During the first scene of The Book Club Play, characters Ana, Rob, Will, Jen, and Lily respond to a question that immediately sheds a light on their love for literature and the power of the written word: What book had the deepest impact on you, when you were young? We here at the literary office decided to pose that question on the Arena Stage staff and post the stories about their childhood favorites on Stage Banter. Check out the second blog in the series by Executive Assistant Alison Irvin and look for many more to come. And remember to share the childhood book(s) that had the deepest impact on you in the comments section!
Books that had great impact on me as a child were Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest, the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, and Roger Kahn’s Good Enough to Dream, since I was really into baseball as a teenager. Ramona and the All-of-a-Kind girls are clearly examples of me identifying with the main characters, possibly because they are opinionated and independent girls. I was totally the little sister with the dirty clothes and messy hair that followed my older brother around to his great annoyance. Something I have thought of lately is the All-of-a-Kind sister Sarah, who was quiet and studious (that I probably was most like, although I always wished I was Henny, the adventurous one with pretty hair). Sarah decided that she didn’t like rice pudding and refused to eat it, but her mother told her she would get nothing else to eat until she did. She continued to refuse and then didn’t eat anything for probably a day. But the story wasn't one-sided and also showed insight into the mother’s mind - upset at denying her daughter food, but remained steadfast on principle. In the end, Sarah finally gives in and eats one bite of rice pudding. Her relieved mother relents and takes the rice pudding away to give her the food the rest of family is enjoying. The story stays with me into adulthood because I remember being Sarah and now I’m her mother. I think of this story all the time now when my daughter says she will throw up if she has to eat food she doesn’t like. Unfortunately for me, my daughter did regurgitate her mashed potatoes, so we have to stick with “take three bites and then you can have frozen peas” rather than seeing who is more stubborn (P.S. I personally never threw up any food but I do distinctly remember sneakily throwing food under the table and hoping no one would notice . . .).
Good Enough to Dream chronicles Roger Kahn’s year owning a minor league baseball team, the Utica Blue Sox in upstate New York, which is not terribly far from where I grew up. While I didn’t see the particular players chronicled in the book, I saw the Utica Blue Sox play my Elmira Pioneers several times, so it felt close to home. The moment I loved most in the book is a conversation between between the staff member as they surveyed the park and question how good the team is. The answer is, of course, that they are good enough to dream of being major league players, with the unspoken acknowledgement that probably none of them will be. The idea of somehow knowing that you will not achieve your dream and trying anyway was and is very compelling to me. There are several other notable baseball novels on similar themes of chasing dreams and how those dreams change as you age, like WP Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (that became the film Field of Dreams), that I also carried around with me for a long time. These baseball novels stayed with me as great metaphors for crushed dreams and returning hope.