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3:23 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

A Tryst to Remember: Susan Stamberg on "A Rage to Live" and "Forever Amber"

Originally published on Tue October 16, 2012 12:41 pm

For our continuing riff on NPR Books' PG-13 series, in which NPR staffers recall the Young Adult novels inspired their own coming-of-age moments, we spoke to special correspondent Susan Stamberg.

Since Susan couldn't settle on just one novel, her recollection focuses on her quiet transition from the children's section to the "grown up stuff" at the New York Free Circulating Library:

"Two books, in particular, stay with me from the days when I was the precise length of the rose-pink loveseat in my parents Manhattan living room. The loveseat is important, because that's where I would stretch out with the latest treasure I'd brought home from the New York Free Circulating Library at Amsterdam Avenue and 100th Street. My old neighborhood. My first library card came from there, when I was 10. Armed with that card, each week I'd stagger home carrying a stack of books, and read each of them, at a rip-roaring rate, supine on that pink couch.

"In those days you could take out as many books as you liked. An avid reader, I rapidly worked my way through the entire children's section (The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Little Women, Cherry Ames, Student Nurse).

"There weren't that many children's books then. So I moved on to the grownup stuff. There, A Rage to Live and Forever Amber worked furrows into my young, unlined brow. What in the world were those people DOING? John O'Hara's best-seller, A Rage to Live had a VERY aggressive heroine (Grace Caldwell, Google reminds me), who behaved not one bit like the "good girl" I was being raised to be. She seemed to have unquenchable passions that were related, in some mysterious way, to men. 'Trysts' was a word that kept sending me to the dictionary. And while Grace obviously had a busy social life, it didn't seem to be making her very happy.

"As for Amber St. Clare, the heroine of Kathleen Winsor's best-selling bodice ripper set in 17th century England, Forever Amber seemed to be forever falling into bed or marriage with a steady succession of predatory males. The Catholic Church banned the book in Boston. Young moi knew nothing about any of that, of course. But I had a fine time trying to puzzle it all out.

"Unfortunately, when I went to return those two steamers, the New York Free Circulating Library librarian noticed how very far I'd strayed from Phronsie Pepper and put a quick stop to any further such literary adventures. So I had to wait a few years before taking up the 'adult' literature that has been my favorite tryst for so many decades now."

-Susan Stamberg, NPR Special Correspondent

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