Judy Blume on Joyce Carol Oates, 'Writers and Lovers,' and the Book That Everyone Should Read

judy blume
Shelf Life: Judy BlumePORTRAIT BY Marion Curtis/Starpix for Lionsgate / ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA

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Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007I5QMK2?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10051.a.43566950%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret</p><p>$9.99</p><p>amazon.com</p>

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Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret



Judy Blume chronicled the agony and angst of navigating puberty, adolescence, and sex for generations of the curious, confused, and clueless, and now comes Lionsgate’s big-screen version of arguably her angstiest, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (Atheneum Books for Young Readers). In addition to her books for young adults (Forever, Deenie), she’s written picture books, children’s and middle grade books (the Fudge series), and adults (Wifey, In the Unlikely Event, her most recent novel from 2015). During the 80s, she received 2,000 letters a month. All told, her 29 books have sold 90 million copies, despite some of them being frequent targets of book bans.

The New Jersey-born, Key West-based Blume was a producer on the movie, but she can also be seen in front of the camera as the subject of the documentary Judy Blume Forever. Other titles jumping from page to screen include an animated version based on Fudge for Disney+, a re-imagined series based on Forever at Netflix, and Summer Sisters at Peacock.

Blume, the founder of the non-profit Books&Books in Key West, is the recipient of such literary awards as the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the Library of Congress’ Living Legends award, the Authors Guild Foundation for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community, the E.B. White Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Coalition Against Censorship.

She majored in early childhood education at NYU and has honorary doctorates from Yale and Rutgers, tap dances, led Tayari Jones to her third publisher, likes renovation projects, is phobic about thunderstorms, and has a rest stop named after her: the Judy Blume Service Area on the Garden State Parkway. Fill up on her picks below.

The book that…

…made me miss…:

The book that made me forget to cook dinner was Them by Joyce Carol Oates. It was summer, and my two little kids were playing in our backyard sandbox. I had no idea what time it was until my then husband came home, found the kids still happily playing and me, reading. “What, no bath? No dinner ready? It’s six o’clock!” I vaguely remember smiling, thinking – that’s right. I went on to read and enjoy many books by Joyce Carol Oates. My kids learned to bathe themselves. And eventually they became very good cooks.

…has a sex scene that will make you blush:

Who can remember, there were so many? But okay, when I was 12 or 13, I’d go through my parents’ books on the lookout for sex scenes. How else was I ever going to learn anything? One that stands out in my mind is in Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. There was a picnic and an eagle (I think it was an eagle), and it was very steamy and satisfying. I read that scene so many times the book would fall open to it. That very copy is on my bookshelves now, with my father’s name stamped on the endpaper.

…I read in one sitting, it was that good:

Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. I was in such an emotional state when I finished the book I picked it up and started again. It hit me in all the right places. I laughed, I cried, I cared.

…I never returned to the library (mea culpa):

When I was four I hid a copy of Madeline [by Ludwig Bemelemans] so my mother couldn’t return it to the library. If I’d told her I loved that book so much I couldn’t part with it she’d have bought me my own copy. But I didn’t know that then. I thought the copy I hid was the only copy in the whole world.

…made me laugh out loud:

The most recent is Elinor Lipman’s Ms. Demeanor. Sometimes a charming, funny story is just what I need.

…I recommend over and over again:

I have a bookstore in Key West so I’m always recommending books. I could write you a list that would take up this whole column. I like to turn readers on to writers they’ve never read or heard of. Prep and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld are two. Then there are some of my favorite picture books – Bark George by Jules Feiffer, Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins, and almost any book by Rosemary Wells.

…currently sits on my nightstand:

That’s a dangerous question because my nightstand is very messy. Right now it’s The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen. I started once, gave up, then started again because it made my husband laugh so hard. And I’m glad I did. Kevin Wilson’s Now Is Not The Time To Panic, Solito by Javier Zamora, Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro, and Janet Malcolm’s Still Pictures.

…everyone should read:

Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. It reminds us what can happen if we remain complacent.

…I asked for:

The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace when I was nine. When I was a freshman in college, confined to my bed with mono, I asked for Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. I got them because my parents believed in books and reading.

…surprised me:

Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I was not just surprised, I was stunned. I had to go back to make sure I hadn’t missed something. At our bookstore, I put a plain white sticker over the back of the paperback because the publisher has given away the biggest turn in the story. Please, publisher, give us another edition and soon! And please, reader, resist reading the back of the book.

…features the most beautiful book jacket:

Fingerprints of You, a YA novel by Kristen-Paige Madonia. Stunning tattoo art made me want one just like it and definitely made me curious about the story. P.S. I never did get a tattoo but the book was excellent.

The literary organization I support is:

National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) because we are in a scary place right now (like the 80s but growing worse every day). The current book banning craze is threatening teachers and librarians who are trying to protect the intellectual freedom of all ages. As always, young readers are the real losers.

If I could live in any bookstore in the world it would be:

Books&Books in Key West, because my work there is never done. It’s cozy. The people who work there are a great group of dedicated readers, and I love hanging out with them.

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