Archive for the 'Summer of Shelf Discovery' Category

Summer of Shelf Discovery Week 11: The End

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012


And this brings us to the end of the Summer of Shelf Discovery readalong, in which we read a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s book memoir Shelf Discovery each week, plus a book she covered in that chapter.

Ten weeks, ten chapters, and this is the one that goes to 11, the recap. What did I learn this summer?

Re-reading books from childhood is fun. I should do it more often.

Some books have lasting appeal; some were of their place and time. Some were complete crap. (Ahem, Alice.)

Some books might be more beloved because of early imprinting, and those who come late experience them differently (Wrinkle in Time).

Some books are polarizing. (Harriet the Spy)

I have a severe book-buying problem. (I didn’t just learn this, but it was certainly reinforced. I collected a LOT of kids books this summer.)

And, as a result of buying all those books and not reading them, I will probably do this readalong next summer. I have grand visions of an email list with weekly reminders.

What did you think? What did you read? What did you learn?

“My Sweet Audrina” by V.C. Andrews

Friday, August 17th, 2012


I re-read My Sweet Audrina by V.C. Andrews for the last chapter of the Shelf Discovery Readalong, Chapter 10: Panty Lines: I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This. I found a copy in the Teen section at Half-Price Books, and the edition is published by Simon Pulse, a teen imprint, so between my teenhood and now things have changed. The V.C. Andrews books have been uncovered for what they are: racy reads for pre-teens. And the book even has a picture of a pretty pink peony on the front, so it doesn’t look dirty AT ALL. Not like the peekaboo cover and inside flap of the cover I read back when:



From the back cover:

Audrina Adare wanted to be as good as her sister. But she knew her father could not love her as he loved her sister. Her sister was so special, so perfect…and dead.

Now Audrina with come fact to face with the dangerous, terrifying secret that everyone knows. Everyone except…Audrina.

I am abashed to admit that I had a good time re-reading this gothic potboiler from my youth. Audrina is a pretty seven-year old who lives in a weird house with a weird family. The father and her cousin are particularly creepy. I fully remembered the “secret” and wondered if I guessed the ending when I read this as a girl about thirty (!) years ago. The writing is terrible, the secret hardly dangerous, and given the book’s 400 pages, and its covering of thirteen year, I really think it could’ve been shorter to ramp up the tension. And yet, up till the end, I still enjoyed it, purple prose and all:

On shimmering hot waves of smoldering desire to do it all over again, out here in the storm when the world could end any second and no sin would matter, I drifted back to being me.

The end, though, when the “secret” is finally revealed and consequences sorta happen, was like having a nasty dessert to a tasty junk food meal. Or perhaps like the moment when you’re eating junk food and everything’s fine and then bam, a line is crossed and it can’t be tasty again. Perhaps the ugliness and awkwardness of the ending put a spotlight on the garish over-the-top-ness of the book. The ending made the guilt over time spent overwhelm any fleeting pleasure. Eminently skippable. Unless you start it, then you might not be able to stop.

My friend Amy felt similarly about Flowers in the Attic.

I’m going to read something with some nutritive value, now.

“Flowers in the Attic,” review by Amy C. Rea

Monday, August 13th, 2012

[As part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery Readalong, I've asked a few friends to contribute guest posts, as Lizzie Skurnick had guest writers in the book. This week it's my friend Amy Rea who writes both on Shelf Discovery's Chapter 10 and one of the books from it, Flowers in the Attic.]

So here we are, Chapter 10 of Shelf Discovery, “Panty Lines: I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This.” These are the books that we read furtively, somewhat ashamed, more than a little titillated, and to this day, wonder why our mothers didn’t know/didn’t find out/didn’t take them away.

Skurnick makes the point that many of us learned a bit about the birds and the bees from reading these books. In my case, it wasn’t quite enough. Sex ed back in my day was nonexistent in school; my mother’s version was to give me a pamphlet she’d been given during her teens (the 1940s), tell me to read it, and ask her if I had any questions.

You can just imagine how well a pamphlet from the 1940s explained the mechanics of sex. Not.

So when I started reading books like Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower and Rosemary Rogers’s Sweet Savage Love, I was puzzled by many things. What was with the arching of the back? What was this business about being “entered”? And like many a preteen girl before me, I had no intention of asking my mother.

Who knows how long I would have remained ignorant had I not discovered, while digging through the attic looking for something else, a deeply buried box of books that were, shall we say, much clearer in the mechanics of sex than Dames Woodiwiss and Rogers. A couple of those books and I was thoroughly educated. Everything suddenly made sense.

Except for why that box of books was in my attic. So I asked my mother (sure, I could ask her that), who was horrified to learn of my discovery. Seems that my godfather (oh, the irony) had given my parents this box of books, thinking they’d enjoy them. My father, not at all–my mother, it was way too much for her. They were excruciatingly embarrassed by the books, so much so that they couldn’t even bear to take them to the dump, and instead buried them in the attic, thinking I’d never find them.

Silly me. I should never have asked. The box disappeared, and to this day I have no idea where it went. Maybe they buried it in the woods or dropped it in the middle of Gull Lake.

Among the many books from this chapter that I read in my early teens is another that I don’t necessarily think my mother would have approved of, if she’d ever read it herself.


I read a lot of supernatural books as a kid, and I think my mother looked at the cover of this one and thought it was just another ghost story. It’s certainly creepy, but not in a supernatural way.

If you’re not familiar with it, spoiler alertFlowers in the Attic is the story of the Dollanganger kids, all four of them locked into an attic while their widowed mother tries to persuade her estranged father that he should give her the enormous inheritance he’d taken away from her when she married her half uncle. Incest apparently runs in the family, because after a couple of years of being locked up, the older two kids find themselves looking at one another in a less than sisterly/brotherly way.

Where to start with how awful this book is? I remembered the brother-sister incest, but not that the actual act of sex is pretty much a rape; I didn’t remember that the mother behaved so inappropriately around her teenage son: “Directly in front of the sofa, our mother spun around and the black chiffon of her negligee flared like a dancer’s, revealing her beautiful legs from feet to hips.” Mom! Boundaries! And that’s before she draws her son’s head against her “creamy, smooth breast”.

The writing is beyond dreadful. What 14-year-old boy talks like this?

To us, our mother is only our mother. To others, she is a beautiful, sexy young widow who is likely to inherit a fortune. No wonder the moths all come swarming to encircle the kind of bright flame she is.

And the kids’ mother and grandmother–good lord, “gothic” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The grandmother is a religious fanatic who definitely does not believe in sparing the rod, and the mother is essentially a selfish wench, increasingly detaches from her kids, who are stuck in the attic while she parties and eventually remarries.

Which is why it gave me pause when I saw that author V.C. Andrews dedicated this book to her own mother.

Even creepier, if this is even remotely accurate, this site claims that Andrews didn’t consider the book fully fiction

And finally, creepiest of all, in spite of the cringe-worthy nature of the topic, in spite of the fact that it’s way over the top and the writing is dead awful, somehow I really want to read the sequel.

[Editor's note: Don't do it, Amy. Nothing like closure happens till book four, and they get increasingly weird and awful.]

Amy C. Rea blogs at New Century Reading and A Closer Look at Flyover Land.

This post copyright 2012 Amy C. Rea.

Summer of Shelf Discovery Week 10, Ch 10: “Panty Lines”

Monday, August 13th, 2012

It’s the last chapter of our Summer of Shelf Discovery Readalong and we’re on Chapter 10: “Panty Lines: I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This.” Apologies to those who dislike swearing, but I think the chapter title is missing a word at the end and should be “I Can’t Believe They Let Us Read This Shit.”

Now, to be fair, much of what Lizzie Skurnick and friends do in Shelf Discovery is break down why many of the books we read as children not only WEREN’T shit, but are also good for adults, as several of us have noted of some of these books along the way like Jacob Have I Loved and I Am the Cheese.

Nonetheless, whether or not the books in Chapter 10 were/are shit, I think we can agree we read these because they were “dirty” or “naughty”:

My Sweet Audrina
and Flowers in the Attic (et al) by VC Andrews
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel
Wifey by Judy Blume (which Forever was like the training-bra version of and probably where I learned about gonorrhea)
Domestic Arrangements by Norma Klein

IMO, Domestic Arrangements (which I read as a teen, and sticks in my memory as the heroine was described as having marmalade-colored hair, which, as a ginger myself, I found improbable, especially as she had dark auburn/chestnut colored hair on the cover) is sort of like the “3 of these things belong together, one of these things just doesn’t belong”). Because I don’t think Domestic Affairs was meant to shock and titillate, but I think the other 3 were. Discuss, please.

I wonder if the whole “I can’t believe they let us read this shit” aspect also was because, back then, parents were way less helicopter-y. And also, as Skurnick notes, now all teens need to do is open a Gossip Girl book (by author Cecily von Ziegesar, who is a guest author in this chapter, and who also used to work in the Sweet Valley High sweatshop, as this guy did) or turn on the TV, or go see a PG 13 movie.

In the interest of exploring this theory, I bought Gossip Girl to read, and then, of course, didn’t. In fact, I’m sure you will be shocked to learn, I bought a lot of books for this readalong that I didn’t read. Which is why I’m thinking of doing it again next year. Shelf Discovery is about the joy of re-reading (or, in the case of Go Ask Alice, the bewilderment and rage on re-reading.) so doesn’t it make sense to read along with it more than once? Or does it not make sense to anyone but me? Discuss.

I should put a lot of links in here, but just don’t have time. I’m flipping out about skin eruptions on my younger son. FLIPPING OUT.

Edited to add: Exterminator says he doesn’t think we have bed bugs. Yay! But we still don’t know what bit 6yo Guppy dozens of times. Boo. That’s on top of having a bullseye bite show up last week. Boo.

I also added lots of linky goodness.

“The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” by Joan Aiken

Saturday, August 11th, 2012


I read Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase as part of my Summer of Shelf Discovery Readalong. It’s one of the books from Chapter 9, “Old Fashioned Girls,” of Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading.

From Laura Lippmann’s essay in Shelf Discovery:

Wolves has everything. A high-spirited rich girl (Bonnie Green), her virtuous poor relation (Sylvia Green), a tragic shipwreck, an evil governess, loyal retainers, an uncannily clever and gifted goose tender, a horrible boarding school–run by Mrs. Brisket no less, who rewards snitches with little pieces of cheese. And I’m not even going to tell you how the geese foil a dastardly crime. (354)

And Lippman’s list doesn’t even include big bad wolves, a big bad man, a kindly poor relation in a garret and a sympathetic adult. Wolves does indeed have lots crammed into its few pages, and its a rollicking read. I was reminded of Jane Eyre, Turn of the Screw, A Little Princess, and more. I’m sad I didn’t encounter this one as a child, but happy that I’ve read it now. I look forward to passing it on to my boys, 6 and 9 years old.

Summer of Shelf Discovery Week 9, Chapter 9: Old-Fashioned Girls

Monday, August 6th, 2012


Welcome to the penultimate week of the Summer of Shelf Discovery readalong of Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery and some of the books in it. Week 9 is “Old-Fashioned Girls: They Wear Bonnets, Don’t They?” and features these books:

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
All of a Kind Family by Sidney Taylor

Laura Lippmann, best-selling mystery writer (and wife of The Wire and Treme writer David Simon), is the guest writer in this chapter on THREE books, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes.

We get her thoughts, and Skurnick’s on what the continued draw of of old-school books like these? Skurnick jokes:

Of all the forms of fetish pornography running rampant in society today, the deepest and most invidious must be that found in all of the stories of young orphaned girls plunked down in splendorous circumstances who proceed to go about returning all the inhabitants thereof to a state of beruffled, wool-stockinged happiness….

One need only look to any Merchant-Ivory film, or, dog forbid, Harry Potter sequel, to see that English colonial porn is alive and well–as are its American offshoots. (342-3)

But I think the pull is even deeper than a craving for pretty, shiny things and happiness, and is captured in one of my favorite passages of all time, from Rebecca Goldstein’s The Mind-Body Problem:

“But very deep down, below the realistic level, I think in Cinderella terms.”

“Cinderella terms?”

“You know, Cinderella, wicked step-relatives, fairy godmother, Prince Charming. Deep down I believe–no, it’s too deep down to be called belief. It’s just reflexive. Deep down I reflex that because I’m such a good, hard-working girl, someday, on the night of the ball, the great transformation will take place.”

Goldstein’s character acknowledges how problematic that reflex is, but then realizes that she, too, buys into it:

“It’s a lovely story.” I smiled across the desk at my friend, who was smiling back at me, the intelligence lighting up the planes and angles of her face.

“The loveliest,” she answered.

All of the chapters in Shelf Discovery focus on books that had one pull or another on female readers. I don’t think it’s a surprise that she left this chapter till almost last in respect of its power. (As well as in humorous contrast to the last chapter, about the naughty books. Heh.)

Some other books that came to mind: Jane Eyre. The Alcotts I read again and again were Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom, which featured many of the same themes as An Old-Fashioned Girl. Anne of Green Gables and Understood Betsy would fit, here, too, I think. What else?

And what did you read for this week? Remember to comment, even if you didn’t read this week. There will be a drawing at the end for a prize pack from Skurnick itself. Also, I’m getting slammed by spam, so I can’t tell you how heartening it is to find real comments among the dreck!

Previous posts from the Summer of Shelf Discovery:

Chapter 6 “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land”
Chapter 5 “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials.”
Chapter 4 “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing up the Pages”
Chapter 3 “Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading)”
Chapter 2 “She’s at That Age: Girls on the Verge”
Chapter 1 “Still Checked Out: YA Heroines We’ll Never Return”
How To Read Along

“Fifteen” by Beverly Cleary

Friday, August 3rd, 2012


Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen was a particular favorite of mine when I was young. I re-read it as part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery Readalong for Chapter 8, which is about romance. Re-reading Fifteen, it’s easy to see why I liked it. IT’S SO CHARMING! And yet, not in a saccharine way, at least to me.

(Is my tolerance of its sweetness a result of my nostalgia/early imprinting? One of the things I’ve noticed on this readalong is that some books, e.g., A Wrinkle in Time, aren’t as fiercely beloved by adults who read them for the first time. So I’d be curious if any of you out there read Fifteen for the first time, and what you thought, since my reaction is obviously colored by having a history with it.)

Our heroine, Jane Purdy is fifteen years old. You guessed that, right? The book was published in 1956, and is still in print, so I have to think it’s got something timeless going for it, since modern teens reportedly are obsessed with new things, not relics, and much of it is absolutely of its time:

“Oh, Pop,” said Jane impatiently. “I don’t want to marry him. I merely want to go to the movies with him.”

“Horsemeat!” Mrs. Purdy began to laugh. “He delivers horsemeat!”

Not only was it a time and place in which cajoling your parents into letting a boy take you to a movie was a conflict, but one before dog-food companies stopped advertising their true ingredients.

(Fans of Mad Men might remember in “The Gypsy and the Hobo” how a dog-food company’s brand suffers when the public learns the main ingredient in the early, mid-60’s.)

The attraction of this book for me, and I suspect for others, is that of an every-girl entering into her first romance. Jane and a New Boy meet cute while she’s babysitting a terror of a little girl, and Fifteen, all 125 pages of it, goes back and forth over the age-old question: Does he like me? Jane thinks of herself as plain and boring, especially compared to popular Marcy:

Her yellow cotton dress was too–well, too little girlish with its round collar and full skirt. Her skin wasn’t tan enough and even if it were, she didn’t have a white pique dress to show it off. And her curly brown hair, which had seemed pretty enough in the mirror at home, now seemed childish compared to Marcy’s sleek blond hair, bleached to golden streaks by the sun. (4)

We soon learn that New Boy’s name is Stan Crandall when he calls to ask her out. But Jane is insecure–about how she dresses, her experience, and because she’s never had Chinese food (!), so she frets. And that fretting, about whether he likes her, and how she should be to get him to like her, and whether his liking her is worth pretending to be someone she’s not, is pretty much the conflict and plot of the whole thing. (I don’t think there are many other books out there like this. Yes, there are lots of romances, but they usually have some other conflict, something other than “does he like me” driving the plot.)

As you might guess, Stan likes Jane. I think this is probably obvious to most readers, even if it’s not to Jane. This, alone of the books in Shelf Discovery’s Chapter 8, has a conventional happy ending, one which I found very satisfying, and very cheering. This would be a good book for a bad mood.

And for a recent(ish) equivalent, I found a lot of similarities to Bridget Jones’ Diary. Jane meets Stan in an embarrassing way. Stan likes Jane, even though Jane is embarrassed by her parents. Stan’s roguish friend Buzz flirts with Jane, causing tension between Jane and Stan. Jane does silly, ostentatious things (e.g., giant flower arrangement) and carries them off in amusing and charming ways. At the end, Stan likes her–not Marcy, not the pixie dream girl from his old school–just the way she is.

All that said, though, I wish I could lop off the last two sentences of the book, as I think the one before them finishes things perfectly, and the last two do actually make me squirm:

Smiling to herself, Jane turned and walked toward the house. She was Stan’s girl. That was all that really mattered.

But, like Jane, like all of us, nobody’s perfect, and we all get bogged down in buying into silly visions of romance at one point or another, right?

Summer of Shelf Discovery: Week 8, Chapter 8: “Him She Loves”

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

This summer I’m doing Summer of Shelf Discovery, a readalong of Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery and some of the books in it. Week 8 is “Him She Loves: Romanced, Rejected, Affianced, Dejected.” These books are discussed:

Forever by Judy Blume
Happy Endings Are All Alike by Sandra Scoppetone
Fifteen by Beverly Cleary
My Darling, My Hamburger by Paul Zindel
In Summer Light by Zibby Oneal
The Moon by Night by Madeleine L’Engle
To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Ellen Conford

Skurnick has 2 guest writers in this chapter, Tayari Jones on Forever and Margo Rabb on In Summer Light.

It’s an interesting mix of books. Happy Endings Are All Alike is not about a Him she loves. As Skurnick notes in the intro to the chapter, there’s only one book (the sweet but not saccharine Fifteen) that has a “happy” ending. In all the others, there is a breakup or an ambiguous ending. So, love hurts, which feels pretty true.

Interestingly, when I was a teen, I was also very into trashy/romance novels like those from Kathleen Woodiwiss, Judith McNaught, and Judith Krantz. While the list in Shelf Discovery is a good cross section of different relationships and endings, there was something very powerful drawing me to traditional narratives of boy meets girl, boy and girl fight, boy and girl make up, the end. So while as an adult I can appreciate the complicated books, as an actual teen, I preferred the happy endings ones. Perhaps as a balance to the Teen Problem books from Chapter 5?

Previous posts from the Summer of Shelf Discovery:

Chapter 6 “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land”
Chapter 5 “You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials.”
Chapter 4 “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing up the Pages”
Chapter 3 “Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading)”
Chapter 2 “She’s at That Age: Girls on the Verge”
Chapter 1 “Still Checked Out: YA Heroines We’ll Never Return”
How To Read Along

Mental Multivitamin on “Happy Endings Are All Alike”

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Writing friends to the rescue in my time of travel/computer trouble that I’m blaming on Mercury in retrograde.

At Mental Multivitamin, she tackles Sandra Scoppetone’s Happy Endings Are All Alike, which I couldn’t find at our library. She poses a question I’ve noticed a few times in the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project: why are some of these excellent books out of print? Why don’t some of these books remain in the canon?

My Chapter 8 — “Him She Loves: Romanced, Rejected, Affianced, Dejected” — choice for Girl Detective’s “Summer of Shelf Discovery” reading project (related entry here) was Sandra Scoppettone’s Happy Endings Are All Alike.

Published in 1978, the novel frankly and sensitively examines the relationship between two young women, as well as the concern, fear, misunderstanding, and loathing to which they are subjected because of their affair. While the brutal physical assault on Jaret is certainly the embodiment of the societal rejection they face, it was the depiction of the sister’s verbal abuse and her amateur diagnoses that most discomfited me. Claire was a beast.

What I appreciated most about Scoppettone’s novel was her portrayal of the girls’ parents, whose reactions rang true: cautious acceptance, dumbfounded silence, curiosity. It worked for me.

It’s puzzling that a well written book about so contemporary a subject is out of print. This one deserves a place on school library shelves, as well as in the local library’s YA section.

“Shelf Discovery” Technical Difficulties; Please Stand By

Monday, July 30th, 2012

OK, this post is really a placeholder for the Chapter 8 post for the Summer of Shelf Discovery because I can’t find my copy of Shelf Discovery. I think I may have accidentally put it in the library return slot. Oops.

Also, I thought Chapter 8 of Shelf Discovery was the one on Old-Fashioned Girls, but NO! It’s “Him She Loves” about romance. I’m away from my book stack, and brought one from chapter 9 but not any of the several I have from chapter 8.

Also, I misplaced the power cord on my computer, and was barely able to post this.

In other words, I’m kind of a mess, but trying to pull things together. The week 8 post will be later this week, as will a review of a chapter 8 book.

IN THE MEANTIME: if any of you would like, you can send me a book review of any of the chapter 8 books (which were apparently on romance), or a couple paragraphs on teen romances, or the draw of romance books (or lack thereof?) and I will post it here.

Also, please comment, those of you who WERE able to read Chapter 8 and/or a book from chapter 8:

by Blume, Judy
Fifteen by Cleary, Beverly
To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie by Conford, Ellen
The Moon by Night by L’Engle, Madeleine
In Summer Light by Oneal, Zibby
Happy Endings are All Alike by Scoppetone, Sandra
My Darling, My Hamburger by Zindel, Paul

“Your Sixth Sense”

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

From “Your Sixth Sense” at Psychology Today, on why people are drawn to paranormal explanations. (via The Morning News)

As with most forms of paranormal belief, people who do not feel in control of their lives are more likely to believe in precognition, perhaps because to accept premonitions is to think that the future is already laid out for you, without your input.

Is it a coincidence that this article should run the week we’re talking about paranormal books for teen girls?

A quote from the new Batman movie:

“I’m a detective. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore.”

“Blood and Power,” a guest post by Sarah Caflisch

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

occult /oc·cult/ (ŏ-kult´) obscure or hidden from view.

-Oxford English Dictionary

In Chapter 7 of Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading, Lizzie Skurnick explores why girls in the 70’s and 80’s were drawn to supernatural stories, like almost all of Lois Duncan’s works that haunted library shelves. She gives numerous good reasons for this, among them that it’s fun to imagine being able to read minds, commune with animals and terrorize bullies with just a narrowing of the eyes. But I’d like to expand on Skurnick’s view that the general upheaval, changes, and development of puberty are why girls flocked to these books, and why there were so many supernatural books for them to flock to. I contend that books about girls entering puberty and acquiring supernatural powers are written, and voraciously read, because they are actually mythological. Whether they do it overtly or not (e.g., Stephen King’s Carrie), these books point to the blood of menstruation and its power.

The connection between menstruation and childbearing adds its quota of supernatural dread….

-M. Esther Harding, “Woman’s Mysteries: Ancient & Modern.”

In The Moon & The Virgin. psychologist and poet Nor Hall expounds on the connection between the moon, women’s intuitive function (the receptive, feeling, creative side or anima, found in both genders), and menses at length Throughout many cultures, the moon was seen as the ruler of women, its phases mimicking or controlling women’s menstruation cycles. It was also seen as the giver and controller of Earth’s fertility. In many early societies, and perhaps some modern ones, the moon’s connection to women and Earth imbued menstruating women with troublesome, or even supernatural powers. To regulate this power, menstruating women were regulated to huts and not allowed to cook, step over children or crops, or perform other tasks lest their menstrual blood interfere with or taint things.

People with runny noses do not hide their tissues from colleagues and family members. They do not die of embarrassment when they sneeze in public. Young girls do not cringe if a boy spies them buying a box of Kleenex. Caught without a hanky on a cold day, people sometimes use their sleeves; they are sheepish, but not humiliated. They do not blush or stammer or hide the evidence. No one celebrates congestion…those who suffer publicly–ah choo!–are casually blessed. It is, in essence, no big deal.
The same is not true of periods.

-Karen Houppert, “The Curse: Confronting the Last Unmentionable Taboo: Menstruation.”

The books from this chapter:

Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck
A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan
Hangin’ Out with Cici by Francine Pascal
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

speak to us of a deep, ancestral part of us that believes menstrual blood, the language of the moon, and the cycles of life are potentially terrifying, and as such, necessarily occult–a hidden knowledge given only to the initiated. In these books, supernatural powers such as ESP and telekinesis are, like menstruation, both a curse and a blessing.

In the mundane world, our rational mind tells us that the biological machinations behind menstruation are as straightforward as the ones behind a sneeze. They’re not connected supernaturally to the moon like werewolves, witches and vampires. But dreamworld messages from ancestors say something quite different. These messages, however oblique, have been and continue to be disseminated through the fictions written down by our modern authors.

copyright Sarah Caflisch, 2012. All rights reserved.

Summer of Shelf Discovery Week 7, Chapter 7: “She Comes by It Supernaturally”

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

My summer read-along is the Summer of Shelf Discovery, where we’re reading a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s book memoir, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading and some of the book selections she discusses in that chapter. This is week 7 (we’re more than two/thirds through!), and chapter 7 is “She Comes by It Supernaturally: Girls Who Are Gifted and Talented.”

The books Skurnick writes about in chapter 7 are:

Ghosts I Have Been by Richard Peck. (my review here)
A Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan
Hangin’ Out with Cici by Francine Pascal
Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp
Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan

This type of book–girl approaches puberty and comes into “powers” of some sort–was huge with me as a girl. Some memories:

Ghosts I Have Been: sparked obsession with Titanic sinking, which I followed with Peck’s Amanda/Miranda.
A Gift of Magic: the book I flagrantly ripped off in one of my first attempts, ca. 4th grade, to write a novel
The Girl with Silver Eyes: asking my 7th grade science teacher, grumpy Mr. D, about this when we were learning about genetics. He was not amused.
Down a Dark Hall: entered a library picture contest and had it posted on the side of the kids card catalog. (My friend Karen won for her entry on Farmer Boy. She was and is a talented artist.)
Obsessions with Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Isis, Jean Grey/Phoenix, Bionic Woman, even Electra Woman and Dyna Girl.

Without knowing the mythologic implications of a girl coming into powers that frighten men when she hits adolescence, I devoured these books and books like them: And This is Laura, The Girl with Something Extra, Carrie, and the fantasy vein of them–the Anne McCaffrey Pern books. Long before the Spice Girls made it a buzz word, I think these books spoke to me of a Girl Power that I longed for.

What did you read this week, and what did it bring back for you?

Previous Posts on the read along:

Chapter 6 “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land”
Chapter 5 You Heard It Here First: Very Afterschool Specials.”
Chapter 4 “Read ‘Em and Weep: Tearing up the Pages”
Chapter 3 Danger Girls: I Know What You Did Last Summer (Reading)”
Chapter 2 “She’s at That Age: Girls on the Verge”
Chapter 1 “Still Checked Out: YA Heroines We’ll Never Return”
How To Read Along

“The Ghost Belonged to Me” and “Ghosts I Have Been” by Richard Peck

Saturday, July 21st, 2012


Cover of The Ghost Belonged to Me that I remember reading. (Good)

Modern cover of The Ghost Belonged to Me (Hate it)

This is the cover I wish I’d had:


This summer many of you and I are re-reading books of my youth from the list in Lizzie Skurnick’s reading memoir Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Chapter 7 is “She Comes by It Supernaturally: Girls Who Are Gifted and Talented.” Skurnick includes Richard Peck’s Ghosts I Have Been, narrated by Blossom Culp, but I wanted to read the first book in the Blossom Culp group too, The Ghost Belonged to Me, which is narrated by Alexander Armsworth.

Starting in about 3rd grade, I remember becoming obsessed with ghosts and the supernatural, and began to devour books and television shows (In Search of!) about them. They scared me, but I loved them anyway. These two books were part of the canon for me back then, and a good beginning to my supernatural kick as opposed to some of the utter dreck that came later, e.g., The Amityville Horror.

Long before Peck won the Newbery Award for his children’s book A Year Down Yonder (which is very good), he was a prolific writer of teen fiction. Looking back, I think Peck, along with Lois Duncan, may have been the author whose books I read the most. Certainly the ghost stories of both these books were some of my favorites. In The Ghost Belonged to Me, Alexander has to contend with a ghost on his property.

It all happened when I was no longer a child nor yet old enough to be anything else. I was getting long in the leg but was still short on experience. This is always a difficult age to sort out or live through. All I know for sure is that ever after the ghost, I was changed somewhat and possibly wiser.

In Ghosts I Have Been, Blossom comes into her second sight when she hits puberty, and her adventures take her a very long way.

There are girls in this town who pass their time up on their porches doing fancywork on embroidery hoops. You can also see them going about in surreys or on the back seats of autos with their mothers, paying calls in white gloves. They’re all as alike as gingerbread figures in skirts. i was never one of them. My name is Blossom Culp, and I’ve always lived by my wits.

There’s good stuff in both these about poverty and social class. Blossom is a smart, wryly funny narrator, though one who lets her little sorrows show through the chinks in her armor every so often.

Some covers. The current one (meh)


The one I read as a girl from the library and which depicts Blossom as she’s described in the book:

Now I am not vain when it comes to looks. If I was, a trip to the mirror oulc cure me. My eyes are very nearly black, particularly if I am roused to anger or action. My hair needs more attention than I have time to give it. And my legs, being thin, do not show to good advantage, as being fourteen, I am still in short skirts.


And the one I owned, which, while attractive, shows a far-too-pretty Blossom and is by Rowena, who did a bunch of Anne McCaffrey covers, which were also supernatural books I loved as a girl:

Blossom’s story is largely about a ghost who drowned when the Titanic sank. Peck went on to write another story about Titanic passengers, this one a romance purportedly for adults, (there’s a recent re-issue for the anniversary of the Titanic!) though I know I read it at a tender age, even with this tawdry cover:


I read this book so many times the embarrassing cover fell off, at which point I threw it away. I wish I still had it. The guy on the cover, who is NOT in fact the main love interest in the book, has a similar back of the head to my husband.

Shelf Discovery Readalong: Homework!

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Just kidding. My mantra for this readalong is, if it’s fun and easy, read along, or comment. If it’s not, don’t.

Anyhoo, we’ll be discussing Chapter 7 this coming Monday 7/23/12, “She Comes by It Supernaturally: Girls Who Are Gifted and Talented”

This was one of a few chapters (along with chapter 5 and 10) that I’d read all the books in. I was a big Lois Duncan and Richard Peck fan. Next week we’ll be discussing these books. I’d love it if you read one and come to participate in our online discussion!

Jane-Emily by Clapp, Patricia
A Gift of Magic by Duncan, Lois
Stranger with my Face by Duncan, Lois
Down a Dark Hall by Duncan, Lois
Hangin’ Out with Cici by Pascal, Francine
Ghosts I Have Been by Peck, Richard
Girl with the Silver Eyes by Roberts, Willo Davis

“The Witch of Blackbird Pond” by Elizabeth George Speare

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012


This summer, I’m re-reading books of my girlhood, guided by the reading list in Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. Revisiting some of these as an adult is great fun, but also fascinating to see what I notice now and didn’t notice as a girl.

Chapter 6 of Shelf Discovery is “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds, and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land.” In one of the books from this chapter, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, teen girl Kit Tyler sails from Bermuda, where her grandfather and guardian just died. Unannounced, she arrives in Puritan New England, where her only other relatives are immediately embarrassed and inconvenienced by the impulsive and less-than-empathetic Kit, who has come to stay.

The contrast between Kit’s indulged childhood and the Puritan way of life is stark, but as an adult, I can see how both sides are more nuanced than I probably perceived when I was younger. Also, Kit is a selfish, spoiled, immature girl. I’m sure I related to her as a girl, but now can see her through the eyes of her Aunt Rachel. What’s enjoyable about this book is that Kit changes and grows, though doesn’t completely submit to the Puritan way of life.

Overall, I found this an immensely satisfying read with some pretty traditional romance novel tropes and a very traditional court scene. Kit meets the sailor Nat, but they quarrel. Then she meets a Puritan who courts her. He’s rich, and while she doesn’t love him, she likes the idea of what his money can get her, i.e. out of hard work and into pretty dresses. In the meantime she meets odd Hannah Tupper, the titular character and the one I think of every time I hear the Pearl Jam song “Crazy Mary.” Kit also befriends an abused girl, Prudence. In the end, everything, and I do mean pretty much everything, comes out right. Happy endings for all!

I will grudgingly admit that there might be some cliches in this book, but I still enjoyed seeing Kit’s (and a few other characters, too) uppance come, plus learning about Puritan New England.

Summer of Shelf Discovery: Week 6, Chapter 6: “Girls Gone Wild”

Sunday, July 15th, 2012


My summer read-along is the Summer of Shelf Discovery, where we’re reading a chapter of Lizzie Skurnick’s book memoir, Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading and some of the book selections she discusses in that chapter. This is week 6 (we’re more than halfway through!), and chapter 6 is “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds, and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land.”

The books she writes about are:

Island of the Blue Dolphins
by Scott O’Dell
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt
The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile by Esther Hautzig
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

As in the other chapters of Skurnick’s book, she asks what the draw is to this subset of children’s/young adult books:

From whence comes our obsession with churning, straining, boring, sewing, scraping, stirring, carding, pulling, picking, boiling and scrubbing? (219)

I think the answer is similar to that from chapter 5, which was Very Special Topics. I wanted to know what it would be like to live off the land, to be in that situation in the book. Without, you know, actually having to live by myself on an island for 18 years, work really hard, be exiled to Siberia, etc.

For this chapter, I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Two very different books but both about girls who are abandoned and have to learn to cope, though Kit gets a lot more help than Karana did.

Two of the books from this chapter were particular favorites of mine when I was young: Witch of Blackbird Pond and Understood Betsy. Both were about girls who were transplanted, and I suspect my oft-moving young self related to this.

For modern equivalents, I remember the female half of Cold Mountain was like this, how the Penelope character had to learn to survive on her own.

Which of these books did you read/have you read? What are some modern-day equivalents of the fish-out-of-water story?

Previous Posts on the read along:

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 3
Chapter 2
Chapter 1
How To Read Along

Remember: post comments and links if you wrote about these books on your site. At the end of the summer, I’ll do a drawing, and Skurnick is donating a prize pack of some sort.

Speaking of Things I Didn’t Notice

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

As I’m revisiting the books of my childhood reading along with the selections of Shelf Discovery, I’ve noticed many instances where I remember a few random details and forget many more.

As I was re-reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. This little sentence gave me pause:

My mother and father didn’t plan for me to be an only child, but that’s the way it worked out.

I’m sure I skipped right over when I read it as a girl. Now though, having known so many friends who have gone through the blood, sweat, and tears of infertility, it had an entirely different resonance. Judy Blume was known for her empathy to children, but this sentence hinted to me at her empathy for parents, too.

“Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell

Saturday, July 14th, 2012


This summer, I decided to revisit the books of my youth, guided by the selections in Lizzie Skurnick’s Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading. (Currently only $6 at Amazon!)

For Chapter 6, “Girls Gone Wild: Runaways, Left Behinds, and Ladies Living off the Fat of the Land,” which we’ll discuss here on Monday July 16, I read Scott O’Dell’s Newbery Award-winning Island of the Blue Dolphins.

Here’s what I remembered going in, besides “girl left behind” trope: a highly polished necklace with painstakingly drilled holes for stringing. Again and again on this re-reading odyssey, I’ve been surprised by what I remembered and just how much I’d forgotten. Why the necklace, and not the skirt made of cormorant feathers, or the taming of animals?

This is a spare narrative, and the main character, whose “secret” name is Karana, is not overtly romanticized or idealized. Instead, she overcomes difficulty and sorrow in practical ways, by working hard. Any of the many things she describes in the book–gathering abalone, making weapons, storing food for winter–would have most of us modern folks on our asses from the physical work within days, if not hours. And what must have been the monotony! I can only imagine the reaction of my children, who complain of boredom so much this summer that I’ve made it a word for the swear jar.

And yet, this glimpse into the past and a different life is exactly what makes the book so involving. I certainly had a starry moment or two of imagining living off the land, having an island to myself, though the thought of an island without books fills me with horror. But the work? The loneliness! The costs to Karana’s existence are presented matter-of-factly. There are interesting sub-themes about caring for animals, vegetarianism, and ecology. Ultimately, though, Karana’s ending and the reader’s ending of putting down the book bring are similar–they bring more relief than not in the return to other people and the comforts of civilization.

“Go Ask Alice” by Beatrice Sparks et al.

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012


I foolishly bought and re-read the supposedly true diary of a teen drug addict, Go Ask Alice, as part of the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading project. Here’s a representative sample, so you don’t have to read it, too. You’re welcome.

9/16 Yesterday I remember thinking I was the happiest person in the whole earth, in the whole galaxy, in all of God’s creation….Now it’s all smashed down upon my head and I wish I could just melt into the blaaa-ness of the universe and cease to exist

7/10 [after being dosed with LSD] It was fun! It was ecstatic! It was glorious! But I don’t think I’ll ever try it again

8/13 It’s all I can do to keep from crying

8/26 What a wonderful, beautiful, happy day!

9/7 Last night was the bitter end

9/27 Last night…I smoked pot and it was even greater than I expected!

10/18 I can’t believe I’ve sold to eleven and twelve year olds and even nine and ten year olds. What a disgrace I am to myself and my family and to everybody

11/23 one of the men passed me a joint and…I wanted to be ripped, smached, torn up as I had never wnated anything before. This was the scene, these were the swingers and I wanted to be part of it!

12/3 Last night was the worst night of my shitty, rotten, stinky, dreary fucked-up life

[lather, rinse repeat for the next 150ish pages]

Epilogue: The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.

My friend Amy at New Century Reading has nicely eviscerated this book, since she read it too for the Summer of Shelf Discovery reading bender. I can’t BELIEVE we were gullible enough to believe it was a true story, which it’s not. Wikipedia entry, Snopes.

A few notes:

1. Notice the word “subject” rather than “author” in the epilogue. Oops, slipped up there, diary fakers.

2. “I’ve been the digger here, but now when I face a girl it’s like facing a boy…Then I get sick and I just wanat anybody and I should be out doing my digging.” “Digging” was a movement in Haight-Ashbury, where she never went, and it was giving away stuff for free. Here it sounds like prostitution or scavenging.

3. The Alice of the title refers to the woman on drugs in the Jefferson Airplane song, as well as a girl the “narrator” meetings in the novel. It’s theorized that the author is “Carla” as from p. 113: ”

Big Ass makes me do it before he gives me the load….Little Jacon is yelling, “Mama, Daddy can’t come now. He’s humping Carla.”

I can’t believe I believed this (and Jay’s Journal, and Diary of Kristiane H, etc.) and I can’t believe I was gullible enough to read it again. JUST SAY NO! (to reading this book).