I was picking my daughter up from Girl Scouts the other day, as I do every week, and I found a treasure. They hold their meetings in the Family Support Center on the base, which is just a weird building that seems to exist to fill whatever weird need they have at the time. Ours holds the library, college courses, play groups, and whatever group is in need of a space for meetings, and can schedule the space. Anything can happen there, from cookie sales to job interviews to birthday parties. But none of that is remarkable or exciting at all compared to the two shelves by the door holding free books.
Let me say that again, FREE BOOKS!!!
Their free book section works from donations, so you never know what you will find. Right now they have a large section of fantasy and science fiction, as well as several religious books and romance novels, and a small kids section. (After every Girl Scout meeting my daughter always asks if she can have a “donation.” It’s not the same to her if she doesn’t go home with a book.) Naturally, looking through those shelves is the highlight of my week. Sometimes it is just simply the same old stuff, nothing new. Other days, there is a large amount of books to share. And they are all FREE! Maybe I am a little too excited about that, but I don’t think so. I have found many books that are currently on my shelf waiting for me to have time to read them. I keep thinking I need to donate back, but it is easier for me to accept books than it is for me to release them into the world.
But I digress. This week I found, Don’t Look Behind You by Lois Duncan. I loved Lois Duncan when I was in middle school. I suppose technically they would now be considered young adult books, as her characters were all in high school, but at the time it was juvenile fiction, a much broader term that was useful when you only needed to worry about reading ability, not the likelihood of explicit sex scenes in a book intended for teenagers. Her books were originally written and released in the 70’s and 80’s, but I loved them in the 90’s too. She wrote suspense in such a beautiful way, keeping you on the edge of your seat, but not going too far for the middle grade/young adult set. I devoured every book the library carried, and was even lucky enough to find several of them at my local used book store. To me, these novels were magic, and were responsible for much of my love of reading, and possibly my love of writing as well.
Now that I have a twelve year old, it’s fun to share some of the things I used to love with her, particularly reading. I was excited to get a book I thought she would like, that I had also loved. Before giving it to her however, I wanted to read it, one more time, just to relive the story before I sent it off with a new owner. I opened the book, and I was taken back, remembering everything about the time in my life when this book was new to me. April looked around her room, describing her perfect life that was about to change: her boyfriend, her tennis trophies, her ipod dock, her crystal prism.
Wait, her ipod dock? That was not in the original. Hmm.
Two pages later her brother is renting the Harry Potter movies.
Something is wrong with my book. It’s broken. Someone has gone through the story, made little changes to update the technology, and rereleased it for modern reading. Someone has gone into this book and changed my childhood. I’m not sure there is a level of hell deep enough for the perpetrators of this vile betrayal. Sure it may not seem like much has changed, but at the same time, everything has changed. This is not my book anymore, it is something different. My stomach turns every time I think of what has been done. I’m not even sure if I want to share this one with my daughter. It’s not the book I remember anymore. That book is gone, and I will never get it back.
I can’t help but wonder, how many of my childhood favorites have they done this to? How many memories have been ripped apart and sewn back together to create some Frankenstein’s monster of a book, blending old stories, and modern life?
I guess it is true, you cannot recapture the past. I don’t think I will seek out copies of my old favorites again, for fear I will experience the same heart break. Instead, I will share five books, or series, that I wish I could have back, just as they were.
1)Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal and her hoard of ghost writers
I loved these books, staring Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. I wanted to be Jessica and Elizabeth. They had everything I wanted at the time. They were beautiful, popular, rich, and always had boyfriends (very appealing to a chubby seventh grader who is not old enough to date yet). Elizabeth was very smart, and Jessica was wild and fun, plus they were twins, something I think almost every child has wanted at some point. I could never decide which twin I wanted to be. Elizabeth was closer to who I was, but Jessica was the person I was always too afraid to be while secretly wanting to. I read every version of these books available, Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley Kids, Sweet Valley University, The Unicorn Club, everything. I had a particular love of the historical books which followed blonde, twin ancestors of the Wakefield twins through history. Of course, the thriller versions were fun too. A girl in the world who looks just like the Wakefield twins, determined to kill one of them and take their place? And she has a twin of her own? Amazing. I have looked for these again, but from what I have found, they have a limited release. Anyway, I want the originals, not an update. I think we have established my feelings on that today.
2)The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I can’t remember much about these individual stories, just a feeling of enjoyment. Is that a strange way to hold onto books? I can’t remember what exactly I loved about the idea of four orphan children, running away from the Grandfather they are afraid of, and living in an old abandoned Boxcar. At first thought it doesn’t sound like an ideal life. I think it was always the independence. These kids did what they could to protect each other, no matter how hard it was. They stuck together, and used the small means they had to fight back against something fate had determined was going to happen to them. I never really fought for what was important, but these guys did, even if that fight was simply running away and refusing to accept what was handed to them. It was a strange kind of brave.
3)Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary
I couldn’t choose just one Ramona book. I loved them all, from the Beezus and Ramona beginning, to Ramona taking the series over from her sister. I loved the weirdness of Ramona, taking one bite out of thirty apples, because they first bite was best, using marshmallows to powder her face, taking on a campaign to get her father to quit smoking. She was always uniquely herself, something I always feared I was not.
4) The Bobsey Twins by Lee Laura Hope
Okay, considering my feelings on updated stories, this one feels like a betrayal to that. At the time, I didn’t know I was reading a new version. My mother had loved these books as a child, and it’s possible her mother did as well. I think a lot of the appeal of these books was simply that the kids were twins. I grew up surrounded by older brothers. I would have done anything to have a twin sister. My sister is amazing, but she is enough older than me she wasn’t there through those days when I just wanted someone to play a girly game with me, not GI Joes. A book series about two sets of twins was perfect.
5) American Girls Stories
These stories were the beginning of my love of historical fiction. I was never lucky enough to own an American Girl Doll, but I was able to check all of the books out from my school library at one point or another, many of them several times. I know the series still exists, and there are many new girls out there since I read them, but I remember MY American girls: Felicity, Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly. I’m pretty sure all four of them are currently discontinued, and you are now no longer able to purchase the dolls or the books, but I still remember them. And I miss them.
All opinions are my own here, though some may be clouded by the rose colored glasses one uses to look at the past. Any insult, no matter how deserved, towards those who revise and rerelease books is not intended to hurt the feelings of those involved. I understand publishing is a business, and maybe someday I will be fortunate enough to have books people care enough about to want to bring them to a new generation. Respecting the jobs of these people, and their desire to share worthy novels with a new generation of readers does nothing to hamper the feelings of betrayal. I’m sorry, but that is how it is here.
I would however love to hear anyone else’s opinions on revising and rereleasing books, as well as anyone else’s lists of books they would like back. Please feel free to share, and start a conversation!