Saturday, September 17, 2005

Still (horse) crazy after all these years

A few months back, Tom and I got on a "kids' books reading kick." We read through the Wrinkle in Time series and The Westing Game, enjoying the little trip down memory lane.

When I was a wee child (and a dorky pre-teen), I was all about the horse books. I didn't much care about plot, realism, quality of writing...nope, as long as there was a horse involved, I was perfectly content. Obviously, some books were better than others. In particular, I remember very much enjoying Walter Farley's Black Stallion and Island Stallion series. Having so recently indulged in a reading extravaganza of juvenile literature, I got the itch to revisit these old favorites as well.

This morning I ventured over to the public library to get myself a library card and fetch some Farley books. It's kind of an odd building, all low-ceilinged and crowded with shelves, with a twisting staircase in the center and floors that feel just a little unstable, like they're made out of corrugated aluminum and covered with carpet. The book selection's decent enough; doesn't hold a candle to OSU's library of course, but it's a damn sight better than, say, the Josephine County library.

All right. So I had to find the children's section, and then not be embarrassed to peruse it. I'm not sure if it's a pride issue (I swear I'm reading at way more than a 6th grade level) or a guilt issue (I shouldn't be stealing kids' books away from them) or what, but I will admit I felt a little self-conscious as I quickly scanned the stacks, looking for Farley. It's dumb. I had no reason to feel weird about wandering through the kids' section in my mid-twenties, not really. But I did, regardless.

Anyway, eventually I located the cache o' horse books (The Black Stallion, Son of the Black Stallion, The Island Stallion, The Black Stallion Challenged, The Island Stallion Races, The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt, etc. etc. etc.), right next to a table where two little boys were working on their math homework, their mothers glancing at me suspiciously (or so I imagined). I resisted the urge to linger at the shelves, looking at all the books that had so captivated me as a youngster. I snatched The Black Stallion and The Island Stallion and made for the exit. Took a bit of doing, but I figured out the self-check-out machine and headed for home.

I had some homework to do this afternoon for my Profiling class (professor's still insane, by the way...just so you know), but I took a break to start reading The Black Stallion. And I was...disappointed. :(

I got about halfway through it and, sure, parts of the book were just like I remembered, but I'm bummed out that the writing is somewhat...lacking. There are big ol' holes in the plot, requiring much suspension of disbelief, which frankly I'm not all that capable of anymore. Sigh. Why can't authors writing for kids just do better? It's true, I read those books as a young'un with no discontent whatsoever, happily oblivious to glaring inaccuracies and unaccounted-for gaps in time, but there's no reason we shouldn't be able to hold children's authors to a higher standard. Many of them pull it off, penning stories that are just as accessible/acceptable to an older reader as to a younger one. But just as many write lazily, assuming their audience won't know any better.

Now, I'm all for flights of fancy and encouraging an active imagination in children. But there's something inherently offensive to me about writers feeling they don't have to try as hard because their readers are young. Damnit.

Anyway, probably better get back to studying arsonists, rapists, pedophiles and serial killers. Perhaps after another few hours of reading about such unpleasantness, an innocuous if improbable story of a boy and his wild stallion won't seem quite so bad.

3 comments:

mysterygirl! said...

That's always a bummer, when you reread something (or watch a movie) that you used to love and now can see all the errors.

I should definitely stay away from my old favorites if I want to hang onto my nostalgia...

Marisa said...

I always loved (actually, I still do) the Madeline L'Engle books, as well as The Westing Game. Horse books weren't so big for me, except for Misty of Chincoteague and Five O'Clock Charlie. I don't think there's any shame in reading kids books as an adult. I do it often as a way to take a comforting dip into my past.

susan said...

Yeah, the L'Engle books and The Westing Game weren't at all a letdown for me. Still just as great now as they were then, so I know there are some books that will pass the test of time. Misty of Chincoteague and some of Marguerite Henry's others are next on my list of books to revisit, and I'm optimistic I will enjoy them as well. :)