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September 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: If I Fall

Posted by emily

Can we safely call this the first TBT of fall? Even though the autumn equinox isn't officially here, we're gearing up for pumpkin beer, sweaters, chilly nights, an out-of-this-world TV show lineup and an even better batch of blockbusters (TWO movies starring Brad Pitt AND Michael Fassbender? Yes, please!). So in this blast from the past roundup, we've covered some of the greats, from Roald Dahl and A LITTLE PRINCESS...there's something in here for everyone. Until three cheers for the weekend, enjoy!

When the temperature cools down and the air gets crisper at the start of fall, it's hard to not think about the best holiday that's around the bends of time, and my favorite since I was a child --- HALLOWEEN. Every Halloween my mom would cover the house in fake spider webs, we'd stuff ourselves sick with apples and caramel and overindulge in nightmare-inducing movies like The Exorcist and Poltergeist. My mom would also bring up from the basement my favorite scary picture books from when I was a little tyke --- SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK, MISS SPIDER'S TEA PARTY, THE BERENSTAIN BEARS TRICK OR TREAT. When I aged enough to read chapter books on my own, Roald Dahl's THE WITCHES was like finding a king sized Nutrageous in my trick or treat pillowcase.

It is an understatement to say that Roald Dahl has an incredibly uncanny knack for creating the most wildly fun, twisted and outrageous imaginary characters. From MATILDA to BFG to JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH to THE TWITS, each of Dahl's creations tap into a child's greatest dreams and fears --- to be the smartest, to be the tallest, to make stone fruit grow from fun size to party size, and to be so terrified of old ladies you feel that even in a million years you won't be able to escape their cryptic sixth senses about the world. If reading the magical story of these supernatural geriatrics didn't make you want to hide beneath the sheets and make your parents check for ghouls, goblins and ghosts underneath the bed...and in the closet, then the movie adaptation surely scared you out of your wits.

I need to be honest and admit that the line between my obsession with the book A LITTLE PRINCESS and the movie is a hard one to draw. I was probably around eight when the movie came out, and I couldn’t even tell you how many times I watched it on VHS --- sitting patient and cross-legged in my parents’ basement as the cassette rewound from its last (and likely very recent) viewing. My copy of the book had the movie tie-in cover, so it’s probably safe to say that I watched Sarah Crewe’s misfortunes and imagined adventures before I read about them. Either way, I couldn’t get enough. Generally, good-natured heroines bored me --- I liked hotheaded girls who learned the hard way, like Jo in LITTLE WOMEN --- so sweet, soft-spoken Sarah and I were not necessarily a natural fit. But there was strength in her kindness, and a real lesson to be learned from her refusal to let the dismal reality of her circumstances get her down. With few resources other than her imagination, she created beauty where there really was none, which ultimately ended up shielding her from Miss Minchin’s abuse. Look, I’m not saying we should all run off to La La Land every time things don’t seem to be going our way, but we are constantly framing our lives with narratives that we tell ourselves, and there’s something to be said for that kind of irrepressible inner spirit. Sarah Crewe mesmerized me with her stubborn positivity --- life gave her lemons, and not only did she make lemonade, but she threw a party just so she could serve it to all her friends. How could you not love that? 

If you’ve been keeping track of my Throwback Thursday contributions so far, you might notice a certain appreciation for genre fiction and copious lack of what we might call “classics.” I didn’t start into Literature with a capital L until high school, mostly because I had decided that a searing and exquisitely rendered exploration of the human condition wasn’t as interesting as dragons and things blowing up yet. I’ll get there eventually. But not this week. This week I want to share a book (actually several books) that have continued to impress me more and more the older I get. FIRST TEST is the first book in the Protector of the Small series by American fantasy author Tamora Pierce, and the first of her work (but definitely not the last) that I read. I didn’t really notice, as I tore through book after book, that all of her protagonists were girls. In response to an overwhelmingly male industry (fantasy and science fiction tend to be even worse that literature as a whole about featuring white, male authors writing about white, male, characters), Pierce struck back by making all of her protagonists female. Not only are her heroines just as strong and capable as their male colleagues (her heroines include two knights, a spy, several mages and a police officer), but she also wrote frankly about the process of growing up and the frequent discrimination that women faced when breaking in to male dominated roles. It might be fantasy, but that sure sounds like the real world to me. Looking back on this now, I think Mrs. Pierce made a fantastic contribution to literature by writing strong, interesting and honest role models for young women to follow. But at the time, I just thought they were awesome.

Comic books, excuse me “graphic novels,” tend to brighten my day. Overly saturated cityscapes and hammy dialogue provide me with a beautiful world to escape to for a few short hours. But sometimes, I just want to see something beautiful die. When I feel my cynicism towards the world beginning to ebb, I slink off to a dark, cold place with a copy of BLACK HOLE. Armed with black ink and a deep hatred for society, Charles Burns succeeds in replicating the unique sensation of running over your beloved cat with a rusty lawnmower. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he makes you feel like the cat. The premise is simple: A handful of angsty teenagers find themselves suddenly living with a swiftly spreading STD. However this “bug” has no standard symptoms; the physical ailments are unique to each victim, manifesting as a reflection of their most vicious fear. A notorious liar suddenly finds himself with a second mouth, a girl struggling to find her identity begins to shed her skin and you don’t even want to know what happens to the class outcast. BLACK HOLE is the only book to cause me physical pain upon reading, and it gets worse each time I return.

Since I’ve been home from college for a good month now, I’ve had plenty of time to browse the bookshelf in my childhood bedroom (my parents keep threatening to turn it into storage space, and I haven’t decided yet if they’re joking or not). The other day, I came across Judy Blume’s middle-grade novel, JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER. Admittedly, I was never a huge fan of Judy Blume, but this was one of her few works that I actually remember reading and enjoying. The book details the ups and downs of seventh grade through the eyes of Stephanie Hirsch, who is trying to handle her parents’ recent separation, her own sudden weight gain and maintain her relationship with her best friend Rachel. Their friendship is threatened when new girl Alison comes to town, introducing the “two’s company, three’s a crowd” mentality that can often make or break a middle school clique. Episodes of Stephanie and her friends riding the bus, having sleepovers and swooning over ninth-grader Jeremy Dragon are hilarious, charming and embarrassingly relatable. I loved the whole story, but distinctly remember being confused by the outdated ‘80s references throughout, especially when I realized that the “hunk” in the poster above Stephanie’s bed was a young Richard Gere. Talk about a flashback.