One reason why I don’t read books for grown ups is that too many of them are Relevant, in that they are about the “grown up experience in early 21st century America,” which is presumably what I am experiencing. Of course, since I don’t read them, they may be about something else altogether. I am a weak-minded escapist, and one thing I look for in a book is irrelevance, often soothing, comfortable irrelevance (and if you are a re-reader, like me, you find that even books that are at first thought-provoking, like Ender’s Game, become soothing with repetition).
I’m thinking about relevance because at the author of the blog The LiteraBuss just called Sarah Plain and Tall “another outdated story that has no relevance to today's kids” and said about Little House on the Prairie “It's from a different time, and if you're reading it for historical perspective, there are much more meaningful ways to go about that.”
I’m happy to agree that both these books do not particularly deserve to be required reading, but I’m a little surprised that they should be dismissed so vehemently because of not being relevant and modern. To me, modern is not a selling point in and of itself, and the themes of family and home that characterize these books are kind of, um, central to the human experience. And I find, in my own irrelevant reading, that when books that take such central, powerful themes and display them in an alien setting, those themes can be seen more clearly, and thought about more thoughtfully than would otherwise be the case (a classic example being the books of Ursula Le Guin). Through irrelevance, relevance.
By way of interesting contrast, there’s a post at the Guardian book blog today that celebrates old books, entitled “Why girls’ books still build their dreams around home.” It points out the strong and unforgettable sense of home and family in many classic girls books—Little Women, the Chalet School books, Ballet Shoes, and the Little House books. And it suggests that these themes might actually still have relevance to kids today.
Such books appeal to me. But then, I’m already starting to daydream about going Home for Christmas, and singing carols around the piano with my family, and decorating the tree, and making cookies with my boys using the same cookie cutters I used as a girl…