Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Some different reading

I'm really enjoying "Moonfleet." It's a moderately exciting book, and it's enjoyable. (And I need to get a pad of paper - there are a couple words I've run across that might be regionalisms or they might be archaic words, but I'm not familiar with them. I can get kind of what they mean from context, but I want to look them up).

Also, it reminds me a lot of how I read as a kid. I read because of the story. Not because the book would teach me something, or because it provided a window on the human condition, or anything like that - it was just a good story, it was exciting and diverting, and I wanted to see how it turned out.

And I miss that kind of reading. So much of what I do read is "informative" (e.g., all the journal articles) and a lot of the books I do read (I really need to finish "Moby Dick" some time) I read either because (a) I think it will help me understand people better or (b) my overarching reason is, "It's a classic and I should have read it." (Never mind if it's also fun to read it; the very idea that "this is something educated people should have read" puts that little broccoli-esque specter over the book).

I remember when I was a kid and devoured what now seem to be called "Chapter Books" - i.e., books written for the young but not picture books. By and large they are simply good stories; the older ones can be quite exciting (written in an era when there was less fear a mention of, say, a dead and decayed body, would warp a child or unduly frighten them*). I guess I read a certain number of books that were maybe "aimed at boys" but I never really noticed that - if it was a good story, I enjoyed it, and I didn't care. (In this book, so far, all the major active characters have been male. There's a rather sour aunt who later on turns John out of her home, and there's the promise of a "love" interest (or at least a crush) for John in the form of Grace Mayhew, but so far in it's just John and Pastor Glennie and Ratsey and Elzevir Block and a few unnamed smugglers). And again, this is one of those "maybe adults don't give full credit to kids" thing - I never felt left out or mistreated if I read a book with an almost-entirely-male (or even entirely-male) cast: again, if it was a good story, I didn't care.

(*I've said before I think your average (untraumatized - from a moderately happy home and all that) child is more resilient to this kind of stuff than adults give them credit for. And is probably more resilient in some ways than an adult who actually HAS experienced fear, discomfort, and horror in their life)

And I can feel the memory of how I used to read as a kid coming up from the pages of this book: a time when the story was everything; when I might turn part of my play-life into a re-enactment of parts of the book or at least a re-imagining of the adventures of the characters. It's reading for sheer fun and escape and sometimes I think adults don't get enough of that.

Though also, I get the sense in "Moonfleet" that John is also learning (and perhaps modeling for his young readers) "How to be an adult man" in the world where he lived - yes, he gets *some* education from Pastor Glennie, but he also helps Ratsey (the sexton, who also does things like carve headstones) and seems to be learning a trade, and he is later "adopted" by Block after the aunt turns him out - Block having lost a much-loved son about John's age a couple months prior. And also just the idea of "what is a man" - that Block, for example, for all his apparent terseness and moroseness is a kind and compassionate person (you can't judge a book by its cover), the idea that sometimes laws are unjust laws (the fact that smuggling wine and other alcohol is largely winked at, even by the pastor), and so on.

Some years back I belonged to a book club. We read a number of "modern" novels, a few of them regarded as Important novels. I wound up....not enjoying some of them very much.

I think the difference is that the action in a book like Moonfleet is very "exterior" - John crawls down into a sinkhole thinking maybe he will find "Blackbeard's" treasure, he winds up trapped, he winds up learning about the smugglers. STUFF happens. In the books we read, almost everything took place inside the heads (or, I guess you'd have to say, the beds) of the protagonists. And it was all....I don't know, it was so frustratingly BORING. Or annoying. It was people going about ordinary adult life and you know, ordinary adult life isn't that fun or that romantic. Or it was annoying because (in one book in particular I remember) the woman protagonist had a boyfriend who was a good, honest, solid man, but he wasn't "exciting" to her, so she wound up running away to New York City and effectively subletting a closet and living in horrible squalor because there was a marginally more exciting man on offer.....who turned out to be a jerk. And even someone who has lived as romantically-cloistered a life as I (or perhaps it was BECAUSE I have led such a cloistered life) I kept figuratively screaming at her that she was being so stupid, that she needed to go back to the good and stable but "unexciting" man and plan a life with him because he'd marry her in a heartbeat and be true to her, but instead she wanted this.....guy....who showed no inclination for fidelity or even really working at a grown-up job, and....well, the book just frustrated me because it felt like watching an episode of Oprah. By comparison, Moonfleet feels very bracing - almost like the comparison between going out on a cold autumn night into the sharp air, versus stepping out on a muggy summer morning.

Moonfleet is the kind of thing I read to GET AWAY FROM hearing about people living their lives like the woman in that book.

I'm not a huge Sci-Fi fan but I think this is why people like Sci-Fi: a lot of it is an escape. (Though also, a lot of it does make you think; it presents some of the moral dilemmas of the world in a new way). Maybe "Moonfleet" is closer to modern spy novels than it is to Sci-Fi, I don't know.

I have to admit one of the few books we read in book club that I found interesting (and hung on to after we were done with it) was "The Strange Case of the Dog in the Night-Time" because it was about an autistic teenaged boy, and I liked it because it got me in someone else's head, it wasn't just the same whiny or strident women or the same arrogant or "beta" men like in a lot of the other books. (Also, fundamentally, it had a happy ending, which seems to be something somewhat out of fashion, but I will unabashedly say I prefer books where the "good" characters wind up happy and getting some reward in the end).

But yeah. Part of the reason I like Moonfleet is that it does remind me of that sort of reading-under-the-covers-past-your-bedtime-with-a-flashlight thing of childhood. (Which my parents probably knew I was doing but looked the other way about).

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