Good Reads

I read Nicholas D. Kristoff’s column in the New York Times, which really means not much of anything, other than it’s a good column, and you should read it, and maybe you should take one of the more obscure causes that it features, and maybe you should write a letter to your government people or send some money to a cause, or maybe even just tell people that there are still slaves in our world.

Kristoff happened, just before the 4th of July, to have a column on children’s books. He was asking for children’s book recommendations, and talking about his own favourites. And I read along, nodding. And thinking.

I read the comments, as I was curious about what other people remembered from their childhood. And there was someone, like there is always someone, who was complaining that the books suggested had no relevance for low income kids. Specifically, this person was complaining that low income African American’s couldn’t relate to the stories listed.

I was, I still am, astounded. Does this person read? I’m not attempting to make an ad hominium attack, but really, I thought Susan was a wet blanket, and Edmund a jerk, and I know next to nothing about the life of an English school child, and I’ve never been transported to another world. But I remember Aslan, and I had a picture in my mind of Cair Parvel, long before the movies.

However much I might wish for a house elf, there is no Hogwarts, I will never be sorted, and I have no idea where to get myself a wand. But I have read every book. I am a red head, but not an orphan, I’ve never been to PEI, and I didn’t smash my slate over Billy Johnston’s head, even when he made me kiss him behind the skating rink. But I understood Anne’s anger, and I understood when she told Gilbert that “an iron” had entered her soul.

I have never fallen down a rabbit hole, and met a Queen who demanded people’s heads, I have never raced an Arabian stallion in the dessert, nor have I ever owned a black horse. Obviously, I’m not a horse, but Black Beauty’s story captivated me. I’ve owned dogs, but never lived in Saskatchewan, and I still smile at The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be.

I’m not a nurse and never wanted to be one, but I loved Cherry Ames, and I still read Madeline L’Engle’s books, both Sci-Fi and non, and every time I get the great chance to read them again, I find something new to chew on.

You see, children’s books are about stories. There’s not a common theme among them, but I loved them all. Every last one held my attention, even some 20 years later. For some of them, I can close my eyes and tell you where I was, how old I was, when I first read them.

And there is a deficit in stories. Even in the stories above. Yes, the story of the child in Harlem, surrounded by drugs and murder is not present. And it should be, in some form. I think understanding comes from listening to others’ stories. But, even in all the books above, my story isn’t present. You won’t find a reflection of my childhood. A book doesn’t have to be about your story to be enjoyable.

I have a newsflash for the commenter:

That isn’t why we read. We don’t read to hear our own story. We know our story. We read for other stories, to inspire, to delight, to teach, and truly, for a few hours of escape, into someone else’s life.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have 3 books left in Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and then I think I may crack open a Nancy Drew.

I do, after all, still own every last one of them, including the cook book.

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16 Responses to Good Reads

  1. Seraphim says:

    I didn't go to a Boarding School in Switzerland and I wasn't a Chalet Girl. I didn't have a best friend called Big Ears and I didn't have the Hardy Boys as my best friends.
    My son will never meet his current hero Zac Power and my daughter most likely won't catch up with Peter and Jane, but just for a brief while, they too can escape with them.
    LOVED reading this post Mrs Spit. LOVED it!

  2. Virginia says:

    Hear, hear! Very well said, and thank you.

  3. Inna says:

    Not only are they about stories but they also teach lessons and how each character reacted to different situations.
    Well said!

  4. Donna says:

    Growing up I spent my summers reading every book I could get my hands on. I wasn't an outdoosy kind of child – my world was the stories I read – none of them even remotely resembled my rural midwestern life. Reading opened my mind to the world of possibilites beyond my door, my street, my town. The stories childern are exposed to should never be limited.

  5. loribeth says:

    Well said, Mrs. Spit.

    I too still have my Nancy Drew cookbook somewhere. : )

  6. Artsy Reader says:

    You said it, lady.

  7. Martha says:

    I love, love, love this post and thank you for reminding me of my dear friends, Anne (with an "E"), Cherry, Precious, Nancy, and Madeline, and all the others who help open my heart and mind. Gee, I've never lived in a French Orphanage or traveled to the Badlands with a poodle named Charley or met a talking snake eager to cross a river but through books, ah, now, that's a different story.

  8. Bluebird says:

    Wait, there's a cookbook?? And here I only *thought* I had them all – what a disappointing realization!

    Great post, Ms. Spit, and you're so right. DH and I were just talking about this yesterday in the context of adult books, even. For the first time in my adult life I'm starting to read a few books that are, shall we say, not exactly grounded in reality. I resisted it for years, thinking that I just wasn't "that kind of girl." But – I have found more enjoyment and a better escape in these books than any I've read in the recent past.

  9. Two Hands says:

    I can't believe how many of the same books we've read. Have you read "The Blue Castle" by L.M. Montgomery? It was my favourite for a long, long time.
    I definitely do NOT read books that resemble in any way my own story, except for maybe the Louise Rennison books (because I was a bit like then when I was a teenager!)

  10. Jen says:

    Have you read the original versions of the Nancy Drews? They are much longer and, in my opinion, more interesting.

  11. erin says:

    and who could forget reading about Winnie the Pooh and Piglet……and i grew up in small town BC but i loved every single Little House on the Prairie book……books continue to be an escape for me, sometimes reality isn't what i hoped for 🙂

  12. ..... Carmen says:

    I love your posts 🙂 This one made me smile. I too read all of the Nancy Drew's and have a number of them downstairs. I should go dig them out.

  13. CLC says:

    Amen. Roal Dahl was always my favorite. And I never lived in a peach.

  14. Susan says:

    You are SO spot on!! I remember when I was doing my teaching internship being told that kids couldn't understand a story about a beach unless they'd experienced a beach. The hell? That's the only way many of them are EVER going to experience a beach. So bring in a pail of sand and salt some water to enrich the experience but deny them opportunities to read about things outside their world? You nailed it! And I loved Cherry Ames.

  15. Tash says:

    The whole reason there is an entire GENRE of young adult lit dedicated to vampires (and people, there has been for a good two decades, long before all this Twilight stuff) and such is that kids flock to what is other, and are desperate to read stories of independent-minded kids who are somehow outsiders — like they imagine themselves to be. Remember when parents boohood that kids shouldn't read "The Outsiders" — probably because it was too lower class?

    Although, someone in the NYT recently ran an article about teaching "catcher in the rye" to today's teens and a lot of them just don't get the angst anymore. A kid at the end said Holden should just buck up and take his prozac already.

  16. JamieD says:

    I read the beginning of your post, scratching my head, and thinking about the very same thing.

    Who wants to read a book about an ordinary girl who comes home from work, greets her cats and then gets on the internet to check her reader?

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