Micro-memories of past holidays

28 December 2011

When I was in grad school and my parents got the new house, the room where I was housed over the holidays turned out to be a micro holiday miracle:

My mom had positioned the bed right next to a shelf of some of her favorite children’s books from back during her teaching days. Thus, every holiday visit turned into an opportunity for regression.

I regressed not just because I was 31 and

  • still in grad school
  • still refusing to marry or have children, both on principles my parents surely found somewhat eccentric
  • still coming home for every winter break
  • still answering questions like “how’s your dissertation coming along?” (a question for which there are no comforting answers)

Yup: I also regressed because I’d stay up late every night re-reading classic children’s books, most of which I’d also re-read the previous year.

It’s a regression to the ca. 12-year-old me, who upon finishing a book immediately flipped back to page 1. That practice of re-reading seems to have ended in high school; even now I only re-read those books I keep assigning in my classes (and let’s face it: class assignments don’t count).

Thus, what fun to re-read childhood favorites like E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, or — silliest of all — Roald Dahl’s The Witches.

(This title is excellent and I also quite liked the film version, with Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch. In contrast, I think the film version of Matilda [1996] actually improves on Dahl’s original book, and features the best little Mara Wilson in the title role and Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman as her horrible parents.)

If I was prepared for much late-night weeping, I’d re-read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, the sweetest and saddest tale about friendship ever

In recent years the room has been reorganized again, such that the children’s books have been shelved in some other part of the house. Somehow the fact that those spines aren’t sitting there next to me every night has prevented me from hunting them down and staying up every night till 3am, giggling over that deliciously scary/silly moment in The Witches when the little boy sees all the witches whipping their wigs off their scabby heads and scratching their scalps with their clawed hands.

Don’t worry: I still do a lot of reading while I’m there. I still seem to arrive with a minimum of four books.

But thinking about how different this year’s visit was has made me want to visit the library and pick up a couple of titles. And maybe push Matilda up to the top of my Netflix queue.

 

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6 Responses to “Micro-memories of past holidays”

  1. servetus Says:

    Ah, “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.” That was a story I imagined myself into *all* the time. The placement of this bookshelf explains your espousal of your true religion.

    • Didion Says:

      But it’s a different practice of religion, right? Whereas a great college library fills me with the desire to learn new things — even things I didn’t know I wanted to know about — the re-reading of old great children’s books is a regressive delight of a far different sort.

      There was a time when I probably could have recited certain books by heart. (Sigh.)

  2. JustMeMike Says:

    What? No Dr. Seuss books?

    Though I’ve not read any of those books that beguiled you, I did like the feeling of the remembrances of days long since past. Well done.

    jmm

    • Didion Says:

      Now that’s a great question. Why no picture books? I guess my only answer is that I moved on past picture books relatively early, or early enough, that my main memories of happy reading come from books with chapters. I remember Dr Suess, but not nearly as well as I do the Little House books, or Island of the Blue Dolphins. (Or Little Women, or Anne of Green Gables.)

      So maybe it was a product of doing my own independent reading of these books rather than being a really small child? I don’t have nearly the same strong feelings for picture books as I do for these others.

  3. Dienna Says:

    Great choice of books! I love Roald Dahl too. “Matilda” is also one of my favorites.

    And no, there is nothing “eccentric” about not wanting to marry or have kids!

    • Didion Says:

      My thoughts exactly about marriage/children! But you understand the difficulties of telling the folks, who did both. “Marriage is a patriarchal institution that has traditionally reined in women like second-class citizens and continues to oppress by limiting access and offering up extraordinary benefits only to those people the state deems acceptable.” Blank stares. They wonder if I disapprove of them. Etc.


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