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How to Live at the Met
April 20, 2013 9:05 PM   Subscribe

If you ever wanted to run away and live at the museum, you probably read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Author and two-time Newbery Award winner E. L. Konigsburg who gave the runaway Kincaid siblings a mystery to solve at the Metropolitan Museum of Art died today at age 83. Konigsburg attended what later became Carnegie Mellon University, majoring in chemistry, and went on to teach science before writing children's books. (previously)
posted by girlhacker (77 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
• <--- penny in the fountain
posted by tzikeh at 9:10 PM on April 20, 2013 [26 favorites]


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That and A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver were two of my favorite novels as a kid.
posted by EggplantPizza at 9:10 PM on April 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by dismas at 9:11 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:14 PM on April 20, 2013


Oh, so sad. Father's Arcane Daughter and (george) are two of my favorite books to foist on friends of all ages. They have no idea what they're in for.
posted by grounded at 9:14 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Loved that book as a kid. I feel like I may have to revisit it as a semi-adult.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 9:18 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by Carillon at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2013


Addendum: I should've pointed out her full name: Elaine Lobl Konigsburg.
posted by girlhacker at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2013


You definitely should revisit it. I did recently and it was really easy to see why I loved it so much.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by andromache at 9:22 PM on April 20, 2013


Oh, sad! I loved her books (though there's many I realise I haven't read, I'll have to do something about that). Many years ago my mum somehow came into contact with her and got two of my favourites signed. I especially like what she wrote in the front of A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver: "For [Athanassiel] - with many thanks for loving the work of E. L. Konigsberg for many years 11/27/93". She had very elegant handwriting.

She also put in a leaflet called "Forty Percent More Than Everything You Wanted to Know About E. L. Konigsburg. Much of it is quite funny, and interesting. In response to where she got the idea for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, she says:
The idea for this book came from three experiences; two of them were reading experiences.
I read in The New York Times that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had bought a statue for $225. At the time of the purchase they did not know who had sculptured it, but they suspected that it had been done by someone famous in the Italian Renaissance; they knew that they had an enormous bargain. (The statue, by the way, is called The Lady with the Primroses; it is not an angel, and it was not sculptured by Michelangelo.)
Shortly after that article appeared in the paper I read a book that told the adventures of some children who, upon being sent by ship from their island home to England, were captured by pirates. In the company of the pirates, the children became piratical themselves; they lost the thin veneer of civilization that they had acquired in their island home.
The third thing that happened was a picnic that our family took while we were vacationing at Yellowstone Park. After buying salami and bread and chocolate milk and paper cups and paper plates and paper napkins and potato chips and pickles, we looked for a place to eat. There were no outdoor tables and chairs, so when we came to a clearing in the wood, I suggested that we all eat there. We all crouched slightly above the ground and began to spread out our meal. Then the complaints began: the chocolate milk was getting warm, and there were ants over everything, and the sun was melting the icing on the cupcakes. This was hardly having to rough it and yet my small group could think of nothing but the discomfort.
I thought to myself that if my children ever left home they would never become barbarians even if they were captured by pirates. Civilization was not a veneer to them; it was a crust. They would want at least all the comforts of home plus a few extra dashes of elegance. Where, I wondered, would they consider running to if they ever left home? They certainly would never consider any place less elegant than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Yes, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All those magnificent beds and all that elegance. And then, I thought, while they were there, perhaps they would discover the secret of a mysterious bargain statue and in doing so, perhaps they could discover a much more important secret, the need to be different—on the inside where it counts.
She answers the question What makes you feel bad? with "Eating too much chocolate, reading trash, and letting dust balls gather under the sofa." As for What makes you feel good? "Eating too much chocolate, reading trash, and letting dust balls gather under the sofa."

Vale.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:26 PM on April 20, 2013 [55 favorites]


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Mixed Up Files is one of my favorite books, even as an adult.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:34 PM on April 20, 2013


I have slept in a lot of museums, and I spend a lot of nights in museums. I think of her books every time.

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Another penny in the fountain. Thank you for all the adventures.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:37 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mixed Up Files holds up so well. A Proud Taste For Scarlet And Miniver is almost too good to be a kids' book.
posted by padraigin at 9:47 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:48 PM on April 20, 2013


As an adult, the actual mixed up files bit of that book now reminds me of Borges -- the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge's taxonomy.

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posted by novalis_dt at 9:49 PM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


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I didn't make it to the Met until nearly 30 years after I had read that book, and walking around in the building was the literal act of walking around inside a forgotten childhood dream-memory. That is an amazing thing that human creative activity can do. Thanks again, Ms. Konigsberg.
posted by mwhybark at 9:56 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by pemberkins at 9:57 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by Brody's chum at 9:58 PM on April 20, 2013


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just reread it w/ my 10yo daughter. Still magic. Since I was I wee lad, I've always thought of Claudia every time I see a violin case.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:02 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by Lynsey at 10:06 PM on April 20, 2013


I loved the book so much, and in 6th grade I decided it would be fun to run away to the May Company department store (now LACMA West) near my house. I went towards closing time and hid in the bathroom -- just as I was taught! -- and figured I would sleep in mattress/bedding department. I waited for what seemed like an eternity and ventured out...to a enormous, empty, and completely dark store.

I was so scared I ran down to the ground level to find an exit and ran into a security guard. When he asked me what I was doing in the store I started crying and said something about getting left behind by my mom and he let me out. I don't suppose a kid could get away with that anymore.



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posted by Room 641-A at 10:07 PM on April 20, 2013 [23 favorites]


I am so so sad right now.
posted by PussKillian at 10:13 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:15 PM on April 20, 2013


I still vividly remember her book of short stories, Altogether, One at a Time, though it's over 25 years since I read it. Konigsburg could really write convincingly in a child's voice and yet explore such adult themes.
posted by orange swan at 10:22 PM on April 20, 2013


I'm 32 and I still look for places that look like they'd be a good spot to sleep in without getting noticed every time I visit a museum.

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posted by BlueJae at 10:34 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


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She attended my alma mater. I never knew that until now.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:36 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by LobsterMitten at 10:38 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by Iridic at 10:38 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by jewzilla at 10:46 PM on April 20, 2013


Thanks, Ms. Konigsburg. RIP.
posted by Edna Million at 11:09 PM on April 20, 2013


Bummer!
posted by Glinn at 11:27 PM on April 20, 2013


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posted by beryllium at 11:42 PM on April 20, 2013


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I have just one thing to write about this FPP: "Baloney!"
posted by jazh at 11:46 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:47 PM on April 20, 2013


All I ever wanted to be was a normal kid. But, of course, I wasn't.

I was twee.

I was in a school for prodigies. Some were very good with numbers, and created little games out of math. Some had a talent for language, and spoke in rhymed and metered verse. Some could paint, some could sing, and some could compose sonatas in their heads, while sitting at a desk, waiting to be excused for lunch.

I never felt I was one of those kids. And I wasn't. I couldn't do any of the things they did, and I was the only child in that school who had been accepted on the exclusive basis of how terribly, terribly twee I was.

You have to understand. Back in the early Seventies, tweeness was considered to be a separate, and worthwhile, discipline. Twee children were celebrated. There was even an afternoon television program called Now We Are Twee, about four such children, two boys and two girls, who spent each episode having little meaningful adventures, such as going to the zoo and having conversations with the llamas, or going to the library and discovering an ancient pressed flower in the pages of a musty old book, and crying about the sheer beauty of it. The study of twee was briefly in vogue in psychological circles, with an academic magazine, Twee Trends, dedicated to the topic, with peer-reviewed articles with topics such as "Kitsch Without Camp: Why Twee Children Genuinely Love the Mawkish" and "32 Reactions from Twee Children Upon Visiting a Museum of Natural History."

I was one of those 32 children, and my reaction was fairly typical: I made plans to move into the museum and live in a closet, subsisting on crackers and root beer. Back in the 70s, almost every natural history museum had one or two twee children living there. It was understood to be a sign of good luck.

If you were to see me at age 10, back in 1978, here is what I would have looked like: I was small and very thin, and wore a striped shirt and white pants with an enormous belt buckle. I also wore a fisherman's cap. I carried a book bag from the Walker Art Center, and in that book bag you might find the following items:

1. A nose flute
2. A packet of jelly beans
3. A Chinese finger trap
4. A Silver Surfer comic book
5. A photograph of my eccentric aunt Dalia; we doted on each other
6. A shark tooth I claimed to have found on a beach somewhere, but actually purchased at an aquarium
7. A pen knife, which would eventually be the source of great drama, and the threat of tragedy

Properly, twee children should have huge, owl-like glasses, but I had not been diagnosed as myopic at that point, and so had none. I did occasionally wear aviator sunglasses that had been given to me by my test pilot stepfather, a man who respected but did not understand me. I wore these when I wanted to hide from the world and collect my thoughts, which was often, and was the subject of a monograph in Twee Trends called "Behind the Mirrored Lenses: A Twee Boy Collects His Thoughts."

This is the story of my last days at the special school, and also, in a way, is the tale of the end of twee as an academic discipline. It is the story of a boy in a fisherman's cap and a knife, and begins, as all twee stories do, on an autumn day in the 1970s, in an unexpected place. In this instance, we shall start our story in a small room at the University of Minnesota, where 10 year old Bunny is being tested by a man in a white coat.

The test is an ordinary one. Bunny will be expected to build something out of blocks, and toss and catch a baseball, and answer a few simple questions. But, being twee, Bunny is having a hard time with the tests. He has tried to build a sperm whale out of the blocks, because he has decided he particularly likes sperm whales, but he wants to build it life size, and there are not enough blocks. So he builds as much of the sperm whale as he can and stops, and what he has built is just a pile of blocks on the floor.

"What is that?" the man in the white coat asks.

"A sperm whale, or, at least, part of one," Bunny answers. "Do you have any more blocks? I'll need about 30,000."

"Catch this ball," the man in the white coat says, and tosses a baseball at Bunny. Bunny reacts the way he always has when things are thrown at him. He doubles up on the ground, sobbing. This is a rather typical response for twee children, conditioned into them by traumatic experiences in Little League baseball. The man in the white coat makes a note of this.

He lifts a clipboard with pages on it. "Tell me, Bunny," he begins. "If your stepfather had two houses, and he sold one, how many houses would he have?"

"Three," Bunny says.

"Don't you mean one?" the man asks, gently.

"No," Bunny answers. "Because if stepdaddy where to finally sell the mansion in the Hamptons, he could make enough money to buy two more houses, like I have suggested. We could buy one in Hawaii, where I could learn to play ukulele and carve driftwood sculptures, and we could have one in Bath, England, where I would be near Stonehenge, and maybe could meet some real pagans and have adventures with them."

"You've given this a lot of thought, haven't you?" the man in the white coat asks.

"Not particularly," Bunny answers.

It is a lie. Bunny lies a lot. All twee children do. The lies are always obvious to everybody but the twee child, and other, non-twee children are frequently made very angry by them. Bunny gets bullied a lot as a result, and this is why he is now being tested by the man in the white coat. His name is Dr. Reginald Arkansas, and he is working on a monograph titled "I Just Couldn't Bear to Hear About His Flower Garden Again: Why Even Non-Bullies Turn Into Bullies Around Twee Children." Dr. Arkansas will be an observer throughout this story, taking notes for his monograph, but will not actually be seen again until the end of the story, when he steps in to avert the tragedy. But make no mistake, he will be present throughout, hiding around corners, behind two-way mirrors, and in disguise, observing.

Bunny returns to school. As I have mentioned, this is a special school, a magnet program for gifted students begun by a peculiar order of French nuns. They do not dress like nuns, and, unlike nuns that you may have heard of, are very liberal in their approach to education. But each day begins with a prayer, which the students are supposed to write. Bunny was asked to write one, once, but he forgot and when it was his time to say the prayer, he tried to fake his way through it by singing a song he had just composed on the spot. The song was called "I Eat Tuna," and neither rhymed nor had any recognizable melody, and so the nuns recognized that twee children may not be predisposed toward this sort of activity, and never asked Bunny to write a prayer again. Instead, today, the prayer has been composed and is being read by Thommy Seagram, a small boy with a high voice and prematurely grey hair. He is not a twee child, but is exactly the sort of child twee children have as best friends. You will not be surprised to hear that he is Bunny's best friend.

Thommy reads a short poem about how God made everything on the earth and in the ocean, and everybody says amen, and then Bunny and Thommy do what they do every morning at school -- they stare at a little girl named Francine Wu, and wonder what she might be like. Francine Wu is painfully shy. She is so shy that when she is called on in class to answer an academic question, she blushes and cannot speak. But she is supposed to be a world-class chess player. Bunny and Thommy are fascinated by her, mostly because she is very pretty, and, in Bunny's case, she's exactly the sort of girl twee boys are attracted to. Bunny will sometimes sit opposite her at lunch and talk at her. She doesn't look at him or respond, but Bunny does not care, instead telling her stories of how he once helped his older brother, who fights oil well fires, or how he stowed away once on a rocket to the moon. Bunny is not shy like Francine Wu is. He is simply a liar.

After staring at Francine for a while, Thommy and Bunny go to separate classes. Thommy is a precocious student of languages, and so the nuns have him learning Latin. All the classes are organized around the student's abilities. And so, of course, Bunny's first class isn't really a class at all, but instead a long walk along the railroad tracks near the school, where Bunny can do the sorts of things twee children do on this kind of walks, which typically involves pretending to be a hobo, or finding an injured animal and trying to nurse it back to health, but getting distracted and forgetting it, and then crying when it dies. At that time, it was popularly believed that twee children were unusually good at learning life lessons. That theory has since been discredited, of course.

* * *

That day, Bunny stumbled across something unexpected: A young couple making love. Now, Bunny had been told the facts of life by his step-father, but he had not understood what was being told to him, and was behind his aviator sunglasses, so it is very likely that he was thinking about how much he liked snails, or how he was going to start wearing nothing but plaid, or how long he could live off root beer and crackers in a natural history museum, or something like that. And, as I have said, Bunny is not shy. So on this day he walked up to the young couple and demanded to know what they were doing.

The young couple flailed about to cover themselves with a picnic blanket, the young man screaming for Bunny to go away. And Bunny did so. But Bunny was quite alarmed by what he had seen, and decided to draw pictures of it to try to understand it better.

Now, most twee children have some sort of little creative skill, or several. They're usually not especially good at whatever they do, but they're better than most. Bunny could whittle a little bit, and he could play the drums a little bit, and he could draw reasonably well. So, while his illustrations were not the sort of thing you might look at and say, my God, what a prodigy, when Bunny drew a young couple making love, you would recognize what he was illustrating. So it didn't take the nuns long to discover the pictures, especially as Bunny spent the entire lunch hour showing them to Francine Wu, who refused to look at them or eat, but just sat there blushing.

So Bunny was called into the office of the headmistress, a nun named Sister Anne, who Bunny had always thought was the prettiest woman he had ever seen. Sister Anne was only 24 at the time, but, this being a progressive order of nuns, she had been put in charge of the school because she was especially good at running schools, and because she too had been a child prodigy, and so the nuns felt that, despite her youth, she would be an appropriate headmistress. Sister Anne had been a ballerina, but, at age 18, had gotten a fever that had ruined her sense of balance, and so her career in ballet ended before it really even got a chance to begin.

But, because she was young, and a nun, she didn't really know what to say about the pornographic images that Bunny had produced over the course of the day. There was no precedent for this. Twee children do many strange things, but there was no existing literature suggesting they might be sexual precocious. Quite the opposite, in fact -- most developed late, after a period of sublimating their sexuality into strange behaviors, such as wearing kilts or grinding their hips against trees. So sister Anne did not know precisely what to say to Bunny. And so they stared at each other for close to half an hour, Sister Anne growing increasingly self-conscious, and feeling any confidence she had dwindling, and Bunny thinking about how pretty Sister Anne was, and how he wanted to marry her, and wondering why he had the urge to grind his hips against a tree.

After a very long time, Sister Anne thanked Bunny for seeing him, excused him, and called her Mother Superior to resign as headmistress. In tears, she explained that she was just too young and inexperienced to have a job like this.

Word quickly got out that Bunny had done something to cause Sister Anne to resign. And if the presence of a twee child is enough to turn almost any kid into a bully, this news was enough to make bullies of the whole school at the same time. The students loved Sister Anne, and were furious with Bunny for causing her to leave. Nobody knew precisely what Bunny had done, but there had been an episode of Now We Are Twee in which a twee child had accidentally started a fire by playing with magnifying glasses, so everybody knew twee children had a capacity to be enormously destructive by accident.

Now, Bunny was never in any real physical danger. After all, this was a school for gifted children, and so almost every student there was physically weak, many has asthma, and most had a terror of touching other students. But they spent the next few days being uncommonly mean to Bunny, the way children often are. They would surround him and make up rhymes about how bad he smelled, and, being gifted children, these rhymes were uncommonly well-composed, often with rather daring experiments in meter. One trumpet player followed Bunny from class to class, playing Souza marches at the back of his head, which left Bunny with painfully ringing ears. Some of the art students began to draw especially bold caricatures of Bunny and hide them in his comic books, so that, when he was flipping though an issue of the Silver Surfer's adventures, he would see himself with a poopy butt. And what sounds like a childish taunt becomes something quite horrifying when it is actually represented as a work of art.

But nothing the other children did to torment Bunny could compare to the pain he felt in his heart, and his bewildered sense of guilt. He had, after all, been planning to marry Sister Anne. After his meeting with the nun, he had immediately gone to Thommy and told him that he had proposed to Sister Anne, and she had accepted, and he was embarrassed to think that Thommy might think he had lied. Of course, Thommy had assumed that Bunny was lying, but twee children never know that their lies are obvious and that people shrug them off. Bunny had also spent a lot of time talking at Francine Wu about how much he loved Sister Anne. Because Francine Wu kept her face turned away from him, as she always did, Bunny could not see that she was crying.

Well, Bunny just felt like his whole world had collapsed around him. And so Bunny disappeared. He was gone for two days, and finally Thommy went to Francine Wu to talk to her. She didn't answer him back, but Thommy told Francine that he was worried about Bunny, and he thought he knew where Bunny might be, and would she help Thommy find him? And, without a word, Francine Wu gathered her things and stood, and both walked to the Bell Museum of Natural History. They spent several hours searching the museum, and finally found Bunny hiding in a closet in the Touch and See room. He had his aviator sunglasses on and, for some reason, an unlit cigarette dangling out of his mouth. He also had his pen knife open, and it was pressed again his wrist, as though he meant to harm himself.

For the first time they had ever heard it happen, Francine Wu spoke. "I hate you, Bunny," she said, and threw herself at him, raining her tiny fists down on his head and shoulders. Bunny did not seem to notice. After a while, she stopped and ran out of the room, sobbing. Bunny then removed his aviator glasses and looked at Thommy.

"We need to do a suicide pact, Thommy," he said.

"No," Thommy said.

"You're my best friend," Bunny said.

"You're an idiot," Thommy said. "Sister Anne never said she would marry you."

"Yes she did," Bunny said.

"She is a nun, Bunny," Thommy said. "Nuns don't get married."

Bunny had not known this. "They don't?' he asked.

"They're married to Jesus," Thommy said.

This just confused Bunny, who was Jewish. And so he did what he always did when he was confused. He did a big dramatic gesture to distract everybody. In this instance, he cut his wrist. Thommy saw it, and started to cry.

* * *

This is the moment when Dr. Arkansas emerges from his hiding place. He has been squatting behind the polar bear in the Touch and See Room for two days, observing Bunny and taking notes. And, in those two days, Dr. Arkansas has radically revised his theory about twee children. For one thing, he has abandoned the idea that twee children are unusually good at learning life lessons. Over the course of the two days Bunny has been in the natural history museum, he has repeatedly gone to a wooden case filled with drawers. The case contains all sorts of things for children to handle, such as rocks and pelts of fur. One of the drawers contains a plastic spider. Bunny has opened that drawer 15 times, and every time been surprised by the spider, and shouted in terror. Once, he opened the drawer three times in two hours, and every time behaved as though it was the first time he had seen the spider.

Twee children were presumed to be unusually smart. Dr. Arkansas no longer believes this. When Bunny first arrived, he had seven bottles of root beer and 14 packets of Ritz crackers. Bunny carefully divvied up his stash, talking to himself, figuring out how much he could eat and how often so that the crackers and pop would last two days. He then ate all the crackers and drank all the pop in the next half hour. Bunny has been eating carpet ever since.

So when Dr. Arkansas sees Bunny cut his own wrist, it's the final straw. He emerges from behind the polar bear, marches over to Bunny, and takes the pen knife away from him. He takes Bunny into the bathroom and washes and bandages his wound, which is very shallow. Then Dr. Arkansas takes Bunny to find Francine Wu and makes him apologize to her. Bunny doesn't really know why he's apologizing to her, but that doesn't surprise Dr. Arkansas. In the past two days, he has become convinced that twee children are, in fact, idiots.

Dr. Arkansas will soon publish a monograph called "Free To Be You and Twee: Rethinking the Theory." And, with his monograph, the academic study of twee will virtually disappear, and twee children will no longer be treated as gifted, but instead as weirdos, which is consistent with how twee children have always been treated, for for that single decade in the late 60s and early 70s when people briefly thought them unique and wonderful.

Perhaps it's for the best. After all, I never wanted to be twee. All I wanted to be was a normal kid.

Although, as anybody who knows me can tell you, and you have probably guessed, that is a lie.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:53 PM on April 20, 2013 [42 favorites]


I realize that's a massive comment fable to have composed in response to E. L. Konigsburg's, whose work I adore, but it seemed the only thing I could offer on her death.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:55 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


E. L. Konigsburg and Jean Merrill (1923-2012) have been immensely influential in my general world view and for their formative fictional neighborhoods that constructed my memory of a New York City I never knew.

I believe in mysteries, primary sources, and coming home different. I want automats, justice for the little guy, and pickles from pushcart vendors.

Here's to gray underwear stuffed in sarcophagi.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:20 AM on April 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Very sad to hear this. Fond memories of my mother reading this to me on our sofa.

I'm reasonably sure I know the title of the pirate book she refers to above...
posted by dr. zoom at 12:39 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh man, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was one of my favourite books when I was a kid. I really, really wanted to go to New York City and hide out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the books I read as a kid, I was quite convinced I should have grown up in 1960s or 1970s era New York City.

And yeah, E.L. Konigsburg's other books were really great too. I liked A Proud Taste of Scarlet and Miniver, in particular.

Thanks for some of the best books of my childhood, Ms. K.

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posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:45 AM on April 21, 2013


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is one of those books from my childhood that I've always loved to revisit (usually on drab rainy days when I need cheering up) and which always meant a lot to me. The characters were so vivid to me I can still conjure them up so easily in my mind, almost better than some of the real people I knew back then. She was a great writer, and this is a big loss.

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posted by Lina Lamont at 1:10 AM on April 21, 2013


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posted by brujita at 2:59 AM on April 21, 2013


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posted by gingerest at 3:23 AM on April 21, 2013


My parents were friends with her and her husband when I was growing up in Jacksonville, Fl. Her house was in bike riding distance of ours, and I would sometimes ride over there and visit when I was elementary school aged. Family lore claims that at one visit, she had just finished the manuscript for The
Dragon in the Ghetto Caper, and that she let me read
the first chapter of the MANUSCRIPT. I did not realize
what a big deal that was until my parents explained it
to me.

In the 1990s, Mrs. W and I went to a lecture in Jax by Faith Reingold (sp?), a quilter who had written a children's book illustrated with quilts. The lady sitting next to me turned to me and asked me my name. Hers was Elaine Konigsburg.

When Mrs. W and I got back from doing errands yesterday, there was a voice mail from my dad telling me she had died. He had told me she had been quite ill the last few years.


My favorite of hers was Jennifer Hecate Macbeth etc.

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posted by wittgenstein at 4:33 AM on April 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


I have just one thing to write about this FPP: "Baloney!"

I think it was spelled "boloney" in the book.
posted by Melismata at 4:35 AM on April 21, 2013


I still have my copy from 1975. I think I'll read it again this afternoon.

One thing that really stuck with me from the fountain scene (with apologies for paraphrasing): Jamie finds a quarter and says, "Someone very rich much have tossed this in." Claudia responds, "Someone very poor. Rich people only make penny wishes."

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posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:51 AM on April 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Shortly after that article appeared in the paper I read a book that told the adventures of some children who, upon being sent by ship from their island home to England, were captured by pirates. In the company of the pirates, the children became piratical themselves; they lost the thin veneer of civilization that they had acquired in their island home.

To say that I had not associated The Mixed-Up Files... with Richard Hughes' exceptionally creepy A High Wind in Jamaica would be the understatement of the millennium.

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posted by thomas j wise at 5:11 AM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Damn. I read her books over and over as a kid, and even then I marveled at her creativity and talent. Such an amazing writer.

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posted by MexicanYenta at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2013


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I read From the Mixed-Up Files... at least a dozen times as a kid, only stopping when I reached adolescence and thought it was "too childish" for my age. Just added it to my Amazon wish list for near-future re-reading.
posted by maxim0512 at 6:05 AM on April 21, 2013


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posted by skycrashesdown at 6:47 AM on April 21, 2013


Somewhere I've (hopefully) still got a copy of From the Mixed-Up Files that E.L. Konigsburg signed for me at our local library. That book provided one of my earliest glimpses of New York and the Met before I had any concrete knowledge of either.

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posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:09 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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When I was 10 or so, I would check out Mixed-Up Files every time we went to the library - as in, hand it in to the librarian, then immediately go find another copy and check it out. Eventually my mom noticed this and bought it for me. She and Zilpha Keatley Snyder were huge and much revered influences on my life at that age. Godspeed, Ms. Konigsburg.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:17 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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I loved Mixed-Up Files. Growing up far from Manhattan, the Met always seemed like such a dreamy place to "run away to". I also loved Claudia's constant insistence on propriety, even if they were on the lam. I made sure to pass that book along to my oldest niece when she was of an appropriate age, and I plan to do so for other nieces and nephews as well. Sad news.
posted by pitrified at 7:25 AM on April 21, 2013


One of my favorites.
posted by OmieWise at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2013


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Journey to an 800 Number for me. I didn't know E.L. Konigsburg was a woman.
posted by subdee at 7:27 AM on April 21, 2013


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I spent much of my childhood mentally running away from home, and her books helped a great deal.
posted by camyram at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2013


Just this morning I thought about Mixed Up Files when a classmate read a short story about a fighting couple on their anniversary and included a part where the wife corrects her husband's grammar. "Go into the gas station, not go in the gas station." It made me think of Claudia "always picking on" Jamie's grammar. Konigsburg wrote their sibling relationship so well. She didn't dumb down her books for her young readers, and I've always appreciated that. It was one of the comfort books in my stack of childhood favorites that I re-read while huddled on my mattress on the floor on my first night alone in a new city.

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posted by book 'em dano at 7:51 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by BlahLaLa at 8:17 AM on April 21, 2013


I've always wondered if I loved Mixed-Up Files so intensely because I was a future special collections librarian, or if I'm a special collections librarian because I loved that book.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:29 AM on April 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


My condolences to yellowcandy's family.
posted by Houstonian at 8:30 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Mixed-Up Files pinched and tweaked my young brain in ways I didn't learn about until much later --- not just daydreams about living in museums, though I've had those ever since.

I've always wanted to go to an automat. (I know.) Whenever characters in an old movie go to an automat, I get unaccountably excited. When a Rosemary's Baby character mentions dessert from Horn and Hardart, I interject sotto voce "That's an automat." I've never been to one, and now there aren't many left.

The Fella and I play The Lottery Game at home ("I just won the lottery; what shall we do?"), and one of my standard answers involves going to Amsterdam. For the museums? Of course! For the Anne Frank house? Certainly! For the culture and beauty, yes!

But also because Amsterdam has a chain of automats.

(I know.)

I've already planned out our trip, by which I don't mean I've selected dates or hotels or planned tours of Amsterdam's attractions. I mean I've pored over Febo's menu, figuring out what my vegetarian husband can eat and what I might like myself.

But it's only this week, in conversation with my oldest sister about The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler that I figured out where this fixation was born. I'd say we mention the book once a year or so. She didn't remember the automat in the book, but she was the oldest: she didn't need to feel its freedom like her youngest sister did.

It was, of course, the automat where Claudia and Jamie ate when away from the museum, where they spent the nickels and dimes they scraped up from the bottom of the fountain, where they learned to buy the most filling food they could afford to last through the long nights in that ancient bed, where they could be free and peaceful and unscrutinized by adult eyes, where they could plan and talk and dream freely.

Of course I wanted to go there.

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posted by Elsa at 8:49 AM on April 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


I loved MIXED-UP FILES so much that I bought it the instant my daughter was old enough to read it. It's definitely one of the reasons that I'm a writer today. She will be missed.
posted by headspace at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2013


I reread A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver a couple weeks ago and was delighted to find it was still an excellent read. I remember being thrilled, reading it as a child, by the subversive humor in an author poking gentle fun at the nerdiness of English teachers--when English teachers reach heaven, the first thing they do is seek out Shakespeare and bombard him with questions.

And after A View from Saturday, some part of me still believes that "tip" is an acronym for "to insure promptness," even if Snopes claims otherwise. (And I still think fondly of the characters in that book as early nerdfighters, even if the book predates the coinage of the term.)

Konigsburg's influence on the imaginations and literary tastes of generations of children will continue, I'm certain.

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posted by mixedmetaphors at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


*sigh*

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posted by tarnish at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2013


I read Mixed Up Files more times than I can count. I don't have anything to say that's better than Konigsburg's own words:

"I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you just accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It's hollow."
posted by donnagirl at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


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That book taught me to love New York before I even knew what New York was. It seemed so perfect and magical to a poor kid growing up in a three stoplight town in West Virginia.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:19 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


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I wanted to live in the museum too.
posted by koucha at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2013


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posted by beanytacos at 12:26 PM on April 21, 2013


:( I loved (george). RIP
posted by yoga at 12:30 PM on April 21, 2013


I still have my copy from when I was a kid. I think Boy and I will read it together today.
posted by dejah420 at 12:52 PM on April 21, 2013


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I started reading A View from Saturday thinking it was going to be fantasy (because of the team name, maybe), but it turned out to be one of my favorite non-fantasy books ever.
posted by soelo at 5:19 PM on April 21, 2013


Love love loved her; aside from the other books mentioned above, Jennifer, Hecate, MacBeth, William McKinley and me, Elizabeth was one of my favorite childhood books. I loved that, until you got to an illustration about halfway through the book (as I recall it), you had no idea that Elizabeth was white and Jennifer was black. Konigsberg, Louise Fitzhugh and Zilpha Keatley Snyder were probably my Big Three when I was a kid. Snyder's still with us, thank God.

And yeah, the first time I went to the Metropolitan Museum (like many others here, I was an adult) the first thing I did was look for that bed.
posted by OolooKitty at 6:49 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Loved that book as a kid.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:45 AM on April 22, 2013


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posted by cass at 8:15 AM on April 22, 2013


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Also, although Konigsburg was an excellent author, there are quite a few children's book authors (and vastly more children's book author wannabes) who desperately need to read Bunny's comment and ask themselves if their protagonist resembles "Bunny."
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:33 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


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Loved this as a child, forgot about it sometime after I went to high school, fell back in love with it when I saw The Royal Tenenbaums. Somehow I always thought of her as being in a class with Nora Johnson, who wrote The World of Henry Orient.
posted by pxe2000 at 11:45 AM on April 22, 2013


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Here's another penny in the fountain. I'm crushed.
E.L. Konigsburg and Ellen Raskin were heroes of mine as a kid. Mixed-Up Files changed the way I looked at the world and then, just a few years ago, Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place did it all over again. We need more writers like her in the world.
posted by I'myourMuppet at 12:22 PM on April 22, 2013


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