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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Book Tour #15: Harriet the Spy

Oh for the love of sweet Jesus, it was good to sit with Harriet again for a while. Returning to this book was like Harriet receiving the letter from Ole Golly--the right words at the right time. I didn't realize how much I missed her until we were sitting on the sofa together, going through her spy route, and I remembered how much I loved Harriet as a child. It's funny because as a child, I definitely related to Harriet and as an adult, I felt more aligned with the author, Louise Fitzhugh. Though, at the end of the day, they are most likely one and the same.

There is a terrible ache that comes from knowing an author is gone and with her goes her creation. I wonder how Harriet would have grown with technology--if she would have been a blogger later in life. I wonder where Fitzhugh would have gone with her writing. She has always been someone--for me--as interesting as Harriet. Familiar and unique at the same time.

This book always makes me want to cry a bit.

Ole Golly tells Harriet, "Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth." Are we always truthful with ourselves? Should we be? Is it ok to sometimes lie to others and why shouldn't we lie to ourselves? These two sentences have a tremendous impact on Harriet. How do you feel about them as an adult? If you can remember, how would you have felt hearing them as a child Harriet's age?

It's hard to be truthful with yourself because I think truth changes as emotions are dissected and new information is gained. The truth literally can change from moment to moment, therefore, it's hard to pinpoint the lies we tell ourselves. I am speaking more about the important truths vs. the truths and lies that don't really matter overall.

At the same time, having people be truthful with me is of utmost importance. Lies are just something I don't do--I have no patience with lies.

But this is where I separate the lies into two categories--the ones that affect me and the ones that don't. Someone can lie to me--tell me that they think I'm a great writer when they actually think I'm dreck just to save my feelings--and when I weigh it out, it doesn't really matter what they tell me. I'm not going to change my world based on their words. There are bloggers who go under a fake name who then tell me their real name and it doesn't affect my level of trust. In the end, knowing the "correct" name is meaningless.

But the lies that then lead to decisions--if, for instance, the ChickieNob one day lied about her whereabouts and I made future decisions based on the fact that I thought she was responsible--those are the ones that make me lose all trust for the person. So, yes, I think we always need to be true when our words may lead to someone making choices based on what they believe to be true.

After her visit to Dr. Wagner, Harriet's mother takes away her new notebook immediately, and Harriet is described as feeling empty on the ride back home. Many people, especially bloggers, seem to use writing as an outlet. What would you do if someone took this outlet away from you during a time of difficulty? How would you cope if you had no notebook?

A very dear friend of mine wrote me recently and said that she was going to cut back on blogging. It wasn't what she necessarily wanted to do, but what she thought she should do for a number of reasons. And I have to admit that my first thought upon reading it was, "but she is taking away her outlet at a time when she needs it the most."

It is interesting how this thing I never knew I needed has now become indispensable. It's not that I need to read and write every day, but I need to know that the space exists. I literally think of my blog as this physical space, this squashy, cushiony, 70s basement-like space with beanbag chairs on the figurative floor. It is a hang-out, a place I can mentally jump to when I am embroiled in a conversation I do not want to be having. It is uncomplicated. It is within my control. If I want the sidebar to be blue, I keep it blue. If I want it green, with one click it is suddenly green. It is like Harriet's bedroom--organized just the way I like it.

There are times when I need to step away from the space for a bit, but it is always my choice; my need. I'm not sure how I would feel if it was someone else's choice--if Josh, for instance, asked me to stop writing. I think I would feel a true anguish--like an astronaut untethered and floating through space whispering the words, "what have I done?" Dramatic, of course, but that is how grounded I feel by this community.

When you read it, do you read it as an adult reading a child's book or do you forget that you're grown-up and think of it in the part of your mind that is still 12?

It's a strange place where I have the emotions of a 12-year-old and the rationality of an adult. I was literally transported back to how I felt as a child--and how I felt reading the book the first time. But at the same time, I was also dealing with nostalgia--remembering where I was the first time I read the lines. Therefore, I was fully cognizant of the fact that I was reading it at a different age, and still felt the same level of sadness over navigating those childhood friendships. I would not want to be a kid again.

Jump along to other blogs discussing Harriet the Spy by scrolling up to the post above this one. Join along for our next book: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.


Cassandra said...

Of course I also related to Harriet when I was a child, but looking back now it seems strange because I don't know that I would have been her friend if she'd been a real person. Scout, though, I'd be his friend any day.

It seems like the beanbag chairs might be ill-advised for the Lushary -- I'm certainly not capable of keeping a martini glass steady while sinking into a beanbag. Or is there also a bar in your basement? Faux-wood paneling perhaps?

Delenn said...

I love your thoughts on this book. I wish that I had read this book as a child. I too thought that the author was a very interesting person.

Deb said...

I don't remember reading this book as a kid. I think it would have been traumatic for me at times because while I didn't keep a notebook, for some reason I was the girl on the playground that everyone decided to disown for no reason. Though, I wish I would have read it because it is interesting to see just how connected you are to this book.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Kristin said...

I agree with your view of lies fitting into two categories...ones that affect me and ones that don't.

I also think lies can be divided one other fundamental way...lies that are told for altruistic reasons (like avoiding hurt feelings) and lies that are motivated be greed or spite.

I may not agree with altruistic lies but I can accept them being told and I can deal with lies that don't affect me. Lies that hurt someone and break a trust thereby endangering someone are just not acceptable.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your love for this book.

loribeth said...

I would not want to be a kid again either. But sometimes I feel a little sad/nostalgic. I thought I was so put upon & couldn't wait to grow up -- but I really had so much freedom, in ways that you don't have when you're an adult.

Thanks for sharing this book with us. It was a fun read!

Annie said...

I feel the same way about my blog. I guess if someone took it away, or my husband asked me to stop for a serious reason, I would probably retreat back into my notebooks of old. I used to journal a lot by hand...but there is something about having it out there for others to read and to hear their responses. It is hard to imagine how I could've made it through the last few years without it, especially when I think about my losses.

Queenie. . . said...

It IS so good to have a space to go to.

I feel just as you do about lies. I had a traumatic and lengthy experience with someone who was not good at telling the truth when the person thought the truth would be hurtful, and consequently there was very little truth-telling. I now rarely tell even little white lies, and I have NO patience for liars. Except, I anonyblog, but I figure that no one could possibly think "Queenie" was my real name, so no one could feel like they're being misled. Because, to have my space and say what I need to say, I couldn't do it if I wasn't anonymous. . .sort of like Harriet needed her notebook to be private.