Saturday, January 14, 2012

Weekend Blog Hops: Outliers

The Blog Entourage

Beauty Brite Weekend Gathering HopsSince I'm participating in more blog hops this weekend (they're addictive! Insert cliche about candy here), I thought I'd share some books that I read as a kid that I've never discussed with fellow readers. I'd love to know if anybody else read these books, and what they thought (then or now).  I've written before about Quest Books: those special titles you read as a child that you can't find and reread because you don't remember any identifying information. Because I like naming things, I'm going to call the unusual books kids read Outliers.

The degree to which these books are unusual will vary, depending on the reader. I've never talked to anyone else who read the books in the list below as a child. Of course, this doesn't mean I was the only child of my age who loved these books. But Outliers aren't books you easily discuss. They're not instant bonding material. They're not the novels that serve as a touchstone for generations of readers, like Bridge to Terabithia or Sweet Valley High.   
Outliers are books that strike a personal chord with an young reader at a particular moment. To use my brother as an example (hi G.A.!), he loved books on anything WWII. One of them was a guide to identifying military aircraft. This book, whose title I've probably suppressed if I ever knew it, was totally not up my alley and fairly unusual. I'm pretty sure the other kids on the block weren't reading it. You couldn't get it at our local library. In other words, it was an Outlier.  

My Outliers

1. The Shoes series, by Noel Streatfeild. This series was actually available at my public library. They had about a dozen books from the series, in editions that were at least 30 years old in the 1980s. Does anybody else remember those hard books with the spine info. engraved, that didn't come with dust jackets or blurbs? They were some kind of special library edition. I feel like I should know what they're called, as a newly minted MLIS. But in any case, they're a dying breed in public libraries. Anyway, back to the series itself. The series is set in the WWII era, and features different girls in each book who are performers in some way--dancing, acting, skating, etc. The world they depicted was totally alien to me (I learned all kinds of weird British words). The best part was the focus on these girls as independent, talented children who lived in really interesting worlds.

The first image at the left is of an edition similar to the one I read as a child. The second image at right is one of the reprints done in the early 90s of three of the "Shoes" books. I have no words except, ugh.

2. Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott. I'm not sure whether I actually liked this book, or I liked the fact that people were impressed that I was reading it. Even at the time, I knew it was not great literature, even though it was supposed to be a classic.  The anti-Semitism is out of control, and it's not that interesting of a story. But I read it to the bitter end, and was quite proud of myself. It's amazing how the opinions of other people influenced my reading choices when I was young.

3.  The Complete Book of Doll Making and Collecting. I was obsessed with this book. The projects were way beyond my capabilities, and the materials I had access to, and it wasn't like I was going to start collecting expensive antique dolls. But I pored over this thing like it was my bible. I still have my copy.

Does anyone else remember reading an Outlier from childhood?


  1. Hmm from my childhood, I remember reading some books my sisters read before me which may have not been well known to my friends.
    As a teenager, there were more as I started reading what was in my parents´ library :-)

  2. IVANHOE? Oh my gosh. Did you ever see that movie "You've Got Mail"? It's about Meg Ryan owning a book shop that is about to be crushed by Tom Hanks, and anyway, somebody asks her about the shoes books. You should call up Meg Ryan.

    I'm cheating with my books, as I THINK probably a lot of kids were exposed to them, so maybe they don't really count as outliers. I mean, it was not merely by chance that I discovered them; we were given these to read in the third grade and there were audio tapes too. And they MESSED ME UP: Schwartz's "Scary Stories" with illustrations by Stephen Gammell. It was as much the illustrations as the stories themselves that affected me. In fact, I can't even get my niece to read them because she's freaked out by the pictures. When you're a kid you're exposed to a lot of stuff that you think you like just because you like things for no reason when you're a kid, but these books and those drawings were one of the earliest things about which I could say, yes, THIS is my kind of thing. And I still feel that way.

    Well, I doubt kids are reading these books in classrooms across America anymore. It's probably for the best.

  3. Thanks for stopping by and I am following now also.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  4. @Elodie--I never read YA as a teenager either. I remember borrowing Hemingway's Garden of Eden from my parents bookshelves and being really confused by the obsessive focus on tanning, blond hair, and haircuts. Then at some point, it dawned on me he was trying to talk about gender and sexuality and stuff. But at the time, I was thinking, why does he keep obsessing over one of the character's cutting her hair short?

  5. @Pat: I know, right? Ivanhoe. Jesus. You have an amazing memory. Yes, I've seen "You've Got Mail," but I remember almost nothing about it. You'd think I'd remember the Shoes reference! Damn.

    I was definitely never given anything like "Scary Stories" in elementary school. I think I remember that book from when I worked in the children's section at a public library. It's really freaky. So, did you like being freaked out, or you thought the pictures were cool, or what?

  6. haha well, I guess it's a mix of those things. I thought the art was cool (as you can tell by the cover, that dude could draw whispy corpse-hair like nobody's business), AND it was freaky. Maybe macabre or GRUESOME is the right word, yet not without a sense of whimsy. I remember sort of having to brace myself before looking at some of the especially disturbing (and so especially favored) pictures, but a lot of them are silly, like a hand holding a forkful of meatball... made of the very arm to which it is still attached!!! When it comes to either horror or comedy, I sort of like it when you're not sure which one it is you're looking at.

    I think a couple of years later "Tales From the Crypt" came on HBO, before I got a chance to read any of the old EC Comics, and I loved it. It's a weird thing that nobody does much, this really straight-faced delivery of what is ostensibly a ghost story but turns out to be just a bit of a morbid joke.

  7. Thankyou for popping over to our Weekly Book Blog Hop, now following you, hope to see you next week

  8. I loved those 'Scary Stories' books when I was in the middle school years - but some of the pictures are quite freaky.

    I didn't discover 'Garden of Eden' until I was 17.

  9. Hi!!!!

    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I look forward to reading your posts.


  10. Thanks for stopping by my blog...following you back :)