Sunday, May 29, 2011

Long Ago When I Was Young by E. Nesbit

Memoirs written by children's authors about their childhoods are much better than memoirs written by anyone else. They're more interesting, for one thing. For another, they're not usually depressing (unless they're written for an adult audience, in which case they're extra depressing).

E. Nesbit (Edith, but she was always called Daisy as a child) is one of my favorite authors anyway. I fell in love with her stories when my grandmother gave me a copy of Five Children and It. I had no idea that she'd written her memoirs until I found a copy at a library sale.

It's a short book but charming. Poor little Daisy was kind of a neurotic child, but it makes for very funny (and sometimes scary) reading to hear about what frightened her and why. She had an unsettled life, punctuated with awful boarding schools and sun-drenched months of perfection with her family at various homes in England and France.

She never bothers to explain "I had X number of brothers and sisters and these were their ages"; in fact, she doesn't include mundane details like that at all. The narrative wanders from event to event--exactly the way memory works, connecting one detail with another without necessarily staying in chronological order. The looseness of the narrative is both a positive and a negative. It made it a rambling, story-like read, but I'd have liked a little bit more about events outside the immediate scope of Daisy's life.

Since she was a child in the mid-19th century, it would have been particularly interesting to know more of the historical context of her life. Then again, the happiest parts of her childhood were spent in the countryside, where she and her brothers played pirates and explorers the same way my brother and I played when we were little. Maybe that's all the book needs.

B&N link (used book)


bookspersonally said...

Lovely review - was drawn in by your opening sentence. I don't believe I've actually read anything by her, but glad to know more about her now. Memoirs can be so interesting.

K.C. Shaw said...

Thanks! I highly recommend E. Nesbit's books, especially Five Children and It, The Treasure Seekers, and The Railway Children.