Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday Top Ten: Entries From a Smokin' Hot Pink Notebook

When I was a little girl in Dork Middle School, anybody who was anybody (which was almost everybody, 'cause there were only 16 girls in my graduating class) read Lurlene McDaniel novels ravenously -- stories which confirmed our suspicions that the world was a cruel, cruel place. Also, anybody who was anybody was allowed to go to the mall alone w/o parental supervision, except me, 'cause my mother was a fascist dictator who didn't want me to have fun or be happy. (JK Mom! Love you! Loved going to the mall with you too!) (Wouldn't it be fun if instead of Mother's Day being "Celebrate Mom" day, it was an April Fool's Day combo? The fam pools collective wisdom to play a big trick on Mom? Like in Home Alone, when Kevin sets booby traps for the thieves? Mom'll get up expecting breakfast in bed and then be like wtf are there micro-machines on the floor, um, hello blowtorch, KEVIN!") Anyhow. What was I talking? Oh yes. Literature.

Since leaving my Dork School peer group for greener pastures, I've not met another fan of McDaniel's cannon of Dying Children Lit -- until last weekend when I met my friend's sister who was also a big fan, which is AMAZING, and we bonded over it.

Also, I just started reading Rachel Shukert's Have You No Shame, in which the author's mother uncovers her daughter's collection of Holocaust Lit and replaces the books with Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High, delaring that: "I'd rather have you shallow and sexually precocious than morbidly psychotic."

So I started thinking about all the morbidly psychotic books I read as a kid. I wasn't allowed to read Christopher Pike or R.L Stine like everyone else (see: mother's general desire for me to be ostracized from peers), but I feel like the shit I was allowed to read was probs way worse for my little baby mind than those authors' straightforward & blatant horror/violence.

Which brings us to an actual Sunday Top Ten. For the first time since um ... oh, I don't know.

or "Things that affected me more than going to the mall w/o a parent would've."

10. Cynthia Voigt's "Tillerman" Series: Homecoming, Dicey's Song, et al., also The Boxcar Children
Amped up my desire to be an orphan forced to live by my wits,
as well as my certainty that I'd be better off alone like the pop song "Better Off Alone,"
therefore increasing my implicitly unfair & ungrateful resentment towards my family for feeding, clothing and loving me,
inspiring me to write my own bad novels about runaways.
In Homecoming, 13-year old Dicey Tillerman and her three younger siblings experience the literal opposite of my life situation -- they're actually abandoned at the shopping mall by their mother, who subsequently lands herself in a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, I was being followed around the mall by my psychiatric mother (ten steps behind, providing both protection and distance), therefore preventing me from Having Adventures like Hunger, Misery, Orphanhood, Eccentric Aunts on Dilapidated Farms and Evil Catholics. Reading the plot summary of Homecoming, I realize it's possible I stole it for my epic novel Fly by Night, in which young pyromaniac Erin leaves her abusive home w/precocious brother Tommie, eventually meeting a guy named "Fly," who looks a lot like Jordan Catalano. 'Cause Erin can't stop burning things down & 'cause their number-one income source is carrying groceries to cars (in real life, I suspect this is not the growth sector Voigt's novels implied), they're forced into homelessness and then communal living with Fly and his super-fly buddies. There's a happy ending, I won't spoil it!

Also, how dykey does Dicey look on that book cover? Yow.

As I mentioned in the "Family Film Edition" of "What I Learned from the Teevee," I was a big fan of Orphan Lit and wanted to live in a Boxcar, eat hobo stew and scavenge for loaves of bread, etc. Unfortunately, I was never orphaned, though I enjoyed building forts and pretending to run away from home. Honestly, my coping mechanisms haven't really changed much since then.

9. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
Among other imaginary acts of heroism, I often hoped to find a classmate or friend on a milk carton and save the day, like in America's Most Wanted which I wasn't allowed to watch. Once a lax babysitter let us watch the show (she was fired, clearly) -- this guy killed his wife and hid her in an egg incubator behind his trailer, I still have nightmares about it. Also I believe this book fueled my fear of being kidnapped, and a ridiculous obsession with cults. Later, this became a TV movie staring the foxy Kellie Martin.

8. The Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess

I know what you're thinking -- "The Clockwork Orange" is not a young adult novel. This is true. Howevs, my father felt I was very mature, and 'cause he wanted me to become a great filmmaker like Stanley Kubrick, he made me read this book (we had a serious book-before-the-movie policy) when I was 13. Though most grown-up lit was off limits (e.g., Stephen King, other crap), I was permitted both this and Lolita. This is the essence of hippie intellectual spirit. I was like "Dad, what's 'the ol' in-out-in-out'"? Which was a very special moment for everyone and eliminated any perceived need for a "birds and the bees" convo.

7. Face at the Edge of the World, by Eve Bunting
Romanticisation of Suicide, Additional Reasons to Fuck it All

I'm not sure if this is the right book, 'cause I probs read more than my fair share of suicide-related narratives. But I think this is the one where the protagonist spends the whole book trying to figure out why his successful and talented BFF suddenly offed himself, eventually (SPOILER ALERT!) determining that perhaps he simply wanted to "quit while he was ahead." So basically all bets are off, re: offing oneself, not good news for me as I believe I was diagnosed with clinical chronic depression at the age of 5. Logistically, it would've been impossible to do myself in since I was so well supervised, especially at the mall.

6. Eating Disorder Lit, including:
Second Star to the Right, Stick Figure, and Little Girls in Pretty Boxes
As I've noted previously, I was the scrawniest little kid you ever did see. Howevs: my Mom was a nutritionist who helped people diet, I wanted desperately to gain weight, I was a first worldian adolescent in the 80's/90's surrounded by body image obsessed girls. Therefore, I was totally fascinated by everyone else's fascination with thigh girth. As a chronically pre-pubescent teen, I looked to literature to psych me into understanding wtf the deal was ... later, I employed this background when counseling the reedonkulous number of severely anorexic and/or bulimic friends I acquired over the years. I think it's 'cause subconsciously, ED'ed peeps are drawn to me, thinking "what is her secret of svelte-hood?" and then eventually they learn that I hate myself too, it's just more annoying coming from me, 'cause I'm not actually fat, just completely insane, and have read too many books about eating disorders (late-adds include Appetites, The Body Project and Wasted) and also; the media, etc. Calvin Klien fashion magazines hoo-ha. Kazaam.

Teacher: How would you describe Anne Frank?
Angela [distracted]: Lucky.
Teacher: "Anne Frank perished in a concentration camp. Anne Frank is a tragic figure. How could Anne Frank be lucky?"
[Jordan Catalano walks in, late]
Angela: "I don't know... Because she was trapped in an attic for three years with this guy she really liked?"
(My So-Called Life)

5. Judy Blume Novels

As I've mentioned 500 times, I'm essentially a human sponge, willing to take orders and absorb desire from whomever's speaking the loudest. Through Judy Blume, I verified that I was, indeed, justified to angst over my bust which wasn't increasing though I thought it must, it must, and that the best way to bond with other girls was via boy-related discussions. I've since learned otherwise, but I still love Judy. The girls in Blume novels are relentlessly catty and tell me srsly if you can't imagine this on the back of a porn DVD: "Rachel is Stephanie's best friend. Since second grade they've shared secrets, good and bad. So when Alison moves into the neighborhood, Stephanie hopes all three of them can be best friends since Stephanie really likes Alison. But it looks as if it's going to be a case of two's company and three's a crowd." Anyone? "In bed"? I know I was reading Lolita at 12, but c'mon now ...

4. The Quiet Room, by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennet
I'm 99.9% sure schizophrenia is one disorder I defo don't have, but I seriously used to hear voices sometimes as a kid (probs it was G-d, before She lost faith in me altogether), and reading this book really freaked me out -- clearly I had enough neurosis w/o worrying that one day the voices would stop arguing with each other about my self-worth and instead command me to kill someone. Luckily they went away ... now the only voice I hear is Tegan in my iPod. Who's going on MONDAY!?! TO TEGAN & SARA?!!!

3. Entries From a Hot Pink Notebook, by Todd D. Brown
Felt I related to the protagonist's psyche deeply,
began early fascination with gay male culture,
subsequently realizing literally as I write this that perhaps I identified with the narrator's feelings of alienation and outsiderdom for other reasons,
e.g., personal gayness.
So, it featured my fave plot device, the gay reveal and subsequent gay crush gay reveal (y'know, the "OMG, my BFF I'm in love with is kissing ME BACK!" thing) and it's actually a really good book, though I realize the title suggests otherwise. Sometimes it hurts: the titles given to brill books. It's much easier to recommend a book called "The Sound and the Fury" than "Entries from a Hot Pink Notebook." I read this approximately around the same time I was writing in my own diary: "my greatest fear is that I'll turn out to be a lesbian. Yuck." Also, gay men were sorta "in" in the mid-nineties amongst liberals -- Rickie Vasquez, etc.

2. Lurlene McDaniel books
According to Lurlene McDaniel's website, "everyone loves a good cry," which's why McD's written 40+ books about "kids who face life-threatening illnesses, who sometimes do not survive." Sample titles include: She Died Too Young, Sixteen and Dying, Please Don't Let Him Die, The Girl Death Left Behind, Letting Go Of Lisa, When Happily Ever After Ends, Goodbye Doesn't Mean Forever, etc. The best was when two kids with different illnesses fell in love (e.g., cystic fibrosis + leukemia = true love) or when everyone would get into a car accident right before they were supposed to go to college on scholarship (w/bright futures, obvs) except for one girl who'd be left behind to angst. In a rare appearance by an African-American character, McD brought us Baby Alicia is Dying, in which a teenage girl grows attached to the HIV-positive black baby abandoned by her crack is whack mother, probs in Planet Harlem.

Basically, Lurlene McDaniel peddles the most demented books of all time, and I somehow ate them up. We all did. I imitated them, too, with similar plots in novels I wrote (for fun?). I guess we all felt strange and sad all the time for no reason, our little Dork School, filled with kids who suspected that, given the chance, public school would eat us alive and stuff us into lockers, and also: that perhaps we weren't fooling anyone (least of all ourselves) by avoiding the resolute knowledge that our problems weren't really problems, actually. We read the newspaper. We had politically aware parents. We didn't know jackshit, hadn't lived through anything worth crying over. Faces on Spilled Milk Cartons.

I coped w/my sense of alienation as a kid by reading, constantly, both intelligent books not mentioned here and the lame stuff I'm talking about here ... or by trying to be like everyone else as best I could though I felt hopelessly different. I'd been sad all the time for no reason as long as I can remember ... while driving w/my Mom from one place I was running from to another place, I mentioned wanting to get back to some childhood place where I'd been happy and she said I'd actually never been. "Intense," was her word. I guess I knew that already, I just wanted her to disagree, or blow it off. 'Cause I mean, seriously. I don't mention Elizabeth Wurtzel all the time for no reason, I'm legitimately afraid of her & her entitled torture, her ... whining.

I had an association and fascination with terrible & morbid circumstances and latched onto the littlest things to excuse my moodiness -- these books tapped into the part of me that wanted a reason for it. I wanted to be told, again and again, that tragedy waited around the corner. I'm certain there must've been wood nearby worth knocking on, if I'd known enough to do so. Clearly; I knew nothing.
"I know sad stories aren't for every reader, but it's the kind of story that most of my readers like from me. When I write "happy" books, many readers complain. So I focus on what I do best---stories that might bring a tear, but that focus on real life (where happily ever after rarely occurs). And while the books may not have "happy" endings, I try to give readers a satisfying ending---life is full of trouble and matters out of our control. How we deal with troubles determines our own character."
(Words of Wisdom from Lurlene McDaniel, clearly a Sick Puppy)

1. Sweet Valley High
I actually was prohibited from reading these books an account of their apparent vapidity, etc., But I finally sneaked one home, probs using crafty techniques learned from another YA novel. Just my luck: I got the book where Elizabeth gets kidnapped. Not good. This verified, to me, that my Mom was Right about these books being Bad; which's why Mothers have special powers that cannot be questioned. Like how the first time I drank alcohol, I threw up all night, which's exactly what she'd told me would happen. Actually, that still happens. Yet I continue drinking. Hm.

Howevs, I'd like to once again point out that nothing scary ever happened to me at the mall, except for this:

On that note of "things I did 'cause everyone else was doing it," if anyone's got a bridge in Brooklyn they'd like to sell me ...


Jo said...

OMG Lurlene McDaniel! I owned at least 20 of her books! (and maybe still do...) Did any of them end with the main character not dying? Cuz I can't remember any that ended that way, which may have been why I loved them so much.

eric mathew said...

omg i am literally more in love with you now that I ever have been.

a.) i SO thought dicey was always a little lesbianish. It was always real hard for me to read those books because I always pictured Dicey and her sibs to be like the annoying family in WalMart *shivers*

b.) Milk Carton...all i'm saying was this book scarred me for a long time. my sister had this obsession with reading books about teen death etc...but this book cover just scared me.

c.) i'm a tad disspaointed you failed to mention the Baby-sitters Little Sister book series. I mean hello.. Karen and all her problems...and how chapter 2 was always the hello control v.

i also couldn't go to the mall either alone till like i was older. it was odd i think i went to nyc by myself before the mall...probs because at the mall there is those scary smoker kids who are in your homeroom who hang outside the north entrance. jbs.

NEP said...

umm kristy thomas was obvs a totes lez.

also i loooooved the boxcar children and was not allowed to go to the mall alone either. although, i feel like i always saw these punk-ass kids smoking pot outside briarwood whenever i went so maybe your mom had a reason to be worried?

i think i was like 16 before i could go alone, and i expected some mallrats-type experience but really it was still lame bc i still had to call my mom to come pick us up.

my fav YA series was called the secret circle about a bunch of teenage outcasts who were actually witches. it was cool way before harry potter was cool.

Crystal said...

I haven't read any of those books, apart from A Clockwork Orange. Lurlene McDaniels sounds like a real treat though.

From memory, my childhood bookshelf only contained John Marsden and Ann A. Martin.

Can I make a recommendation? You should really read volumes 4 - 10 of John Marsden's Tomorrow series. I even know where you can find them, if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

I'm usually a lurker but i had to share excitement over Tegan and Sara monday...I too shall be there and am waiting for it to blow my mind

Meghan said...

ZOMG, I think I read The Face on the Milk Carton about twenty times. I can still picture the sheet cake with the goal posts drawn in icing. I might have to go find a copy. That and every Cynthia Voigt book. I vaguely remember being obsessed with Izzy, Willy-Nilly for a while. Or Lois Lowry books! Or Kit Pearson! It is so fascinating how much I wanted to be all these kids going through major tragedy. I think it was a source of major guilt complexes in my formative years. Must think on this more.

Obscure but should be required reading for intellectual alienated youth: Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula K. LeGuin.

My most embarrassing ones are not the "trashy" ones per se, but the flowery. Maudlin, you might say. e.g. L.M. Montgomery's Emily series.

I love this stuff. Jezebel's Fine Lines archives have been similarly blowing my mind in recent weeks.

A. said...

(Insert agreements about books...blah blah...etc)

That final picture is glorious.

riese said...

jo: Seriously I think someone dies at the end of every book. LIke that quote was her responding to a reader question about if she ever intended to write a book with a happy ending.

eric matthew: Oh, my friend and cosmic mate, the reason I didn't mention bb-club here is 'cause I basically wrote them a shrine last summer, but I still considered inserting them here, just 'cause I wanted to blame them for my homosexuality. For obvious reasons. I once considered writing BBC books as a side job, but never pursued that -- they literally do give the writers an outline with the second chapter ready and able to be control-v'ed right in there.

NEP: Carly's friend wrote her an essay called "Why Mallory is Gay," and I think it's one of the first things Carly and I ever talked about before we became real life friends. And I feel you, re: the mall ... it was never anything like mallrats, not half as quotable for sure. I also liked "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," speaking of teenaged witches. "The Craft" was so ahead of its time.

Crystal: Ann M Martin, actually, but that's okay, I would've said James Marsden for years if I hadn't met you and re-read his books. Which I also thought about including, but then thought no, 'cause they were too good for me to include them here. One of many things I'm afraid to face lately is my agent's office, but um, maybe I can break in ...

Anonymous: "I haven't been to a rock 'n roll show in so long!" (Natalie Raaber)

Meghan: I love the distance these writers like to imply to lure in their teenage readers. "Very Far Away From Anywhere Else," "Outsiders," "Face at the Edge of the World," like totally : "as far away from your peers as you could possible be, and then one step even farther away." I totally jinxed myself by wanting to be one of those kids going through a major tragedy ... like, for sure.

A. : Thank you. You'll never guess where I had it done!

Natalie J. said...

I feel your pain. My dad was all like, "Oh, you can't go to the corner shop by yourself just in case the Yorkshire Ripper is having a day trip to our end of the country, here, read A Clockwork Orange/1984/The Collected Works of Wilfred Owen/Tropic of Cancer/Howl or something else that is equally violent, depressing, homoerotic, sexually graphic or drugs-related instead. Reading is good for you."

Having said that, I'd say I'm now a fairly well-rounded individual if not a little pale from being indoors so much.

e. said...

Oh, Lurlene McDaniel.... I could never really get into her books, but I read some by another author that were along a similarly diseased vein, except with happy, recovering endings. I dunno, there was one about diabetes, one about anorexia, one about, like, teen pregnancy or something.

And "The Face on the Milk Carton"? I was all over that. (And the sequels. Oh, Caroline B. Cooney.) Also Judy Bloom and Boxcar Children, obvs. (I totally made a ladle out of a cup, a stick and some wire one day, which convinced me that I was a long-lost Alden sibling.)

I never read "A Clockwork Orange," but I remember reading a sex scene when I was seven or eight(won't say what book, because: way embarrassing). It was a bit subtle for my child's brain, though. I was like, "Oh, I guess they're hugging. Until the end of the chapter."

NEP said...

ps i forgot to comment on your sah-weet umich letter jacket. hot.

also sadly, i'm no longer living in ny to see t&s, but i AM seeing your gf leisha and uh huh her on wednesday. i'll ask her where the fuhh your video is bc we are all waiting with bated breath for the autowin shoutout.

and yea, mallory was totally hot for kristy.

Anonymous said...


first and foremost, was that really natalie's response when asked about t&s? cause that is amazing and reason 456 why i love her.

also, we weren't allowed at the mall either, i feel like, until high school or something, hooligans hang out in malls, obvs.

i feel like most of these books were in our house as children, but will have to check on it and report back. mostly we loved a series, sweet valley high, boxcar children, babysitter's club, the list goes on. i knew you guys would bond over books, i just didn't know it would be weirdo childhood tragedy chronicles. also, i know we've been through a lot, but umm we might not be friend anymore after seeing you in that jacket.. really papi? really?

a;ex said...

wow what a smokin hot jacket.
wait, I just got a costume idea for T&S tomorrow...

Also, I haven't read any of these weirdo books cause I was too busy reading "Goosebumps" instead and playing legos and climbing trees.
(i.e. becoming the lesbian I am today.)
But I DO have the sudden desire to pick up "The Clockwork Orange."

riese said...

Natalie J.: The amazing thing about our collective pain is actually I think they were probably right. I mean, I suppose it would've been nice if they'd made an effort to expose me to consensual sex between two adults before the other kind .. hm. I too am pale.

e.: Yes, Whatever Happened to Janie?. I don't remember. I think actually the first sex scene I read was in a Growing Pains novel that'd somehow ended up in my 3rd grade classroom. LIke based on the TV show. I spent years wondering about the importance of a cold shower.

NEP: Oh yes, Glamour Shots often offers a personal local touch, I was tipped off by a friend who'd enjoyed similar treatment. Last we heard, Leisha & Cam called us to actually say that they were gonna re-make it that night 'cause they'd messed up, except then that night they went to a tegan & sara concert (y'know, that photo), but I'm repeating to self "anticipation is the purest form of pleasure" ...

Jersey: #454, write that down. The mall is hooligan central, I once worked there, so I know first-hand about the ruffians. It's possibly actually perhaps perfect that it was over weirdo tragedy chronicles, and omg, you should've seen the shiny purple thing I'm wearing in the other photos, I feel like that was my one tomboy ruffian offering. really papi!!!

a;ex: OOO what is this costume of the day you've thought of? School spirit? Also I played with a LOT of legos. Just sayin'. Possibly also used legos to star in my music videos, like the one who walked to the end of the road like in "the end of the road" by boyz ii men. possibly before your time.

Allie said...

Last week while out to dinner, my girlfriend and I had an entire, lengthy conversation about Dicey's Song. She's a 5th grade teacher, and was looking for a book to finish the year, and that was one of my recommendations. I love those books.

I've previously shared my love for Judy Blume and all she taught me about sexually charged situations (always found the best-friend girl scenes better than the awkwardness once a boy got involved. Huh), but it amuses me that my mom bought them for me because all I read was R.L. and Christopher. I think Judy was way more influential, and not in a good way. :-)

Finally, not only was I not allowed to go to the mall with my friends, but my dad once FOLLOWED me to a movie. He found out after I left that there wasn't going to be parent supervision, so he hopped in his car, got there after we did, and sat in the back. I heard him sneeze, and realized it was him. I ran out of the theatre and spent the entire time in the women's restroom where he couldn't watch me. I was mortified, and still haven't fully forgiven him, because I was never invited anywhere again, for fear that my parents would, wait for it, follow me. Fabulous. That was more than 15 years ago, right? Uh huh. I really should be over it.