Part book review, part impressionistic scribblings on the joys of reading and the struggles of carving out time in which to do it, #ABookishYear is a weekly dispatch from the front lines of an intellectual journey spanning fifty-two tomes.
Confessions of an ‘80’s Baby
By Roxanne Fequiere
As we hurtle into summer and the second half of the year at an impossibly swift clip, the weather here in New York seems to be having an identity crisis of sorts. It seems as if every bright and sunny day we receive is followed up by three to six days of dreariness, complete with rain and sweater-worthy temps. I’m fed up, to say the least.
Astrology aside, I believe that most people have an affinity for the season into which they were born, and so it goes for me and summer weather. At the risk of sounding dramatic, extended periods of bitter cold diminish my spirit. I’m willing to put up with it as a matter of fact—after all, I did choose to live here—until the end of April. At that point, I begin scanning the forecast on my phone each morning, hoping beyond hope that even if today isn’t the day, there will be a stretch of cloudless warmth on the horizon, preferably above seventy degrees Fahrenheit but ideally somewhere in the eighties.
It was this fervent anticipation of steadily warm weather that led me initially to dive into the concept of warmth for this month’s book picks. After Memorial Day Weekend had the audacity to come and go with two out of its three days marred by gray skies and cool breezes, I felt the need to make an emergency detour to tropical climes, even if only in my imagination.
I settled on the theme earlier than usual, which allowed me time to turn the notion over in my head while simultaneously praying for higher temperatures on a daily basis. The thing about repetitive thoughts, though, is that they can begin to change shape on you. “Ugh, when are we going to get into the eighties?” I said to no one in particular on more mornings than I can count. By the time May had come to a close, I’d found myself thinking about “the eighties” in new ways: the 1980s and the elderly, in addition to thermometer eighties. I decided to rework my theme.
It seems as if someone on Twitter is always drawing a highly personal line in the sand about what constitutes an “[insert decade here] kid,” usually in an effort to cull a segment of impudent youngsters from the pack. You know the type: the impostor born in 1996 who dares to call themselves a child of the ‘90s. Perhaps they’ve watched every episode of Saved by the Bell and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in syndication and feel as if they soaked up the spirit of the decade after the fact—that is, until someone older and wiser steps in to let them know that actually they can barely be called a “2000s kid” with that birthdate. Weren’t they all of five years old when the iPod was introduced? Do they even slip up and think of Pluto as the ninth planet from time to time?
This arbitrary delineation of childhoods is a bizarre impulse, albeit one I’m not exactly immune to. Our childhood memories are precious to us. It feels invasive, somehow disrespectful when someone makes what feels like a forged claim on them, even if technology allows us to engage with the last century or so of pop culture on demand.
I was born in 1988, and my earliest childhood memories begin in 1991 on my third birthday, when I received a doll from the then-new Waterbabies brand. (The original doll, with her molded curls and hooded onesie, is now back on the market as a special edition reproduction with a jarring tagline: “Now you and your little one can nurture and love for this precious baby the way you did when you were a kid!”) When Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran took over our house’s usual television schedule, I tried my best to keep up. (“What does ‘approximately’ mean?” I remember asking as an intense cross-examination unfolded.) When Kerri Strug injured her ankle in between her first and second vault, my mother and I fell silent, paralyzed with anticipation. (Years later, I found a commemorative silk scarf from the Atlanta games in a thrift store and purchased it on the strength of that memory alone.) The next summer, I watched as my mother wailed over the death of Princess Diana, sympathetic and also stunned by the intensity of her grief. (I imagined they must have known each other at some point; how else to justify such a visceral reaction?)
Any remnants of the ‘80s in my house came by way of my older brothers, born in 1978 and 1983: a hand-me-down Care Bears lamp, Popples sheets, the original Nintendo that lived upstairs in the playroom. The music of the decade remained in constant rotation on MTV and VH1, and teenage angst eventually brought me to the movies of John Hughes.
That said, aside from The Bonfire of the Vanities and an English seminar in college in which I made the ill-advised decision to craft my twenty-page term paper on American Psycho, I realize that I haven’t engaged much with the decade on a literary level. As a child of any decade, I suppose none of us really do. For the most part, ’90s kids read Goosebumps and Harry Potter as we made our way into a new millennium, but what did we know of John Grisham and Michael Crichton? I’ve often indulged in time travel by way of literature, though the destinations are usually what one might classify as long-distance. This month, I’m intrigued to see what’s waiting for me when I take the equivalent of a temporal day trip.
Roxanne Fequiere is a New York–based writer and editor who might just make it after all.