The Teen Years: Phallic Towers in the Valley of the Dolls

Thanks to everyone who is following my reading journey. If you missed my previous musings, links are at the end of this post.

valley3One day in 1966, when I was in the 8th grade, I was perusing the rental shelf (5 cents per day, if I remember correctly), when my eyes spied a book I had recently heard about, the groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. When I took it to the desk, Miss Clark looked at it with disapproval and said I needed a note from my “mommy” to check it out. What happened after that shaped my reading life forever.

But before that happened…

Gothic Love

After I finished the “teen” books in our small library, I asked Miss Clark what I should mellynread next, and she recommended Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt. I wish Miss Clark were still alive so I could thank her for how she changed my life. First of all, I was so enamored of the story, setting, and shocking revelation at the end that to this day, there’s nothing I like better than a good gothic novel with a creepy manor setting, a sense of unease, and a twist that knocks my socks off. And secondly, her help made me realize how much fun it can be to help someone find just the right book for their reading pleasure.

I went to read the rest of Victoria Holt‘s oeuvre, including Bride of Pendorric, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, Kirkland Revels, and more. After that, I scoured the shelves for books by other authors with covers featuring terrified women fleeing manor houses with menacing towers or other dark and foreboding covers that would send chills down my spine. I read books by Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and anything else with phallic symbols on the cover.

iPiccy-collage gothcsYes, that’s right. Did you know that back when gothic novels were “hot,” book cover artists were instructed to create covers with towering phallic symbols? Who knew? You can read all about it in my review of Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell.  Hmm, maybe the subliminal message went into my subconscious, which may have influenced my next reading obsession…

The Blue Years

When Miss Clark told me I needed a special note to check out Valley of the Dolls, I must have looked at her with puppy dog eyes and said something like, “Oh, Miss Clark, you’ve known me for a long time. May I please take it today?” And she relented. I was absorbed from start to finish, and quite frankly, I can’t tell you anything about the plot and characters, and I’m sure some issues went over my 13-year-old head, but I was ready to read more of this kind of book. I’m sure by today’s standards, the content would be relatively mild (and I did end up reading worse a few short months later, but I’ll get to that in a minute), but it was reasonably risqué for that time.

iPiccy-collage robbinsAfter that, it was a short coaster ride down the slippery slope to reading more smut. It wasn’t long before I discovered novels by Harold Robbins, such as The Carpetbaggers, but my favorite was The Adventurers, where I even learned a few Spanish words! Heh.

(If you have read his books and have the time, this 2019 article about Harold Robbins is fascinating.)

Then my stepmother started watching the TV series based on Grace Metalious’ shocking Peyton Place, so how could I resist getting the book which was described as “…a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust, and murder.” Hooboy! Right up my trashy teen alley! I bought it at the corner drugstore (for 95 cents) and inhaled it along with the sequel, Return to Peyton Place.

Next up were William Goldman’s Boys and Girls Together (same author who would later write The Princess Bride and Marathon Man), Robert Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment, and even Kyle Onstoff’s Mandingo (and sequels if I could find them). What can I say, if the paperback had a lurid cover, I would easily part with some of my hard-earned allowances.iPiccy-collage smut

But Where’s the Carnival?

One day during my 8th-grade language arts class, a boy who sat behind me handed me a paperback book to read, and since by now everyone has pretty much noticed I’ll read just about anything, I took it. I don’t remember the full title, but the word “Carnal” was included (no, it wasn’t Carnal Knowledge), and I thought it sounded interesting. Well, it turned out to be pure explicit porn, but that didn’t bother me as much as trying to figure out why the “carnival” was never featured! Silly me, eh? (Side Note: The boy who loaned me the book seemed a little disappointed when I handed it back saying it was an interesting story. I think he expected me to be shocked.)

(When I was doing readers’ advisory, and a parent expressed concern when a tween/teen wanted to check out a book with “content,” I usually responded that I read Valley of the Dolls when I was 13 and I turned out OK–well, I think I did anyway. I never told them about the “Carnival” book.)

But not everything I read was considered trash. Next post I’ll get into my late teen years and how a book finally taught me the real “facts” about the birds and the bees.robin 7th grade (2)


The Very Early Years

Chapter Books

Nancy Drew and Chums

The Tween Years


The Series Years: Grades 3-6

I have a fantastic memory (which served me well when helping readers find the book that had a red cover and was set in New York City), but while I remember much of what I read over the past 64 years, please know I can’t pinpoint the age I read the books that shaped my reading life–well, except for a few smutty ones but we’ll get to those later.

ipiccy library

This is where the magic happened. Kids to the left, adults to the right.

Discovering the Joys of Books in Series

betsyMy memory of walking into the Cottage Grove Public Library and inhaling that unique “old books” scent is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, but what I also remember is the feeling of anticipation to see what new books awaited me for my reading pleasure–and that hasn’t abated a whit since then. It wasn’t long before I discovered books in series and that I loved following a particular character. I don’t recall reading many Beverly Cleary books (except for Fifteen in my later years) but loved Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy series.

However, Betsy and the gang were left in the dust when I discovered Nancy Drew. Whenever I entered the library, a beeline was made to the rack to see if there were any of the tweedy blue cloth-covered Drew multimysteries I hadn’t yet read.  I don’t think the library had a system for reserving books (or if they did, the librarian, Miss Clark, never offered as she might have known she’d be pestered to death), so I would rely on my memory to remember what I had read. I liked some more than others and the ones I liked best probably took place in mansions. (As an adult I relived my “Drew” years by reading Chelsea Cain’s delightful Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.)

I went on to devour the Hardy Boys series, and after those were exhausted, read the Trixie Belden, Kay Tracey, Judy Bolton, and Ginnie & Geneva series (never got into Bobbsey Twins as I think I found them a little twee) but my next obsession came from a Mickey Mouse Club addiction.

“Y? Because We LIKE You!”

ipiccy annette donnaIf you are close to my age, you probably remember singing along to the opening of the Mickey Mouse Club — “Hey There! Hi There! Ho There! You’re as welcome as can be!” But what I loved most were the introductions of the club members and Annette’s appearance! Y? Who knows, I just know she fascinated me, and I was thrilled to find she was featured in a mystery series I found at the five-and-dime store, Knickerbocker’s.  I read Sierra Summer multiple times which give me a  hankering to visit California’s Gold Country.

Since these cheaply bound books weren’t in the library and cost only 10 cents, it was easy to splurge on others, including the Donna Parker series. The one I loved most was Donna Parker in Hollywood, and what sticks in my mind was her itchy black wool bathing suit.  This was most likely the book that set me on the road to ruin when it came to my love of anything set in the glamourous world of La La Land, including celebrity memoirs and books by Jackie Collins.

Get Me the Next Book, STAT!ipiccy nurse

My next obsession came in the form of nurse stories, mainly the series featuring Sue Barton by Helen Boylston and Cherry Ames by Helen Wells, starting with their first adventures as student nurses. Sue Barton had a life trajectory that wasn’t all apples and roses so I don’t remember reading the later titles and wonder if it was because the library didn’t carry them due to the “real-life” content. Still, I loved reading her experiences in the years before marriage and kids. (An interesting side note about the author, Helen Boylston: She based her books on her actual nursing experiences, plus she was also a good friend of Rose Wilder Lane, who called her “Troub” for “Trouble, and lived with her for several years, some in Albania.)

The Ames series was fun as Cherry immersed herself in various jobs, probably a forerunner of my love for “behind-the-scenes” kinds of narratives.

And hey, who remembers these? I used my allowance to buy Harlequin nurse stories at the corner hole-in-the-wall magazine store.


I also spent my allowance on comic books (12 cents each!) with my favorites being Superman and Archie, but I would also read Batman, Richie Rich, and Casper, and these weird comics based on classic books such as Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, and more.

ipiccy comics

Next up I return to my early teens where Miss Clark introduced me to my next genre fascination and allowed me to check out smut.

robin 3rd grade

If you missed the first installments, you can find the first one here and the second here.








Magical Reading: Chapter Books

I fear this history of my reading over the years may turn out to be longer than I originally planned, but quite frankly, that’s how I’ve always rolled. Anything I think will be an easy peasy project becomes anything but simple. So buckle up, it may take me all summer to chronicle the history of how books shaped my reading life.

If you missed my first post on my reading history, you could find it here.

Finally, Chapter Books!

When I entered my second-grade classroom, my eyes were immediately drawn to a table judys journeyin the rear with a stack of books that appeared to be thicker than the easy picture books and readers from the first grade. I didn’t care that they were above my grade level, I just wanted to burrow my face into the stack. I don’t remember when we were allowed to select what we wanted to haul home (although I do remember taking more books than I had time for, a practice that continues to this day). But I do remember Miss Rorrer reading us a chapter a day from Judy’s Journey by Lois Lenski, a title from American Regional series. I was entranced, and even though the teacher admonished us to not read ahead, I got a copy from the public library and devoured it.  I went on to try a few more by the author such as Prairie School and Flood Friday but never finished the series because I soon discovered something I liked better.

Prairie Life

I don’t recall if a librarian recommended the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series or if I discovered it on my own. Still, I remember hearing the angels sing and devouring them one after the other. I rarely read any book more than once, but I read this series at least four times (except for By The Shores of Silver Lake) throughout my childhood and once when I became an adult. I went on to read anything else about pioneer life I could find (especially loved Steele’s We Were There on the Oregon Trail), a topic that still interests me. As an adult, I went on to read the various biographies and historical accounts that chronicled what it was really like for the family. Two of note are Susan Wittig Albert’s A Wilder Rose, a novel based on Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the well researched and eye-opening Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser.

ipiccy little house

More Magic

island blueI don’t know how old I was when I discovered Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. However, I can still remember the magical feeling I experienced as I read about a girl’s survival (I later learned it was based on an actual Native American who lived alone on California’s San Nicolas Island for 18 years). To this day, I love a good survival story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

Historical Celebrities

What I remember most from the school library was the profusion of biographies available, mostly from the series Childhood of Famous Americans. Who else remembers those orange cloth-bound books with such titillating titles such as Pocahontas, Brave Girl, or Ben Franklin, Boy Printer? I remember enjoying them, especially Clara Barton, Girl Nurse. These most likely started my love for memoirs, especially those by famous people. (Insert your own snarky remark here.)


Weekly Reader and Book Fairweely reader

During elementary school, two events helped shape me as a reader. Once a week, the teacher would pass out the Weekly Reader, a small newspaper printed for children. I don’t remember much of what I read, but what I loved was the feel of the paper and how much I looked forward to seeing it. I think it’s what started my continued love of magazines (mainly about celebrities).

I also loved going to the “fair”–the Scholastic Book Fair anyway. It was a short downward slope to forming my shopaholic ways when it comes to buying books.

book fair

That’s it for this post. Stay tuned for the next part of my grade school years when I discovered books in series!







50 Shades of Books: 64 Years of Reading

When we first started the virus lockdown, I was having a tough time focusing on reading, so I turned to my BoBs (Books of Books I began 47 years ago, pictured in my new blog photo) to take a journey into what I’ve read over the years. It was interesting to not only see what books I read but also how my tastes (and handwriting!) have changed over the years. I started reminiscing about how I developed as a reader waaaaay back before my saddle shoes graced the steps of Harrison Elementary School, which then led me to the decision to chronicle my reading from age 3 to the present day. So over the next weeks, months, years (seems at this point I have nothing but time), please forgive my self-indulgence in posting about reading experiences and books that have influenced my reading tastes.

My Very First Book

My mother said as soon as I could grab, the first things I would latch onto were books. Now she may have been humoring me, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t remember having many children’s books in our little trailer-house, but if we did, they were most likely those Little Golden books from Knickerbocker’s.

What I do remember is discovering our 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook and deciding I was going to use the pages to practice writing my name. Then someone told me (probably a neighbor friend) that continually writing my name showed I was self-centered, so I stopped. Below is the actual book which I still own. I’m unsure who was the recipient of “I Love You” and no idea what “EUESS” meant.

My First Booktalk

One thing I was looking forward to when I started first grade was reading the Dick and Jane series, but Mrs. Browning sent me past “Go,” putting me the “advanced” group where we read a different set, most likely the Ginn readers. I remember looking forward to each day’s reading assignment.

But what I’ve never forgotten is my trips to the Cottage Grove Library and what a treat it was to haul home a huge stack of picture books. I was so impressed by D’Aulaires’ Don’t Count Your Chicks that I took it to Show and Tell and gave my first booktalk, imploring everyone to read this fabulous book. The only problem is I made the grave error of giving away the ending! I never did that again.

And from there, it was a slippery slope to more advanced reading in the form of chapter books and two of the most magical reading experiences of my life, which will be the topics of my next post.

You Say “MEM-war”, I Say “mem-WAH”: People Stories

Whichever way you prefer to pronounce memoir, this particular type of autobiography was relatively unknown when I started working in the library waaaay back in the early 1970s. Sure, we had the “biography/autobiography” titles cataloged for the 921 shelves, but an entire book based on a regular person’s memories was pretty much unheard of. Then back in the early 1990s, the genre exploded and now it’s as if any “Tom, Dick, or Harriett” can dredge up memories of their formative years and write a mesmerizing book. My favorites are celebrity memoirs, especially if they sprinkle a little dirt on the pages, but I also enjoy a well-done story filled with strife and struggle. Now whether they are all truth-driven is a topic for another post.

The most recent memoir I read and loved is the harrowing and inspirational Educated by Tara Westover. It’s the perfect book for those who loved The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, and it also reminded me of Ruth Wariner’s heartbreaking story of growing up in a polygamous Mormon household, The Sound of Gravel. Another similar “readalike” is Cea Person’s North of Normal.

educatedsound gravelnorth normalI am

Another “life story” (of sorts) that had me enthralled from the start was I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with DeathI believe there are a large number of people who have had at least one experience of their “lives flashing before their eyes,” and if so this book is sure to generate a lot of discussions. This is another title sure to end up on my best list.

Other recent worthy titles include Katey Sagal’s Grace Notes (even though I’m not a fan I still enjoyed this), Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine (ditto), Flor Edwards’ Apocalypse Child (for anyone interested in the Children of God cult), and, even though it’s not technically a memoir, Caroline Fraser’s Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Waiting in the wings on my TBR pile is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Unmasked, Kari Byron’s (from Mythbusters) Crash Test Girl, and Robert Hilburn’s Paul Simon: The Life.

Coming Soon

Here are a few more new titles around the bend that may tantalize. They are:

September – Sarah Weinman, The Real Lolita (Nabokov’s inspiration for Lolita), (and interestingly enough, a new novel about the same event is coming, Rust and Stardust by T. Greenwood)hood

July – Allie Rowbottom, The Jell-O Girls

November – Christine O’Brien, Crave: A Memoir of Food and Longing

December – Ann Hood – Kitchen Yarns (I adored her previous “memoir” about important books in her life, Morningstar, and it has tempted me to re-read The Harrad Experiment)


So what is your favorite memoir?

Watch for my next post for a report of the gripping psychological suspense novel I’m in the middle of reading. 


A Few Good Books

I promised that when I reached 50 followers, I would post an actual blog about books. There’s no particular reason why I chose that arbitrary figure, it just sounded like a nice round number of readers who I’m sure would wait with bated breaths to hear the profound pearls of literary wisdom that would fall from my mouth, or in the case, from my fingertips.

LibraryReads June List  library_reads_logo_website

And this was the perfect day for a post as the LibraryReads list was released. I could tell you more about the librarian supported program but it’s easier if you read about it here.

Check out the June list of books to be published in June here. My favorites from this list are Anthony Horowitz’s THE WORD IS MURDER and B. A. Paris’ BRING ME BACK (you can read my GoodReads reviews by clicking on the titles). For other titles on the list, librarian colleagues have been raving about the heart-pounding thriller, JAR OF HEARTS, and “all the good feels” romance, THE KISS QUOTIENT, which has received huge thumbs up from those who don’t even like romance novels (but be forewarned, apparently it’s quite steamy). Heck, I might even read it and as a general rule don’t read romances–not that there’s anything wrong with that, I’m just more of a thriller/mystery and psychological/suspense fan.



If you want to explore the past lists from LibraryReads (and perhaps hunt for my annotation–hint: it’s for SOMETIMES I LIE), you can find them in the archive.

A Short Survey

I will soon be tweaking this site and adding more information (such as more “About Me”) and helpful links, but first I would like to know your formatting preference.

When you click on a link, do you prefer the site to open in a new window, or in the same tab and then use the “back” arrow to return to the blog post? Right now I have it set to open in a new tab but will gladly change it if the majority prefers it in the same window. Please comment below.

Thanks for reading and in the next day or two I’ll be reporting on what I’ve been reading over the past few weeks. Preview: Last night finished a new memoir that is harrowing and terrific.