aside, it’s amazing to me that I read and enjoyed over thirty of those books when I was eleven and twelve.  They were my favorites, I wanted them for Christmas and birthdays; when I finished the ones I had I cried out for “More!  More!” and was forced to wait until either I could buy more for myself or the next gift giving holiday rolled around.  But now, seventeen years later, I listen to another eleven year old reading the stories aloud and I am amazed these books were so enjoyed.  Meant for young readers, yes, sure, they are, but, come on, so was Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and those are books that can be enjoyed as much by adults as they can by children.  The writing in those books and stories are interesting and funny and the writing is easy for young people, but doesn’t belittle their comprehension, like many intended for young readers.

The mystery book series about the twelve year old girl who is smarter than everyone around her in 1900 North Carolina IS written for young readers, and it, clearly, is engaging (I read over 30 of them!), and they should remain in one’s youth.  Right there alongside the American Girl books, The Baby-Sitter’s Club, and, yes, Encyclopedia Brown.  Some books intended for young readers transfer well into adulthood (Phillip Pullman, Suzanne Collins, Madeleine L’Engle), but some do not.  This is what I have learned while visiting with my niece this week.

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Get Lost

I was going to give someone a send off of “Don’t get lost!” earlier today (meaning ‘don’t be a stranger’, and ‘come and visit sometime’), but then I realized how much I don’t mean that.  I mean, ‘get lost, if that’s what you are meant to do.  But come back and visit every now and then, if you can’.

I love getting lost.  Both physically and figuratively.  Sometimes it can be scary, and sometimes it can suck, but the future benefits far outweigh the present qualms.  Being lost is exhilarating; not knowing where you are is exciting.  And, afterwards, once you’ve found your way out and you’re back home again, then knowing you’ve got the wherewithal to get yourself back is Most Excellent.  I used to get lost on purpose.  I’d walk around the city and go places I’d never been before.  Eventually I’d end up somewhere I recognized and make my way back to where I was familiar.  It made getting lost by accident so much less frightening.

Figuratively getting lost is weird, but also a good thing sometimes.  Once you’ve recovered it makes you not only appreciate, but understand who you are that much better.  Losing sight of who you are, yes, is probably scarier than not knowing your location, but sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are and who we are not.  A friend once lost sight of who she was, it affected our friendship very much.  Not having her support or friendship was very alienating and confusing for me.  She was lost to me, until she went to visit her mom and sister: they pointed out that she wasn’t being herself.  This is why this sort of getting lost is scarier than the other: not everyone has someone who knows them well enough to tell them when they’re not being themselves.

But, even if you don’t, I might still say don’t worry about getting lost every now and then.  People are inherently themselves no matter what happens.  We’re all still the same person we were when we were twelve we just dress better and talk differently.  As long as you know yourself, don’t worry about getting lost.  And, if you do get lost, you’re sure to learn something about who you are and what you can be.

So get lost, if that’s what you are meant to do: but come back and visit every now and again, if you can.