To All the Books I’ve Loved Before

One of my friends tagged me  in a note on Facebook, a while ago, encouraging me to post a response considering “The Rules: Don’t take too long to think  about it. Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List…” I didn’t reply in kind but I did think about it for a good while after and I found myself contemplating how a significant chunk of like, the first ten books or so (or more), involve things that I’ve read growing up. I have a serious soft spot for comfort reads — like spaghetti, banana bread, guava jam and a good slab of macaroni pie — which take me back to growing up. I love that feeling. Not unlike that of comfort food, which you get from tucking into a familiar, well-worn book that you loved as a teenager or child.

I read The Velveteen Rabbit inside of a thrift store a few months ago, and felt the same way. I love, love, love that description of the boy’s love for his stuffed rabbit: “he loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off.” Damn if love isn’t a lot like that. I grew up believing in fairies and angels, Santa Claus, mal yeux, walking in the house backward after midnight, wishes on wish bones or one-cent coins in a fountain, that my toys could come alive (and not in a creepy, my-cabbage-patch-doll-will-stab-me-in-the-head-once-I’m-asleep-type alive) so of course I loved this story when I first read it.

I also loved Enid Blyton and her assortment of adventures with elves, pixies and gnomes and children solving mysteries. The Magic Faraway Tree series is (still) one of the greatest series ever. I sincerely hope children today read her and go to those magical lands. Although I  knew about problematic overtones and racism of The Three Golliwogs,  and my parents never bought that book for me, I do remember that I read someone’s copy in primary school. And I had got The Folk of the Faraway Tree on my eighth birthday from my friend Asha, (there was an inscription on the inside by her mother that I always remember) and was hooked and never looked back.

I obsessively read and loved the Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series and really wanted to go to boarding school, even if it meant possibly getting my ears boxed for not washing behind them properly on some occasions. (There is always some unfortunate girl getting her ears boxed for not washing behind them in those school series books for some reason). And the epic midnight feasts? Who wouldn’t want that? And I knew I’d be so nice to other awkward, new girls in the school. Several years ago, I ordered some Enid Blytons from eBay and practically had a near spiritual experience re-reading them. I was so transfixed by the feeling of joy that revisiting these texts gave me.

Nancy Drew (classic Nancy and the amazing Nancy Drew Files series) books were also high on the list. I loved Nancy Drew so much that I wrote to “Carolyn Keene” offering kudos on a beloved series and pitching a semi-awful Nancy in Japan, book plot suggestion, even though by then, I was starting to have my suspicions about her being real — but I ended up in effect, writing to Simon & Schuster as it were, who were very gracious and decided to send me some free books that I later found delivered and stuffed into our mailbox in Trinidad (no word on the pitch though — still).

I wanted to be a sleuth and attempted to start a “secret” club called L.A.I for that sole purpose, well that and having a secret club: Librans’ Adventurous Investigating with some supposedly like-minded libra girls in standard five. It didn’t quite take off. No one really came to the “meetings” and we never solved any mysteries. I read and re-read so much Nancy that I’ll never, as long as I live, forget that “neuf” means nine in French — from the name of a character in The Mystery of the 99 Steps.

I recall some really random shit from some of the books I loved and read. Don’t ask me why.

Likewise, I really loved this one collection of British school stories that I wish I could remember the name of — but I don’t. Loved fairy tales, Piping Down the Valleys Wild and an oddly enjoyable book called The Summer House Loon which I only just learnt has a sequel. Some of the stuff in there went way over my head until I got a little older: implications of academia and marriage and whatnot. Later, I grow to love Jane Eyre and it always makes me cry. But that good kind of cry where you get in touch with a little part of yourself all over again. I loved The Wooing of Beppo Tate and anyone who has read it in school too probably might love it too. Little Women — I recall I struggled to finish but I enjoyed it, except the agonizing parts with the long, drawn-out Pilgrim plays and whatnot.

Mainly, I remember that as a girl, I really wanted Jo to marry Laurie. Except, you know, Jo really wasn’t having any of that. I really, really loved Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry and Let the Circle be Unbroken — what amazing books and characters. Loved Alice Childress’ Rainbow Jordan — and the blackgirl on the cover with her canerows and skin-tone like me. Not to mention the picture books that I never grew tired of, even as I got older: Liza Lou and The Yeller Belly Swamp: I love Liza and her spunky self to this day! And Jambo means Hello which I am glad to see courtesy a random perusal in Target, still sells and is still popular.

One author who especially rocked my world in a whole other way was the fantastic Virginia Hamilton. My Mummy made sure I read Mrs. Hamilton. I had never read books featuring characters like hers. In The Magical Adventures of Pretty Pearl — I had never in my life read a story like that. Her female protagonists spanned the range of blackgirldom and the language she wrote in: the language of black folk, or slang and the streets; and of people and rhythms and nuance; and of the heart and mind of blackgirls any and everywhere in the world, was like nothing else I had seen in Nancy, The Secret Seven, in Sweet Valley, Sweet Dreams or any of the classics — and it still happens today.

Recently, I purposefully borrowed A Little Love by Virginia Hamilton from my library and I’m still being blown away by the prose and her characters and I keep thinking about myself too — younger me and the first time that I encountered these pages. And when I pull it open, that good, familiar spills out and washes over me again, sweeping me away in the story. Yeah, I like that feeling. A lot.

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