A Year in Reading: Helen Schulman

December 6, 2012 | 3 books mentioned 2 min read

coverLately, I have been very jealous of my husband. He is writing a book about reading children’s literature as an adult, and so, more often than not, I’ll find him splayed out on the couch, one cat on his chest, another on his knees, his feet hanging over the edge (he is 6’3”) reading Good Night Moon or The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Who wouldn’t envy a guy who spends his off hours like that? A few weeks ago, I came home late one night from teaching — it was rainy and cold, and when I saw my husband, warm and dry and happily curled up on the couch reading, I was so covetous I snatched the book away. It was once one of my favorites.

coverDo you remember how it was when you were a kid, when you read a book, and the story opened up above you like a big umbrella and you could sit in its shade for hours, your dreams entangling in its unfolding narrative? That’s how I felt reading my purloined copy of Ramona The Pest by Beverly Cleary. In kindergarten, at last, Ramona, like all good heroines “was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.” She was a girl “who when she made ‘a great big noisy fuss’ usually got her way.” Suffice it to say that Ramona makes many a great big noisy fusses in these pages, chasing boys, getting stuck in the mud, going in and out of the good graces of her beloved teacher, Miss Binney. She even suffers a full-fledged existential crisis on Halloween when: “She felt lost inside her costume. She wondered if her mother would know which witch was which…What if her mother forgot her? What if everyone in the whole world forgot her?” What was so satisfying about reading this perfectly rendered sequence was how completely heard it made me feel when I read it first as a little girl, and how doubly understood I felt reading it recently, remembering that luscious sense of camaraderie and collaboration with a little minx of a character. I now fully fathom why Ramona needed to put a sign on over her costume so the world would know who she was. Where she got it wrong was in ever thinking that she herself was forgettable.

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is the author of the novels This Beautiful Life, A Day at the Beach, P.S., The Revisionist, and Out Of Time, and the short story collection Not A Free Show. She co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film of P.S. starring Laura Linney. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Vanity Fair, Time, Vogue, GQ, The New York Times Book Review, and The Paris Review. She teaches at The New School in New York City, where she is the Fiction Coordinator for The Writing Program.

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