Thursday, August 2, 2012

You know you're a lifelong fiction lover when...

Elizabeth Zelvin

Do you reread favorite novels over and over? Do the characters seem real to you? What percentage of your fund of basic knowledge comes from facts you learned in fiction? The list below was inspired by the first item on it, supplied by a childhood friend with whom I’ve just reconnected. My most vivid memories of her centered around some very personal stuff confided when we were ten or eleven, maybe twelve. What she remembered about me made me laugh, because it demonstrated how long I’ve been a bookworm.

You know you’re a lifelong fiction lover when...

Your old friend from Girl Scout camp tells you 60 years later that you once kept her awake all night recounting to her the entire plot of The Count of Monte Cristo.

You can draw from memory the family tree of the Day, Sprague, and Campion families from Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg novels, which you took out of the library innumerable times in the 1950s.

You can supply a name, date, pronunciation, or spelling—without checking—of historical figures and events about 90 percent of the time your husband the history buff brings them up in conversation, though you haven’t read a nonfiction history book since college.

You’re still looking for the first real storybook you got from the library as a kid, long, long out of print. It was called Sally and the White Horse, and it was about a brother and sister who are captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery. She was confined in the harem, and he worked in the garden, or was it the stable, and he’d pretend to talk to himself so she could hear what he said through the bars about planning their escape. One point he made over and over was, “I must learn Arabic.” To this day, you wonder whether you would be capable of picking up Arabic, not an easy language, if you needed it in desperate circumstances.

Every time you cross the Susquehanna River when driving from New York to Washington, DC you think about Frances Slocum, a little girl in the Revolutionary period who was captured by Indians, adopted, and spent her entire life with the tribe. How do you know? A fictionalized retelling of her story was serialized in Jack and Jill, the children’s magazine your family subscribed to when you were a kid.

If you were stuck on a desert island without anything to read, you think you might be able to reconstitute quite a number of novels you’ve reread dozens of times, including such favorite mysteries as Brat Farrar.

One-liners from books form part of your permanent vocabulary, no matter how long ago you read them. For example, in one of Margery Allingham’s mysteries, there’s a woman reporter who rationalizes her nosiness by saying, “I only ask because I want to know.” You use that all the time. You’ve even noticed that the line is in iambic pentameter.


Anonymous said... (a deadly place) says "The White Horse" is the actual title of the book by Elizabeth Coatsworth. And there are apparently both new and used copies available (perhaps it has been republished?)!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Thanks, Sandra. I was sure it wasn't called simply The White Horse, and we were both right. The Sally books were a series (wish I'd known that as a kid), reissued in trade paperback in 2006, and yep, she's captured by Barbary pirates in this one. I've just ordered my copy--it'll be interesting to see how it holds up. Elizabeth Coatsworth is a children's author whose name I remember, though when I read the book I was too young to pay attention to authors--first or second grade. The reprint says 10 or up, which doesn't surprise me. My voracious reading started early!

Julia Buckley said...

And there you have the magic of the Internet. :) I had a similar re-uniting with a favorite PG Wodehouse book from my childhood; a woman send it to me from TASMANIA in exchange for some Chicago stuff.

I love all the things you listed that prove you are a fiction lover. Thank goodness for stories, and the people who love them.

Anonymous said...

Liz -- Love this totally! Fits me too!

Julia -- what PG Wodehouse was that? I'm just starting to actually read him.

Sandra -- thanks (I think) for reminding me of Bookfinder. Now, where am I going to fit those acquisitions!


Julia Ink said...

I know the Albert Campion story (for example, that his real name was Rupert) but don't recall any other Campion family. Still I think I am a lifelong reader, too

Julia Ink said...

I know the Albert Campion story (for example, that his real name was Rupert) but don't recall any other Campion family. Still I think I am a lifelong reader, too