Monday, November 29, 2010

Vintage Children's Fiction

Day 294 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project, and today is Louisa May Alcott's birthday, so I am riffing on vintage children's fiction. Of course, though I read Little Women as a child, it would be shelved as young adult fiction in a library or bookstore these days, due to its thickness and big words and lack of pictures.

My son loved the movie of Little Women, the 1994 version, with Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst.  As he would have been four then, he saw it a year or so later when it appeared on cable television at his grandparents' house, probably at Christmastime. Maybe a year or so after that, confident of his reading ability, I gave him the book for Christmas...but the moment had passed. Actually, he was still in the Batman, Xena: Warrior Princess mode when he fell in love with Little Women, and that moment had passed, too.

I read several of the Oz books as a child, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, but my daughter didn't. She had her own tastes--children's historical fiction for a while--and grew up in a film and computer culture. Today in the store, a young woman was talking about reading the Wicked books, by Gregory Maguire (OMG, I am linking you to his "Shopping-Enabled Wikipedia Page on," a thing I just discovered in this moment, showing that 1) I am clueless, and 2) we live in a shopping culture, but 3) I don't) and I realized, while referring to the original Oz books, by L. Frank Baum, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

Which leads me to the Mad Hatters' Review, the "demented" brain child of Carol Novack (a goddess in yesterday's blog entry, a mad hatter in today's), an online multi-media magazine subtitled Edgy and Enlightened Literature, Art and Music in the Age of Dementia, and "staffed solely by mad hatters" (so the plural possessive is indeed correct)! And if that's not enough, here is her blog, where you can find out how to get hold of Giraffes in Hiding, which yesterday's Marcus Speh will be reviewing. Here is his blog, Nothing to Flawnt.

According to Novack, mad hatters were "mad" because their working conditions exposed them to mercury poisoning.

Me? I'm just a little crazy. And a lot grown up. But a child at heart.

Today a young man walked out of the store with vintage grown-up short stories, by John Cheever, William Maxwell, etc., in a New Yorker anthology. He was Christmas shopping but hadn't spotted the perfect book yet, so he was getting this for himself.

But he was sure tickled when I told him about Sarah's 30 Days of Christmas project with the new Babbitt's Books blog, so I am telling you, too! Pictures and descriptions of fabulous gifts!  (And it's working, as I see cross-outs, meaning some of those books already sold!)  (Wait, maybe I am part of the shopping culture.)


Carol Novack said...

Thanks for the plug, Kathleen! As it happens, Giraffes in Hiding (at - with 5 star reviews) is a perfect holiday gift. Put the Giraffes on your coffee table and leaf through the beautifully illustrated myths. A literary book of beauty for adults is a rarity these days. Just ask Mr. Speh. :-)

Carol Novack said...

Oh and by the way, when I was a child, I read ALL of the Oz books, and there were more than 40 of them. Later, I lived in Oz. That should explain everything.

Kathleen said...

Yes, it certainly does! (I read a lot of them, too. Not all 40. That's why I have a few screws still loose....and a few rolling under the washing machine.)

Marcus Speh said...

hi kathleen, how nice to see my name here again. it makes me think of how fleeting the virtual friendship is: on facebook, accidents determine if i re-connect with someone i might have chatted with months ago. on twitter where i don't have 600+ but almost 6000 so-called friends, accidents are not enough. not that different from real life though, when you think about it. except it's all so in the open.

as are your and carol's childhood memories now. my own: i loved dr doolittle stories when you read frank oz and my own daughter (via my wife) has also heard/read those 40+ oz stories. whenever one arrived, i remember it well, was a special day in our house. then came harry potter who put an end to all that with a lot less mad creativity and spirit of invention, alas, but...hey, every generation needs their own Oz. mine was doolittle and (too early for my highly impressionable mind) the greek myths. i dreamt and dozed my way through school fantasizing about ulysses and achilles and the ajax twins and athena and aphrodite...oh well. i was a boy.

you can see i was riffing too: fun! thanks for the renewed opportunity! your blog rocks, kathleen.

no blog post without some advertisement, of course: i'm going to be in the upcoming issue of "mad hatters review" with three flash pieces and i'm mighty proud of it.

Kathleen said...

What a fun coincidence, Marcus, about Mad Hatters' Review! Congratulations.

My tea saucer eyes would be spinning down the table if I had 6000+ virtual friends! Roll off the edge and shatter among the loose screws.

Carol Novack said...

Such extravagance on twitter, Marcus! I still don't get the point of that site. Facebook's my only social networking addiction, and I've made good connections there, on and off the site.

As for the other childhood into young adult books I read, I also devoured the Greek myths - and the Roman ones as well, and of course Anderson and Grimms' fairy tales. At a young age, I feasted on Maupassant's short stories - read all of them, I think. He contributed to my bleak view of the human species. Then there was Thomas Hardy; read all of his books, which rubber-stamped Maupassant's perspective. Yes, of course I'm demented, Kathleen!

I'm very happy to be publishing those flashes in MHR 12, Marcus! It's going to be the hugest issue ever, including several fascinating features. Which means that I'll need help fund-raising! Let's start with Berlin, ok?

Julie Kistler said...

I am obviously a Mad-Hatter-o-phile, since I listed him as one of my favorite characters on that Facebook thing. I wish I knew how to make hats. They're such lovely things. And they hide a multitude of sins, like grown-out roots or growing-out-layers or just bad hair days.

Let's hope they leave out the mercury these days.

Oh, and I'm currently reading Sarah Ruhl's "Passion Play." WOW is it good. I am rarely struck by LOVE when reading plays, but this one is awesome. As well as way too big to go in any theater in which I am involved, so... I will hope it shows up at ISU or U of I once of days. Medieval flying rig! Queen Elizabeth in full regalia! Hitler! Nixon! Ronald Reagan! Drowned woman carried on stage dripping water like a fish! Almost four hours long!

But it's *really* good.

SarahJane said...

I don't think I hit any particular reading vein as a kid. I certainly did read, but never went for Nancy Drew at all, although in my pre-teens I did go through a mystery phase à la Agatha Christie and PD James. My favorite book at around 10 was Julie of the Wolves, but I could never get my own daughter to read it.