Monday, March 19, 2007

Belated Review: The Teddy Bear Habit by James Lincoln Collier

Published in 1967, this was one of my earliest obsessions. I was the first kid to check it out of the school library, and I went back for it as often as they'd let me. I never got over it, not when I was 12, not when I was 30. This is the story of George Stable, a budding musician with "issues" and the story that told me I was different and okay.

The Teddy Bear Habit contained in its pages a blueprint of the world I wanted to live in. The illustrations depicted a wacky Greenwich Village filled with stereotypical beatniks, drinking espresso, snapping their fingers, wearing all black, and speaking in slang laden riddles. (Unfortunately, these cool Daddy-O's turned out to be jewel thieves, but thats almost irrelevant.) George's father was an action painter, "like Jackson Pollack", who drew cartoons for a living, listened to jazz and hated television.

George drank egg creams often at the soda shop alone, feeling grown up in his solitude. George was self deprecating and trying hard to be cynical. His internal monologue far overshadowed his output of spoken words. He had few friends, and tended to hang out with adults. He was bright, but naive enough to get himself entangled with the jewel thieves. He considered himself a loser and a screw-up. He ate the same sandwich everyday, and was inordinately disturbed by the smell of his piano teacher's Wint-o-green LifeSavers. George, just possibly, was another pre-DSM IV-R Aspie.

George's perseveration was his teddy bear, which he carried everywhere, often inside his guitar to hide it from cooler kids. George was to the bear as I was to the book, like a picture in a picture in a picture. Over the years, as I moved from one "comfort object" to the next, I thought of the bear, stuffed, unbeknownst to its owner, with rubies. The rocks and ancient coins I carried in my pockets glowed with recognition. An empathy of things.

At eight, nine, ten, reading and re-reading the book, I formed a stubborn bond to a mythical New York, especially Greenwich Village and the idea of beatniks, so obviously smarter and more interesting than the hippies who had replaced them in the popular imagination. These were the ultimate outsiders, providing me a frame of reference both cartoonish and dangerous. Being as I am, I took it all too literally. Not that I stole anything; I'm an Aspie. I bought a black turtleneck and wore it every day. Once in awhile, I still play the bongos, sometimes with a confidential charm tucked inside.


  1. You are not alone - I've been tormented for years, trying to remember the title of this book. I finally stumbled upon it and have ordered a beat-up first edition from 1967 - should remind me of the one I too borrowed a number of times from the school library. :-) Can't wait to read it again.

  2. Great review of one of my favorite books-thank you!
    It was recently rereleased, too!

  3. Great review of one of my favorite books. Thank you!!!!


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