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.