Every now and then, a fragment of a book I once loved will swim toward the front of my brain. Just a floating wisp of a memory — a detail, a scene, a feeling.
My brain wants to get around that wisp and pull, see what it’s attached to, but instead the memory gives a little kick and swims away.
I read a lot as a child. In sixth grade, I spent the first half of the year illegally in the school library, reading novels. (This is what can happen in an experimental school.)
By the time my teachers tracked me down I had nearly flunked math but I had gotten a lot of reading done, so you can believe that there are many fragments of books in this brain case of mine.
One fragment nagged me for a long time. All I could remember was that the book was about a girl who was somehow separated from her parents. There was a magic marble. At the end of the book the family, somehow reunited, moved into a new house and the marble rolled beneath the front porch where nobody could reach it. The magic was no longer needed. The family was together again, and home.
But that is all I could remember. Not the title. Not the author. Not, really, the plot. Just that magic marble.
And so I turned to Stump the Bookseller, a website run by the enterprising folks at Loganberry Books near Cleveland. On the Loganberry blog (loganberrybooks.com/stumpthebookseller/) you can post whatever you remember about a book in hopes that someone else will see your post and fill in the blanks. The answers don’t necessarily come from the booksellers — they come from other readers. Crowdsourcing at its finest.
Once you start reading the site, it’s hard to stop. The queries are fascinating, shot through with feelings of desperation and frustration. You can feel the posters’ angst, their need to recapture these books.
“I’ve been trying to remember the details on this one for years, and can’t pull enough out to find it,” one person wrote. He remembered where in the library the book was shelved (“in the first shelf of the Young Adult section, which means the author was somewhere between A and maybe N”) and what the cover looked like, and a little about the plot, which took place in a quirky school. The blog entry ends on a forlorn note: “That’s all I remember.”
Five people wrote back with suggestions, but were any correct? The original poster never says. (Now I’m feeling forlorn. I want closure!)
Some of the queries seem too vague to jog anyone’s memory. Such as this one: “Hi! I’m looking for a book that may have been printed in the 70s? It’s a collection of children’s stories, and the only two I remember are one about a girl fetching water for her sick mother and her ladle turning into the Big Dipper, and one about an orange kitten that needed glasses. Thank you!”
And yet someone knew: “I collect antique children’s school books and it’s in my copy of a 1920s ‘Elson’s Reader.’ The story is ‘The Star Dipper.’ It is attributed to an old tale instead of to an author.”
My query was solved, too, just a day after I posted it. Someone named Sherri suggested that the magic marble book was called “The Mystery House” by Polly Hobson, and by golly she was right.
The books we read as children make a lasting impression. Even if we can’t recall the details, we recall the feelings, and these are important. Reading these queries is heartening — so many beloved books, so many people trying to reconnect.
These books won’t bring us back to our childhoods, but maybe if we can read them again — if we can just remember what they are — they will bring us closer to the child we used to be.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks