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2003-07-07 | 11:21 a.m.

1. What were your favorite childhood stories?

Er, don't know. I always liked stories about little people. Fairies, brownies, etc. My sister had a set of books, one of those hardbound sets with a different theme to each volume, like "Stories of Adventure" and "Stories about Animals." Anyway, I remember reading a story in one of those books about brownies that I just loved. And later I tried to find it again but I couldn't. Years later I found seven of the books stored at her house and got all excited, but I must not have the right series, or the right volume, because I can't find it.

Most of my memories about reading start around the fourth grade, for some reason. I liked a book called King of the Dollhouse, but maybe I only remember because I still have it. I loved George by E.L. Konigsburg, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Phantom Tollbooth, all of which were read aloud to our class by my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Burns. The first "Ms." in my life but certainly not the last. She had fizzy brown hair and wore the same pair of purple doubleknit polyester pants incessantly. If my memory serves me right, she was a single mother with one son and her first name was Ann. Her field was math, which was very different in those days. She might have been a bit of a genius.

When I was eight or nine, my appendix ruptured and I almost died. Consequently I had to stay in the hospital for several days after my emergency appendectomy. My aunt Bonnie brought me a hardback copy of The Little Princess and I read it with great enjoyment. I remember thinking, uncharitably, that a bookstore clerk must have recommended it because I couldn't imagine her having picked it out herself. But she was wealthy at the time and could afford to give hardback books to rotten little kids like me. It was the first new hardback book I ever owned, I'm pretty sure. Now, at 38, I buy most of my books secondhand, but I always try to get them in hardback. More and more I can hardly bring myself to pick up a paperbook book. Especially a mass market paperback.

2. What books from your childhood would you like to share with [your] children?

George, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Phantom Tollbooth. The Borrowers. I actually don't remember if I read The Borrowers as a child, but it seems like something I would have liked. Uhh, what else did I mean to say? There's something on the tip of my tongue, or the tip of my brain anyway, but I can't quite grab it.

3. Have you re-read any of those childhood stories and been surprised by anything?

Mostly I'm surprised by how much I don't remember. Sometimes I start reading a book to my kids and realize I've read it before, but had no memory of doing so.

At the same time, I'm surprised by how many good things I neglected to read. I read all the time and yet I managed to miss an awful lot of primo stuff, which is really discouraging. I can remember reading things like The World's Greatest Athlete and Herbie Rides Again (both Disney movie tie-ins) and never got anywhere near The Hobbit, or Tuck Everlasting, The Wind in the Willows or Watership Down. But I'm trying to make up for lost time now.

4. How old were you when you first learned to read?

Three, or so I'm told.

5. Do you remember the first 'grown-up' book you read? How old were you?

Nope. I do remember reading The Exorcist when I was about twelve. I read Jaws around the same time. Earlier than that, maybe ten or eleven, I found a copy of The Sensuous Woman by "J" in my mother's drawer and I plowed through that. I think she had The Happy Hooker, too. From eight or nine on, I stayed with my father and stepmother over the summer. Every night before I fell asleep, I would read my father's adult mags, which were unaccountably stored under my cot. Did they put them there on purpose? Did they think I wouldn't read them? Surely not.

All of this must make my parents sound like sex fiends, but they weren't. It was just the seventies.

I went through a phase where I read lots of my stepmother's romance novels during those summers, but I eventually got bored with those and haven't touched one since. Unlike my stepmother, who still dutifully chugs along the same path she trod when I was eight. My mother likes mysteries and police stories and stuff like Olivia Goldsmith and 'Tis, but she wouldn't touch a bodice-ripper if you paid her.

My father left school after the eighth grade. He always seemed clever enough but I can't recall him ever reading a novel. That just wasn't his thing.

[questions from the Friday Five for 7/4/03]

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