Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Less Fraught: Important Books in my Life

I got some calories into me last night and started feeling much better than I did in my last post. I know the 4:00 p.m. blood sugar crash is real, but sometimes I forget how real. Yesterday was the first day all week I hadn't managed to remember to eat something between lunch and dinner, and it mattered. The things that were bothering me -- both in the post and out of it -- would still have bothered me, but I felt a lot better about them with very little resolved after I got some mediocre Thai food and some ice cream into me. So: blood sugar crash. Yes. I hate late afternoon so much. I'm a morning person, but I understand night people. What I can't understand is how anybody could prefer the hours between about 3:30 and 6:00. Ugh.

Anyway, last time I was talking about important books in my life (here), I got up to age 8. Surprise surprise, I have had other improtant books in my life since then.

I think the next two go together: Kate Seredy's The Singing Tree made war come in real on my head, because it was set on the "wrong" side of the First World War, but "they" looked more or less like "us," and when I was 8, that made the black and white binaries of Reagan-era Nebraska fall down and never get back up again. (As an adult rereading it, you can watch Seredy's dread and anguish at the coming fate of Hungarian Jews slipping in the cracks. As a child I didn't really catch that, just got that people shouldn't be so mean to Uncle Mose.)

And the one that goes with it, I've written about before: L.M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside. It wasn't my favorite of her books, not by any stretch (The Blue Castle is that), but it did things to my head that no other book ever did: it connected up all fiction with history, forever. When Anne Shirley (Blythe) lost a son -- her best son -- in WWI, a war her first book had nothing to do with, all of a sudden no one was safe. The idyllic interwar childhood books took on an ominous tone, because these children were going to be sent to the front, not the countryside. Everything fit together with a click and then a crash. Years later (last year, in fact) I wrote "Michael Banks, Home from the War" because of it. I had dealt with war stories before. I had just never connected them up with the peace stories so thoroughly -- had never realized how short the peaces were. Later, when I was 13, some friends and I were assigned to wander off in English class and Do Something Interesting, and we hit on the idea of writing sequels. By 13 I knew how to keep my mouth shut, but it took a good deal of effort not to make all my sequels, "And the old characters all died in a war, or were horribly scarred by it."

Swallows and Amazons I've written about before, too; it was, in a sense, my first fandom. My first book that stretched outside the bounds of my own family. My first really exciting contact with other readers, the first book that bound me to other people by our common love of it. When my parents and I loved books in common, it kind of went the other way: it was neat that we liked books in common, because we were stuck with each other anyway. Hilary and Becca were not stuck with me, except by Swallows and Amazons, and now, nearly 16 years after I met her, I had an e-mail from Hilary in my inbox, and I answered it, and we're still kind of stuck to each other because of Swallows and Amazons and Winter Holiday and the rest.

When I was 11, later that year, Dragonsinger was the book that taught me other people had figured out genre, too: that other people liked some of the same things in books as I did, and put labels on them accordingly. Dragonsong had been shelved in the YA section of the Lawrence Public Library, and when I couldn't find Dragonsinger, I went to Adventure: A Bookstore in downtown Lawrence, and the store owner steered me into "Science Fiction/Fantasy." And I stood there holding Dragonsinger and gaping at the bewildering riches before me. And I have since visited elsewhere, but I've known where my home was since then.

I've talked before, too, about when I was just-turned-12, how my dad gave me all his philosophy texts, his Janis Ian records, Beggars In Spain, and A Brief History of Time. And those last two books kind of feel like, well, there's the rest of my life, right there when I was twelve. I fell into A Brief History of Time and wandered my day in a haze of physics. It was probably a good thing my teachers were understanding and mostly liked me that year, because I was not prepared to think of anything else at all that day. Just the origins of the universe, which certainly seemed like enough. As for Beggars in Spain was my first modern-feeling SF novel. It was the first thing that felt like something I might do myself. That was important.

And then, oh, I got to the high school library. And there was almost no SF in it (because Jeff had "liberated" it all! yarg! but that's another day's rant, and I didn't know Jeff yet then), but on the paperback racks there was something called War for the Oaks. And it was set in Minneapolis. And it broke my head wide open, because there they were doing all this amazing cool rock-and-roll magic stuff in the middle of my places. When they're riding to the final confrontation, when Edi deliberately doesn't take a special route only to find that all the routes are special, I knew what she meant, not just in general, but in specific. I knew "the red stone castle at Groveland and the brooding brick churches," "even the stucco duplexes, common as field mice" (though of course not as well as I know them now). I didn't use the term "Death of the Magic" yet, but War for the Oaks stood against that horrible thing I didn't have a name for yet, and I could stand with it and go, "Hey! Yeah! That!" Roo sometimes talks about the Como Park Conservatory as "my Torytory," and I was that kind of child, too: it was mine. But Emma Bull gave it back to me again the year I turned 14, all shined up and turned sideways, along with the whole rest of my world.

(I have the exact phrases because War for the Oaks became even more important when we were living in California, and more important yet when we were moving home, and that's here.)

The same year, I had started the fight process to get out of high school early, and I picked up a book called Tam Lin with a long-flowy-haired woman in a long-flowy-dress thing on the cover, and it was set in Minnesota, too. At a college -- a college, in fact, rather like the colleges we'd gone with my cousin to look at. The main characters at this college knew things and read things and were kind to each other when they could manage it and interesting even when they couldn't manage kind and also stood firm when it was time for saving each other from looming horrors of the kind that loomed most in my own experience: they didn't appear onstage dripping ichor, they were just there and awful and sometimes administrative as well. I read it to rags, and somewhere I secretly believed that if only I could get out of there to college, I would get to be around long-haired men who read things and were interesting when they couldn't manage kind, and if there were looming horrors, I wouldn't be alone with them even if they were mine to face.

It was all true, every word of it. I looked at a college like that, with Janet and Thomas traying in the back of my head; I also looked at Grinnell and thought "I should have gone to Harvard!", and somehow didn't go to Grinnell or Cornell-the-little-one or any of the others, where there would be no traying and no buses to plays in the Cities and no arboretum, or at least not the right kind, and probably not the other things either. I went to a Minnesota liberal arts college, and people read things, and tried for kind and often managed interesting, and flung things in the water in the arb, and I held on and refused to let go when it was important, horrors notwithstanding, and here we are.

And there have been important books to me more recently than my 15th birthday, too, but that's enough for this morning, and I have Beth and the wee Jane and possibly Josh to meet for lunch. So.

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