The Most Battered Books by Deb Tish

My favorite childhood books were all about who I wanted to be at the time, and my fondness for them can be measured by tattered spines and stained pages. My all-time favorite was my very first book, the teeny tiny Pierre – a cautionary tale by Maurice Sendak. But I discuss this one in my PS pages of Town House, so I’ll skip ahead. In order of raggednessand disrepair…

Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess. I still have this one, but it’s hanging on by a shred. The spine is nothing but a scrap and most of Pop’s illustrations have his eyes X-ed out. I wasn’t much of an artist at four, but I clearly believed Pop to be in grave need of embellishment. My childhood name, Monie, is scrawled on the inside front cover.  (I’ll pause here to explain that when I was born, they named me Patricia with the intent of nicknaming me Tish, then took me home and called me Monie for 8 years. Which might remove some of the mystery about why I had to become every character I read about–I had no idea who I was.) Anyway, in this book I like to think I was identifying with one of the wee hoppers, rather than the doltish-looking and overfed Pop.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. This one didn’t survive my childhood. There is a point, apparently, where paper simply gives up. Each time I read this one, I WAS Anne Shirley. I pulled cows out of neighbor’s gardens, ogled Gilbert Blythe, giggled with Diana Barry, and despised that my red hair dictated that I couldn’t wear red. Or maybe it was pink. Whatever. I even had a powder blue winter hat with thick braids for ties and loved the way Anne’s braids swished against my cheeks when I tossed my head. I still carry with me a love for the name Anne, but only when spelled with an e.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This book tore me up inside because I wanted to both be Beauty and possess him. I wanted a thick, flowing mane, gleaming black coat, and polished hooves that clattered on the pavement. I loved long car rides, only because I’d spend every minute staring out the window pretending I was Beauty, galloping across the fields, sailing over wooden fences and fallen trees.

At the same time I wanted Beauty for my very own. Daily, I dreamed of a stone barn with a mossy roof and uneven floors, with Beauty’s dark face poking out of a stall full of thick straw. The barn would be humid from his sweet breath and would smell of hay and clean leather—no better smell on earth, I assure you.

Eventually a Black Beauty series came on TV. I never cared for the show, but glued myself to the TV to watch the opening and closing credits, which showed Beauty galloping along a grassy ridge to flowing-mane type music. This nearly killed me, I loved that horse so much. I actually cried watching it, week after week. I’m still a rider and still very big on the whole female equine crush thing.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London. My love for this book was unrequited because the book didn’t love me back. I needed to read this book because it had a wolf on the front and was about a dog and I wanted to be a dog, but I was far too young to understand it. I probably tried for the first time at five. Then six. Seven. Each time I failed. It became a literary yardstick for me – every year I tried and failed. There’s no Hollywood ending for this book and me. By the time I was old enough to understand it, I’d moved on to Trixie Belden and Donna Parker.

There were many other books I loved as a child, and many other heroines I became–however fleetingly. I hadn’t thought of it before, but, in a way, I still do this while reading. But only in books I get really lost in. This year alone, I’ve been a prep school freshman, a desperate twin, an emotionally battered drag queen, a mother who murdered for her son, a gay man-child living in Thatcher’s London, the son of a lunatic, an autistic teen, an adulterous suburban mother, and a 93-year-old ex-circus vet.

And I get to call it work.

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34 thoughts on “The Most Battered Books by Deb Tish

  1. Oh, that’s definitely the best thing about writing! Those of us who are too wimpy/lazy to go do things for ourselves get to sit back and invent them the way we’d want them to happen. Hurray!

    My most battered book is “The Thornbirds”, but not because of overuse — just because my dog decided that, of the hundreds of books on the shelves, that is the one he Must Destroy. It became a joke. If he was messing around in the office, you could be sure he was ripping the spine off “The Thornbirds”.

  2. My absolute favorite picture book was given to me when I was three. Little Mommy by Sharon Kane featured a darling little girl, who I thought looked just like me, with her three babies. The illustrations were what mesmerized me: the wash basin, child’s blue convertible, the baking accoutrements. The back cover now hangs by a thread, the front picture is shredded at the corners, but the pages remain pristine. For a time, it sat on my own daughters’ bookcase. But then they weren’t quite gentle enough with it and I snatched it back. Guess that Little Mommy didn’t teach me how to share.

  3. Now (I think) your choice of a male protagonist for TOWN HOUSE becomes clear, Tish. Gender is unimportant, it’s the individual that matters to you and always has. I can’t agree more.

    Off Topic: Thank you to all the Debs who made their presence known on Seize a Daisy, both yesterday and today. The great news is that I received more than my share of emails on that post and, yes, they did come to The Ball!

  4. Katie – that’s hilarious. I’d love to know if he’s a retriever of some sort, ie. a bird dog.

    Amy – I don’t blame you one bit. I did the same with Hop on Pop and One was Johnny.

    Larramie – You have a great blog!
    I actually adored writing from Jack’s perspective. Somewhere deep in my subconscious is a male underdog trying to get out.

  5. One of my favorite things about Hop on Pop — which I had the pleasure of reading for at least the 10,000th time just this morning — is when
    RED
    NED
    TED
    and
    ED
    wind up in…
    BED???
    Dr. Seuss is so open minded!

  6. What fun! My copy of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is an absolute wreck and has been taped back together multiple times.

    (Funny, Jennifer! My favorite from that book was some big thing the kids find in the dark and want to bring home, you know, but it’s all rhyme-y and wonderful.)

  7. I loved Anne of Green Gables to distraction, too. What a hunk Gilbert Blythe was! If Anne didn’t marry him, I was next in line. Also, Black Beauty was one of my favorites. I dehydrated from all the crying everytime I saw that film or read the book. Something about a horse being taken advantage of me. Gets me every time. Loved any horsey story. Thing is the love only goes one way–horses HATE me. They bite, throw, rub me off on trees at every opportunity. So you say you wanted to actually BE Black Beauty did you, Tish? Very interesting. Lay down on the comfy couch, and tell me more about your childhood…

  8. I am SO impressed with all of you who still HAVE books from childhood! I’m a purger. I’ve moved so many times I tend to go LIGHT. See? That’s where that “unsentimental” rumor started!

    Tish, I also had a book like Call of the Wild. Mine was The Red Badge of Courage. It started in first grade with a teacher who thought I needed to read it. I actually have it in the house (not the same copy, I buy a copy every five years or so), but I just can’t seem to read the thing.

  9. Black Beauty is a book I never read and always wondered about. Now, since my daughter is into horses, we are going to pick up a copy. Your description makes me want to read it now!

  10. Mia, your daughter is into horses? I’m jealous. My boys have no absolutely interest. 🙁

    Kristy – that’s funny, I have no desire to read Call of the WIld anymore either.

  11. I second Kristy in being impressed that you still have your childhood books. My childhood room got turned into a gym, but long before that, I’m sure I’d probably gotten rid of everything but the Blume’s. And your memory for them! So many of you have such impressive memories for these books when I can barely remember the titles. What are you, writers or something?

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