A very, very short list of the books that came into my childhood home as a direct result of my late aunt, Joan Christman (1941-2011), who died of a heart attack this week:
Lucy M. Boston, The Green Knowe Series
A sweet little orphan comes to live in an ancient, easily-flooded English mansion (in the first chapter, he reaches his front door by boat) that is already populated by a magical elderly lady and about thirty-seven ghosts. The prose is, somehow, fully equal to the awesomeness of the conception. Like Aunt Joan, these books never talked down.
Sylvia Plath, The Bed Book
Another children’s book, this one being a sort of rhymed guide to the large variety of armed, mechanized, food-producing, paint-resistant, animal-shelter-providing, and/or rocket-powered beds that a teeming world provides for the delectation of those children insufficiently challenged by “a white little/tucked in tight little/nighty night little/turn out the light little/Bed.” Very evidently the only reckonable work ever produced by the otherwise-tedious Ms. Plath, this children’s masterpiece commanded the rapt attention of my sister and me from an early age.
It is out of print now, because the world is a moron.
Several Forgotten Authors, Many, Many Books About Dinosaurs
So many that I don’t remember who wrote them all: I just remember the mineral-richness of the soil they provided for my imagination to snack on.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder, The Egypt Game
I didn’t read this one, actually. It seemed too transparent an attempt to get me interested in Ancient Egypt. I have, as an uncle, made the same mistake once or thrice: I don’t think Graeme really realizes how awesome it was of me to get him Farenheit 451 this year. But that same Christmas’s other present, a board game called By Jove!, did nothing to stunt my interest in Greco-Roman mythology, and from this I learned another lesson in uncling: always have more than one cool, educational present.
My father is an unclassifiable polymathic genius who cleans buildings late at night. My mother, when life leaves her two spare nickels’ worth of attention to rub together, likes to read the Victorians. There was never any chance that they, or my sister (who as a teenager designed her own funky outfits to go dancing in, like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, and wrote poetry) were going to allow me to grow up in an imagination-deprived environment: this even though they allied themselves with a version of Christianity whose loudest representatives seem to me most marked, not by bad politics or sticky-uppy-hair, but fear of the imagination. But in any case, an aunt or an uncle’s job, as I see it, is to reinforce what the family is trying to do for a child’s mind … from a slightly skewed angle. That’s what Joan did, and that’s what I try to do. On her death it seems appropriate to say that I learned from the best.