12 October 2009

Childhood's End

That crummy bookstore I complained about last Thursday wasn't my only source of books. In elementary school then, as now, the Scholastic Book Club was omnipresent. Their books were in our classrooms, they were in our library, and each month brought new catalogues with titles like From the Earth to the Moon, 100 Pounds of Popcorn and The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler tapping my allowance. Times have changed. As a parent, I can testify that the publisher's once varied offerings have been replaced by a narrow range of paper and plastic product.

Of the hundred or so Scholastics I once had, only PM: The Prime Ministers of Canada by John McCombie and an illustrated book on Sacco and Vanzetti remain. Why these two and not the above, spotted last week at the local thrift shop? Yes, it doesn't look like much – and certainly author and illustrator Gordon Johnston owes everything to Robert Ripley – but I do remember It Happened in Canada as a favourite. Published when I was ten, the book served as an early introduction to cannibalistic cougars, communes, cowcatchers, and names like George Brown and Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

No doubt this is the first I read of Frances Brooke and The History of Emily Montague... and I'm betting I didn't encounter either again until university. I take this opportunity to reveal, without shame, that I've never read Mrs Brooke's novel.

An image... well, I don't want to say that it is seared into my brain, but I certainly did remember it. Who could forget?

And I also remembered this woman, who lost her mind while retaining her looks.

Did I look up 'bustle' in the OED, or was I too lazy? And what did my ten-year-old self make of the wow, zowey, zap stuff about morphine and fine Turkish opium?
I swear to God
I swear: I never even knew what drugs were...

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