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Books of Memory

March 20, 2015

Wind in the Willows ch12Wayne writes: In the March 8th Sunday Book Review of the New York Times, Sarah Manguso told of a book she read in her childhood, details of which she could recall but not its author or title. It was about a beaver family, she remembered, or it could have been woodchucks or muskrats, and one of the characters was called ‘Crackie’. When she exhausted Google Search, she turned to a blog called ‘Stump the Bookseller‘ and learned that her mystery book was probably Toodle and Noodle Flat-Tail: The Jolly Beaver Boys by Howard R. Garis, author of the ‘Uncle Wiggly’ stories. (Uncle Wiggly, I’ve heard of. Toodle and Noodle Flat-Tail, no.) Unfortunately for Ms. Manguso, the book is out of print and, at least at the moment, is not available from online sellers.

The books we read, or have read to us, in childhood stay in our memory, not always clearly, sometimes as only a ghostly presence, but there they are, part of the foundation of our personalities and our selves. At least, that has been my experience. I’ve been lucky that many of the books I knew and loved as a child were never discarded, and I can revisit them whenever I like. There are Milne’s Pooh books, with Now We Are Six and When We Were Very Young. There are the ‘Horton’ books by Dr. Seuss, and If I Ran the Zoo. There’s the set of My Book House by Olive Beaupré Miller, blue bindings (in my edition) all in a row. There are Little Golden Books, and Giant Golden Books too. There, for a boy brought up on TV westerns, is The Big Book of Cowboys by Sydney E. Fletcher.

Other books recalled from my youth were never purchased, only borrowed, from the elementary school or county libraries. I know these included at least some of the ‘Cowboy Sam’ titles by Edna Walker Chandler, though what I saw in them, as I look now at images online, I have no idea: not one of their stories and pictures has stayed with me, just the name of the series. More importantly, I also read The Wind in the Willows at a very young age, so young that for a long time the only memory I had of it was of E.H. Shepard’s illustration of Badger, Rat, Mole, and Toad routing the stoats and weasels in Toad Hall, and I didn’t link my memory specifically with that book. I was thrilled to rediscover the picture many years later and finally make the connection, when I read Kenneth Grahame’s great work again as an adult and fell in love with it.

For a long time, I remembered as well that I liked a series of books with the character ‘Zip-Zip’, and had a vague idea that they were science fiction. Thanks to the Internet, I identified these as the work of John M. Schealer, and eventually bought copies of all three: Zip-Zip and His Flying Saucer, Zip-Zip Goes to Venus, and Zip-Zip and the Red Planet. Published between 1956 and 1961, they would have been fairly new when I checked them out of the elementary school library. Read again in adulthood, they don’t appeal quite as much, in fact not much at all, but the ten-year-old in me recalls them fondly.

Now if I could only identify the book on scuba diving I often borrowed from the same library: those were the days of Sea Hunt and Assignment: Underwater on TV, and for a while I had it in mind to become an oceanographer. But I’m not sure if, in memory, I’m not mixing it up with The First Five Fathoms by Arthur C. Clarke, which I think I had as a birthday gift and is still on our shelves.

Christina tells me that she has a book memory of her own. The main character of this work is a boy or girl, who has been ill for a long time, and whose mother goes out to buy a book for her child. She meets someone who persuades her that a certain book is the very one she needs, and it has (perhaps) twelve pictures. In the course of the story, the boy or girl (as it may be) gets into the pictures and meets another child (of the opposite gender). Then there is something to do with dance, maybe a fire dance, and the children end up at some great event, where they perform. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Christina admits that it’s entirely possible that she’s mixing up more than one book.

Image: Illustration by E.H. Shepard for Chapter 12, ‘The Return of Ulysses’, in The Wind in the Willows. At least in the editions we have, the picture is divided, with a small part printed on the facing page. Here I have put it back together with Photoshop.


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