Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Shelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnick

Talk about a walk down memory lane! Lizzie Skurnick is about my age and she is a long time bookworm. So of course our childhood reading was going to overlap to a large extent. Skurnick has written about the some of the most important books both in terms of forming who she is and in terms of her reading education. These are certainly not the books we read in school as a class. Come to think of it, I can't remember the titles of any of those. But I do vividly remember reading many of the books spotlighted in this collection of essays.

Skurnick's collection is separated into thematic sections: heroines we wanted to be, danger girls, historical fiction, after school special novels, the supernatural, girls on the verge, tear-jerkers, living in the wild, romances, and books we probably shouldn't have been reading. And any girl reader worth her salt who grew up in the 70's and 80's would have dipped into many of the listed books. Now, unlike the implication of the sub-title (The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading), these books are not really teen classics. They're more of the middle grade, tweenie variety, but they are no less fileld with nostalgia for that fact.

In each of her essays, Skurnick provides a general plot summary and often the effect that reading that particular book had on her as a person. The essays are mostly just pure fun and enjoyable for revisiting a book that loomed large in so many young girls' lives. There is some analysis of the themes within the books and what made them so appealing to their target demographic but not enough to really call the essays a critical look at the books. They are more pleasing reminiscences than anything so someone going into the book looking for a more in depth scholarly examination will be disappointed. But reading the book in the charming, skimming the surface spirit in which it was meant provides a happy reading experience. And because the essays are short, this is a book you can dip into slowly over long periods of time without ever missing anything or losing the thread of a narrative.

Reading about some of the books I didn't read as I was growing up, I am inspired to pick some of them up and go through them now. Just see if they still have magic or if they were definitely of a certain time and place. While Skurnick read a lot deeper in certain novelists' canons than I did (she clearly adored Madeleine L'Engle while I loathed A Wrinkle in Time and never read any further), as girls of around the same age with bookish interests, we might very very have been library partners. And I would have happily introduced her to some of the books I read during those formative years that she clearly missed in her reading life.


  1. Nice review. I thought this sounded interesting. I don't know if I'd know the books all the well or not, but maybe!


  2. This was one of the most fun books I've read this year, for some of the reasons you mentioned. I also picked on the fact that many of the books were more middle-grade than "teen" fiction, but it didn't lessen my enjoyment.

    And I was pleased that Lizzie Skurnick loves Madeleine L'Engle as much as I do :-).

    Great review!

  3. I keep this book out on my desk and treat myself to a little bit every few days. I love it!

  4. This sounds like such a fun book! I was a hard core readers as a kid, and I'd probably enjoy it.

  5. I've been resisting this one since I read a similar one and felt pretty EH about it, but maybe I'll see if the library has this one.


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