Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Are You an Amy or a Jo?


There’s this moment in Season 2 of GIRLS where Ray wants his copy of Little Women back from Hannah, who has left it at Adam’s apartment. Ray needs it because his godmother, who gave the book to him, has written notes about his ‘s- - t’ in the back. A discussion ensues about which Little Women character each GIRLS character is most like. “Are you an Amy? Or a Jo?” Ray thinks he’s a Marmee. Hannah snipes that most likely Ray is the absentee March father, who spends the book fighting the Civil War.

All of which is a long way of saying that Little Women had a huge affect on me growing up. So many books did really: I debated writing this post about The Witch Family or Half Magic or Wrinkle in Time, which is often my go-to book for posts like these. Or how I adored Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead when I was 16 even though I now despise it. How I snuck John Updike’s Couples from my mother’s bookshelf when I was 11, which is possibly far too young to be reading about infidelity and ennui in the suburbs. How I loved so many of the quiet, gentle books that populated my elementary school library: The Noonday Friends; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn… and of course Harriet the Spy and the Nancy Drews and a bunch of other Nancy Drew-esque books I found once at a library book sale: Dana Girls and Trixie Belden and other plucky mystery solving girls from past decades in books so old and yellowed that pages often crumbled as I read.

But Little Women. God, I loved that book. Do you know that when Beth died, I stopped reading? I actually didn’t finish the thing until about a year later, this is how devastated I was at 8. There is just something about the book—about Amy and Jo and Meg and Beth and of course Marmee, who seemed the perfect mother in ways that no mother could ever be. And the Hummel family tragedy. And a boy named Laurie. Who doesn’t want a damaged rich boy with a girlie name living next door? Who doesn’t want his grandfather to send over a piano?

Like so many girls who grew up to be writers, it was Jo I related to most, of course. Her ambitions. Her need to write. Her strength and intensity and the way she dealt with not really fitting in. Of course, a piece of me—if I am honest—always wanted to be Amy. I am NOT an Amy. But to be the girl that people simply do things for? There is an appeal. A huge appeal. I adored Beth. But I was never that selfless. I would never be a Meg because I am not a rule-follower. Do you remember the whole thing with the gloves at the party? Possibly, I will end up as Laurie’s curmudgeonly grandfather.

A few years ago, while in Boston, I drove to Lexington and Concord (and also Walden Pond, a story of its own), and toured Orchard House, which is where the Alcott family lived. Do you know that Louisa May Alcott was allowed to draw and write on the walls? Imagine!



14 comments:

  1. Great post, Joy! You've inspired me to re-read Little Women. I LOVED it too. I remember being sad for days when Beth died. It was the first time a book had affected me so deeply. I'm also going to visit Orchard House the next time I'm in Boston.

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    1. You really do need to visit: It's every bookish girl's dream. :)

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  2. Now I need to go find my copy of Littke Women. My grandma read me a simplified version when I was younger, but I know I have the real thing somewhere in the depths of my bedroom. Must read. And I can completely relate to your devastation: I lost all will to read Mockingjay after Peeta was...gone. But I had to find out whether he recovered.

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    1. Or not. Since I am on Team Gale…. :) ha!

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  3. I once blogged about the Jo-Prof Bhaer romance, and it is one of my most-read posts ever ... it still gets hits long afterward. I think Little Women influenced a lot of us ...

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    1. Just read your post! Very thoughtful. And yes, contemporary audiences want PASSION. But Jo and the Prof had a different type of love. Although I can't say he's my favorite match for her either… Reminiscent of O Pioneers where Cather seems to be saying that passion can burn too hard...

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  4. I loved A Wrinkle in Time and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; I still have my copies of both books. I liked Little Women, though I always thought Jo should have married Laurie. I know she said she wasn't in love with him, but they were such good friends and they seemed more compatible than Laurie and Amy.

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    1. Amy is malleable. And I think that suits Laurie quite well.

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  5. This post was another great reminder of a book I loved as a younger person! I haven't reread Little Women in a while. Jenn--can you give the link for the Jo/Prof post? I always had issues with that pairing and would love to read your take on it! And Joy--Updike at 11??? Really??

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    1. Yes, Ellen. Updike at 11. I know. I know.

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  6. Fun post, and I think we shared a childhood. :) Except that I was a huge Trixie Belden fan rather than just reading a few spares from a yard sale. Rereading Little Women now after decades...and decades ago, I must've read it five times. I too visited Orchard House as a child. I thought Jo was a great role model for a writer--except how she shuts it down when Prof Bhaer disapproves (grrr). Have you ever read The Diamond in the Window? A wonderful middle grade book in which there's a little time travel to Concord of the transcendalists' era. Finally, I"m the youngest of four daughters, so I'm the selfish artist. :)

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    1. Must find Diamond in the Window now! You had me at 'time travel to Concord'

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