Books I Can’t Forget

When I was a child, I read voraciously–the backs of cereal boxes, Reader’s Digest in the bathroom, any book my parents left on a table, and books from the library that caught my eye.
Here are a few I can’t believe I read as a child, but I did, and I still remember them vividly.

Charles Colson’s Born Again. Published in 1976. I was 11. I had no idea what “Watergate” even meant, but I plowed through this book, developing an interest in the lives of prisoners even then. (Colson went on to start a ministry to prisoners called Prison Fellowship.)

Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi. Published in 1969, when I was four, but obviously, I read it later. But while still young. I could never forget the women that committed the grisly crimes, nor could I begin to understand. I also read Susan Atkin’s book, Child of Satan, Child of God, (published in 1977 when I was 12) and continue my interest in her story. (Every once in awhile, she’s in the news because she comes up for parole. Frankly, I think she should be paroled.)
Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier (published in 1948) still has a place on my bookshelf, though I’ve only read it twice. The first time, as a mere girl I was sucked into the other world of that book and drowned in the emotion.

The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, John Sherrill and Elizabeth Sherrill (published in 1963) barged right into my suburban childhood, scaring me to death. From the back cover:

The tortured face of a young killer, one of seven boys on trial for a brutal murder, started country preacher David Wilkerson on his lonely crusade to the most dangerous streets in the world. Violent gangs ruled by warlords, drug pushers and pimps held the streets of New York’s ghettoes in an iron grip. It was into this world that David Wilkerson stepped, armed only with the simple message of God’s love and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s power. Then the miracles began to happen. The Cross and the Switchblade is one of the most inspiring and challenging true stories of all time. It has sold millions of copies throughout the world and has been made into a feature film.

(And the film starred Erik Estrada, before he was a famous motorcycle police officer.)

Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place (co-written, or maybe ghost-written by John Sherrill and Elizabeth Sherrill), published in 1971 (when I was 6), was my first introduction to the Holocaust. Corrie’s true story tells about her family’s suffering at the hands of the Nazis, first while in hiding and resisting, and then in concentration camps. I have never, ever forgotten details about this story, even though I only read it once when I was a child.

Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt (published 1965, the year I was born) is one of the first romance novels I ever read. I remember it for its impression on me (loved it intensely), but can’t remember a thing about the story. Nevertheless, when I found a used copy, I bought it for my bookshelf, though I’ve never read it again. (And I rarely read romance novels these days.)
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, published in 1977, when I was twelve . . . look! I read an actual children’s book when I was a child. I loved this book and still think about collecting coins from fountains, inspired by this book. (I never read it again, but I ought to.)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder) (and the subsequent books by each author) made me long for a childhood in a sod house or in a house lit entirely by lanterns and candles. I also thought I’d be more like the mother in each of those books than the mother I actually turned out to be.

Some childhood books I never read, but intend to read:

All the Anne of Green Gable books. I even have them on my shelf.

Books I never plan to read:

All the Nancy Drew books.

And this concludes my jaunt down library lane. What wildly inappropriate book did you read as a child? (Or were my parents the only ones who paid no attention to what I read?)

[Oh, and I am one of those people who always reads magazines cover to cover, front to back.  Although, I’m busier now and skip some things, but I always flip through in order, no skipping around.  Then, when I’m finished, I fold over the front corner of the magazine to remind myself I finished reading it.  I have a lot of these Rules for Living, but no one else abides by them!]

30 thoughts on “Books I Can’t Forget

  1. I also read like you (even Reader’s Digest cover to cover- yes!) at a young age. I should go back and read some of those things again because I bet they’d make so much more sense. I read the VC Andrews Flowers In The Attic series when I was just 12 (My grandmother had all the books) Oh, and Iris Rainer Dart’s Beaches. Yikes.



  2. My daddy always told my mama to let me read whatever I wanted. His theory was that if I was too young to read it, I would lose interest and give it up. I read Pride & Prejudice for the first time before I was 12. I didn’t understand all of it, but I loved it.


  3. I use to LOVE Anne of Green Gables. I read ALL the books and my Mom got me all the movies. I still love to go back and watch/read the series. My brother use to read constantly so before I knew how to read I’d sit next to him on the couch and pick a book from the bookcase and flip the page everytime he did to pretend I could read too.


  4. I think Ive read every book L.M. Montgomery has written! I loved her books as a kid.

    But I too read a bunch of things that were not conducive to nights without nightmares, such as; Tortured For His Faith, The Cross and the Switchblade, Gods Smuggler, Dust of The Earth, One Boys Battle, Anne Rules book on Diane Downs and the murder of her kids, etc.

    By the way, I read my magazines from cover to cover to but Im one of those who reads from the back cover tot he front. No matter how I try to read it right I always go back to the back. It doesnt feel right any other way.


  5. I loved the Hiding Place. I picked up a copy at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC about ten years ago and read it on a flight back to Portland. It started me on a Holocaust reading jag for a while.

    I also loved From the Mixed Up Files and all of the Little House books. I even have the Little House cook book, and while I’ve never made a thing from it, I reread it about once a year, like it was a novel.


  6. I loved reading the “Reader’s Digest” while doing my business!
    My parents closely monitored everything I read. At sleepovers as a jr. higher I would wake up early and burn through one of my friend’s trashy horror high school paperbacks or some “Babysitter’s Club”.
    I also read a lot of Ray Bradbury.


  7. Little Women is my all time favorite book.

    Most outrageous reads at a young age would probably be the VC Andrews books, at around 12, and a book about Linda Lovelace, her true story, she was a porn star….. My parents had no idea. lol.


  8. I read Leon Uris’ “Mila 18” when I was 12. It is still one of my favorite books ever, and I read it every few years. Now I read whatever I can find on the Warsaw Ghetto.

    Having older sisters, I tended to pick up whatever they were reading. I was reading Freud in jr. high thanks to them.

    I spent a lot of time in the ‘Abnormal Psychology’ section at the library. I would hate to be profiled based on my library reading habits.

    Oh. And I remember reading “Sybil” in jr. high too.

    Good grief. I must have missed my calling!


  9. We grew up with Reader’s Digest in the bathroom magazine rack. I can’t imagine reading it anywhere else.

    I read Victoria Holt at a young age — the people I babysat for had the first one “On the Night of the Seventh Moon.” I loved it and read all the rest of them.

    I was too much of a scaredy cat to read most all of the other books you mentioned. I loved “Rebecca” and not very long ago read a sequel to the story “Rebecca’s Story.” It was so well done, I went back and read the original again, too.


  10. It was fun reading through your list of favorite books you read as a child. I also loved “The Hiding Place” and “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”.

    I too read some strange books for my age because I would sneak my sisters books when she was done with them and she was seven years older than me. They included the V.C. Andrews series books, some horror and mystery books, and “The Clan of the Cavebear”, which I loved. Another book that I first read when I was about 12 (that I have read several times since) that is still one of my favorites is “Follow the River” by James Alexander Thom which is based on a true story.

    I highly recommend you read your Anne of Green Gables books!!! I had them on my bookshelf for at least ten years and I finally read them two years ago and they were immediate favorites. They are so uplifting and positive.


  11. I was exactly the same as a child, a voracious reader. I also read The Cross and the Switchblade and all of the testimony books that went with them. Not recommended reading for a 10 year old but I read them and the Hiding place. Also Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables obsessively. My favorite though was The Little Princess by Francis Hodgkins Burnett I think.


  12. Wow, you have some serious readers around here. . . how fun! I just picked up “From the mixed up files” on CD yesterday at the library to listen to in the car.

    Also, in addition to the Anne of Green Gables books (which are amazing), L.M. Montgomery’s “Emily” books are ealso fantastic.


  13. I remember loving the Mixed Up Files. I also recently reread Island of the Blue Dolphins because I remember loving it as a child. I was going to wait until my kids got older and read it with them but then I decided Why Wait?! and checked it out for myself! It was still good.

    I was a Little Women/Little House lover and constant reader though I stuck to kids books. I remember when my mom let me read the Wagons West series in high school. She was teasing me about whether or not I was old enough to handle the sex scenes. I still love that series and am working on getting my own collection (I only read the first 8 books initially).

    Generally I find myself still attracted to kids/young adult books.

    Ahhh… books! I could go on forever!


  14. My older sister and I read Helter Skelter while we were camping in San Luis Obispo. She was 18 and checking out the campus of Cal Poly and asked me to join her. I was 14. We read the pages of this horrendous story by camp firelight and then had THE worst nightmares in our tent. They still haunt me today-30 years later.


  15. I didn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books or the Charles Colson one, but I read all the rest you mentioned when I was younger, too. The very first paperback I ever bought with babysitting money when I was 13 was another grisly murder book, “The Monster of the Moors”. It scared the living daylights out of me…it was true…but it also gave me a lifelong fascination with the mind of the killer/serial killer. I’ve been a huge reader of Ann Rule and Jack Olson books ever since.


  16. I couldn’t believe The Mixed up Files… made your list – I read it when I was a kid, and ran across it a couple of years ago, so I re-read it. Such a great story. I also read Corrie ten Boom’s book when I was a child – 10, I think, not quite so precocious as you. So many books, so little time.


  17. Let’s see, my parents never had a clue what I was reading, they were just excited I was reading! Between the ages of 7-9 I read:

    Rosemary’s Baby
    Not Without My Daughter (reader’s digest condensed version)
    A true crime book, can’t remember the name, but was definitely not okay reading for an 8 year old!

    Numerous, numerous highly inappropriate romance novels followed for the ages of 10-12

    Little Women was a favorite as was Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. I think I was 12-14 when I read those.

    I always read Reader’s digest, from the moment I started reading.I would actually read it cover to cover! I basically read whatever I could get my hands on.:)


  18. Anne of Green Gables! That was the first series of books that I missed reading when I was finished (the next was the Sherlock Holmes books). My grandmother loved them too, and after she passed away I got her set of books.


  19. I’ll join the ranks of early readers with parents who didn’t look closely at certain books!

    I read Gone with the Wind when I was 10, as well as a book called Forever Amber which was about some poor girl in England in the 1700’s who became the King’s mistress (!). I was an innocent 10 year old in 1969 and most of it puzzled me.

    The Diary of Anne Frank was a revelation to me and that started an interest in biographies.

    The Little House series remain my favorite.


  20. My parents read detective novels. One “snow” day when I was in 3rd grade I picked up a Mickey Spillane book. Mother was busy in the kitchen. I found several words that I didn’t know. I called, “Mother, was does b-a-s-t-a-r-d spell?” She rushed in asking me where I had heard that word. I showed her what I was reading. She explained that perhaps I shouldn’t be reading that book because there were “bad” words in it. I said, “It’s okay. I just skip those words.” I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t know the “bad” words. I never heard either of my parent even mutter an obscenity.


  21. Take time to read the “Anne of Green Gable” books..they are truly great and the movies that go along with them are great. I loved them as a child and still do.

    I remember learning to read from a Silhouette and Harlequin book. We had a lady that lived next door to us that was in her 70’s and when I was about 4 years old she decided it was time for me to learn to read…and those were my first books. Of course she censored the “dirty” sections.

    Today as an adult I find it tremendously funny remembering back to the days we would go to the public library and they would already have a sack of novels ready for her. I would read them to her when she was just too tired. I love that I spent that kind of time with her. We also read all the North and South books.

    Also please check out this website
    She is a very young mother that is a friend of a friend of mine and is about to deliver Quadruplets. She is now bed bound at the hospital and needs lots of encouragement.


  22. I loved that “Mixed up Files” I could not remember the title. I read some of my mother’s Stephen King books before I was really old enough not to be scaired silly. I’m not sure I am old enough now.


  23. I remember as a teen reading “Valley of the Dolls” before my mom saw, and it suddenly disappeared. I also was (and still am) a voracious reader. We would go to the library every Sunday, and I would check out five new books (that was the max). I was big into biographies.


  24. I remember reading the James Herriott series (British vet and his touching encounters) when I was around 14. Also around that time were the books that corresponded to whatever was on Masterpiece Theatre (Upstairs, Downstairs, etc.). Like you, I read ANYTHING I could get my hands on. I’m still like that. If I were ever on a deserted island or somehow, though a casting mix-up, ended up on Survivor, I would miss reading the most.


  25. I read Helter Skelter at a young age too, about 10 or 12 I think. I also read In Cold Blood, that one scared me worse, actually. I read Corrie ten Boom’s Hiding Place, and I think another one by her, but I can’t remember the name. I read Valley of the Dolls, and Once is Not Enough. My parents would have croaked if they had known that. In school I loved to read the old Boxcar Children series. Not the same as the new series… They were much, much better. I also read Nancy Drew – all of them. I loved the Bobbsey Twins too, the old stuff. By junior high I was reading Leon Uris, Trinity is my favorite and I also read – pardon my spelling Scholzynetsin (?). Gulag Archapelago was the one I did a term paper on in high school. I loved things like Catcher in the Rye and anything by Taylor Caldwell. I read her books in grade school and junior high. It was funny because I’d borrow them from my grandmother, who always underlines the words she looked up – and I usually knew what they meant. hee hee. I could knock out a really long book in a week, and Nancy Drew or the east stuff in a day. Since I had a head injury about 10 years ago though, I don’t like to read as much for some reason, so although I do read, I don’t read as much. Or as fast either… I’ve paid more in overdue fines at the library than I have rent, I think!


  26. What a great post.
    Nobody cared what I read and since I had taught myself to read well before kindergarten I pretty much read anything I could get my hands on, and still do!!! About the only thing I don’t read much of is Romance and SciFi (tho I have read some good stuff). I usually have a couple books at a time going on as well as a magazine or 2 and the paper and the internet. Write it, I’ll read it!



  27. In fourth grade we were taught the importance of reading newspaper, especially the “front” section. I got hooked into the events of the Watergate scandal and read “All the President’s Men” and most of the biographies of those who were involved. By seventh grade, I lost interest and moved on…. to “Helter Skelter” (!), “Alive” (about the South American soccer team who crash landed in the Andes and turned to cannibalism to survive), and any biography I could get my hands on. Then there was “Tiger Beat” , “16” magazine and the monthly updates on David Cassidy, Tony DeFranco and ****Donny****! I spent my most impressionable years substituting the Classics for teen heartthrobs. I should feel bad about this, but I don’t.

    Why read fiction when there is so much drama in real life with real people?

    I did read the “Little House” books several times each. What is it about those stories that captured us so much?? I’ve thought about this several times and still don’t have an answer.

    Finally, the best book of my entire childhood: “Charlotte’s Web.” I still haven’t seen the movie–don’t think I can bear the heartbreak of going through that ending yet again. I’ve cried all the tears I can afford for a fictional spider.

    Great post friend!


  28. Oh,I read Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough (I think) even after my dad told me it was too mature for me (I was 12). Also parts of The Act of Marriage, a Christian sex book that I found on my parent’s shelf. Ha Ha! Thank goodness it was from a Christian perspective.

    A friend gave me To Kill a Mockingbird on my 13th birthday and it remains one of my favorite books.

    Thanks for going down library lane with us.

    I don’t often comment here but I read (or lurk) everyday. You often voice my thoughts exactly. My three boys are 14, 12 1/2, 8 and my daughter is 5. I promise you we have experienced some of the exact same situations and conversations in our household as you have in yours. Hearing you describe it makes me feel more sane somehow. Just knowing someone else is living through the same thing….loving and cherishing her kids yet still yearning for peace and quiet and a lego-free room really helps.



  29. I read Jane Eyre in 5th grade and loved it… I don’t believe I knew it was a “classic”–just a romance. I read it again in a college English class, where the professor analyzed it from a feminist perspective. Ruined the book for me.

    My parents also never censored what I read, although now I realize that I received pretty much all the classic children’s books for Christmas and birthday gifts, including all the Little House books, about eight Louisa May Alcott books, The Secret Garden, Chronicles of Narnia, Madeline L’Engle, etc. I mentioned that to my mom one time and she shrugged, “Well, you read so much that I figured I might as well buy you the good ones.”

    No one mentioned sci-fi and fantasy…Anne McCaffrey and her dragons, anyone? I believe I read them as a fairly young ‘un, so I didn’t get the (relatively few) racy parts.
    And high school was spent with Harlequin…one after another.

    It is embarrassing to admit, but I remember some of the books I read as a child more clearly than I remember actual events of my childhood. Perhaps because when the events were happening, I was either reading or trying to figure out how to get back to reading.


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