Thursday, July 26, 2012

Must Love Books

I'm gonna start today's blog post with a little sing-along. Come on, you know you want to join in.

It seems no one can help me now / I'm in too deep there's no way out/ This time I have really led myself astray/

Runaway train never going back/ Wrong way on a one way track/ Seems like I should be getting somewhere/ Somehow I'm neither here nor there

If you were, like me, a teenager in the 90's then surely you must at this point be - if not singing, then at least humming along - to Soul Asylum's hit song "Runaway Train". To say that I loved this song (actually the whole cassette - yes, I was slow to jump on the whole CD bandwagon - was in constant rotation along with Stone Temple Pilots and 4 Non Blondes) would be a misstating the case entirely. To say that this song expressed all of my teen angst in a sing-alongable format would be much more accurate and to the point.

Of course, having just turned 33, my teen angst years are pretty far behind me and it's been well over a decade since I've even seen that Soul Asylum cassette. However, a while back I was listening to one of those "the best of the 80's, 90s, and today" radio stations (the first time I heard that "best of the 90s" thing really gave me a jolt. I was like, "best of the 90s?!?! how dare they, that was just a few years... or... huh." That's when I stopped, counted, and realized holy crap we were well into the 2000s and the music of my high school and college years was no longer current and it was not an insult but just plain fact that they now belonged in the yesteryear's category.) and guess what song they started playing?

Thank goodness my children are not yet old enough to understand that their mother is a terribly painfully horribly embarrassing person, because I sang along with that song and every word came right back to me from where ever they had been hiding out in the far recesses of my brain for all of these years.

So what does this have to do books, book love, or anything at all?

I'm getting there.

You see, ever since I became seriously addicted to books (which was somewhere during first grade, I think) I also became a big fan of the library. At least once a week I was at the library (my parents "you want to go the library AGAIN!? but we just took you there"), returning one giant stack of books in exchange for another. And because of how fast I went through books, and because the books were returned instead of placed on a bookshelf in my house as a physical reminder, and because I just have a sort of crappy memory - well, I'd often forget the name of the book, or forget the name of the author, or forget the character's names, or forget the minor plot details, or forget the major plot details.

Usually I recall something though - my brain isn't entirely made of mush - and some essential detail would stick with me.

Like the book where the girl joined a band and she had this tense relationship with the main guy in the group and he made her shave her head and then she destroyed his toy train while on stage and and and... Well that's pretty much all that I remember. Except that it was wonderful. And I loved it. I wish I could read it again. For years I looked for it at the same library that I'd borrowed it from, but never found it again.

I have tons of half-remembered books like this. It's not exactly a tragedy, but sometimes thinking about all these books that I would love to re-read if I could only remember them, makes me a little sad.

And then there are all the series books I read - Sweet Valley High, Babysitter's Club, RL Stine. Or the authors like Beverly Cleary. Judy Blume, Cynthia Voigt and LM Montgomery whose books I ripped through one after another until I'd read every single thing they'd written. And then I got older and tore through every Mary Higgins Clark, Judith Krantz, and Sidney Sheldon book on my Grandma's shelves. Then there was the required reading in high school and college and all the books I've read as an adult.

If you took all those books together it would kind of be like that picture at the top of this post. Endless piles of books. And I am still a read-a-holic (mostly on my Kindle these days. Oh the endless temptation of the 'buy now' button) and am continuously adding more books to that towering stack.

Obviously, it's easiest for me to remember the books that I've read most recently, or the ones that have become such favorites that I've reread them 2 or three times. But the books that I read long ago and have mostly forgotten are still there in my head somewhere and have gone into informing who I am as a writer.

And I like to believe that if a book - like the one with the girl who joined the band - somehow found its way back into my hands, I'd recognize and remember it like an old friend. Or like a song I hadn't heard in a long time, suddenly coming through the radio and me effortlessly singing along.

 Kate Karyus Quinn is the author of ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE, coming in 2013 from HarperTeen. You can find out more about her book on Goodreads, and read more about Kate on her blog.


  1. I love Soul Asylum and got to meet them at a record store in 1988. I'm about 7 yrs. older than you, so the album for me was Hang Time and if you haven't heard "Sometime to Return" and "Cartoon" you should check those songs out. Runaway Train is good too :) I also read most of the Sweet Valley High Books. I'm an identical twin, so they had added appeal. There is a group on Goodreads where you can describe a book and people will help you figure out what the title and author is, if you really want to know...Great post!

  2. Great post, Katy. I have two of those same situations! Like... How long has it been since Kurt Cobain was crooning? Also, the book thing. I can't discern one HP book from the other, even though I devoured them. And sometimes, when I'm driving along, I remember part of a plot line and get a real sense of a book/story and I have no idea where it came from.

  3. Nice post, Kate. I read some Cynthia Voigt recently, and loved it, though have forgotten entirely what it was about. I hear you on the bad memory for books front...


  4. Black Gold was my favorite song from that album.

    Also, I found some books in a box in my basement -- one was a Choose Your Own Adventure where a kid gets a watch that sends him back in time to the American Revolution. Just seeing the cover I remembered the whole thing. Also found one about two kids that try to find the Loch Ness Monster. One of the endings involved them being killed by treasure hunters. I always thought that was a little grim....