Everything Old is New (Year) Again, by Elayne Riggs
It’s the first business day of 2008 and, as I noted a few weeks ago, time for many pop-culture mavens to present their Best of 2007 lists. Alas, I will not be one of those. I can’t remember most of what I read in 2007, a blur of a year for me at the best of times due to the losses I suffered. But this isn’t new for me; I can barely remember the fiction I read or watch more than a half hour or so afterwards. It’s just the way my mind works. The only time I was able to do yearly wrap-ups and "Best Of"s was when I was regularly reviewing about a dozen comics every week, because I could refer to my previous work, but even then it was tough because I didn’t grade the stuff, I just talked about it.
My low retention rate is one reason why re-reading cherished books I’ve had for years is so fulfilling to me. It contains both the comfort of revisiting something vaguely familiar to me and the excitement of seeing it all anew. I was very happy to have received so many comments on my last column (thanks so much, all!). Obviously children’s books are beloved by a lot of adult pop culture geeks besides me. That’s really wonderful, and I think it proves the point that all-ages stuff really does mean stuff written for the young and the young-at-heart, rather than exclusively for the young. (It probably doesn’t hurt that we’re all comics people too, and have all experienced the knee-jerk reactions of many non-comics readers that we’re too old for our hobby, with its accompanying implicit assumption that all-ages literature ought not be enjoyed by, well, all ages.)
And while I welcome your suggestions on what to buy next, the thing of it is, and this is not a complaint, there’s just so much out there! I’m almost through Baum’s Oz books, and have now decided to read a few of his other works which happen to be available online, like
The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, because the characters featured therein "cross over" to the Oz books. Lo and behold, I actually own Sea Fairies, which I didn’t realize until I just rearranged my bedside bookcase, more about which below. I was also pleased to find an online library of books by Edith Nesbit, highly recommended by Martha Thomases and others on last week’s comments thread. And I’ve put the boxed set from the other most-touted author, Edward Eager, on my Amazon wish list, where they reside alongside Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and the first three paperbacks in Michael Buckley’s Sisters Grimm series (it seems the others are only available in hardcover so far and, as It’s All Good readers doubtless recall, I have trouble physically holding hardcovers in my favorite reading positions). I’m sure I’ll order them sooner or later, but for now I’m eager to get on with Oz. As Vinnie and others note, I’ve had those books for half my life, and have yet to read them all! And it just seems rather daft to me that this should be so. I should note that we also own lots of comics I have yet to read, but I don’t feel the same way about them because they’re from Robin’s collection, not something I actually bought myself. After all, what’s the good of spending money on an item you’re not going to use?
As I’ve been going through the Oz stuff I’ve been rearranging my bedside bookcase. The top of the case and the first two shelves are pretty much taken up with all-ages series, fairy tale books, mythology and other folk tale stuff. If I’ve done this right, you should be able to click on the accompanying photos to expand them to full size.
A couple of large-sized Plumly Thompson Oz books, which will be read after the smaller ones and then shelved on a living room bookcase as I want my bedside bookshelf to only contain smaller books.
As I mentioned, the "lost" Baum Sea Fairies book. As you can see, reshelving the larger books elsewhere means I now have room for the seventh Harry Potter paperback when that comes out this summer. I know how it ends, but please don’t spoil the middle for me.
The "three Ls". The L’Engle books were a gift from Johanna Draper Carlson years ago. I’m not terribly keen on rereading C.S. Lewis at the moment, so I think my next venture will be into the world of Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle, which I suspect will bring with it not memories of the plots and characters but of where and who I was when I last recall reading them, back in my parents’ house over half a lifetime ago.
And that’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? A need to capture what was wrapped around me when I first read this stuff. Take the fairy tale book in the middle here:
I can’t tell you how many times I perused the original (which tattered copy I still own, it’s underneath the newer version) Golden Book of Fairy Tales as a kid. I took it everywhere. It’s probably the oldest book I own. I love fairy tales, particularly how they emphasize the resourcefulness of women and girls in a time when most females were stuck in dependent gender roles. One of the things that infuriates me when feminists decry the "princess mentality" is that there’s a reason fairy-tale protagonists wanted to be princesses. Becoming (i.e., marrying into) royalty was one of the few ways in which women could attain "happy ever after" autonomy of sorts, a position wherein one no longer had to toil and could engage in leisure pursuits of one’s choice (at least until the "heir and the spare" came along). Yeah, I wanted to be a princess too, but more than that I wanted to be a fairy godmother. I still do. Now that’s autonomy.
Over the years I’ve collected folk tales from all sorts of places. I must get through The Arabian Nights one of these days!
Or should I tackle the multicolored Fairy Books first?
I hope you see part of the reason why, as interested as I am in suggestions for further reading, I don’t feel a driving need to buy that many new books (Rowling excepted). I’m about to throw out all my political magazines from 2007, as well as all weekly copies of the local paper. They’re all unread. Even with this newfound temporary leisure time, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get through new magazines and blogs and comics and all these wonderful old stories. And if it comes down to a choice, it’s no contest for me. I’ll always go back to my childhood passion for myths and legends and fairy tales. They’re my most vivid reminder that, while I may have hit the half-century mark, deep down I’m still the same girl I was then.
Elayne Riggs is ComicMix‘s news editor, and looks forward to finding a job in Manhattan this year so she can read all these books during her daily bus and subway commute.