There’ve been a whole lot of nostalgic lists and posts floating around the internet lately, particularly geared towards those that grew up in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. It’s gotten almost ridiculous—there are only so many times you can get excited reminiscing about Gushers, Legends of the Hidden Temple, super soakers, Dunkaroos and Jonathan Taylor Thomas.
That’s not to say the lists aren’t fun—they are—but they can get a little tired and repetitive after a while. I remember in college, if you ever were at a loss of what to talk about with a group of people you didn’t really know (that happens a lot in college), the go-to was just to bring up old Nickelodeon TV shows. The conversation was ever and always the same, but for some reason, it got everyone interested and vying to put in their two cents about Clarissa Explains it All and Are You Afraid of the Dark?
I always pretended to contribute to these conversations, but the truth is, I wasn’t allowed to watch any television growing up outside of PBS. I was one of “those kids.” I’m sure it helped a little to shape me into who I am today, but I’m not here to wax poetic about the values of a childhood not in front of screens, nor about the evils of too much TV* (‘cause I sure did get my fill of Arthur, The Magic School Bus and Zoom until my eyes near fell out). What I’m getting at here, is that the best “remember that” conversations I ever had always had to do with books.
As with television shows, there’s a commonality in the books we all read growing up. As kids and young adults, there were only so many options. Talking about favorite snacks, toys, games and television shows can only get you so far. The experiences with each of those had to have been fairly similar. With books though, as ever, there’s a real individuality for every reader. I re-read books so much more as a kid than I do now, and my connection with my favorite protagonists was fervently strong. Because it’s a subject talked about less frequently, it’s much more exciting when someone casually mentions a favorite book or character from their childhood and there’s a sudden explosive “YOU READ THAT, TOO?!?!” that comes from whomever is in earshot. The conversation, then, can be different and valuable every time.
The other weekend, a friend and I took the trip down to South Jersey, where I grew up, to spend the weekend (not exactly beach weather, but nice nonetheless). She was staying in the guest room where many of my books have been relegated over the years. As a child of an Irish mother, we spent a lot of time overseas in the summer, and it was a special treat for me to bring home books every August that I couldn’t buy in the States. Additionally, my dad would order me Irish-published books from a catalogue one or two times a year (I thought this very cool). Though many of these books became favorites as well, they’re never part of the conversation when reminiscing about old literary friends, as no one had even heard of most of the authors, let alone individual titles.
I had completely forgotten about all of this until my friend, who I should mention now is from Ireland as well, started gushing over my bookshelf. It seems that there was a commonality in the books Irish children read amongst themselves, too! “Your shelf almost exactly matches mine at home!” My friend has been in America for several years now and has surely not had anyone to talk about her favorite characters with for some time. It was a fun trip down memory lane for the both of us, and I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d thought of some of those titles.
While I’m sure the readers of this blog have all grown up in different eras, I’d love to know what some of your favorites were as a kid—what characters you wanted to befriend and what stories you read over and over. Unlike Froot by the Foot and Don’t Wake Daddy, I bet there’s a lot more to talk about here.
*That was definitely a Berenstein Bears book, though.