Friday, August 01, 2008

The Whimsical And The Profound

Well, it's a new month, and I for one could not be happier. Two of my roommates have moved into my apartment, so the whole loneliness and boredom thing I've had going on has come to a close. It was a good period of relfection and I will make sure to make more "me time" in the coming year, but too much just wasn't working for me. I mean, can you believe I really made a list describing in detail what I would do with the rest of my life? See the post before this one. I sure can't believe it.

Since it's a new month, I've also updated my book and music lists so you can get more a glimpse of my eclectic tastes. I'll warn you that the Little Jackie song has some mild language, but surely nothing you've never heard before and I doubt it would even get censored in the radio edit (if a radio station around here would ever have the taste level to play Little Jackie, that is... if I hear this Jonas Brothers song played again I'm going to hurt someone).

My post tonight is more or less fluff. I have some deep stuff planned but I thought it would be fun to reveal a little more about my literary tastes. I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which was last month's Book of the Month on my blog. It was very good, and also very deep. I won't reveal the plot but it raised many questions, and it spoke straight to the heart of how we remember things, and how our memories influence our future relationships in particular. It was very nuanced, very precise, and very well-thought out by its author. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

You'll notice that this month's two books seem much less profound. They are children's books. The first is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, a book I was forced to buy at metaphorical gunpoint by a friend of mine who is another future English teacher. It seems I offended her by not having read it before, but I'll admit I've always heard it was good and it looks like a fun read. The other is a little more "old school"... Rudyard Kipling's Kim. I found a lovely (and cheap) hardback edition among the musty piles of literature in a local used book store (one of my favorite places to be, by the way). It's a classic and considered Kipling's masterpiece, so I figured I'd give it a read.

A lot of adults seem to consider themselves "above" children's literature (unless it's Christian allegory... *cough* Narnia *cough*). I've always had a soft spot for it. For one, I consider myself a fantasy novelist, and children's literature usually goes hand-in-hand with whimsy. I know that if Hell decides to freeze over and my first novel, Whaler, gets published, it will most likely fit into the children's literature genre, and that's just fine with me. I'd be honored to join the ranks of Madeleine L'Engle, Lois Lowry, Avi, Lloyd Alexander, and the host of other novelists whose works make a more profound statement than anything the popular novelists (or the pretentious unpopular ones) could come up with.

That's the thing about children's literature. Sure, it's often simple. The books can be short, the dialogue less cumbersome and the words a little less challenging to one's vocabulary... but it's that simple format that, to me, allows those books freedom to get their point of view across clearly. Lois Lowry's The Giver was not a hard read, and you knew exactly what she was trying to say about the special and fragile nature of humanity when you read it, but that didn't take away from the fact that it packed a punch. It's a little known fact, but the whimsy and oddness of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz was actually a veiled political message about the United States at that time, and what critic hasn't found deeper psychological underpinnings to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland? Perhaps the profound is simply easier to see when placed next to the whimsical.

So basically that's what I'm getting at here. I love children's literature not because it's simple or easy to take in. Quite the contrary. The writers of that particular genre usually don't beat around the bush when it comes to making their point. To go a step further, I'd say the writers usually actually have a point that goes beyond being "different" and "edgy" and not using correct punctuation or grammar for no reason (Cormac McCarthy, I'm looking at you). They have something to say, and I don't think it's strange that when we think of classic literature, often we think of books that were originally intended for children or younger audiences. The themes last longer, and so the books do.

Well, now you've learned a bit more about my literary tastes. What are yours? I know I ranted here, but I don't really mind if you don't like children's literature that much. We all find meaning in different things, so what kind of genres do you usually go for? Hope everyone has a great day, and God bless.


otrolado said...

It looks like someone is trying to sell you something. Haha

I really enjoy the Lemony Snicket Books.

The Wayside Series also had a big impact on my sense of humor. The Cooper Kids Adventure Series by Frank Peretti was also excellent.

If I think of any others I will let you know.

David said...

How can you not have read The Phantom Tolbooth?! Next you'll be telling me you never read the Winnie the Pooh books or The Jungle Book (though I'm equally ignorant of his Kim).

otrolado said...

I have never read The Phantom Tollbooth either! I think they had just finished it when I moved to my 4th grade class in New Hampshire.

I forgot to mention Encyclopedia Brown and Amelia Bedelia. They rocked too.

Steve said...

The Phantom Tollbooth is brilliant. Moreso now that I'm old enough to get most of the jokes.

I've actually found out that a lot of "kid lit" seems a lot better now that I'm older..."The Long Secret" (a semi-sequel to Harriet the Spy) is now one of my favorite books, but I never "got" it as a kid. I also recommend "The Egypt Game" and "The Headless Cupid", by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

Ophir said...

Heh, Amelia Bedilia - loved her! I still remember all the puns from that book - But that's really for kids. I love books with word-play, though, which is one of the reasons I like the Alice books so much. The Phantom Tollbooth I read only recently and it was nice but as a "grown-up" now I feel it's definitely not on the same level as Alice. I also felt that Juster was trying too hard to imitate Carroll. That's my opinion, anyway, I know the book means a lot to some people. Kipling is on my list of "to read" as well. As a kid I read the Just So Stories and of course one can't escape "If..." - a favorite of educators the world over, and incorporated into song by probably my favorite musician (Joni Mitchell, though I prefer early Joni) and band (Brand New, a stanza in Sowing Season is from " If..." ... if it interests anyone ;-).)

Jay said...

Thanks for the list of ideas for things to read on the "kid lit" side of literature, guys. No, I haven't read a lot of the classics (I'll be getting to The Jungle Book soon, I hope), but I to have quite a fondness for them. Thanks!

kurt_t said...

How come nobody's mentioned Roald Dahl?

Ophir said...

Just as I posted my previous comment I realized I forgot to mention Dahl, who was my favorite as a kid. I read almost all his children's books in second grade and again at other times. Just recently I reread Henry Sugar and Six More, which is sort of an intermediate between his children's and adult fiction. I was dismayed later on to find out he was apparently anti-Semitic, but you've got to seperate the artist from the art. I've been meaning for a long time to read his books for adults. But, alas, to quote probably Dahl's most famous creation: "So much time and so little to do. No, strike that. Reverse it."

Blair said...

Hi Jay,

your post isn't fluff! Children's literature was one of my favourite modules in my university literature degree. Just one book I'd like to mention - not sure if it's available Stateside or not? But I'm reading a book called 'Ways to live forever' by Sally Nicholls at the moment. It's 'officially' a children's book - and it's a bit special. It's written in the voice of an 11-year old boy who's dying of leukaemia. Am just past halfway and warmly recommend it from what I've read so far.

in friendship, Blair