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I'm probably never going to read Harriet the Spy, but this piece is enjoyable in its own right.

This is great, Grumpy.

It's terrible how many authors who wrote wonderful, imaginative children's books before the 70s ended up writing tedious, moralistic sermons labelled as children's books in the 70s.

Gotta work. More later.

Had to copy and paste so now I'm writing this to prove I'm not a spambot.


I'm one of those girls who tried to have a spy route like Harriet's. I was stymied by not having anything remotely interesting to write. In retrospect I think this was partly because I was not eccentric enough to trespass on other people's property, which is probably necessary to observe people closely and repeatedly. Mostly, though, it was because I wasn't observant or reflective enough to come up with anything interesting to say.
Unlike Harriett, I did not venture to write about my friends and family. That felt too intrusive. While I admired Harriett's enterprise, I didn't really approve of her and I suspected that I would not like her if she were real. As I said, I was a good little girl.

It doesn't actually say, "A4" notebook in the book, does it?


Janet: Yes it says that - I'm not sure what you call them in America. I should have looked it up. It's a size of paper. About say 20 inches long and 15 across.

Mac: You could read Harriet the Spy in an evening and I think you would enjoy it

Ann-Marie: I'm glad you kind of verified my perception that the 'realism' of the novel makes people think the spy-route think is possible in real life, but in fact, it's not. Well, perhaps Louise Fitzhugh did it as a child (?) but most children do not have the focus.

No Harriet is not a nice person - though she does try to be kind to Beth Ellen, in the Long Secret. Re-reading it this time I wondered how much my persona had been modelled on her throughout my adult life!

Yes, the novels of the 1970s were distorted by this moralizing. I think maybe even to an extent The Trumpet of the Swan, by EB White, kind of went that way. It made me quite the formalist by reaction, (ie, art for art's sake), and it took me years to concede that morality does come into literary criticism too.

I agree about Trumpet.

I didn't think so. Most people in the US probably are not familiar with A4 paper at all--only those of us who have to figure out how to keep it in files that were made for 8.5 x 11 paper. It's something like .69" to long and sticks out the bottom.


Sorry, I used the wrong word then! I was trying to convey that it's not a little palm sized note pad that would fit into your purse. I'm trying to say it's 'full sized', and A4 is our word for that.

I know all about the difficulty of the different paper size because I print out recipes, and I have a dozen see and show books for storing printed recipes, and your paper that comes out of your american copiers don't fit my see and show book!

But I somehow didn't realize that you don't use the word A4.

Robert, I agreed with your analyzis of Trumpet - that it is probably about racism, and Louis Armstrong. I hadn't thought of that before you wrote it.

Right.I knew what you meant. I just would have been surprised at the term. I think we would say a spiral notebook or composition book, although those are smaller.

Yes, A4 is narrower and longer. The only time I ever see that term is in software programs like Word when you are selecting a paper size.

The only white children's author that I can think of that was able to write about a black family was Ezra Jack Keats, and that was because he just wrote about a family that happened to be black.


The full text of Harriet the Spy is available at archive.org.

The two paper sizes have driven me nuts for years, and I've always wondered why the difference. So I just went to Wikipedia and found that it's mostly only the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that don't go the A4 route. And that it was the Germans who about 100 years ago came up with the A4 size as the standard to replace a wide variety of other sizes.

Also didn't know that the U.S. used two different sizes -- the 8" x 10.5" and the 8.5" x 11" -- up until the early 1980s, when President Reagan made the 8.5" x 11" the official size for U.S. federal forms.

Well now i know! I should have gone into cvs and asked what they called it

"Robert, I agreed with your analyzis of Trumpet - that it is probably about racism, and Louis Armstrong." I said that?

I didn't know Keats was white.



All those Romantic poets were white, Robert. ;-)


Not THAT Keats!

Maybe I'll download HtS to my Kindle, then--thanks, Marianne. It does sound like an amusing book. I mean, the title alone has always amused me.

Janet, did you know Fitzhugh was from Memphis? It's not entirely clear when she moved north, but at least by college age apparently. She died young--46.

I wondered about A4, too, because like Janet I've only seen it as a never-used option in word processors and printers.

Re the 1970s moralizing, I think it was not all that long ago that I mentioned here the disjuncture between the first (excellent) and the later (not so hot) books of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series. Blame the hippies. ;-)

No, I didn't. Hutchison where she went to school, was very snooty. Of course, she was my about mother's age, so she was probably gone before I was born.

I've never even looked at Harriet the Spy, nor did I know who wrote it.

Darn hippies!


We have the A4/letter-size problem too, having lived in Germany. We ended up with lots of papers in the wrong size file folder, so either the end of the A4 or the edge of the letter-size gets bent and crumpled. We have binders with two holes instead of three, too.

I always pictured Harriet using a composition book, probably because of the illustration on the front cover.

In its deceptive realism, Harriet's spying and note-taking is like Nancy Drew's detecting.

Yes Robert you did! Look at the EB White one. I posted it from charles de Gaulle and I was on the camino so I could not comment

It seems like Fitzhugh was a wealthy southerner

It seems that fitzhugh's mom left the family and she was brought up by her Dad.

There is a strange talking family in The Long Secret. On this lady rereading I realized they are southerners. JessieMay is delightful.

The 1970s one is not great but it is not boring pious good race relations stuff. This is a black new middle class family and now the son wants to be a dancer like his disreputable great uncle

I felt quite betrayed as a young teen when I read a newspaper interview with a Dutch children's author of the 1970s. In one part of the interview she was asked about the "complex" morality of some of her characters and she said, in effect, "I think it's important that fiction offers children an alternative to the morals of their parents and communities, and calls into question their simplistic notions of right and wrong". Which literally sickened me (at 13 or 14) - the idea that somebody I'd been reading as a storyteller not just had a differrent concept of morality (that was obvious enough, and easy to grasp and deal with) but was consciously using her fiction to make propaganda for it (which in retrospect was also obvious enough - she wrote historical fiction in which the worst baddies were always priests - but as a child I just assumed she didn't know any better). But what really took the biscuit was that further on, in a different part of the interview, she was asked about her straightforward narrative style and why she wasn't more experimental in her writing (neither interviewer nor interviewee linked this to the earlier question about morality) and she said, in effect, "Children are often quite conservative and I think it's important that a story provide a familiar framework, something that won't alienate them." It made me very sad to think that where she was strong (as a writer) she was holding back, and where she was weak (as a moralist) she was overstepping her bounds - and worst of all, that she knew this herself and seemed to think it was normal.

I wonder if she would have said this so blatantly if the interview had been for a "youth" magazine (it was in the grown-up literature pages, but did it not occur to her that youngsters known to read her books would have this drawn to their attention?)

I did not realize until I was grown that the authors of childrens books had designs on us

I didn't realize for a long time why I disliked the latter books in series. Then I figured it out. I wonder how much of this had to do with pressure from publishers.


Anne Pellowski is really interesting to me in this respect because she started out with the newer sort of children's book and moved backward towards the older kind.


Paul's author, though perhaps a little crude, is fairly typical of today's cultural establishment, I'm afraid. The story could serve as one of my "what is actually happening" notes. Like the literature professor at a Catholic college who said "We teach feminism, we just don't call it that." Or the political activist who quite calculatedly focused on getting her message into school materials with the explicit intent of bypassing the parents, whom she considered hopeless. This is how we got to a place where the belief that marriage involves people of opposite sexes is considered intolerable to society.

"I did not realize until I was grown that the authors of childrens books had designs on us"

Like Roald Dahl.

He was odd. I remember reading a book of his short stories and thinking, "This guy writes children's books?"


Well yes, but I read James and the Giant peach as a child and loved it! Only later I discovered 'that guy writes adult books?' and creepy sm ones too!

I have never read James, but I did not like Charlie.


Roald Dahl had designs? Well, I never noticed any moralising!

I was going to ask that, too. What designs? I remember thinking, when my children were little, that his books tended to be creepy, but I didn't notice any particular agenda.

It was the creep factor that I didn't like. I thought all four grandparents staying the same bed all the time was gross in a poor hygiene sort of way.


Have you read Flann O'Brien's The Poor Mouth, Janet?

Dahl tends to depict parents as either absent or pernicious; the big exception is Danny the Champion of the World. It's hard not to suspect that the early death of his father had a lot to do with this, and it makes me wonder a lot about his mother. In Boy she comes across as strong and devoted, but not necessarily warm and affectionate.

I did not know he wrote sm stories! Good thing I've only read his children's stuff!

Funny you mention those grandparents in bed, Janet, because that's about the only thing that has stayed with me about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Only I didn't think of the poor hygiene aspect; I just found it terribly sad that they'd spend their old age in bed all the time. Must have been a sort of premonition of my own old age here in cold and damp New Zealand because some days that being in bed all the livelong day is very appealing. ;-)

In line with Paul's author and Mac's examples, a former youth minister told me explicitly that she conducted the parish youth group to be a place where teens could find refuge from their families.

Anne-Marie, there's a pretty good New Yorker article on Dahl and his writing that says of his mother only that she was "formidable and capable" and that she looked upon him as the favorite of her five children. She did send him off to British boarding schools when he was nine, though, so maybe that figured against her a lot, since he recalled those years as "mostly a misery" during which he received many beatings by headmasters.

The four in the bed thing never had an unhygenic yuck factor for me. I just thought it seemed unrealistic, because it would not work.

I have good memories of reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - it is very funny, in my view. It's got a lot of imaginative ingenuity. But I do not have any affection for the book.

It has magic realism.



No, I've never heard of that.


Thanks for the article, Marianne. Dahl's mother can't have been all bad, or he wouldn't have kept writing to her every week for her whole life.

The grandparents seemed relatively ordinary to me. My grandmother had rheumatoid arthritis and seemed to spend most of her time sitting up in bed (not unlike Marlene Dietrich in her last years, although there was no resemblance beyond that). And when I was 10 we moved house, in the middle of a bitterly cold winter, and found the previous occupants had taken the radiators with them (and the doorknobs and the light fittings). We were sleeping three or four to a bed for about a week while a new heating system was being put in. So it was something I could readily picture, for a family that couldn't afford heating, without necessarily thinking about hygienic complications.

I agree that when people have little money they commonly sleep many people to the bed. Dahls portrait has to be drawn from life - hes a novelist not a fantasist. It probably evokes memories of life in Manchester or Birmingham (our Birmingham). My brother and mother always remember that when we first came to america we had so little money that my mother gave Paul a chocolate bar for his birthday. She cried.

What i find unrealistic is the two up two down idea. It seems as if thats impossible. It soundd like a verbal joke not avreal descroption of poverty

Wait, wait. It's not that they sleep four to a bed; it's that they never get out of bed. They ate in the bed--four people eating all their meals in the same bed.

And it's the stuff that happens in the candy factory that is magical realism.


Well if Charlie is magical realism im diwn with it. Im just not going to read books like Gabriel Garcia Marquez A Thousand Years of Boredom

Back to Harriet, I'm interested that the setting was recognizable to you, Grumpy. Even though I lived in a big city, Harriet's world seemed quite alien from mine. Elizabeth Enright's The Saturdays was the same. It came as a shock to me, who knew the pre-Giuliani NYC only by reputation, to realize that the crime- and trash-ridden city was the same place where Harriet roamed and Oliver walked to the circus.

I am thinking of putting together a set of book set in NYC as a Christmas present for my nieces, whose family often go there on vacation: those two, plus Roller Blades, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, I don't know what else.

People simply do not believe that when my parents despaired of my local state school (PS41) and sent me uptown to a private school - that's where I was disastrously younger than the other kids - I went on the subway. People did not believe it even ten years later, in the 1970s. But a kid could take the subway in NYC in the 1960s. It was not *great* and my mother worried and my father sometimes drove me on his way to work, but usually I went on the subway. There is a piece on the web which talks about this. The author said she could not imagine a child walking around like Harriet does, and then she visited the upper 90s, on the East side - the exact location of the book. She said a child could *still* walk around safely up there. She also said the precise outline of Harriet's spy route is still visible. The Dei Santi's deli has turned into a restaurant (unsurprising - the only kind of business which seems to thrive in NYC is restaurants) but otherwise the neighbourhood is intact, and clearly discernible.

Janet - I read a piece by JOdy Bottom which said that Catholics had hoped that Magical REalism is a more 'Catholic' version of the novel. It seems the novel is viewed by some as a Protestant artform because of the introspection (or something). I imagine maybe Catholics like magical realism because it contains a world where miracles happen (I'm guessing here, I really don't know how anyone could like these books). To me, though, in the very few I have read, the fact that *anything* can happen means that there are no miracles. In a lawless world there are no miracles.

How is that for 9.30 Wednesday morning with a sore throat. Gotta get to work now.

Very impressive.

I've successfully avoided reading One Thousand Years of Whatever for something on forty years now, but I may yet get around to it. I'm prejudiced against it for some reason, not on sort-of-principle like you are but more or less arbitrarily, because I didn't like what people were saying about it or something I suppose.

Re NYC: every time mention of its crime etc comes up I think of something I read in National Review back in the 1980s (I think--certainly not later than early 1990s). The writer said something like "New York is now a third-world city that will never recover." Increasing crime and collapse appeared to be inevitable. Yet it did recover and it's apparently one of the safest big cities in the world now. It's encouraging that that was even possible.

Grumpy, I just said that about MR to irritate you. ;-)


This is where it all started.

Can we have "52 Authors in 52 weeks" next year?

Posted by: El Miserable | 07/15/2014 at 01:05 PM


Maybe we could all share it. I cant do the math but something like 20 authors Mac (its your blog), 5 dan, 5 grumpy, 5 janet, 5 rob g, 5 louise, 5 craig, 5 gotcher

Posted by: Grumpy | 07/15/2014 at 10:19 PM

I know. I keep confessing it was my idea and Mac keeps saying, erm someone or other suggested it :)

It was definitely half your idea. Stu's was the other half.

It was a good idea. I was just thinking this morning how much I've gotten out of reading all the books I've read for my posts. When I was younger, I used to pick an author and read everything he wrote--it usually was a man for some reason--and you just get such a better idea of what an author is saying when you do that. You see patterns and themes that you wouldn't pick up from just one book, and it creates this big background.

I never would have done that with these authors if I hadn't had to for the posts. In January, I'm looking forward to going back and reading the authors everyone else wrote about. That ought to keep me busy for a long time.


Mac should publish a book.

Well, yes.


Hey. Someone should fill in the slots with Maclin Horton!

@Robert Gotcher: heh!

Janet: "In January, I'm looking forward to going back and reading the authors everyone else wrote about. That ought to keep me busy for a long time."

Yes, I am planning to do this over Christmas/New Year :)

by the way, my suggestion is that Grumpy end with Danielou, not Hume. It would be a more satisfying ending.

I like how Grumpy volunteered me to do 20 of these. I might have been able to manage 20 books, but not 20 authors, where one needs to be familiar with at least the bulk of the author's work.

I generally don't do what Janet describes--read everything by an author. Only if it's somebody I'm really, really enthusiastic about. It's not a preference necessarily, just a matter of not wanting to spend that much time on one author because there are so many who are pretty much unknown to me.

Well, I can tell you right now, if you had done that, you would not have been able to do 20.


I saw that "the novel is a Protestant art-form" business back in the 1990s, and could only think, "Hello? Cervantes?"

I've never understood the point of the type of novel that describes things that could happen in ways that they could happen, literally ensuring that truth is stranger than fiction. If you're going to all the trouble of making stuff up, why not really make the effort and make up stuff that an autobiography or a history couldn't include?

not wanting to spend that much time on one author because there are so many who are pretty much unknown to me.

But they're all unknown to you until you do it. ;-)


I would agree with Mac, and say "I generally don't do what Janet describes--read everything by an author. Only if it's somebody I'm really, really enthusiastic about." But then, when I read something good it does make me really, really enthusiastic for a few months, so I do read everything I can get hold of. I did this most recently with Willa Cather, just last year, and am now fighting the temptation to do the same with Penelope Fitzgerald and/or Ngaio Marsh. Unlike Janet's, my enthusiasms are very often for women writers.

Well, at the time I was doing that it was a bunch of men, but since then I've read a lot of women, mystery writers in particular. I love Ngaio Marsh. I started reading all hers in order once (I'd already read most of them) and got about halfway through very quickly, and then quit for some reason.

And of course there's Elizabeth Goudge. And Jane.


I'm wondering if it wasn't you that put me on to Ngaio Marsh, Janet.

I wrote mentioned her in my Josephine Tey post.


I was aiming to be polite since its your blog

I thought if I did not suggest you have a much larger portion it would be like A take over bid by the minions

In this instance I see it more as having the minions voluntarily do most of the work.

I didn't want to have to say that, so I'm glad you did. ;-)


Im sure, but 'we will write on your blog' needs to be said very diplomatically

You can write on my blog whenever you want.


"...needs to be said very diplomatically..." Heh. I guess so. But it speaks to my regard for all of you that it didn't even occur to me to worry that you would write anything I wouldn't want appearing on the blog.

"I've never understood the point of the type of novel that describes things that could happen in ways that they could happen, literally ensuring that truth is stranger than fiction. If you're going to all the trouble of making stuff up, why not really make the effort and make up stuff that an autobiography or a history couldn't include?"

Funny. Mark Helprin wrote In Sunlight and In Shadow after his father, I think, suggested that he write a book in which everything portrayed could really happen.

I agree with you in part, Paul. Except in the hands of a very good writer "pure" realism is often dull as dirt. And don't get me started on "hyper-realism."

Well, there you have the fictionality of the note book! It actually is impossible, but it is the star of the whole book.

But no one is going to call Harriet the Spy magical realism!

I suggest we do Paul's 52 saints on Janet's blog.

and maybe the 52 Movies on this blog

We could do that, but nobody would talk about them. ;-)

I keep thinking all the comments on this post were written by Louise.


Actually, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to keep writing Authors posts on my blog. I just won't have a schedule and so it won't be stressful.


Is that yes or no?

A feature i share with harriet is literal mindedness

Saints at Janet's blog, movies here is an excellent idea.

I was going to say that about the notebook, too. "Realistic" fiction is full of stuff that could not or likely would not actually happen in exactly the way it's depicted.

I say yes if more than two other people want to do it. Of course, I could do it by myself fairly easily, but what fun would that be?


Well psul has to do it because its his ideA

I'm all in favour of leaving it to psul.

What does that mean?


But seriously, yes, I'd be happy to contribute. And I assume Grumpy would be too (given her seconding of the suggestion). That makes two, but Janet cunningly stipulated "more than two other people". Who else is willing?

Well, I said two because Grumpy brought it up and Maclin said it was an excellent idea. I don't know if that meant he was willing, or if it just meant he really didn't want to do it here.


Louise? robert? Ann Marie? Rob G?

Craig? Marianne?

I'm happy to contribute to saints, and I'd love the incentive to watch more movies.

"I keep thinking all the comments on this post were written by Louise."


Somehow that makes me feel famous.

"That makes two, but Janet cunningly stipulated "more than two other people". Who else is willing?"

Why not? Ok.

Psul definitely should contribute.

So thats four, janet

Prayers welcomed after a bad day at the office and facing a bad day on friday

Prayers offered. Hope tomorrow is better than you anticipate.

Yes, I meant to be saying I would be willing to contribute to a 52 Saints project.

Could you write the suggestion in a little post? Im not sure if everyone is climbing down into this dark corner of the blog. That is 52 movies on LODR and 52 Saints on TTP. That way we could assess willingness.

I suggest movies rsther than directors.

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