My History as a Reader, Part Two of However-Many

The next milestone in my history as a reader was in August of 1974. My mom had breast cancer (though she didn’t know about it yet), and Nixon had just resigned.

My family was in North Carolina visiting my grandfather, and I had run out of books to read. We were in some kind of convenience store/ice house place. I think the building was painted red and it had a screen door.

Anyway, I told my parents that I’d run out of books. There was a rack of comics there and one of them (I think it was my dad) said, “Buy a comic book.”

I felt really uncomfortable, almost like I was doing something wrong, or someone was playing a practical joke on me. But I took a Superman comic book and we paid for it. The story in the comic book wasn’t really gripping to me, but the ads had something that made a big impression on me. Super heroines. Supergirl in particular at first. So I mentioned that Supergirl stories sounded like they’d be interesting.

My dad worked in the circulation department of a newspaper and when he was making his rounds, he saw a Superman Family comic book that featured Supergirl. So he picked it up and it was all downhill from there.

Soon my dad was buying me any comics he saw with female leads, or groups with multiple female characters — Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Justice League . . . . Also Howard the Duck, which is awesome, even if it didn’t fit the theme. This lasted about eight years? 10 years? Until pretty late in my high school career, at least.

In 1991, I married Thomas. He’d seen my comic book collection and wanted to start collecting as well. When we first got married, we’d occasionally go to the 7-11 and get two Slurpees and a couple of comic books.

On or around our first anniversary, Superman died. I knew there was no way they’d leave him dead, so even though I was tempted to bite on those comics, I figured I’d wait until they brought Superman back.

As fate would have it, the first of the Return of Superman storyline came out just before I moved to Texas. Thomas was already here and I was living alone while I got to the midpoint of my final semester of paralegal school, at which point I would take incompletes and have the rest of that semester and all of the next to write papers to finish up those classes.

I went to a comic book store on Jackson Street just around the corner from the Sears Tower and picked up the first of the comics in the arc. I felt very conspicuous, as I was the only woman in there. But I got the comic and reading comics was just as much fun as I remembered.

Once Thomas and I were reunited in Texas, we decided to really commit to collecting comics. There was a comic book store not too far from where we were living, and when we went in there, they didn’t stare at me like I was some kind of alien lifeform. They treated me like a customer.

So, for the next 10 years, Thomas and I had a date night to go out to the comic book store and then go out to dinner. We had pull lists and when the daughter of the man who owned the store got married, we sent her a wedding card. When I was pregnant with Alex, she sent us a card, as well.

Good times.

Eventually, it just wasn’t as fun as it had been, so we stopped. Then, like, six years later, we got divorced. I asked for my pre-marriage comics and a couple of other series that I really loved in the divorce. Thomas got the rest of the comics.

The post-2003 break from comic reading ended up a bit longer than my first break. In the late 20-teens, I began to hear new things about comics that sounded interesting. Specifically, the comics that sounded good were the new Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Since I came into these series pretty late, rather than going back to my old comic book store, I started buying the compilations as ebooks.

Squirrel Girl is over and I’m putting off buying that last compilation. It’s weird, I know, but I don’t want it to end. Once I can face the ending I’ll get it. I was waiting for the next volume of Ms. Marvel to come out and apparently with COVID and everything else, I missed it entirely. The latest volume came out in April. So that’s probably next on my list of things to buy.

Will I keep buying comics or will I enter a new break? I don’t know right now. I do know that it’s likely that even if I do take another break, I probably will never stop reading comic books entirely.

As for my mom’s cancer, it was Stage 2, and she needed some pretty exciting surgery for it. She found the lump on Thanksgiving of 1974 and had the surgery on Christmas Eve. She was fairly traumatized by the whole experience and used to go into a depression during the holiday season every year. 27 years later, when I got my diagnosis, I started seeing a psychiatrist so that I wouldn’t end up as emotionally scarred as my mom did. I’m pretty sure it worked.

Oh, and 1974 was momentous for another reason. Not too long after we got back from North Carolina, my mom, who was a preschool teacher, had a very important preschool student. Thomas.

Now, for the Gratuitous Amazon Link. Let’s go for it. Ms. Marvel: No Normal, by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona.

The Truth About Belle Gunness, A Reaction

I don’t know if this is going to be a review or not. It’s 11:30 and I have to be up at 7. But I alluded to this book in my last post, so I figured I should update y’all.

I finished it. I’m trying to enumerate exactly why I found this so . . . ungripping. First the truly offensive thing. Elizabeth Smith, an African-American woman, is sort of a sideline character. And every damn time, de la Torre refers to Smith as “(N-word) Liz.” Granted, the book was originally written in 1955, and the past is a different country and all, but still. God gave us editors so that we could fix stuff like that. Just globally search-and-replace that string with “Smith.” I mean, that was her name, and we don’t see another Smith until the trial, where Smith is the surname of the prosecutor, or something. Argh.

There’s a reason why Twain chose that word in Huckleberry Finn and I understand the pushback on changing it. But The Truth About Belle Gunness is not a classic of American literature. It’s not even a classic of the true crime genre. I think that this time it should be possible to engage in a little judicious editing.

Speaking of the trial. Well, I wasn’t really expecting a book on a female serial killer to turn out to be a book on the man accused of killing her. That’s what this turned out to be. The Truth About Belle Gunness is actually the story of Ray Lamphere, former handyman and sex partner of the killer who was accused of killing her and her children and then setting fire to their house. The middle section is basically just trial transcripts rewritten so that they look like dialogue.

Additionally, there is some question about whether the body of the woman was Gunness at all. The body of the woman was found without a head and no head was ever found. Some time later, they found Gunness’s teeth in the ashes, which was apparently enough for the authorities to identify the body as Gunness. The book ends with de la Torre’s supposition on what actually happened. It’s an interesting theory, but she doesn’t back it up with any kind of evidence.

Speaking of editing, I’m not going to have any time to do any here, because I have to be up in a minute.

I’m going to end this with a Gratuitous Amazon Link to a real classic of the true crime genre, The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. This took me a while because all of the paper copies I could find were so expensive. So I ended up linking to the Kindle version.

What will be my next book? Looks like Kara Cooney’s The Woman Who Would Be King. I have so many books to read. So. Many. Books.

My Life as a Reader, Part 1 of Who-Knows-How-Many

I can’t wait to see how many parts this series ends up having.

I feel like I haven’t been doing enough reading lately. Then I realize that I read blog posts. I read comments to the blog posts. I read thinky articles linked in the comment to the blog posts. I read subreddits I read articles linked in the subreddits. I also am a member of Jenny Lawson’s Fantastic Strangelings Book Club, so I’m reading at least one book per month. I’m also about 3/4 of the way through one of the least gripping books I think I’ll ever have finished. Assuming I can make it that last 25%.

I’m also going back to reading National Geographics. Probably. I cracked open the latest issue that my dad has given me today, at least.

If I’m going to book-blog while I wait for my opportunity to travel to return, I figure that I should talk about my relationship with the written word.

I actually can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. When the time came to help Alex learn to read, I asked my mom how she taught me to read and she said that, near as she could remember, I just picked up a book and read.

I remember that my mom signed me up for a children’s book club when I was little. It had books like One Kitten for Kim, and Andrew Henry’s Meadow, and Bear Circus. Bear Circus was published in 1971, so let’s say I was five or so.

Oh, and then there was The Mice Who Loved Words. I loved that book. I wonder what happened to all of those books. I hope my mom donated them to her library or something. It would make me happy to think of the kids of my now-underprivileged hometown reading the books that gave me so much pleasure when I was their age.

Then there was The Secret Garden. I often credit The Secret Garden as being the book that made me a reader. I was a bit young, I seem to recall that I was maybe eight* when my mom bought it for me. We went to the Kroch’s and Brentano’s at River Oaks in Calumet City and my mom bought something (I wasn’t really paying attention to what she was doing). She handed me a taped-shut white bag with “Kroch’s and Brentano’s” written all over it and told me that it contained one of her favorite books from when she was my age.

I opened the bag and there was the most daunting book I’d ever seen in my life. It had a few illustrations, but otherwise was just words. As I recall, I wasn’t expecting to be thrilled with it. But I opened the book and started to read.

Suddenly I found myself in India watching Mary, a lonely rich girl, lose everyone around her to cholera. I sat there as she was sent to live unhappily in the home of a clergyman in England, being teased by the children. Then she went to Yorkshire and things began to improve for her.

I fell in love. Both with reading and with the book. The family story, so I’m pretty sure it’s at least somewhat accurate, was that I was sitting in the back seat of the car when I finished The Secret Garden. I told my mom that I wished it hadn’t ended, so she said that I could read it again. I was silent for a long time so she turned around to see what was going on. She hadn’t intended for me to read it right away, but I had taken her literally. I had gone back to the beginning and was reading it again.

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure where my first comic book (Superman #280) fell in relation to The Secret Garden. I think The Secret Garden was not too long before the comic book, but I couldn’t swear to it.

As you can see, my Gratuitous Amazon Link is less gratuitous today. I’ve been doing a lot of Kindle books, what with COVID, but today I chose the paperback for one reason. The paperback has the same Tasha Tudor illustrations as my childhood version (which I reread until it literally fell apart) did. Maybe the illustrator of the Kindle version is amazing. I don’t know. I chose the illustrations I loved.

* I guess I might have been seven if it was before my first comic book.