I went recently to the Roswell Public Library to check out one of my old childhood favorites, Misty of Chincoteague. I will admit, I got distracted along the way by the AMAZING Friends of Roswell Public Library Used Bookstore, located just outside the library, and their tantalizing rolling shelves of books on sale for A QUARTER. It was like I’d stumbled upon a shoe sale outside of Saks Fifth Avenue, and it was my job – nay, my mission – to find one perfect size 6 1/2.

Reader, I found three. Books, not shoes.

Two were by Eudora Welty, The Ponder Heart and On Writing. Welty is one of my favorite smarty-pants southern woman writers, and I am always trying to emulate her – badly, probably, but hey, I like to shoot for the stars. I also stumbled across a paperback copy of Black Beauty. I have a special place in my heart for this book, or “child Ambien,” as I like to call it. My youngest son was lulled to a nightmare-free sleep every single night between the ages of 3 and 9 by the abridged, audio version of Black Beauty, and he can quote entire sentences from the first third. (He was usually dead asleep by halfway through).

This delightful kid is, unlike his older brothers, not what you’d call a reader. The books he’s enjoyed can be counted on one hand, and at least one of them involves underpants / bodily function jokes in the title / general theme. He did gobble up all of Rick Riorden’s series, but since then…eh, he’d rather shoot hoops in the driveway, thank you very much.

I’m playing the whole thing very cool, not nagging much. I’m biding my time until find that special book that’ll re-spark his interest in reading. In the meantime, I picked up Black Beauty. When I showed it to him, he smiled and said, “While I was young, I lived upon my mother’s milk as I could not eat grass.” He said it like “graaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhsssss,” the way the English narrator used to say it on his audio version.

He hasn’t cracked the book open. Not yet, anyway.

But back to Misty. I loved that book as a girl, obsessed over it. Wanted my own wild pony that I’d wrangled myself from a stampeding herd of island horses. Bonus points if it was an Appaloosa, because duh, APPALOOSAS RULE AND EVERYBODY KNOWS IF YOU’RE RIDING AN APPALOOSA, YOU ARE A BADASS. I don’t even know if Appaloosas exist in the eastern seaboard wild horse populations, but that’s neither here nor there. I lost count how many times I read Misty, but it’s still not my numero uno. My all-time, all-star, hands-down favorite is actually another book, a perfect, brilliant gem written by Betty MacDonald (of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle fame) by the name of Nancy and Plum. 

This winter, at a writers workshop I had the great opportunity to attend, in answer to an innocuous ice-breaker question, I mentioned that it was my favorite. The teacher asked me why. To my utter horror, I found my face heating up, my blood pounding in my ears and my mouth going dry. It felt like I was having a full-blown panic attack, right there in the class. And all because of a dumb question that any self-respecting writer could easily answer.

In the back of my mind, I sort of knew why I was reacting the way I was. How could I tell a roundtable of strangers (albeit cool, friendly, nonjudgmental strangers) why I loved Nancy and Plum? It would involve explaining how isolated and misunderstood I felt as a child. How confused I was by navigating life and love and relationships. How our family’s particular religious tradition was slowly but surely turning me into a edgy, anxious, terrified, people-pleaser.

No way I was going to do that.

So, as an alternative, I almost started crying. I think after a few panicked moments of terror, I coughed out a few incoherent words and mercifully, the teacher moved on.

I’ve since pulled the book out and am about to reread it – for the umpteenth millionth time. And maybe I’ll write an essay detailing every single reason I love it so much. Maybe. For now, let me just post a picture of Chapter Twelve’s title and allow you make your own, private assumptions about why this book spoke to me as a kid:

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I mean, honestly. Chicken Pie and New Shoes. And two horses named Nellie and Herbert.

To keep my mind off crying, tell me what book you loved as a child. And why, unless that’s just too much for you. If it is, just know I understand completely.