My Life as a List: 207 Things about My (Bronx) Childhood

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Before I was born, my mother had decided to name me either Laurel or Lydia, names that appealed to her artistic temperament. But then somehow she was convinced by my father's sisters to make me a lackluster Ruth, in honor of their recently deceased mother, Rose. And so my birth certificate read Ruth Leila, a name I was never called, by my mother, either of my father's sisters or anyone else. So begins the life list of Linda Rosenkrantz, 207 random recollections of her first twelve years that, together, comprise ...
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Overview

Before I was born, my mother had decided to name me either Laurel or Lydia, names that appealed to her artistic temperament. But then somehow she was convinced by my father's sisters to make me a lackluster Ruth, in honor of their recently deceased mother, Rose. And so my birth certificate read Ruth Leila, a name I was never called, by my mother, either of my father's sisters or anyone else. So begins the life list of Linda Rosenkrantz, 207 random recollections of her first twelve years that, together, comprise one of the year's most unexpected and delightfully offbeat memoirs. Rich with the sights, sounds, and smells of her sheltered childhood in a Jewish enclave of the Bronx, My Life as a List re-creates the urban experience of American Jews in the years surrounding World War II. The author writes with wry affection of family and friends, of grievances harbored and accomplishments savored, all recalled with the laser particularity of a child's eye. Rosenkrantz's unerring attention to detail imbues these childhood impressions with remarkable clarity. Telling specifics of her girlhood are interwoven with darker undertones of war to lucidly recall the tenuous balance between day-to-day life and wartime sacrifices. Against this background, Rosenkrantz offers humorous anecdotes, touching reminiscences, and lively portraits of her family, friends, and neighbors and period photographs and ephemera from the author's own collection bring her colorful cast of characters even more vividly to life.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609603673
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/2/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 2.07 (w) x 7.87 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz is a novelist and the author of numerous nonfiction books, including Beyond Jason and Jennifer. A native of the Bronx, she currently lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles, California.
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Read an Excerpt

Afterword
I was on a plane coming back to Los Angeles from a trip to New York when I opened my notebook and found myself writing the words "500 Things About My Childhood: My Life is (sic) a List," followed by a few sentences:

All my elementary school teachers had the same hand-writing.
AllI my aunts floated but none of them swam.
There were only two girls in my class who weren't Jewish.


It was an idea that seemed to have arrived full-blown, complete, out of nowhere, or perhaps out of my deepest subconscious. The rest of the flight found me frantically scribbling a list of words, names, and phrases: Hitler dream, mother's box, dumbwaiter, Francisco Raymundo, Danny Kaye, Franco-American spaghetti. By the time the plane approached LAX, the notebook was almost filled.

The process of expanding these notes into a book was equally intense, but it moved at a very different pace. It seemed that each item on my life-list, even if it was only a single sentence long, was so loaded that I could process only two or three of them a day. Some, like the idea for the book itself, came fully formed; others required shaping and amplification; some of the longer ones I returned to again and again (pondering over such significant issues as did I really hate Betty Grable or did I just think her nose was too close to her mouth?). I gathered around me all the family photos (of which I have somehow been made the extended family's designated custodian, receiving batches every time someone dies or empties out a basement) I could find, and whatever childhood memorabilia had miraculously been preserved (the report cards, clippings, and letters thathad survived my mother's moves and mine), and I found that staring at them would bring me into contact with feelings, experiences, relationships, and people I hadn't thought about since childhood. As a Bronx Realist, I could never say I made a spiritual connection, but these things did form a kind of skeleton key into what I once called (in a poem I wrote when I was thirteen) my memory attic.

As one recollection triggered another, patterns began to form and I could see interconnections (that required the use of a lot of parentheses), memories building upon each other, I saw the symbiotic relationship between Mommy and me in a way I never had quite seen it before, I saw that my early years were a lot more "Jewish" than I would have thought, and I also saw a little girl who was a network of not always so admirable contradictions. As the book built, piece by piece, I added and subtracted ele-ments until I reached the number that seemed right for me, knowing that when I arrived at the point where my sister was born and I got my period, my childhood was essentially over.

Through all this, the thought struck me several times that in a sense this was an exercise that would be interesting and revealing for other people to try doing, in their own way. It is a process I can heartily recommend.
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