Reading

Last night I reread Austen’s Persuasion.  Of course it’s smart, and reminded me that Austen is one of those thinkers around whom a philosophical life can be built.  But for the first time I realized that I don’t at all like two of the characters:  the boring old snob Lady Russell and the gossipy, coy invalid Mrs. Smith.  You’re supposed to like them, and every other time I’ve read Persuasion I’ve done what I was supposed to do.  How is it that only this time I saw their flaws?  Could it really be that my faculty for critical detachment was underdeveloped until my 40s?

The search for something to read the four-year old continues.  We’ve met with great success recently in two unexpected quarters.  One is Pippi Longstocking.  I’m of two minds about this strange little book.  On the one hand, I’m delighted when Pippi shows up the bourgeois townspeople, as, for instance, when she pours sugar all over the floor and makes fun of the ladies complaining about their servants at a formal coffee party.  On the other, I’m distressed that she doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing.  To be more specific, my problem lies with the fact that she while she sometimes clearly sets out to deflate and to mock, at other times she’s presented as utterly disingenuous, a free spirit, a child of nature:  things that she ought to say “cleverly” “coyly” and “deceitfully” — things that she clearly *does* say for the sole purpose of mocking what ought to be mocked — are narrated as having been said “sadly” or “remorsefully.”   As a child I found the latter thrust embarrassingly arch, and I still do.  But I think I also had a problem with the former thrust, and now I don’t.  Back then I was a bit of a prude.  Eila’s not, apparently, and she likes Pippi, and that’s the main thing.

The other success is a book of poetry, edited by Jack Prelutsky, called “For Laughing Out Loud.”  Some of the poems are not so good, including those by the editor, but others are very fine, including a few by our old favourite Dennis Lee.  We read the poetry in the bathroom, and a couple of poems fill a bit of pooping time nicely.  Here’s one from Colin West:

Adolphus is despicable.
Before each day begins,
To prove that I am kickable,
He kicks me in the shins.

Yesterday I told Eila to go wash her hands.  She came back a few minutes later all frustrated.

Eila:  You know I can’t do this kind of thing alone!
Me:  Why not?  There was a whole sink of water there.
Eila:  I didn’t soap!  Because no one forced me!  I need you to come and force me to soap!

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7 thoughts on “Reading

  1. I hated Pippi as a kid — but I loved all the Noisy Village books. I think it was the only child/heaps of children thing.

    As for *Persuasion*, have you seen the (rather dark) film with Ciaran Hinds? Both Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith are made out to be not particularly likable — just old friends that Anne tries to keep liking.

  2. Yes, Pippi is Luther’s child. She’s innocence in a world of experience, and in her world the innocent are saved and the experienced damned. So that everyone who tries to be cultured is a fraud, who has given in to “the world”; and only Pippi’s ignorance (and, man, she *is* ignorant) is virtue. And, yes, this is why Lindgren has to present Pippi’s mockery as disingenuous. Which it could NEVER be, because the world doesn’t actually work like that. And so the conceit breaks down sometimes, and it becomes clear that Pippi knows what she’s doing. But most of the time the conceit is preserved because, when it’s dropped, Pippi looks mean. And I’d LOVE it if Pippi really were mean all the time, but Lindgren wouldn’t like it at all.

    I’ve ordered the Noisy Village books, Meg. I’m down on Lindgren, but any port in a storm, and finding good things to read a 4 year old is a tempest (even if she is the size of a teapot). Also Lindgren writes well — I mean, if you forget about all the ways she writes badly, which we’ve been discussing, still her use of language is excellent. And that’s coming down to all I care about in this age of lowered expectations.

    I’m going to rent that movie!

  3. Y’all do have a copy of *William Blake’s Inn*, right?

    Also, Neil Gaiman’s *Coraline* is a good read-aloud book — chapters, but very short ones. Dark and scary, but in the way that squicks adults much more than children.

  4. I remember reading “The Happy Prince” to myself at age 10 or so and weeping buckets, and loving the fact that I was weeping buckets, glorying in my own sentimentality and hyper-morality.

    Franklin never hurt anyone, and the early books are a wee bit more original and less didactic and formulaic than the later ones. Plus, it’s written by Canadian women. Can’t be all bad!

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