When I was around eight years old, my mother found an exciting book club offer in the post. You could, for a sum of around seven dollars a month, receive a hardback "personalized picture book."
That is, Your Child was the subject of the story. It was a generic sort of kiddie lit, with Your Child's name filled in; the finished product looked a bit like a teletype.
Who went on the grand adventure with Your Child? —Your Child's five favorite friends, of course. First names only, please. There was more than a bit of other query attached to the application form, something of a crude marketing survey.
This was such a good little data snare I'm surprised the whole shebang wasn't being underwritten by In-Q-Tel. But then, we are talking 1973.
Eight weeks of pantering later, the first in a series arrived. A book about Me! A book also about Timmy and the others, as desultory support; but there was Me!
I was fascinated. I showed it to Timmy, but he wasn't so keen. Apparently there were licensing issues.
I couldn't tell you a thing about those books today. The story? Eh. Except—one thing. Yes, there was one playful mystery with a gag. The solution was Your Child's name spelled backwards.
This was the Cult of Personality at the height of navel-gazing delirium—that is, in the pre-Internet era. (It is now possible to be a model online—or just look like one. But that's another story.)
There is, however, a built- in problem with these sorts of books. Someone tried a revival of them a few years back, and I don't think it flew. I think you may be good for customers up to six months running, but the milk sours fast.
As A. A. Milne observed himself, some of what looked good three years ago now seems babyish. And as Christopher Robin observed, seeing a line of his classmates smearing him with Daddy's verse ("Christopher Robin's at his prayers!") being the subject of a book is something of being subjected to the book.
Nine was the killer. I was past the picture book (save as nostalgia). I was also past Timmy, who’d been neatly—and deservedly—86’d.
In fact, the Famous Five had been remodeled over. People Who Now Are Grateful to Get a Nod. Their participation in “my” adventures was passé, even—
It was Oil Shock time and my parents sat me down. Always a bad sign. They wanted to talk about the $8.95 a month. (Yes, of course the price had climbed.)
I wouldn’t have come on as if I were asking for an extension on the rent. I would’ve silently cancelled the thing and said, “Well, they’ve stopped making them, you know.”
My father said we could save lots if we cancelled My Adventures. “You’re not really reading them anymore,” my father said, and sat three unboxed books before me.
No need to get into all that.
“Cancel them already,” I said, and moved on to pressing business.
I felt their surprise. They had expected the Works—waterworks, fireworks.
I’m sure if this were all moved thirty years on, they would have checked their workbooks to see if I was Asperger’s, or if I just need a new ritmo to my Ritalin.
The fact was, I had gone all Christopher Robin on them. Those books of My Adventures were not mine anymore. They were embarrassing.
Your Child was growing up.
If I wanted my name in any goddam book, I’d write one.