So what did I read this past summer?
Well, I think we should start from the beginning (as Maria von Trapp would sing: "a very good place to start"). In early June I had a little health issue* that preoccupied me for a while, and that sort of thing always makes it hard to read. (At least it does for me.) Shortly before that I was reading a fantastically hilarious little book titled Life among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. You may know Ms. Jackson better as the author of the infamous short story "The Lottery," which was required reading for most high schoolers for many, many years. She is primarily known as a horror author, as she also wrote the book The Haunting of Hill House, which was a popular book that got made into a movie (several times).
Life Among the Savages is not a horror book, unless you consider the idea of raising four young children horrifying (and many people do, and no one can blame them). It is in fact a nonfiction memoir, published back in the days before they called them memoirs, about Jackson's life raising her kids, which she did in between writing, taking ridiculously good care of her husband (more on this later), and trying to function as a regular member of their community. It's somewhat similar in tone and writing style (and era) to Jean Kerr's also very popular parenting memoir, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, as well as Erma Bombeck's books. (I'm guessing that all of these books, when they were published, were maybe considered Humor? I don't think publishing categories were as prevalent or important back then.)
The important thing is: it's hilarious. At least it was to me. Jackson's voice is wonderfully pragmatic, and she seems to have a knack for really describing her children's experiences and lives without making them sound too twee. At the point when I read this book, I wasn't keeping notes or marking pages, so I don't have any exact quotes for you. But I can tell you one of the huge reasons I loved this book: it was such a product of its time (the 1950s). When describing how it came time to have her third child (I think; it could have been her fourth), Jackson was living in a house in a small town in Vermont with no car. (Can you imagine that today?) So on the morning she gave birth, she heated up some coffee from the night before, then called a cab to take her to the hospital, and in the back of the cab she had a cigarette. Oh my God. I just sat in pure wonderment at the difference between childbearing then and childbearing now. (Oh, and after all that, and having the baby, she got to stay in the hospital for more than a week, resting, while others looked after the other kids. Not because she had a c-section or anything, just because that's how they did it.) When I finished that chapter I thought, hey, even I might have been able to have four babies in THAT kind of childbearing environment.**
So I'd really, really suggest you look into this book. It's fascinating on its own and as a little window into the fifties (it was first published in 1952, and considered a fictional grouping of stories based on her real life). More on all of this tomorrow.
*I'm fine now, no worries.
**Of course: no I couldn't have. Even with a mug of coffee and a cigarette to bolster me I could never handle four kids. Four kids and a really needy husband.