Several years ago, my daughter and I went on an overnight school retreat. My daughter was seven, and I brought a big piece of string to teach her the “string game.” Those of you who are “of an age” should remember it—you wrap the string a certain way around your hands and then you hold it out to your partner who then grabs it a certain way and takes it off your hands and onto hers. Each configuration of the string requires a particular move on your partners’ part to successfully transfer the string. I had played this for “hours and hours” as a kid with my best friend, and I wanted to teach my daughter how to play. (Of course, in my day, it was just a big piece of actual string—nowadays, it’s a kit that you can buy—has our generation truly lost its collective mind—don’t get me started!)
Anyway, I couldn’t remember how to get it started, and several moms joined in offering advice. These mothers had grown up in Korea, Jamaica, and around the United States. We had ALL played the string game—who knew it was universal? We all proceeded to play the string game the rest of the weekend with our daughters while chatting away about many things.
I find it equally fascinating to learn when we share books in common. Chris grew up on the West Coast, and I grew up here in the East, yet we read many of the same books when we were young teenagers. Many, we agree, that we were too young to read—they left indelible images, many of which we wish weren't there, but that’s a post for another day.
Think of the “pool” books—Sybil, The Exorcist, and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud. They were the books that everyone, or so it seemed, was reading between slathering on the baby oil and checking out the lifeguards. The books then were feverishly passed to friends—my copy of Peter Proud came back to me three times thicker with wavy pages because one friend actually dropped it in the pool while chatting it up with one of the more noticeable lifeguards. (I don’t know how to “shrink” a book back down to size when it has been waterlogged—does anyone know a way?)
Before we discovered these disturbing books, however, we had everything from Dr. Seuss to Nancy Drew. My daughter just finished a stint as a Who in Seussical the Musical--I delighted to see so many of my favorite Seuss stories set to music. My yellow-covered Nancy Drews hold a place of honor next to my brother's Hardy Boys, which I also read, but another girlfriend and I have special places in our hearts for Trixie Belden.
My sisters-in-law and I also often talk about books from our younger days—I didn’t know these ladies then, but we shared many books in common. Phyllis A. Whitney, Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, and Victoria Holt were favorite authors. Michaels’ Ammie, Come Home remains a sentimental favorite for many of us.
Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds—some of us loved it while others hated it. Danielle Steele’s The Promise made the rounds. Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance were in everyone’s hands a second time when the miniseries was developed.
Agatha Christie’s mysteries, Georgette Heyer’s romances, and Erma Bombeck’s humorous commentaries all add to that collective reading experience. More recently, the Harry Potter books and The DaVinci Code—these in particular seem to generate either a strong “love it” or “hate it” response. But it seems to me that this collective experience happens less often now than it did then. Why is that?
I know that I enjoy “discovering” a book that only I seem to have found, but there is something comforting to me in sharing a book. Maybe that is part of the reason that book clubs are so popular today, particularly among women. We are seeking that shared collective again. Maybe we all want to remember what it’s like to be thirteen again reading a book we know our mothers wouldn’t approve, passing it along to a friend, snickering over the good parts, and recounting the scary moments. These delicious memories of string games and books bind us to one another, even those we don’t know yet.
Did reading this bring any other books to mind? Ooh, I just thought of another one—Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Burns! Please help me remember others.