Friday, August 19, 2011

Norman Borisoff's teenagers

Norman Borisoff is a screenwriter who began writing for motion pictures in the 1940's. Starting in the 1960's, he also began writing for television. He worked on such notable series as The Saint, I Spy, Ironside and Starsky and Hutch. In the 1970's, he turned to writing books for children and young adults. Many of these books were illustrated with black and white photographs. For example, his 4 Adventures in the City books, featured pictures by Michal Heron. If I'm not mistaken, I think that might be the same Michal Heron found HERE.
The two photo-illustrated novels by Borisoff that I have actually read are:

Crazy George. 1974, Scholastic Books. Photos by Frank Delia.
This one is narrated by a teenager named Tom. He thinks his best friend, his crazy neighbor George, is a real klutz. He watches in bewilderment as George bungles his way around attempts at impressing a beautiful new girl at their school named Linda Carter. He can't believe that Linda actually likes George, because she is always hanging out with athletes. George tries to join the wrestling and diving team, only to get injured and humiliated. Tom starts to think that George has lost his mind. He's embarrassed by him. But even after hearing all the mistakes that George has made, Linda still likes him. And his friend Tom learns not to be so critical of his friends.
The photos include some nice two page spreads.
I don't know much about the photographer Frank Delia, but HERE is another random picture I found on the internet credited to him.
The Dropout. 1975, Scholastic. Photos by (?)

correction - 9-8-11
I was thinking of the wrong book! The book I was remembering is actually a title by Peggy Mann
called The Drop-In. This is also a photo-illustrated novel. It turns out that Scholastic also had a series of photo-illustrated hi-lo books in the late 1970's. It was called The Double Action Library. Weird! Now, I want to find The Dropout. Anyone know anything about it?

I purchased this book over 15 years ago, which is probably where the confusion comes from. I actually named a comic strip I did which ran in the Long Island Voice Newspaper (1999-2000) after this book. It was called "Drop-In" . Anyway, as you can probably imagine, this book is about a high school dropout. After his mom throws him out of the house, he gets his own apartment and a job at the supermarket. His girlfriend gets pregnant (if I'm remembering this correctly) and they struggle to make ends meet. In the end, he decides to go back to school and become a cop! Again, the supermarket setting was an influence on my stories such as "That's My Baby" and Afterschool Special.

Bewitched and Bewildered. 1982, Dell. Photos by Harold Roth
To my knowledge, this is one of the last young adult novels Borisoff wrote. Similar to Crazy George, it involves a teenage boy who is obsessing over a pretty girl. Except in this book, the girl has some supernatural powers.
As for the photos, I believe this might be the same Harold Roth famous for his pictures of New York City in the 1950's. He also photographed several non-fiction children's books.

And finally, here is a video I found on YouTube of Borisoff at age 89 fighting for the rights of writers. Go Norman!

For more on the subject of photo-illustrated teen books (or TRIUMPH books), please see my previous entry on Ellen Rabinowich.


I just found this paperback original from 1973 entitled You Might Even Like It by Norman Borisoff. I love the cover and description. So I'm really looking forward tor reading this one too:

I finally read this! It's definitely my favorite of Borisoff's books I've come across. Also, unusual for a YA book because the main character is 21. This one is set up like a mystery/crime story. Kenny has a secret that is worrying his girlfriend Debbie. Why is Kenny such a loner? And why don't the cops buy his story after he gets beaten up so bad that he ends up in the hospital for two weeks? This one involves suspicious parents and drug dealers. At times, it even feels like a police procedural. It's almost like an episode of The Rookies. Told in the third person, the story jumps around from the protagonists, to the cops and then the criminals. You really get the sense of Borisoff's style and the fact that he was a prolific writer for television shows. The ending does not disappoint. This is some classic "neglected" teen pulp!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou

I've always loved the young adult books of Frank Bonham and Walter Dean Myers. In my search for early, authentic books written about the African-American experience, I recently came across the work of Kristine Hunter Lattany. The few books she wrote for teens share much in common with Bonham's Dogtown novels and Myers' popular YA novels that would come later.

The following is adapted from a brief biography found online prepared by Jackie Fiorello in 2005.

Kristin Hunter (September 12, 1931 - November 14, 2008) was a well known and talented African-American novelist. She was the author of 11 books including God Bless The Child (1964), Kinfolks (1996) and Breaking Away (2003). She also wrote several groundbreaking young adult books in the early 1960's and 1970's. These books were always authentic to the teenage experience. She portrayed her characters with genuine warmth, making the inner city environment of her books a familiar place that readers could relate to even when portraying gangs and ghetto life.

The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou (1968) was praised for its authentic portrayal of growing up in hostile surroundings and for its affirmation of black culture. The Soul Brother and Sister Lou is about a juvenile gang led by Louretta Hawkins, a fourteen year old who forms a successful music group to avoid the pressures of gang warfare and police harassment. In 1981, Lattany published its sequel, Lou in the Limelight.
While The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou has remained in print from some time, her other two books about young people are more difficult to find. In 1971, Boss Cat was released, followed by Guests in the Promised Land in 1973. Both are collections of stories about teens searching for values and direction. I particularly enjoyed the stories in Guests for the portrayal of unusual and strong black characters.
Also of note here is that her second novel titled, The Landlord, became a movie directed by Norman Jewison for Mirisch Productions in 1970.
The film can be viewed below (via Youtube).

The Landlord tells the story of a man searching for his identity. Enders, the protagonist, is a wealthy, insensitive white man, and the landlord of a residential building in the inner city ghetto. At first, he plans to evict the present occupants and construct his own luxurious home; however, he soon develops personal relationships with the tenants and eventually overcomes his character faults.

Monday, August 15, 2011

God in the 1970's

Okay, while this is off the topic of my usual vintage teenage book ramblings, I nonetheless thought this would be an interesting post. Here are two FUN and very original portrayals of God. In both cases, he is represented in human form as a fairly humble and "regular guy". I like it!

The first is from Bruce Jay Friedman's hilarious play Steambath from 1971. I've mentioned Friedman before, and he is one of my favorite humorous writers for adults (others include Herb Gardner and Mell Lazarus). This was his second play and the original Off-Broadway production starred Anthony Perkins. Later it was made into a television special (also available on DVD) that starred Bill Bixby, as seen above. In this unusual absurdist comedy, the afterlife is a steambath where those who have recently died hang out with others nude or with towels. The man in charge, or the steambath attendant, is God. He is portrayed as a Puerto-Rican with a good sense of humor who sends messages such as "Give that girl a run in her body stocking..." down to earth via a small machine that replies with BLEEP BLEEP. When the other characters are skeptical of God, he proves himself in several ways including downing an enormous whiskey sour! The play is not just also has a lot of social implications that will keep you curious about the afterlife. It makes the subject of God relatable even for an existential guy such as myself.
Other works by Friedman that I have enjoyed include his first novel Stern, as well as his screenplays for the following classic movies: The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Splash (1984).
Also of note are Friedman's talented sons --- writer Josh Alan Friedman and the cartoonist Drew Friedman.
This second portrayal of God is from Oh God, Book II from 1980. George Burns played God in all three of the films in this series. In my opinion, Book II is the best of the lot. God communicates with an eleven year old girl named Tracy, first through fortune cookie messages, and later by appearing in person. I love that George Burns basically plays himself in this film. His superpowers as GOD are actually quite minimal. For example, he uses his abilities to appear on the Johnny Carson show and to do Tracy's homework, in her own handwriting, in an instant. He even rides a motorcycle! The other thing I like about this movie is that the kids seem very mature and their lines are wittily written. In some ways, it reminds me of the books Norma Klein wrote for kids. Maybe this has do with the fact that Tracy's parents are divorced and this is handled in a very matter of fact manner. God has bigger issues to work on, like stopping volcanoes from erupting, than solving marital issues.

George Burns was at his best when he played opposite kids or teenagers. For this reason, I also loved him in the movie 18 Again! (1988).

Anyway, this is just another example of how more risks were taken in popular culture back in the 1970's than now. I'm not sure a movie executive would give either of these projects the green light today (unless it was a remake).

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Secret Sex Lives of Teenagers circa 1975

The Terrible Love Life of Dudley Cornflower by Kin Platt. Bradbury Press, 1976.

Told in the first person this book is an exaggerated view of a fifteen year old with a frustrated sex drive indulging in flights of fancy. Dudley Cornflower seems to be the only teenage virgin left in the entire L.A. Area. His worrisome and compulsive personality leads him to seeking out every piece of advice that can help him achieve the goal of getting laid. His best friend Charley Dell, a self-proclaimed stud, gives him this simple, yet torrid advice: “find 'em, feel 'em, fuck 'em”.

After eliminating over 200 girls in his school as possible prey, Dudley is left with two options. First, there is Kelly Lake, a very sensible girl who also happens to be blind. Her only interest in Dudley seems to be of a psychological bent in order to uncover why he is such a weirdo. Then, there is Dolores Carter, an average looking girl with a mustache who grabs at Dudley's crotch and lets him feel her up in public. He does not do it with her for fear of the clap. Other encounters include sexual experiences in a decked out 70's love van and nymphomaniacs who hang out amongst library stacks.

Dudley's single mother is portrayed as a swinger who only feeds more fire to Dudley's insecurities. Her bluntness is in large part the major issue when it comes to Dudley's problems. She has been divorced three times and seems to think about sex as often as her son.

It is only through love that Dudley will be able to overcome his obsessions. However, the thin line between getting laid and having a relationship is distorted with hilarious cartoon precision. Like in many of his other books, Platt places his character against a backdrop of failed parenting and a world gone mad.

In 1977, librarian and teacher Dorothy M. Broderick wrote to Kin Platt wishing to discuss his book in her new magazine VOYA aimed at young adult librarians. She asked Kin, “...because there are so many women in our profession, books that speak to the male experience are having a particular hard time. Some very nice men in our profession are being made to feel rotten for identifying with Dudley. I'd be interested in your observations.”

Here is Kin's response:

“...To begin with, I knew the subject was risky. The taboo was there but I decided to go against it. I had hoped that the highest level I could write it at might ward off the do-gooders who seek to protect those who might want to learn about life. I also thought Dudley's fantasizing might make it acceptable, and nobody would suffer from the idea and situations inherent in a real boy trying to make it with a real girl. It's funny, of course, that they won't allow this but the puritan ethic is very strong, and almost everybody fears to come out and openly espouse Dudley, or any other boy in a determined sexual drive.

[However] nobody to my knowledge ever became pregnant from reading a book...Perhaps it might have been different if I had done Dudley seriously along the lines Judy Blume took with her most acceptable book Forever... (We're good friends and her kids love Dudley.) So the factors are that I dared to make fun of a serious situation, spoofed it, made motherhood common and spoiled everyone's notion of their own fantasy lives.”


So, for comparison purposes, here is a description of Blume's book, published only one year earlier by the same publisher. It has gone through multiple printings, sold millions of copies and remains in print to this day. Dudley, on the other hand, was never reprinted and never even appeared in paperback format.

Forever... by Judy Blume. Bradbury Press, 1975.

Katherine Danziger is an 18 year old girl growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey in the 1970's. She falls in love and comes to her own decision as to whether or not sex is right for her at this time in her life. Her friends and parents offer advice and pressures. Ultimately Katherine decides for herself, choosing to act cautiously and take the necessary precautions. Her caring parents warn her that relationships at this age should not last forever. While she disagrees with them, this ultimately turns out to be the case and “forever” turns out to be not that long.

What is interesting about this book is that Katherine does not regret the sex she had. She still looks fondly upon it, even after the relationship has ended. Katherine proves to be a strong woman capable of making intelligent decisions on her own. She is neither swayed or manipulated. Instead, she is in control and confident. Having sex before marriage in no way mars her; it does not make her a “slut”. Instead, the experience only seems to strengthen her as a free thinking woman of the future.


And just for kicks, here are two movie posters for teen flicks from 1976-1977 displaying some of the popular tastes and fashion from this time period. Could these raunchy sex comedies have been inspired by Dudley Cornflower?
and (below) cover from Newsweek, September 1, 1980

The Teen Library circa 1950.

The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult by Margaret A. Edwards. Hawthorne Books, 1969.

The Fair Garden and the Swarm Of Beasts is the first comprehensive treatise on youth advocacy in a library setting. Written in 1969 by Margaret A Edwards, the book still remains relevant in a world where teens can do research from a laptop and download digital books. While times have changed, the fact that reading is essentially important and that we need community advocates remains possibly more significant now than ever. When American schools are bogged down by testing standards and required reading, libraries offer an alternative to a regimented educational system. Unlike computers, the library offers a forum for real life human interaction and a place to discover physical copies of books at no cost to youth.

Margaret A. Edwards was an innovator in the field of Young Adult librarianship.

Her work began after she was fired from her job as a teacher for telling off her school supervisor. A self described “hot potato” she was given a chance to start anew without mentioning her questionable past. This opportunity presented itself in the form of a job offer as a librarian working with Young Adults at the Enoch Free Public library in Baltimore. Taking her new assignment more seriously than anyone would've imagined, Edwards pushed teen services to work towards the goal of youth advocacy through the promotion of books and recreational reading. She viewed the library not as a sacred place but as a community center where youth could be introduced to new ideas outside of a scholastic environment. She laid down the standards for YA librarians in the future to follow. They had to be passionate about working with youth, they needed to read and be familiar with a wide range of books of interest to teenagers and they had to be advocates who had the potential to reach even the most reluctant teen readers.

In her book, Edwards lays down the guidelines for this profession with a sociological mission. In her own words:

“After the atom was split and Hiroshima was bombed, I read countless articles and books by thoughtful writers calling attention to the dangerous lag between man's knowledge and his emotional and cultural development. They convinced me that the destruction of the earth and the suicide of the human race were distinctly possible unless man became truly civilized. I was sure that the ideas to be found in books would help if the books were read and I felt that as far as the adolescent was concerned, the library could not play a passive role, that the librarian should do more than just wait on these people and answer their questions.”

Edwards was a warrior librarian who broke the rules in order to get books, the type of books that teenagers like to read, into their hands. She pushed her way into schools in order to give “book talks” that acted like movie previews to get youth psyched up about fiction. She found alternate ways to approach youth in a library setting that did not scare them away. And she even went as far and renting a horse and wagon, bringing books out onto the street and letting youth who would never have gone to the library before gain access to materials.

Amazingly, this was all done before YA books even existed as a publishing niche. For example, SE Hinton's The Outsiders was published roughly the same year as Margaret A. Edwards book. So, what types of books exactly were groundbreaking, relevant and popular amongst teenagers of the 1940's and 1950's when Edwards was working for the Baltimore public library? Edwards mentions several. These are not to the exclusion of adult reading as such, but the titles I'm listing below are those written about teenagers. As you can tell from the covers, these are mostly romance or sports related books. But most of these books have a hint of the psychological and social flavor that would become more prominent in the late 1960's and throughout the 1970's.

Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly. Mead, 1942.

Seventeen-year-old Angie finds herself in love for the first time the summer after high school graduation.

All American by John Tunis. Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1942.

After he and a fellow player on the football field gang up on a Jewish member of the opposing team and cause him a serious neck injury, seventeen-year-old Ronny leaves his elite all-white private school for the integrated public high school, where he discovers that the practice of democracy takes courage and loyalty to one's principles.

Hot Rod by George Felson. Dutton, 1950.

Bud Crayne was proud to be the wildest, most reckless driver on the road. Then came a horrible accident and a lesson learned much too late.

Double Date by Rosamond Du Jardin. Lippincott, 1952.

Penny and Pam are twins who must learn to accept their differences and individual personalities.

Pray Love, Remember by Mary Stolz. Harper, 1954.

Dody spends her senior year hating her small town, impatient and embarrassed with her lower middle class family, bored with her beau, and dreaming of a way to escape a future as a Plattstown housewife. When she has an opportunity to go away as a governess for a problem child in Oyster Bay, she leaves Plattstown and learns a great deal.

The Red Car by Don Stanford. Funk & Wagnalls, 1954.

On YA books, Edwards writes, “Books are literary atom bombs capable of destroying stupidity, cant, insularity and prejudice---if read....At the appearance of teen-age novels the literary critics went into tailspins and vied each other in expressing their scorn. Some librarians agreed with them, while others who have [actually] read and circulated these books and listened to the reactions of young readers have come to believe that the public library can make good use of teen-age novels: to teach the apathetic the love of reading; to satisfy some of the adolescent's emotional and psychological needs; to throw light on the problems of adolescence; to explore the teenager's relationship to community...”

An important message indeed.


In reading this book, I began thinking about what books I might recommend were I a teen librarian in the 1950's. Here is the list that I came up with:

A Portrait of A Girl In Glass by Tennessee Williams. This short story published in 1948 was the basis for the play (and film) The Glass Menagerie. Tom's stifling home life with his mother and his pain at leaving his shy, reclusive sister behind is the perfect metaphor for the end of adolescence.

The Holy Terrors by Jean Cocteau published in 1957. With both their parents gone, Paul and Elizabeth live in seclusion and obsess over past loves in the form of Dargelos (a boy) and Agatha (his female double). This french tragedy presents the teenager as outsider in an epic poetic manner. Also made into a film by Jean Pierre Melville. The 1978 novel The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan shares many similarities to this.

Carson McCullers' The Member of The Wedding (1946). Loneliness and waiting characterize 12 year old Frankie Addams. A drab home-life and Frankie yearns for a sense of belonging. This has been adapted into a film on three separate occasions.

All Fall Down by James Leo Herlihy (1960). A study in the disillusionment of an adolescent boy on a journey to find his brother. Clint drops out of school and journeys to find his drifter older sibling Berry Berry. William Inge wrote the screenplay to the excellent film.

Catcher In The Rye (1951) -- enough said!

Crazy Southern California Girls – 1980

Here are two novels set in Southern California that feature teenage girls on the brink of disaster.

Flames Going Out by Kin Platt. Methuen, 1980.

In a 1977 speech that Platt wrote for a talk at a workshop at Kern Library, he spoke a bit about a new young adult book he was working on and had this to say: “...I will go back to other forms of madness in our society and their effect on young people. I've started one of a brilliant, wonderful young girl going mad, called Flames Going Out --- which I had to put aside, and hope now to get back to soon...It will be downbeat and depressing, and probably nobody will want it, and they will hope I had never written it. Just as before....But hopefully, my own interest and sympathy and understanding will communicate itself to others.”

This is one of Platt's last published books for an older teen audience and like The Doomsday Gang, it only appeared in a hardcover edition and was never reprinted. It think it's one of Platt's best.

The setting is Los Angeles and Platt paints an extremely fierce caricature of this area and time. In this world teenagers are having sex, getting stoned out of their mind, attending disco clubs and listening to punk rock. Tammy Darling, age 16, is a girl lost. She has created a double for herself in order to escape from the nightmare of her everyday life. By watching a match burn, she tries to insure herself that she will not disappear. That she will not become an object. Tammy is aware of psychology, she understands poetry; she is far from naïve. Still, she's hiding from the world and the reader can't blame her.

The story is told through a series of brief scenes in short chapter form. Platt puts together only the essentials and like a true poet his words build to many levels within their simplicity. The book is in the third person, but we hear the inner dialogue of Tammy's struggle through thoughts written in italics.

Tammy sees a psychologist named Dr. Greengold. He doesn't have any easy answers. Greengold has problems of his own. His son Jonathan is a drug addict. Tammy meets Jonathan in the waiting room one day and she forms a relationship with the self-destructive boy. The three characters form a sort of triangle of support. They all are struggling for survival. Tammy is searching for meaning in herself, Greengold is searching for purpose in others and Jonathan is rebelling against his father while clinging on to Tammy.

For more about Platt, please read my essay here.

I've also posted some drawings I made based on Flames Going Out here.

Gimme an H, Gimme an E, Gimme an L, Gimme a P by Frank Bonham. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980.

This one was published the same year as Flames Going Out and was by another veteran writer whose work I have written more about here. The story takes place near San Diego.

Katie Norman is a pretty 16 year-old teenager who also happens to be suicidal. She tries to gain the attention of her lab partner Dana Furlong. Dana collects, sells and breeds birds. In an attempt to communicate with Dana, Katie places a series of false advertisements for rare bird sales in the newspaper. When Dana calls the various numbers that she has left (numbers of homes in which she babysits), Katie answers under the guises of false accents. Dana does not catch on, but grows frustrated that this seller is setting out to ruin his business.

While all this is happening, Dana develops a crush on Katie. At first he doesn't know she is suicidal. Her fantasies of car wrecks and drowning at the beach are private. But then Dana begins to notice Katie's strange activities. And he sees the troubled situation in which Katie lives including her horrible stepmother.

Katie is also attracted to Dana and hopes that he will decipher her cry for help, however oblique and erratic. When Dana finally realizes the signs, he tries to do everything he can to save her life. Not only because he cares about Katie, but because he loves her.

In 1986, Frank Bonham had this to say about research material and his book in the Something About the Author Autobiography series.

“Gimme an H (E.L.P.) was based on the predicament of a suicidal girl. A friend who was a teacher and counselor at a high school, had worked with her during a crisis in her life. To learn more about the subject of suicide, I visited the school several times, met the girl and some teachers who worked their way into the story, did book-research on suicide, and studied backgrounds I would use in the story. The girl's father was patterned after a friend; her mother after a young woman I knew. The boy was a blend of a couple of boys, friends of my son Keith. After that, all I had to do was write the story”.

For more on this subject, please see this previous blog entry about the Hal Sitowitz movie A Last Cry For Help.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Loners, Runaways and Drifters

Here are two illustrated novels that I recently found buried in the children's section of the public library. I'm sure that neither has been checked out for some time. They are both realistic novels from the 1960's. Even though these are books for pre-teens they border on the coming-of-age sentiment found in YA novels.
A Likely Place by Paula Fox, illustrated by Edward Ardizonne. Macmillan, 1967.

In this short and humorous story, Lewis is a nine year old boy who wants to run away. He is fed up with the overbearing nature of his parents and teachers and yearns for something else. When his parents go away on vacation he meets a couple of eccentric characters including an old man who he identifies with. Mr. Madraga is old enough to be Lewis' grandfather. But like Lewis, he wishes that he was allowed to make his own decision instead of constantly being told what to do. The friendly interaction between these two loners is both funny and touching. It is interesting how this book shows that those closest to you (ie:family) can be the ones who understand you the least. Lewis learns that by helping others, he can learn to help himself. By assisting Mr. Madruga in writing a letter that will help him gain some independence, Lewis also begins his education towards freedom. The title, A Likely Place, refers to the cave where the two meet in order to help solve their problems.
The Loner by Ester Wier, illustrated by Christine Price. D. McKAy Co., 1963.

A young drifter without a name, friends or family ends up in Montana. He is found by a strong shepherd woman named Boss who cares for him. Eventually, he is able to aid her and become a shepherd himself. Unlike in Joseph Krumgold's award winning book about shephards, And Now Miguel... the women in The Loner are all strong, independent women who play a prominent role in the story. The book has parallels to the story of David and Goliath from the Bible. The boy is given the name David when he chooses his name at random from the Holy book. Later, he is able to hunt down a bear which has stolen a prized sheep. Boss' son was killed by this bear and David gains new respect in his justice. More importantly, David learns that life is more worthwhile when he has people to care for him and he is able to care for them back. The simple act of receiving a name sets David on a course of having a purpose in life. He makes mistakes in trying to become a shepherd. In the process, however, he learns new responsibilities and respect from others that may enable him to become an adult.


On the flipside, here are two extremely nihilistic and unusual adult tiles from the 1960's about people on a journey.

Malcolm by James Purdy. Atheneum, 1966.
This novel was later adapted into a play by Edward Albee and has had multiple printings, so maybe it doesn't quite fit into the "discard" theme of this blog. Nonetheless, I love this book that concerns an unusually innocent boy sitting on a bench waiting for something to happen. --- The edition shown here is my favorite: a rare paperback from the 60's with a painting by Richard Powers (who is known mostly for his work in science-fiction).--- Through meeting with a series of unusual characters including a mortician, a midget, a prostitute a wrestler, a billionaire, Malcolm remains mostly unscathed, but the world around him is changed by his demeanor alone. Only when Malcolm becomes an adult himself does he face a similar downfall and cruel fate encountered by his strange friends.

I Know What I'm Doing by Hans Koningsberger. Simon and Schuster, 1964.

I picked this one up because the photographic cover and font reminded me of many young adult hardcover books from the late 1960's. While the character in the book is young, this is strictly a novel meant for adults. It chronicles three sexual relationships that a young woman has between the ages of 17 and 21. Detached from her family, the young woman strikes out on her own and travels from London to New York and then to California. She sleeps with her London housemate, an older man that is a client of her workplace in New York and a musician in Los Angeles. The book randomly alternates between the 1st and 3rd person in between short 1 to 3 page chapters. In this way, we are able to learn the intimacy of this woman's often selfish thoughts, see inside her head, and observe as to whether or not the decisions she makes are for the best. I love the sense of freedom, abandon and honesty of this book that presents an uncertain and unromantic view of love that seems as though it's going to turn into a cautionary tale but never quite gets there. This book was also reprinted in 2005 by New South, Inc. I believe they are a company dedicated to reprinting all of Koning's work (he was quite prolific).

I am also interested in reading his first novel from the 50's, based on this beautiful cover artwork alone.
He also wrote one novel for children that is illustrated by Richard Cuffari, one of my favorite illustrators of the 1970's (see below). Cuffari also illustrated such books as The Cartoonist by Betsy Byars and My Dad Lives In A Downtown Hotel by Peggy Mann.

And finally, to balance things out a bit, here is an actual YA novel by Barbara Wersba that best reflects the 1960's, the time period in which most of the books listed above were written.
Run Softly, Go Fast by Barbara Wersba, Atheneum, 1970.

In this very angsty novel David Marks, a 19 year old New Yorker, has issues with his father. David is an artist and feels that his father is too business oriented to understand his interests. When his dad forbids David from seeing his best friend, accusing him of being a homosexual, David loses his influence over this friend who later gets killed in Vietnam. David blames his father for this death.

In an attempt to escape from his father's control, David cuts off all communication and leaves. He moves to the East Village in search of freedom. He paints furiously, falls in love with a girl named Maggie and gets swept away in drugs and the lives of other hippies. When David's father dies and he still has not come to terms with their relationship, he realizes he must make some sort of reconciliation in order to move forward.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Love Is A Missing Person by M.E. Kerr

In defining "teen pulp" as a genre, the works of Marijane Meaker would be on the top of my list of candidates whose literary output falls under this imaginary umbrella. Like some of my other favorites (Kin Platt, Frank Bonham) she is one of those writers for teens with a fascinating and varied writing career. Throughout the 1950's-1960's she wrote under the pseudonyms Vin Packer, Ann Aldrich and M.J. Meaker. Many of these books dealt with female romances; her 1952 novel Spring Fire is considered to be the first lesbian pulp novel. More recently Meaker detailed her relationship with writer Patricia Highsmith in the late 50's (known for her psychological thrillers such as Strangers on A Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley) in an autobiography. I am mostly familiar with Meaker's work under the name M.E. Kerr. All the books published as Kerr were young adult novels. Her first YA book, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! (from 1972) is probably her most well known. It was adapted into an afterschool special in 1978. Her second YA novel, If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever (1973) was recently reprinted by Marshall Cavendish in 2011. Many of her other books remain in print. She has had 25 YA books published, the last one being Someone Like Summer (2007). Additionally, she wrote 4 children's books under the name Mary James in the 1990's. Many of her books take place on Long Island and deal with difficult relationships and coming-of-age issues. Her characters are often offbeat and while the stories are realistic, they are also written with a sense of humor.

One of her less well known books is Love Is A Missing Person (1975). Suzy Slade is the narrator in the story and much of the events do not involve her directly. It is her reactions to the people in her family and at work that make her ponder the true nature of love. Kerr is a different type of writer than Zindel or Wersba in this respect. While her protagonists are alienated, they are more often than not observers. In this book, the characters that Suzy interacts with are more interesting than the narrator. Her older teenage sister "Chicago" becomes a radical. After befriending an anarchist, she begins dating a black boy as both a political statement and romantic interest. The book's reflections of racial tensions, feminism and hippy values (the rejection of wealthy parents) clearly set this book in the 1970's. Her other friend is an older librarian, who she describes as being a nervous wreck. This lady, Gwen Spring (perhaps a reference to Spring Fire?), is stuck in the past, waiting to rekindle a love from an old fling. In the meantime she works in the library, standing guard over a collection of erotic art. Suzy's parents are also a bit eccentric, and divorced. Her rich father marries a ditzy 20 year old and her mother is a lush.

The complications of love are never resolved for Suzy and the book offers more questions about romance than it provides answers. I did love the ending though. Because this is such a character driven book, I can't describe too much of the plot here without giving anything away. But if you were ever curious about M.E. Kerr's books, I'd recommend giving this one a try.

For more about M.E. Kerr, visit here website:

*Another blogger (and librarian) Peter D. Sieruta has written a tribute to M.E. Kerr HERE.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Books and Human Services in a Virtual World O' Stuff

Libraries sure have changed a lot since I was a kid. I've been contemplating the pertinence of libraries for kids today. Do books hold the same importance for youth in an age of wireless mobile devices? Will a new generation still see large print depositories as being a necessity?

I am a bibliophile. I love the way books feel, the way they smell. Because I am a collector my tastes are often specific, sometimes esoteric. I think about books and imagine fictional worlds as realities. At times I believe that the words of authors are like those spoken to me by a good friend. Often the words found in books hold a higher meaning than those experienced in reality. I've carried books across the country with me. I've clung onto printed text while searching for meaning in my own life. Books are my world.

My passion for books is so vast, that I've often daydreamed of opening my own bookshop. It would be like the shop in the TV show Eerie Indiana. In that program, the store "The World O' Stuff" is a luncheonette that also sells a range of curiosities. The owner of the store and sole employee is an eccentric proprietor named Radford played by John Astin. He has a good relationship with the kids in the community. They like to hang out there. It's a place of community where unusual objects are discovered. It's a place that through books, ghosts are brought back to life. I loved Radford's quirky relationship with kids in this role; a sort of teenager's version of a sympathetic bartender, minus the alcohol. I see myself as a similar character. I want to be the unusual but good-hearted person who gives young people thought provoking advice told through humorous puzzles. I see this happening in a physical location where I am surrounded by relics that open up new worlds to young eyes. Eyes and hearts that are open to new experiences. At the World O' Stuff, kids are never reprimanded, the service is good, and the items are cheap but of value. This is my fantasy.

Most of my interest in books veers towards the world of realistic Young Adult fiction. This stems from spending hours on end in the public library as a teenager. I searched amongst the stacks until I found a style of book that I related to. I read cheap paperbacks found on spinner racks, attracted to the lurid, realistic and colorful paintings on covers of science-fiction and horror novels. Eventually I gravitated towards the YA bookshelves amazed to find the works of Paul Zindel and Randy Powell amongst the neon and pastel decorated shelves of what appeared to be a sickeningly saccharine member's only Babysiter's Club. YA fiction had an alluring grab to me. To discover what seemed to me to be dangerous and groundbreaking ideas in what outwardly looked like such a safe environment. My parents never complained that I spent too much time in the library. Did they realize this place was my education outside of school? Books in the library opened a new world to me and created a revolution within my mind.

Sometimes reading books from previous decades is the closest thing I'll ever have to a time machine. I like to go back in time. Perhaps in the 1970's, before the internet, it made more sense to open a brick and mortar business based around entertainment. Bookstores, for example, were less commodified at this time and while Barnes and Noble and Border's both had a reputation, they were nowhere near the conglomerates that they are today. Maybe small independent bookshops were one of your only options for discovering new and out of print titles back then. In this sense, the bookstore, like the library, were places of discovery. I close my eyes and think of myself perusing through the spinner racks and piles of paperbacks in a bookstore from 35 years ago and I am in heaven. I'm on a cloud because that was a time when YA fiction was also new. Editors were more willing to take risks, publishers were abundant and the distribution was purely through physical locations.

Today, this need is filled in large part by the internet. One can search for rare books as well as get books at a steep discount online, all in the comfort of their own home. The need for a bookstore as a place of discovery is diminished. While I love bookstores and am nostalgic for them, I find that I rarely purchase books at the ones still in existence. When I do visit a bookstore, I go with pen and paper in hand. If I see something I like, I jot down the title and then search the internet for a better price. I always find one. I hate to admit this but it's true. While I love a bookstore's charm, it just doesn't make any sense economically unless it is also operating an internet business.

In the 1990's when Borders and Barnes and Noble first became popular, people used it as a place to hang out. It brought a cafe community to suburbia. It was not just about the books. It was about the coffee and the couches. They also offered free programming such as author talks and children's storytimes. Sort of like a library where you wouldn't be shushed and you could buy stuff. This impacted the way independent bookstores ran their businesses. The idea was to make bookstores more comfortable and more personable to the community. This also changed public libraries. They became less "hush-hush" and began collecting DVDS, CDs, collecting graphic novels and getting rid of old books in order to look current.

In our digital world, I wonder how often teens buy books? I'm pretty sure the attraction is less. Would they rather have iPads? Kindles? They are probably not baited by lurid covers. For teens, this sort of cover artwork hardly exists anymore. Today, cover art for teen books are largely photos and digitally created artwork, marred by quickly outdated graphic design elements. Because of the lack of cover paintings, these books lack the collectibility appeal they once had (similar to comic books). In fact, if teens are buying any books it's most likely that they are purchasing manga. Manga still has that forbidden pulp appeal and a tinge of exploitation that makes it exciting to youth. But now, with covers that are not so different than adult bestsellers (think James Patterson), maybe the physical object loses some significance. For this new generation, perhaps it is less important to hold a physical object in hand. The internet, and electronic devices, promote a "green" mentality in this respect. Collecting can be done via files on a desktop or an APP. From a young person's perspective the mass production of books can seem to be nothing more than a waste of paper. If the same information can be accessed electronically (and more often than not for free), why not?

With this in mind, it might be that the only physical location that still remains pertinent for teens and books is the public library space. In my experience as a public librarian, I have come to the conclusion that the physical community space holds more importance than the books themselves. A library can be a physical storage place for information and researchers. But it also can offer something that the internet can not. It can be a place for real life human interaction.
In my experience working for the Boston Public Library, I saw the library as a place where hundreds of kids went after school. It offered them a place to hang out with friends and to engage in programs offered by the librarian. It offered them an environment to get free help with their homework and to interact with a Radford like proprietor (me). Like in my fantasy, the service is good, the items are FREE and hearts and eyes are opened to new experiences. There is something offered in a library that the internet, or even a bookstore lacks. Because nothing is being sold, it is the librarian's job not to be a salesperson, but to be someone who cares about the people who use and visit the library. In this sense, the library is less like an "entertainment store". Instead, a librarian's job is to offer a human service. He is closer akin to a dentist or a hair stylist. Instead of fixing teeth or cutting hair, he is providing a place to foster the imagination. Books are only the tools of the trade. This human aspect exists with or without physical copies of books.

Personally, my love for libraries comes from my experience from the books within, not the librarians. In the endless hours I spent at the public library as a teenager I don't recall ever interacting with a librarian. They always seemed unapproachable to me. I do not want to be that sort of librarian. While I was drawn in by the books, I realize that I am an exception. Not everyone has the same fascination with reading. That is why I want to be a different type of librarian. Sharing my love for books is only part of it. The active librarian uses stories and information as a tool. Books are part of this, yes. But these stories, this information, these tools need to be exercised. In Eerie Indiana, the World O' Stuff would be just another luncheonette, if it were not for the proprietor Radford. His character and collecting tastes make the store a place where kids feel at home.

My goal is to create a "World O' Stuff" where special objects and a world of discovery still exists. While just about anything can be found on the internet, there are still places where curious discoveries are still available in a public space for young mind's to discover and interact within a human face-to-face manner. And if they check out a book and become lifelong readers, even better. Libraries are not a relic of the past. In fact, they are necessary now more than ever. They may offer one of the last remaining human services offered towards youth where so much is offered for so little.
Last night I had a weird Fahrenheit 451 vision of the future. The dream took place 50 years from now. In this future, peoples attention spans are shortened, attuned to reading material only in short bits and spurts via virtual reading. Everyone is psychically plugged into this same network, an internet minus the electronic device. Literature is not burned; instead the publishing industry has collapsed in on itself. Unable to sell physical copies of books, novels are mostly distributed electronically for free. Authors, in a last attempt to make a living from their work, turn to self-publishing. They sell their books directly to a network of librarians working in public community spaces supported by public funds. People begin visiting these libraries as an escape from the virtual world. Turning off their implanted head devices, the libraries gain popularity as a getaway in the way that people escape to spas on vacations. Doctors recommend reading physical books and consulting librarians as a way to remove stress from the brain and relief from a condition known as antisocial network overload. At this point, I am 82 and retire to an exotic island. They have a great library there. I tweet all about it to my grandchildren.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Norma Klein

"Perhaps the proudest moment of my literary career was during the summer of 1982 when I read in Publisher's Weekly that I was one of the most banned writers in America." ---Norma Klein in an essay from 1986

Norma Klein wrote about the sophisticated world of privileged New York teens well before Gossip Girl. She outdid Judy Blume in terms of frankness and sexual permissiveness in her fiction. Many of her books from the 70's featured female protagonists. At times, such as in her books Beginner's Love (1982) and Breaking Up (1980), open sexuality is presented with an honest male perspective and in this way are "male romances". Scenes of sexuality are more awkward and humorous in an honest way than they are titillating or sexy. Throughout the 1980's her books often offered a male point of view.

Her novels were also unusual because they often involved parents as characters in the plot which is somewhat unusual for realistic young adult fiction from this period. It works though, because the adults in Klein's novels are often divorced and have personal/dating lives of their own. Most of Klein's books straddle the line between YA and Adult fiction. They are unusual romance novels because her characters are always more experienced (if not in sex, than in life) than you might have imagined. But perhaps their bluntness would ring true-to-life for many native New Yorkers. Still, several of her books about teens were not marketed towards a teen audience because of the "mature" subject matter. One example would be That's My Baby (1988) about a teenage boy's love affair with a married woman. The character in this book is an aspiring playwright who writes a play called Just Friends. The plot of this story within the story is similar to Klein's last YA novel Just Friends (published posthumously in 1990). One reviewer referred to Just Friends as a teenage version of the Billy Crystal movie When Harry Met Sally.

The amount of books Klein had published in such a short period of time is staggering, considering she was not a series author. She published between two and three books a year between 1972 and 1990 (shed died in 1989 at age 50). Her first book, and one of her most popular titles for younger readers, was Mom, the Wolfman and Me (1972). It's an account of an eleven-year-old girl describing her single mother and her dating life. The book was adapted into a 1980 tv movie which featured Patty Duke as the mother. Other adaptations included Young Love, First Love (1979), a made-for-tv movie starring a teenage Valerie Bertinelli. Klein also did several novelizations of screenplays including the popular Sunshine.

I must admit that Klein's books never had a strong appeal to me as a teenager; her teens always seemed too sophisticated for me at the time. Now that I am older and love films such as Noah Baumbach's The Squid In The Whale, I see Klein's work fitting into that cannon of witty honest fiction created by native New Yorkers. There is even a hint of Woody Allen in her work which might come from the fact that her father was a psychoanalyst and she grew up in a liberal New York Jewish household.
I've been discovering most of her books for the first time and enjoying the ones I can find. But it's become a bit of a challenge. While she wrote over 45 books, few can be found in the stacks of public libraries today. Which makes me wonder about out of print books. Is quality no longer a consideration when discarding books? Or are libraries simply becoming a place to read for free the same books that are available at Border's (soon to be defunct) and Barnes and Noble? Why are novels not revered and resurrected in the same way that old films are brought back to life via DVD?

As books move more to an electronic platform, it's important to reevaluate the rewards of print and to discover authors from the past whose work, while still relevant, will lack the chance for an audience in a digital age. While I have discovered some books through blogs such as my own, the library will always hold a special place in my heart as a place for discovery. It seems that the trend for YA fiction is to keep it current. Anything with a cover that does not look "modern" is assumed to be no longer of interest to teens and librarians get rid of it. I suppose this is understandable, if it's not circulating. But I think the main thing here is not the content of the book itself, but the way it "looks" within the library. IE: old and outdated (usually by the cover art).

It seems that there are very few (if any) publishers reprinting classic YA fiction (with the works of SE Hinton and Lois Duncan being a couple of exceptions). Maybe if someone did, the books would be both more attractive and henceforth valued by a new generation of readers. Both Children's and Adult books have their classics. The time has come for teen fiction to be respected in the same manner.

Current favorites include: Ange Face by Norma Klein.
And I just read her book Older Men, an interesting psychological portrait.