Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Children's Stories that Change Lives

1.)Harry Potter. I am a huge Harry Potter fan. The series taught me how to read more than my Kindergarten teachers ever could. I believe in those novels not merely as childish entertainment, or fun fantasy adventures, but also as sources of a beautiful moral code. The triumph of love over evil. The choice "between what is right and what is easy." I have friends who make fun of me and call Harry Potter "little kid's books", but children's books that have this huge of a cultural impact should not be, in my opinion, taken lightly. The series has even spawned it's own charity organization, and a music movement called wizard rock (of which I personally am a part), which is comprised of dorks who "help kids read. help kids rock.". And why not? This is not the first time that so called children's tales have made a difference.

2.)Grimm's Fairy Tales. The fairy tales of the Brother's Grimm have morphed over the years, becoming less scary, becoming musicals, becoming more mod
ern, but through it all they have, in essence, remained intact. These tales have changed lives not merely through their lasting claims on our society, however, but what is more through their collection resulting in the unification of Germany and the re-drawing of the map of Europe. When the stories were first collected by the Brother's Grimm, Germany was in a rather bad way, a loose conglomeration of states rather than a contry, with possible war brewing from all fronts. To survive, Germany would have to unite. The problem was that the people of each state saw themselves as individuals, unwilling to unite with "foreigners" . When the fairy tales were collected, people began to realize that they did, in fact, have a shared culture. The stories were a key part of the birth of a German cultural identity and thus led, indirectly maybe, but still, led to the unification of Germany. Which country's unification have you led to today?

3.)"The Little Prince". If you have not read this book, read this book. Apart from the beautifully lingering illustrations, this story will make you cry. Or at least it will make me cry. Every. Goddamn. Time. Once you have read "The Little Prince", you will never not have read "The Little Prince" again. Which I guess you could say with anything, but with this story it feels as though it means something more. If you have read "The Little Prince", check out this xkcd comic strip:


4.)"Winnie the Pooh". "If you live to be 100, I hope i live to be 100 minus one day, so that I never have to live without you." This is the "Awwwww!" moment everyone so loves. I mean, come on. That's adorable. And that's not all. I mean Winnie the Pooh comes at you with the sentimental childhood tearjerkers over, and over, and over."Promise me you'll never forget me because if i thought you would I'd never leave."
But "Winnie the Pooh" is more than just adorable. It's a children's story that's magical but feels real; every child's stuffed animals become Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga, Eeyore and the gang. Every child's back yard becomes the hundred acre wood. And have you checked out these books? The Te Of Piglet and The Tao of Pooh.

It may be true that I get more out of these books now than I did as a little kid(Not the tao books, but the children's books, I mean), but that just goes to show that they are timeless classics.
If anyone has anything they think should be added to the list, I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Top Ten First Sentences

10. "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

9. "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

8. "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice" 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriell Garcia Marquez

7. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

6. "Mr and Mrs Dursley of number 4 Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, JK Rowling

5. "Whomsoever could do the Most Incredible Thing was to have the hand of the king's daughter and half the kingdom" The Most Incredible Thing, Hans Christian Anderson

4. "Mother died today." The Stranger, Albert Camus

3. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

1. "For a long time I used to go to bed early." Swann's Way, Marcel Proust

Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments! (if you exist...)

Vampires, what's up with that?

I know it's been a while, well all right, a long while since my last post, which was also my first post, and I apologize.
This post may offend you. Just a warning.
But only if you like bad books.
Recently, I have been embareced in bookstores to even be seen in the section of books set aside for people of my age group, namely: the young adult section. Granted, some decent books remain, but I can't help longing for the days when The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders and such like were the most popular "teen" fiction books around. And I didn't even exist in those days. Now you walk into the young adult section and this is what you see:

Now maybe I'm judging books by their covers, but...really? I think the main problem with these books is that they were written by people who have forgotten what it means to be young, thus they turn to how teenager-dom is presented in the media, which was in turn created by people who have forgotten what it feels like. Thus the genre feeds on itself. And possibly is creating, not abolishing, the lack of avid teen readers. But I could go on like this forever. It will have to be a different post. On to the subject of the post at hand:
The main perpetrator of this, and the one I take most issue with, is possibly the most famous: Twilight. I read Twilight, it was fun, it was fast, it was a guilty pleasure. But once you take it seriously, and start to look for symbolism and deeper meaning that's not there, and get offended when it's not someone's favorite book, you've taken it to far. Once you won't be happy unless you're boyfriend is Edward Cullen, it's too much. Girls, just a thought, but your boyfriends are probably going to want to do more than just watch you while you sleep. And, while vampires do have a certain "bad boy" appeal, I'd take Mr. Darcy and Heathcliff anyday.
Apart from the books prevailing disconnect with true teen life (the charactors are flat, the highschool doesn't exist, the romance is unbelievable), there is the problem of the way Bella can't exist when Edward's not around. Neither of them are individuals, they are basically codependant. That's not healthy. And when this dependence filters through the pages and into the readers, so that they can't exist without Edward, then that's become a problem. A disgusting, dehumanization, of thousands of preteen girls. They can't exist without a vampire lover. They need their vampire love to save them. If you absolutely have to read a book about obsessive love, why not read one that doesn't have the side effect of, when taken to far, turning you into an idiot? Read Wuthering Heights. At least that's well written.