I read books constantly, and always have. I remember feeling like a superstar because I was in first grade and devouring Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Clearly I had to be pretty darn cool to be reading Peter Hatcher’s fourth grade adventures when I was three whole grades below him.
(You can already see my concept of “pretty darn cool” wasn’t going to get me far once middle school hit.)
Like the character of Cordy in Deb Eleanor’s The Weird Sisters (not a spoiler, just a tantalizing preview), I would walk the halls with my nose buried in a book. When I lived in Santa Monica, I became an expert at walking the streets while reading, miraculously avoiding cars and pedestrians. To this day, I’ll go to restaurants, movies, pretty much anywhere by myself, as long as I have a book to keep me company. And the bathroom? Don’t get me started — in my house, “commode” is a synonym for “library.”
I say all this not just to establish my geek cred — I know here at the Deb Ball I’m in good company — but to establish how hard it is to choose just one life-changing book. Do I go with one of my first loves, a Judy Blume book? Maybe one of Paula Danziger’s stories about Marcy Lewis, who made me feel okay about being more lumpy and squat than any of my friends? Do I grab Douglas Adams’ entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which has my favorite narrative voice ever? Or how about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak? I didn’t read it until I was well into my twenties, and it was such a revelation that it made me want to become a YA writer. Then there’s basically every book by Anne Lamott. Her fiction is practically flawless, Operating Instructions should be required reading for every mother, and Bird by Bird is the manual for how I strive to live my life.
Yet out of all the books I’ve read and loved, I think I have to go with the first book that really brought a world to life for me so vividly that I still daydream about living in its pages: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. In it, a precocious almost-12 year old and her little brother run away from home and live inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Claudia and Jamie blend in with school groups during the day, and learn about the museum. They bathe in the fountains at night, using powdered soap and paper towels from the bathrooms. They collect coins from the fountains, and use them at the automat to buy their meals. They have the entire museum as their own secret lair, and even stumble into their own private mystery to solve. The whole book is pretty much the ultimate smart-kid wish fulfillment fantasy. I wanted to live it then, and I still think it would be phenomenal.
I bought a copy of the book recently for my daughter. I think I need to go read it again for myself. (After I finish Deb Eleanor’s ARC, of course).