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June 7, 2010

Most of us can remember the formative books we loved in our youth. I have a collection of memories dedicated to the early stages of my bibliophilic life. And while I would like to think I can recall all books I’ve ever read in my lifetime, that is simply not the case. For example, it has bothered me endlessly that I cannot remember a book read out loud to me in Ms. Cole’s 9th grade English class. I know where I was sitting (left side of the room, second row, back against the wall, close to the door); I know that Ms. Cole sat on a stool with her 90s-style floral skirts flowing around her small body. And I know she read us a book.

What book?

No idea.

I’ve pondered this question off and on for years: What book? I think the protagonist was male. It was probably a YA book. (For what it’s worth, I can’t remember anyone worth mentioning from that class either…so, it’s not like I can just ask someone. Of course, maybe my memory has blocked out the good guys too. Who knows.)

At any rate, sometimes I have a book that will dance along the periphery of my memory. And while I was in graduate school, there was a book like this that kept me awake at night. It was one of my favorite books in the 6th grade; I read it several times. I couldn’t remember the title, but I could remember some snippets of plot, a few powerful images, and a clear picture of the cover art. NOT remembering the rest was eating at me. Gnawing at my brain. How can you forget an entire book? So, I enlisted the help of my baby brother Corbin.

So, I described this book to him: A girl, a ghost, a blue cover, a fire. That’s all he got. And Corbin, never one to turn down a challenge, committed himself to helping satiate this burning curiosity. But the librarian at his school wasn’t helpful. The librarian at the city library was equally confused. Expert Google searches, wandering the aisles at Powell’s. We were all stumped.

I kept telling him, “I’ll know it when I hear it. I’ll recognize the cover if I see it. Maybe I just need to go look at every book in the horror section.”

But I didn’t.

Corbin did.

And a month later, Corbin handed me a card. I didn’t think much when I opened up the envelope, but there, inside the card, was a note. And written on it in Corbin’s cute, but atrocious-junior-high-boy handwriting, was “Wait Till Helen Comes.” The name of the book that had become an obsession for me. I actually cried. However, I should have saved those tears, because after I was done hugging and screaming, Corbin handed me a present and inside, you guessed it, was the book. Better even still? NOT the new edition with the fancy cover! But the cover that I REMEMBERED from my childhood.

I sat down that night and reread Mary Downing Hahn’s book again in one sitting. With each new chapter, a new memory popped up — where I was the first time I read a certain part, how scared I was one night after finishing the book, how this book was the catalyst for my “ghost believing” period. And the best part? The book was actually pretty good. Sure, nostalgia played a part…but, seriously, it’s a fantastic little ghost story.

I don’t know what other books I’ve read that have somehow escaped out of my memory. A ton. I’m sure. (I mean, I read a new R.L. Stine or Christopher Pike every day in junior high, and pretty  much like every one of the cool double Nancy Drew AND the Hardy Boys mysteries. But I can’t remember a single plot for the life of me.) Then again, I’m also the girl who forgets entire movie plots too. Matt might say it’s one of my most annoying qualities. Hey, I can remember the broad-strokes. Spiderman = Good Guy. But remembering what character Bryce Dallas Howard played and why she’s important to the plot? Forget about it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jessica permalink
    June 7, 2010 6:07 pm

    I thought the answer was going to be this book: and I would’ve yelled out loud if it had been right.

    I had the same experience trying to remember a book I read forever ago, and had a lovely staff of B&N co-workers that helped me figure it out. It was this book:

    Also, I’m sorry I wasn’t in that class with Ms. Cole with you so I could help you remember.
    Sidenote: what is up with the publishers changing the cover art? I get appealling to a new audience, but they are ruining our childhood, and our chances of remembering these books!

    • June 7, 2010 7:04 pm

      Oh! I want to read both of those now. I’ve never read a lot of Avi, but man, if you’re cool enough to be that prolific and only have one name? Worth checking out.

      I highly recommend “Wait Till Helen Comes” for a one-hour investment. Then someone can tell me if my enjoyment is PURELY nostalgic.

      And yes, I know, I HATE the redone covers of ALL books. That’s why I’m constantly searching for all the old Ramona Quimby books too — I think the new cartoony Ramona is cute, but it’s just not a part of my childhood.

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