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This is today's, so I'm caught up.

As a quite small child, I read a great deal of Beverly Cleary; my parents were very fond of her and read her stuff aloud a lot, and I ran across more on my own, as one does. I've been going through a phase lately of rereading things I read very, very early (and wondering about my early tastes and those of the adults around me somewhat: there are sections of my brain that might as well be labeled Moralistic Victorian Children's Books, and I am not certain it is usual anymore for parents to give their offspring the entire series beginning with Five Little Peppers And How They Grew, but I digress). I hadn't read any Cleary at all since, oh, I don't know, turning fourteen? Some while, is what I am saying here, so I found myself in a library earlier today and I reread a whole bunch of the Ramona books.

Oh god they are so depressing.

You see, as a small child one does not focus much on the circumstances of the adults in the families of the kids one reads books about. They are there the way adults are generally, so that one knows they do things, and it sometimes registers that there are incomprehensible things going on with them, but they don't click as people. The adults in the Ramona books turn out to be financially struggling, realistically exhausted by eternal attempts to make ends meet, hemmed in by lack of education and a truly appalling pile of bitter circumstances. They are also loving, friendly, kind, and good parents and people, which is what registered with me as a kid. But we are talking about a book series here in which the protagonist's father loses his job, is out of work for three books, supports himself through night school as a grocery cashier, gets his degree as an art teacher, cannot find a job anywhere in his field, and then with great bitterness takes a job managing a grocery store because his wife is pregnant again and somebody has to bring in a paycheck; that's where he ends the series. That is one of the adults. There are others who have similar arcs.

So while I was sitting there in morbid fascination-- these books take about fifteen minutes to read-- I noticed there was one I hadn't gotten to, and the reason for that became obvious when I checked the copyright page, because it came out in 1999, which is well after I was fourteen years old. The first Ramona book came out in 1955, causing me to wonder whether a series regularly appearing for forty-four years is any sort of record. (Apparently Cleary is still alive, ninety-four this year.)

The latest one is exactly like all the others. It's amazing how little modern technology has impinged. The principal act of adolescent rebellion carried out by anyone in the book is getting her ears pierced without permission, at the age of sixteen. In 1997, at the age of sixteen, it was not my ears I got pierced without permission, it was my navel, and adolescent rebellion among just about everyone I knew involved vehicular felony and large quantities of alcohol. But I guess this is a virtue, that if you take the books of this series and read them one after another they read as all of a piece, they don't have that odd effect of technology and the times aging around children who are the same as ever. And yet it does not seem to be specifically set in the past, either, but in some place where people have just lived the same way since these books began till now. Disorienting, somewhat.

At any rate, I mean it, this one is exactly as the others are, clever and cute and charming if you have that heavy overlay of nostalgia, and with a deep underthread of terrible pain and fifties-style repression. If you're giving these to kids-- and why not, they did well by me-- this one is no weaker. If you're reading them yourself, out of memory, it's a good way to weird yourself out.


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March 2017

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