Monday, May 10, 2010

Some New Old Books

When my son started high school we cleaned out his room -- literally took everything out, scrubbed every inch of the room, and then put some things back in it. We threw away some stuff, gave away some stuff, and packed up all his books. He's a big reader so there were lots of books to pack. Now, they're all in boxes in the basement and his book shelves are filling up again, but this time with his new favorite genre: science fiction. My husband wanted us to give the books away because it was unlikely that our son would want to venture back into the worlds of elementary and middle grade fiction. I took issue with this because one: I suspect I'll be re-reading Harry Potter books for a long time. Two: I still haven't recovered from my mother giving away the books of my childhood.

All my Nancy Drews, my Laura Ingalls Wilders, the Little Women with the cover that I gazed at for hours, wishing I could put myself in that room with those girls and their Marmee. They're all gone.

As heartbreaking as losing those well known books was, the most frustrating part was not being able to remember the titles of a couple books that made a huge impression on me; they had both, in their own ways, fueled my imagination and shown me how fiction could be about anything at all.

When I finished college and set up my own apartment, I began to search for the two books whose titles had eluded me. The Internet was just a glimmer in some one's eye at that point, so I just had to ask around. I wasn't overly serious about the search, but I asked booksellers and librarians whenever I thought about it. Literally, a couple decades passed and I still hadn't found them. Here were my descriptions:

1. A woman who is captured by bald aliens. The woman falls in love with the bald alien leader.

2. Ghost story about two kids, two ghosts and an old mansion. I think the cover had the kids (live and ghostly) in a garden with a fountain.

In my head, the alien story had a "V" in the title and the ghost story was called something as simple as GHOST or GHOST STORY. But, "V" wasn't enough, and there were no such 'ghost' titles that matched.

I continued the search on the Internet. Search engines, Yahoo answers, whatever, I tried everything, but still to no avail. Then about a year ago I happened upon a web site that was called something like, "What was the Title of that Book?" I typed in my short descriptions. Within five minutes I had the titles and then the books ordered.

The ghost story is called, THE GHOSTS, and here's the cover that was on my original book:

So, no fountain, but not far off otherwise. The version I got this time around has this cover:

which is horrible, but it's a pretty old book.

The alien book is YARGO. Here's the cover:

Same cover that I had, though the "V" I was remembering was a "Y."

I immediately dug into YARGO, hoping to find that magic that it created the first time around. When I read it in high school, I hadn't read many (if any) real romances, so I guess I'd have to call this my first. When I was younger, it made me want to be captured by aliens and taken away. I couldn't put it down - then. Uh, not so much now. I never like to mention books I don't like, but after a few decades, the story in this one didn't quite hold up for me anymore. The writing is dated and females were portrayed much differently when this book was written. So, my long search ended, but the biggest surprise was the author -- Jacqueline Susann, who also wrote a pretty famous book: VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. I admit I haven't read any of Ms. Susann's other books, including VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, but I appreciate her contributions to fiction. YARGO was apparently published after the author's death; an old manuscript someone found in her desk.

Needless to say, I didn't hold out much hope for THE GHOSTS. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised. This book has held up well over time. The writing is really spectacular. Though the pace is a little slower than most middle grade novels of today, it wasn't bothersome to read. In fact, I fell in love with this book all over again. From the little research I did about the author, Antonia Barber, I think she's still alive and living in England. She's written a number of books that I haven't read, but I am so grateful for THE GHOSTS and the magic it created in my youth.

I think that if someone put a better cover on it and marketed it to older elementary school children, it could still find an audience. Middle grade readers seem to be reading much more grown-up stuff than when I was that age, but I bet sixth graders and some fifth graders would enjoy THE GHOSTS. I can't quite stress enough, though, that a new cover is necessary.

And, finally, ending my trip down memory lane -- thanks to whomever created the site that helped me find the books. I wish I could still find you!

Happy reading, everyone!


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