First read: 1973
Owned since: 1973
It seems appropriate to start this incarnation of the blog with the book I have owned longest. The bookplate pasted to the front board also tells its back story: under the shaky cursive "Clair Lamb" is the erased, much more graceful signature, "Margaret Vose."
My family moved from Fairfax to Virginia Beach in late summer, 1973. Kathy and I were seven, Peggy and Susan were four, Ed was three and James hadn't been imagined yet. 1808 Meredith Road was considerably larger than 10228 Tecumseh Lane, and the previous owners had been the Voses, who had raised a family of their own children to adulthood there.
The Voses left behind a box of things the children had outgrown: blocks, a tiny china tea set, a china knickknack of a boxer dog -- and three books that changed my life forever. One was a collection of translated but unbowdlerized fairy tales, whose title I no longer remember. It had grey boards and orange type on the book itself, and I think it was called something like Castle. (If anyone recognizes the book from this description, please write and tell me what it was; it eventually fell to pieces, and I'd love to have another copy.) All the old stories were in it, including the version of "Cinderella" where the stepsister cuts off her toe and the version of "Beauty and the Beast" that begins with the father's theft.
The second book was The Adventures of Ulysses, by Clifton Fadiman: a translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey for children that captured my imagination, because my own father's ship, the America, was about to leave on a Mediterranean cruise. I think that book is still somewhere in my father's collection. I'd like to have a copy of that too, one of these days.
But the book I kept, the book I still reread at least once a year, is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
First published as Sara Crewe in 1888, this longer version originally came out as A Little Princess in 1905. It is the story of the orphaned Sara Crewe, whose wealthy, widowed father leaves her in a London boarding school so that he can focus on making his fortune in the Indian diamond mines. When he dies, she is left penniless, and must become a servant in the school where she'd been the show pupil. But because Sara knows what is important -- kindness and learning -- she never loses her essential majesty. Eventually someone notices, and rewards her beyond her wildest dreams.
The current "princess" craze among young girls troubles me, and I want to give this book to every little girl who thinks that being a princess is about fancy clothes or being treated well. It's synchronicity that I'm posting this on the anniversary of Diana's death, because whatever the Princess of Wales's weaknesses might have been, she is remembered most for her kindness.
At the end of the book, when Sara is rescued, her tormentor, Miss Minchin, says, "I suppose that you feel now that you are a princess again."
Sara looked down and flushed a little, because she thought her pet fancy might not be easy for strangers -- even nice ones -- to understand at first.
"I -- tried not to be anything else," she answered in a low voice -- "even when I was coldest and hungriest -- I tried not to be."
Which book have you kept for the longest time? Post it below.
And welcome back, everybody!