I have long since lost count of how many times I have heard this. Last year I remember deciding to read Little Women, to the shock of several people I know who all said the same thing “I can’t believe you haven’t read it” Well I hadn’t, never seen the movie either, so I read the book. I also spent most of the book waiting for Beth to die, because at least three people told me “Beth is so sad” Well, she didn’t die, she got sick, and recovered. I won’t say I felt cheated though. Only a bit baffled. I haven’t read on yet.
I suspect it was slightly too American for me, that is to say pleasant rambling American houses and fields don’t quite capture my imagination like a Dickensian London or an English country house does. I still prefer Little Princess or Secret Garden. But as for classics I “should have” read when I was a kid, I still have some catching up to do.
I’m going to have to blame my primary school librarian. I asked Mel yesterday if she remembered what books we had in the library (as we went to primary school together) and we agreed there was not a lot in the way of English classics. A lot of Enid Blyton, there was a set of Narnia books, probably a couple of Edith Nesbit, and that’s all I remember. We both think there was a lot of Aussie authors, and I remember there were a lot of Paul Jennings books. So while I remember reading the Narnia books over and over, and there was probably Francis Hodgson Burnett, P.L Travers and Mary Norton, there was no Rosemary Sutcliff, Susan Cooper, Nicholas Stuart Gray or Barbara Sleigh. No Chalet School either, or Elsie J. Oxenham.
I often read what was lying around the house. And anything people told me was “too old” for me, this would guarantee me reading it. Animal Farm became my favourite book and led to a life-long affair, after I borrowed my brother’s school copy to read. Of course he told me I wouldn’t get it as I was only ten, well I think I still get it in the way I got it when I was ten. Twenty-five years on I still read it almost every year, sometimes more.
I didn’t catch up in my teens either. I was reading either crappy teen books (usually my sister’s) or indulging my teenage angst and reading bleak classics (when I started blowing all of my pocket money at the Moorabbin Book Exchange every week) Well to be fair I read a lot of the less-bleak classics too. Still I had a strange fondness for Camus and Dostoyevsky.
I still have never finished Crime and Punishment, I will not lie.
As a bookseller I still discover new/old children’s authors. Being a collector I need to get a set together before I start reading, matching of course, so I can indulge in a day or two or a week in a new fairytale.
This week, The Borrowers.