I was watching the above Ted Talk from Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian writer, and she said something that struck me. She had read stories about British children when she was first learning to read, and as a result, her first stories were about the same sorts of children doing the same sorts of things as in those books — things completely foreign to her like eating apples and talking about the weather.
That made me think back to what books I read as a child. It wasn’t hard. My favorite was series about Samantha Parkington, a wealthy orphan growing up in Victorian upstate New York. I still have a tradition — when the weather gets cold enough that I start taking long baths just to keep warm, I read the entire set again. Usually over the course of just 1 or 2 baths. As you can imagine, my set (gifted to me one Christmas when I was about 7), is falling apart now.
This time, I noted with amusement that Samantha Parkington defined my taste: drop-waisted dresses, nautical theme, black watch plaid, charcoal wool school dresses, collars, lacy nightgowns, multi-layered pink dresses, intricate embroidered edges, giant hair bows, lockets and extraneous buttons on everything. Her personality had also shaped mine: fierce loyalty towards a few close friends and the inclination to make it very clear to each person whether or not they are in her favor. A cavalier disregard for rules that don’t seem to make sense. A willingness to say shocking things in the name of truth. A love of christmas trees and decorating gingerbread houses.
Here’s the question: was I just at the right age to be moulded? If I had instead been gifted a boxed set of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, would Kourtney have been my model? I think I was given Molly McIntire’s set at the same time, but that had no effect. Maybe one has to relate a little to begin with. Samantha was also an only child who liked to climb trees and get her frilly dresses dirty…
What stories did you read as an impressionable youth, and what effect do you think they had on you?