Greener Pastures, or: The Dissertation I'd Rather Be Writing

I've been working on my dissertation all day and grading all night. At times like this, I think about other projects that have been on my mind for years and sometimes wish I were doing a different dissertation. From what I gather in conversations with graduate students and professors, it's a fairly common feeling. I don't really want to change topics; I'm still very interested in mine, but I experience moments of staring across the fence wistfully. Specifically: Those who have read this blog a while might know that I'm fascinated with 70s and 80s young adult fiction for girls: the middle-class, white femininity that is pretty shamelessly inculcated, from the images, to the behavior of the characters, to the grossly stereotypical representations of good girl/bad girl. Yet many women my age loved and continue to feel nostalgic for these books. Lots of cover art from a recent used bookstore trip follows under the fold [edited to put one image in the body of the post to get people to look at the others :-)]:

Forever, which was soft porn for sixth-grade slumber parties:

Danielle, another Sunfire romance (see earlier post about Emily):

Dear Mr. Henshaw, a lovely, illustrated epistolary novel about a young writer:

Girls, protect your maidenheads!

If you think this image is creepy, you should see the text:

Can you believe I found Sweet Valley High number one?

Maybe someday I'll write this book. I hope someone else does if I don't.

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Danielle.jpg93.98 KB
DearMrHenshaw.jpg58.01 KB
IfYouLovedMe.jpg50.73 KB
LuvlyLuvable.jpg68.74 KB
DoubleLove.jpg60.08 KB


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I didn't read all the books (

I didn't read all the books (perhaps I'm a bit too young?) but -- yes, I also feel nostalgic for the books I read as a child or early teenager (Agatha Christie comes to mind: I have tried to reread her and, no). I'm not entirely sure what it is I had then in reading that I no longer have.

On the other hand, girls of around 10-12 now are, generally, entirely uninterested in these books. Some of the good ones they still like -- my cousin's class *all* read 'Are you there God? It's me, Margaret', it was passed about fairly secretively -- but in general, these books seem to have been replaced by the traveling pants books and the Gossip Girls books. I wonder if they too will be as transient; I also wonder how much of the good girl/bad girl image they keep (they are consciously not just white middle-class girls).

The "problem book" genre is also exploding, and there seems to be more easily available children's fantasy (and no doubt other genres I don't follow) -- maybe this, too, makes a difference?


Oh yes, the regulation pretee

Oh yes, the regulation preteen softporn...

I remember those books. Judy

I remember those books. Judy Bloom was a big favorite among my friends. It was especially dangerous because I was in Catholic school at the time. I would think that you would probably be to young for some of those.

Well, you know how I feel abo

Well, you know how I feel about those books :). I suspect you missed out on my favorite ridiculous teen drama books, but check out these Lurlene McDaniel books. I used to sob and sob and sob over them. Hilarity!

Journey to Ithaca

I remember reading

Well, none of those books. I am enough older that I missed the Judy Blume phase, though my younger sister read her books. I don't remember anything written for preteens in the late 60's, though I did read some of the earlier, sappier stuff from the fifties and early sixties--which would probably make me ill today- stories about girls getting pinned and wearing nice clothes that matched with their lipstick.
I wonder if anyone has every done a longitudinal (cross-generational) study of the books that we read as young girls--it would be interesting to see if any of the classics span the time, or if we are all lulled by publishing trends.

What boys should have read

I think I would have been far more well-adjusted as a teenage boy had I read some Judy Blume books, rather than skipping directly from the Hardy Boys to stealing back issues of dad's Playboys. In the male peer group I grew up with (and I figure this was probably pretty common), literacy was feminized and therefore vilified -- and I wonder if that's what part of what contributes to the considerable taste for escapist sci-fi and fantasy literature among teenage boys. I was shocked when, at 15, I finally read Bridge to Terabithia and wound up crying: I didn't know books could do that.


Could I side with the pirates?

I was certainly one of those "escapist sci-fi and fantasy" lads myself, but for me and mine it was less, I think, a matter of literacy being feminized or vilified than it was looking for something more than we were getting from school. Growing up a D&D geek left me with an abiding interest in world-building, storytelling, and character development--and it wasn't until my college lit major that I realized you could find this stuff everywhere, even in )gasp( classic literature.

I remember reading a little Hardy Boys and some Encyclopedia Brown when I was pretty young, but never the teen drama stuff...


Oh, and the dissertation?

The further along you get, C, the smaller and smaller the space inside the fence will seem to you, and the greener the grass will seem elsewhere. That means that you're doing it right.

The trick, if there is one, is to try and never lose sight of the fact that all these things about your project that you take for granted? There are tons of people for whom it's news. Those people look across their fences at what you're doing...

Working nonstop

I've been working on it a lot the last few days too -- well, ever since my prospectus defense. I got my department's nomination (one of them: they nominated two of us) for a university-wide dissertation fellowship, so I've been working like mad to do a proposal that says everything about my dissertation (revised to reflect changes since my prospectus defense) in three pages, and is sexy to boot. I'm having some serious anxiety right now.

One brilliant person I know helpfully pointed out that if I were writing my dissertation about these 70s and 80s young adult novels and gender norms therein, there would be times I didn't want to write my dissertation about that.

loving your dissertation/thesis topic

I completely agree, Clancy. I think theses/dissertations make us think twice about our personal interests. I *love* studying Latino media and representations of Latin culture, but there were times during the writing of my thesis when I no longer had any desire to discuss it.

I have a friend who is doing her thesis on Dawson's Creek, her favorite show. Surprisingly, she still loves the show, although I think she won't be looking at it the same way again...

Best of luck. I know you'll do great.


...pation, as Tim Curry would say.

I'm looking forward to your dissertation! I am definitely one of those folks looking across the fence and wishing you the best on your research and writing. No one, in my opinion, can write about your topic better than you can, and I'm sure the anxiety is a passing symptom.

I am curious, though, as to what exactly "Luvly You! Luvable You!" instructs a girl to do herself? Luv? Presumably not spell.


I was looking at those books again and they made me think of some of the books I read when I was in 4th-5th-6th grade.
I did like "Dear Mr. Henshaw." I've never read "Forever," but I do remember "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" and I loved the "Ramona" series.
Just out of curiosity (as I am sure there are people here who would know), which one is supposed to be Elizabeth and which one is Jessica on the SVH cover? Based on my minimal knowledge of the series, I would assume that the jean jacket one is Jessica and the sweater and hair-pulled-back one is Elizabeth. I was more of a "Baby-Sitters Club" girl myself, but I did read a few of the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books.
Happy Spring Break to those of you who are in it right now! My community college is on break this coming week, and my university is not until the week after...although I might string some days together and go on a trip to VA...

You're right, Kaitlin

Yes, Elizabeth is the one with her hair pulled back; it's like that on pretty much all the illustrations.

I am jonesing for a copy of Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret that's the same edition as the one I read as a child. The cover was purple, I think.

John, the "Luvly/Luvable" book is this weird primer that tells girls how to sit, stand, walk, dress, speak, take care of their hair and skin, eat, exercise, etc. Scary...but I remember similar primers. Full disclosure: I went to classes that were basically like "charm school," and most of what is in Luvly/Luvable was covered in those classes.

Judy Blume

I somehow missed this post the other day when I read but I actually picked up Are You There God? It's Me Margaret on Thursday when I took the boys to the library and was perusing the juvenile fiction while they battered about paperbook mysteries. I read the first few pages of it and was utterly fascinated. I may reread it just to see what it's like as an adult. I connected with the latent blooming and subtle peer pressure from supposed more mature "friends."

I actually pulled Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and asked Tristan to read the first page and he dutifully did, closed it, looked up, and said, "I don't think I'm interested" and went back to Captain Underpants. Well, maybe later...


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