Books you'd write if you had time

What book(s) would you write if you weren't so busy doing your scholarship, teaching, and the 150 million other things you have to do every day? Here's one I've been turning over in my mind for about three years now. Maybe someone else will write it; I hope so. This requires some background, so bear with me.

In a couple of weeks, I will be thirty years old. :O I grew up in the 70s and 80s and, because I have excellent parents who read to me for as long as I wanted them to, every single day, running their index fingers along the words as they spoke them,

(not like that LeapFrog "magic wand" that the kids can use to point to a word and hear a recorded voice speak it -- every time I see those LeapPads in the toy aisles of Target or Wal-Mart, I get doesn't compare to the intellectual stimulation of having a human being point to the word and say it to the child. I know it's so hard to find the time to read to children as much as both parents and children want, and I don't intend to make any parents feel bad; I only want to point out that I was very lucky to have enormous amounts of time -- and money, what with all the book clubs my parents joined: it seemed that every day, new books arrived in the mail -- invested in my development)

I learned to read before I turned three. After that, my parents had to pull the books out of my hands when they wanted me to pay attention to some non-book-related thing. "Stop reading and eat," they'd scold. I far preferred books to toys, and I read everything. Now, when I bring up childhood reading experiences with women my age, we talk about characters in those 70s and 80s books, like Nancy Drew, Bess, George, Elizabeth Wakefield, Jessica Wakefield, Lila Fowler, Enid Rollins, Bruce Patman, Todd Wilkins, Ramona Quimby, Beezus Quimby, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sisters Mary and Carrie, Caitlin Ryan, the Girls of Canby Hall, Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace of A Wrinkle in Time, Ned of Jelly Belly, Tony of Then Again, Maybe I Won't, Linda Fischer of Blubber, and Margaret of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, as though they were old friends. We felt these characters, knew them intimately. They inspired us. We looked at how they handled the situations we found ourselves in, listened to their interpretations of such experiences as first kisses, menarche, getting bullied or standing there doing nothing when someone we liked was getting bullied because we were too afraid to take up for our friend, and we knew we weren't alone in our self-doubt and awkwardness. When I say "we," of course, I mean white, middle-class girls; it speaks volumes that the only book I remember reading about a working-class African-American family was Striped Ice Cream.

I'd love to interview a bunch of women of all races and classes, to record their memories of these characters and what kinds of effects (constructive? alienating?) they had on these women, and then write a book about to what extent and how these books have shaped femininity in my generation.


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like a dirty French novel

When I lived in Philly, I sorta dated a woman in New York, who once asked, "How does a guy from Oklahoma know so much about New York?" I scanned my brain, and I was all, "I think its from listening to Velvet Underground records as a kid. I would look up references in songs and learn stuff about the city along the way." She was like, "Dude, you're a total nerd." Regardless, I thought it would be cool to write a tourist guide to NYC for VU fans. I don't think there's really enough material in the songs to write a book, tho; learning about the records just gave me a contextual framework for the city.

great idea

It's a wonderful idea, but YOU should write it. It actually made me sort of envious. I was never a reader of children's or young adult books, even as a child (except for books about horses). I read voraciously, but books that were written for a much older audience. In fact, the only young adult book I can recall reading is "The Witch of Blackbird Pond." The scary thing is I'd read Henry Miller by the time I was ten by sneaking him out of my dad's bedroom ;-)


1) A novel about the life of E.T.A. Hoffmann, kindred spirit on a much higher level, of course, composer, musician, music critic, artist, fabulous writer, and legal paper-pusher in the Prussian beaurocracy circa 1800.
2) A history of scientific dissent: why there is resistance to findings commonly accepted by the scientific community--e.g., AIDS (those who claim the medical establishment is lying about it); and what does it all mean? :D

your book

Why don't you set up a web page or blog space with the questions and invite women to give you information--either anonymously or not--I suppose figuring out how to make sure that you were getting valid info would be an issue. That way, you'd have the information, whether or not you were ever able to find the time to write a book about it.

It's a great idea--I'd also like to know how many of us who were early readers were that way because we were read to. Reading was a passion for me--even before I could read. I used to badger my parents to read to me and show me what the letters meant. I loved books--always hoarding and organizing them, inscribing them--if I could have eaten them, I would have. Joanna

The book

I'm glad others find it interesting, but I don't have time to write it myself...and who's to say anyone would publish it if I did write it? We are talking about a pretty narrow section of the population here. I've always envisioned it not to be a scholarly book, but something that maybe Seal Press would publish, more for a popular audience. I've daydreamed that it would be hailed by the critics in BUST and Bitch. I guess it wouldn't hurt to put together a brief proposal and send it out, just to get the experience of writing a book proposal. I already have an idea of what the chapters would be about.

No! Must write the dissertation prospectus instead!

Okay. Oh yeah, to respond to the second commenter here: I wish my dad had had some Henry Miller books; I would have had a field day with those at age 10. As Henrys go, he was far more interested in Kissinger. His books included such offerings as The Gulag Archipelago, The Day the Bubble Burst, and lots of World War II history books. The only writer he and I could agree on was Carl Sagan. :)


My dad is also a WWII history buff, but those books were kept in the living room--in public ;-)

Kids and Lit

A few years before you were born, I was a participating parent in my oldest son's preschool and reconnected with all those books of childhood. About the same time, my feminist chair thought it would be cool to have a guy teach children's lit (fairly unusual then). So about 1971 or 72, I developed a children's lit course, including several of the books you mentioned and getting students to think about reading stories with girl heroes. And I kept building my personal library, so most of the children's classics were available to our sons. I like your book idea. I'd also be interested in how and whether mothers convey feminist insights to their sons through choices of children's books.

Childhood Reading

I personally think I was warped to a serious degree by reading too much Nancy Drew. Drew-reading intersection that vile point in my life with my dad's alcoholicism, and I blurred the lines big-time. Nancy, with her perfect boyfriend, friends, and baby blue convertible became some sort of unattainable goal, and every day that passed, when it became clearer that I would never be Nancy Drew, I think contributed to the jaded person I am today. (Ha ha, but slightly serious. ;)) I probably would have been better off reading Toni Morrison, but vile childhood and all, I was still a little middle-class white girl, too, and my reading appropriate to that class, as you point out.

Another potentially warping series I read with rapt attention and repetitively were those VC Andrews' novels. Judy Blume would have been in between, I guess, and I read all the Little House when I was in early elementary school. I remember being seven and reading the word "mosquito" repeatedly and having no clue what it meant, but glossing over it, until I'd encountered it so many times (of course!) that I asked my mother to pronounce it. ;) I never read any childhood adaptations of classics or anything that most "academic literary" types seem to have read. I have no excuse; I spent all my summer days in the library.


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