Saturday, February 12, 2011

Are you there, Judy Blume? It's Me, Kristin

Today is the birthday of both Judy Blume and Charles Darwin. My mind has been whirling with connections all morning. Surely there's a poem in there somewhere.

For those of you who want a more Darwin centered celebration, go here to last year's post. Be warned--if you stay here, you'll be reading about adolescent drama.

Ah, Judy Blume. At the time I read her (from about 1977 onward), I assumed that she was the most evolved human on the planet--well, maybe my Mom was more evolved, because she not only bought me my very own copy of Forever, she also read it, and watched the made-for-TV movie with me, but she wasn't too pushy about talking about all those premarital sex issues. I was one of those children who found adolescence excruciating--all those changes! The only thing worse than enduring adolescence, during those years, would have been talking about it.

I knew that my mom was willing to talk, if I ever wanted to talk, and that was enough.

I always said that I would not go back to live through the 7th grade day by day, not for any amount of money in the world. I mean that sincerely. I would rather be poor for the rest of my days than have to live through those hellish 9 months ever again.

I used to think that having Judy Blume as a guide and mentor was helpful, but this morning, I've been rethinking that. I devoured all of Judy Blume's books, and in retrospect, I think they left me terrified. With each one, I read about adolescent dramas that I wouldn't have suspected. And with each book, came more anxiety: what if my parents divorced, what if I developed scoliosis, what if a boy wanted to have sex with me, what if no one ever wanted to have sex with me, what if, what if, what if. If I had been my current, hip, post-modern, ironic self, with each book I'd have asked, "What new hell is this?"

If you had asked me when I was 14, I would have solemnly assured you that knowledge is power and that forewarned is forearmed, and that I wanted to know the worst. In retrospect, I wish that I had discovered Our Bodies, Ourselves before I discovered Judy Blume.

I remember when Judy Blume wrote her first book for adults, Wifey. My mom, who let me read almost anything, told me not to read that one. So, I didn't read it until I was a late adolescent.

What a putrid book! Blhhhhhh. Adults behaving badly. Sexually. It was like reading Updike's Couples, which I thought would be a sexy read, but it made me want to vomit.

It was one of the first times that I thought that maybe Judy Blume was not the evolved writer that I thought she was.

I've talked to enough people who were helped by her books that just being slightly critical makes me nervous. I'm not saying that she shouldn't have written those books. Of course she should have. She blazed quite a trail with her openness. And it's interesting to ponder whether or not you'd prefer to have young females reading Judy Blume or reading the Twilight books. I will not be wandering into that tangle, since I haven't read the Twilight books. I haven't read the Harry Potter series either. Life is short, and my reading list is long, and I'm culling severely.

No, I'm not saying she shouldn't have written them, but I am wondering about the wisdom of me reading them. I am interested to think back to what an anxious, nervous child I was. Perhaps all children are anxious. The history of children's lit would make us think so, as those books speak to our darker fears.

Now I try to be careful about exposing my anxious inner child to too much worrisome stimuli. I would argue that more of us should do that. Don't watch political talk shows if they make you angry. Stop reading about the fate of the earth if it leaves you paralyzed with fear. Only read the work that convinces you that life is worth living and that humans can handle whatever comes their way.

No, that's clearly no solution either. Again, I think the answer lies in balance. A steady diet of Judy Blume was not good for my adolescent self. Let me spend the week-end analyzing where I'm making the same mistakes as a grown up.


Hannah Stephenson said...

Very interesting ideas...

I used to read VC Andrews books at 11 and 12 (demented, for sure) and Christopher Pike before that. At the same time, I loved CS Lewis and Orson Scott Card.

I think I was drawn to books that were not realistic, that embraced magic somehow...

But Judy Blume books were great (for me) because they were firmly realistic, and told stories about girls that I recognized parts of. I think it's interesting that you say they created anxiety in you--why do you think this is?

I would also like to think about chick lit and Judy Blume...any connections there?

Shefali Shah Choksi said...

i never read any judy blume books. but i am equally damaged (if that's the right word), and in many ways, you are more balanced than i!
and i do believe one should sugar-coat no reality doses for children. let them know how things really are!

Kathleen said...

Lots to ponder here!!