Saturday, September 4, 2010

30 Posts in 30 Days: Day 4: Your favourite book

OK, this is even worse than trying to pick a favourite song. Trying to pick a favourite book is like being asked to name your favourite child -- I just can't do it -- they're all wonderful in their own way.

Several books did pop into my head, however, & I decided I would write about one that had a big impact on my life growing up: Looking Back: A Chronicle of Growing Up Old in the Sixties by Joyce Maynard, which was published in 1973, when Maynard was 20 & I was 12.

These days, Maynard is probably most (in)famous for her affair with J.D. Salinger (which she later wrote about in another memoir, At Home in the World). The two met after he wrote to her when the New York Times Magazine published her essay "An 18 Year Old Looks Back on Life" -- which she later expanded into this book. (I was amazed to find it's actually on Google Books now.)

I didn't know anything about Salinger then, of course, or for many years later. Even though I was only about 12 or 13 when I read it (borrowed it from the library in my Grandma's town while I was spending time there that summer), this book became a touchstone for me. She was a teenager, at a time when being a teenager meant something, and was something that I was very much looking forward to being myself. Even though Maynard was/is about 7-8 years older than me, the things she wrote about were familar to me, since I too had lived through & remembered many of them. I could relate to the cultural touchstones she so vividly described in her book -- folk music (I grew up singing all the classics in school, like "Blowing in the Wind" & "If I Had a Hammer"), the Beatles vs the Rolling Stones, the Vietnam War, Seventeen magazine, Barbie dolls, SRA labs and TV shows.

But it was her descriptions of her emotional life -- her descriptions of small town life, her longing to be popular, and (especially) her "battle with the ball" in gym class -- that struck an immediate chord with me. (I too battled the ball, all through my school years. Boy, could I relate...!) I borrowed & reborrowed this book from the library, & when I found a paperback version years later, I read & reread it until it was dogearred. (I still have it, the pages now yellowed & brittle.)

Most of all, I think I loved the idea that Maynard could write -- about her own life, experiences & opinions! -- & get PUBLISHED -- even though she was just 18. I already knew I wanted to be a writer, and her example gave me hope for my own ambitions. If she could get published, so could I. These days, of course, it seems like everyone is writing their memoirs, but back then, it was quite a novel thing for someone so young to do. These days, I think a lot of people wish the baby boomers would just shut talking about themselves (lol), but back then, she was one of the first boomers to give voice to what growing up as a member of that generation had actually been like.

Of coure, Maynard had genes on her side when it came to talent. It wasn't until years later that I realized her mother was Fredelle Bruser Maynard, whose own memoir, Raisins & Almonds, about growing up Jewish on the Canadian Prairies (including a Saskatchewan town just down the road from another town I had lived in). (A chapter of that book, Jewish Christmas, was made into a short film & shown on the CBC. ) Or that her sister is Rona Maynard, a well-known Canadian journalist & for many years the editor of Chatelaine, the country's pre-eminent women's magazine. Or that her father, Max Maynard, had been a painter & a protege of famed west coast artist Emily Carr.

This is a book that I've returned to again & again over the years, & even though it's more than 35 years later, I still find that it speaks to me as much now as it did then. (Although the older I get, the more & more ludicrous I find it that an 18 year old could write about feeling old.) I can't say it is my absolute favourite book of all time, but it's definitely up there. : )


  1. Raisins and Almonds remains one of my consolation books. A wonderful book to curl up with when life seems a bit too much.

  2. This book sounds fascinating. I also love the book jacket photo. I got sucked into her eyes for a while.

    "Raisins and Almonds" also sounds like something I'd really enjoy.

  3. i'll have to check out that essay - i glanced over it and confess to laughing at her one-line bio at the end!