07 April 2010

Nostalgia for ‘The Funny Guy’

Referring to my post about spam nonsense, I heard from another St. Nicholas fan (thank you, Jean!), and that got me remembering how I ever thought to seek out those fat bound volumes in the Carnegie Library of my hometown. I am pretty sure it was through a book called The Funny Guy, which I bought for probably about 35 cents, new, from Scholastic Book Services in third grade — remember those fill-in-the-blank forms, where you could order books like Girl Scout cookies?

Some quick research tells me The Funny Guy was written by Grace Allen Hogarth, who also wrote a considerable amount of science fiction. It was published by Harcourt, Brace in 1955, and the Scholastic edition came out in 1965. I should have hung on to it; the WorldCat database says there are only 45 copies of the hardcover in libraries around the world, and fewer than 20 of the Scholastic one. As I recall, my copy had completely fallen apart by the end of its life, so obviously it wasn't made to last.

The story, however, has long outlasted its binding, at least in my memory. It was set in a small town in turn-of-the-century Massachusetts, and the young heroine is struggling with being the most unpopular girl in her grade-school class (now why did this resonate with me?). “The funny guy” is what they called her, and it was not a term of approbation. (Think “guy” as in Guy Fawkes, a figure of derision.) She takes comfort in reading and writing, and sending in submissions to St. Nicholas. Also in raising money door-to-door for her own use, pretending it's for the Boston Baby Hospital; I learned the term “false pretences” from this book. I don't think it was a happily-ever-after book, but she does get a story in St. Nicholas. Also, she eats a live caterpillar on a dare.

Recounting the plot like this makes me think I should re-read it, somehow. In spite of its library rarity, you can buy it used for under $5, including shipping, on Amazon. But I don't really want to own another musty-smelling falling-apart paperback. I would gladly pay that much and more for an e-book version (I recently downloaded the Kindle app for my iPod Touch and am reading The Eustace Diamonds there), but children's literature from the 1950s appears to be the exception to the rule that the Internet makes everything available to anybody with a credit card. So here I'm running up against the limitations of publishing's brave new world.

I am, however, requesting a copy of Hogarth's Sneeze on Sunday, co-written with Andre Norton, from our local library — one of 556 in the world that has this particular book. I know nothing about it right now (except that it's classified as a mystery, and that I read a number of books by Andre Norton a few years after I wore out my copy of The Funny Guy). I'll know more after it is resurrected from deep, deep library storage at my command. Ain't libraries grand?

(Here's someone else who's nostalgic for the Scholastic Book Club. I got the photo I'm using of The Funny Guy's cover from his or her Flickr site — thank you!)


  1. I enjoyed this -- a new one, to me. After my time, I guess. But you must enjoy L.M. Montgomery -- never mind Anne, have you read "Emily of New Moon"?

  2. I read The Funny Guy when I was about 14 years old and I've no idea why I enjoyed it so much or why it had such a huge impact on me, but even now at the ripe old age of 45 I still class it as one of my favourite books and I cling on to my copy as if it were a lifelong friend :)

  3. I have a Scholastic copy of this. I wonder where I could sell it.

  4. What a wonderful post! This book crawled into my heart as a child (thanks, Scholastic Books!) & I just had the pleasure of re-reading it at the age of 53. The gentle illustrations & authentic humanity of this children’s book is just wonderful & transcends the format. Thanks!