Recently Jen Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page wrote about the gift of being able to go back to visit books, "no matter what happens in your regular life." Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright is one of a list of books she has revisited many times and reread this summer.
I certainly recognized that title, because it is a much-beloved--perhaps cult, in the good sense of the word?--book. I knew I'd written about Gone-Away Lake here at Original Content. It turns out that twelve years ago, I actually read it. It doesn't sound as if it was a big comfort read for me, but I did find it interesting, because the book was published (and a Newbery Honor book) in 1957. The child leads are from the 1950s, but the book also deals with a couple of older characters from an earlier period. In 2008 I said,
"There's nothing here that will provide a big, climactic scene or even much of a plot. Gone-Away Lake is just a lovely, elegant, atmospheric story about a really good summer.
in the 1950s it probably gave child readers a window into an earlier,
more elegant time. What I find interesting about the book is that now,
after all these years, it gives us a window into the 1950s."
The book was contemporary, supposedly, at the time it was written. But because that was 50 years before the time I read it, it had become a sort of historical document.
"After reading Gone-Away Lake,
I envision the 1950s as a time when young boys dressed up in flannel
suits to travel by train. Their older sisters wore hats while traveling.
Boys (but not girls) carried "killing jars" so they could off the
various bugs they collected. (There's something you don't see often in
kids' books these days.) My gut twisted up into knots when the kids
decided they would keep Gone-Away a secret from Julian's parents because
it was fun to have something just for themselves. But keeping secrets
from your parents doesn't appear to have been dangerous back then. Nor
was it dangerous to enter a stranger's ramshackle house. And nobody
thought twice about elderly people squatting in abandoned houses because
they didn't have the money to live anywhere else.
It was a different time. Not a better time. Not a worse time. Just different."
I can definitely see why someone today would want to spend some time reading something like Gone-Away Lake, why they would want to visit a different time.
When I have heard of the love for Gone-Away Lake, it's usually come from adult readers recalling having read the book. I don't know how twenty-first century children new to the book would feel about it. I hope Ms. Yingling sees this post and can offer some insight into today's young readers and Gone-Away.
Sadly, my own experience rereading beloved books has not gone well.
I've just learned that Elizabeth Enright was also a short story writer. New Yorker subscribers can access a couple of her stories from the 1950s at the magazine's website.