101 Things a Book Can Do

When I was about 11, I had a book called 101 Things a Girl Can Do. As it was published in the 30s, the authors were surprisingly optimistic about the things a girl can do, exhorting readers to get acquainted with hammers and nails as well as crochet hooks and knitting needles. But the one thing I remember most from that book – and enjoyed making the most – was the portable writing desk.
The basis of the desk was a small cardboard suitcase. I had to cut a section from the sides, and open out the flap of the case, so that the lid would settle into the right sloping position for the top of a writing desk. Inside I put holders for pens, writing paper and other paraphenalia, then covered the whole thing with wallpaper.
My writing desk probably didn’t turn out that good – at least, not as good as I remember it. But it was faithfully used, and I carried it everywhere so I could open the lid and start writing when the muse struck. It made me feel very sophisticated and businesslike. Most of all, it made me feel capable of anything, since I made it myself.
My father insisted that I start learning to read when I was very young – before I ever set foot inside a school, my mother was teaching me the beauty of words.
“As long as you can read,”‘ my father used to say, “you can learn anything – someone will have written a book about it.”
How right he was, when I look back and think of the things I have learned from even the lightest reading – how my first dip into the world of Tove Jansson’s Moomins taught me to make a leafy windmill, how my tattered collection of I Spy books taught me to look carefully at the world around me (even at manhole covers), and how a book like 101 Things A Girl Can Do challenged me to find new resources in myself.
It was all very matter of fact, of course – there was no such thing as a `self help’ section in the bookstores. It was literally self help – if you found something in a book and it helped you, you adopted it. But you had to seek it out, there were no signposts, and on the way you read a lot of books and learned a lot of other things you weren’t even looking for.
I lost 101 Things A Girl Can Do long ago, alas, but I can still remember how to make the writing desk – now, all I have to do is find an old fashioned, cardboard suitcase…

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