It's the season for appreciating children's books. Holidays connect us profoundly with our childhoods, with their traditions that call us back to our families of origin even as we forge them anew with our own children. Years ago in a graduate seminar I had a professor gloss the difference between diachronic (clock-time, linear time) and synchronic (recurrent, cyclical) time through holidays: they are synchronic in being always the same, even as the particulars change. And so here we are, moving forward into December but backwards into our childhoods at the same time, and for some people that means appreciating the books that link us to our past.
First up is Andrew Martino in the Chronicle, (re)discovering his love of children's books: "By spending several months reading children's and young-adult fiction, I rediscovered not only what made me a reader in the first place, but also something essential about myself: my imagination. Reading "for fun" should not be just for children, but required of us all if we want to hold onto what makes us essentially human — our imaginations." The essay feels very familiar to me--it actually describes the process I went through on my first sabbatical, when I effectively converted myself from a Victorianist to a children's literature specialist. I had always been a somewhat addictive reader, losing myself especially in genre fiction (I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on Dorothy Sayers). But I'd lost a good deal of the pleasure of reading through years of graduate school and the pressures of the tenure track. I hasten to add, I love analysis; I can find deep pleasure in unpacking a complex text. But the addictive pleasure of speed, of plot, and of the freshness of experience, still stays with me. (I'm still trying to figure out, though, what "second-person" texts he read--any help on this on?)
I also recently enjoyed this piece by Gary Kamiya in Salon.com (click past the ads) about The Wind in the Willows. I can't remember the first time I read this novel; it seems I've always known it. And I think Kamiya really gets at the twin pleasures of the novel: the madcap adventures of the irredeemable Toad and the nostalgia, even melancholy, of the reflective Rat and Mole. As a family we used to watch the wonderful stop-motion version of the novel* (yes, it skips the "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" sequence, but is really quite lovely nonetheless), and we used to try to sort out which of us was which character: was Mark really Badger, despite wishing he was the Rat? Am I Mole? And isn't every toddler Toad? Just thinking about it all makes me want to read it again, or at least to revisit the Christmas carol scene.
*there was also a series, and some of those episodes picked up episodes missed from the novel adaptation, while others were new. All good, really.