One of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever come across is A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I tore through it, often laughing OUT LOUD in inopportune public places (you know, when you are reading something funny and you kind of guffaw and then catch yourself, stifle the laugh, and look around to see if anyone is watching?).
It’s hard to explain what it is about, because it is really just what the subtitle says: “Growing Up Small In Mooreland, Indiana.” It’s an autobiographical collection of impressions, moments, memories, funny stories, dares, characters, struggles, and ephemera from the childhood of a unique & hilarious girl (nicknamed Zippy) as she goes about her days in the late ’60s/early ’70s in a very small town. Sounds like a totally touchy-feely Babysitters’ Club premise for a book, right? But it is intelligent, well-written (she really captures the voice and the perception of herself at 7 or 8), emphatically NOT-schmaltzy, and funny as all get out. And also shreddingly poignant at times when you least expect it.
I am currently ripping through her follow-up novel, She Got Up Off The Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana, and laughing just as much. I recommend both very highly – after I read Zippy, I bought like 7 copies and gave them out like manna from Heaven to my friends and family. Here is an excerpt from She Got Up Off The Couch.
I love lists, especially lists about music:
A Short List of Records My Father Threatened to Break Over My Head If I Played Them One More Time
1. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” by Paul Simon.
You need only to listen to this song once to realize it is the greatest work of genius since “Beep Beep (The Little Nash Rambler)”; by The Playmates. Also it provides a person with the bonus of rewriting the chorus 700 times a day. For instance, a girl might say, “I’m ridin’ my bike, Mike,” or “I’m goin’ to my sister’s, Mister.” She could also string together many sentences, as in, “I’m feelin’ sad, Dad. Maybe you could get me some candy, Randy. Don’t be such a slob, Bob, just listen to me.”
2. “Beep Beep (The Little Nash Rambler),” by The Playmates.
A morality tale about a little car, a Cadillac, and a transmission problem. This song brilliantly gains momentum, and is sung faster and faster right up to the hysterical ending. Could be sung in the truck so frantically the father in question would sometimes have to stick his head out the window while praying aloud.
3. “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” by Elton John.
I understand only one line of this song: “And butterflies are free to fly, fly away.” The rest is completely lost on me. I assumed the British did not speak English, which was a puzzle as they were sometimes referred to as the English. Not understanding the lyrics required me to listen to the song hundreds, perhaps thousands of times, filling in with nonsense words, which my sister said made me look oxygen deprived and sad.
4. “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me,” by Simon & Garfunkel.
In addition to “50 Ways To Leave your Lover,” this was probably my most obvious theme song. It could have been written for me. The singer has done something terrible and now his only option is to sneak away: “Before they come to get me I’ll be gone, somewhere they can’t find me.” Oh, indeed. How very, very true.
5. “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Osmonds, featuring Donny Osmond.
A lie, as anyone who knew my brother could attest. But if it was sung by Donny Osmond I could try to believe. I wanted to believe. This was a favorite to play not at top volume in my bedroom, but downstairs on the stereo that was shaped, improbably, like a Colonial desk. I liked to sing along with Donny (we had the same voice) while simultaneously pretending to draft a version of the Bill of Rights, using a fake quill pen. (In truth, a turkey feather.) This was a combination of activities my father found interesting, blasphemous, and wrong.
6. “Along Comes Mary,” by The Association.
A wordy song. A wordy, psychedelic song, the meaning of which has never been determined by humans. Tailor-made for me. From the beginning, the song’s just one long puzzle. “Every time I think that I’m the one who’s lonely someone calls on me.” Who? (Mary, my sister would explain through clenched teeth. Yes, but Mary who?) What follows is so unusual it doesn’t bear repeating, although I most assuredly could.
7. “I Started A Joke,” by The Bee Gees.
Again, a world-class head-scratcher. He started a joke, and it started the whole world crying. I sensed astonishing depth in the Bee Gees’ lyrics, and also were they all boys? Including the one with the Bugs Bunny teeth? Was she truly never funny and that’s why the world wept? I knew people like that. Later in the song one of them, a Bee or a Gee, begins to cry and gets the whole world laughing, so everything turns out fine in the end. (An additional work of genius is “The Lights Went Out In Massachusetts.” Massachusetts: A state? A prison? Dad was silent on the issue.)
Buy A Girl Named Zippy here and She Got Up Off The Couch here, or visit your local library. (Ooh! I feel so Reading Rainbow! LeVar Burton would be proud – These are books you might enjoy, but you don’t have to take MY word for it!).