My TBR keeps growing at an astonishing rate, and yet I keep getting distracted and reading just about anything else. Oops.
Pappan och havet came up in a conversation I was having last week about, among other things, re-reading books. I’m not much of a re-reader, but the person I was talking to mentioned that he liked to re-read Pappan och havet in the fall because it has a very autumnal vibe. “Dyster tillfredställande,” to be exact in the quote he cited from the book itself. Gloomy satisfaction. Such a strong reaction to a book will always pique my curiosity, and I hadn’t ever read a Moomin book before, anyway, so why not? Not like my TBR is going anywhere.
Once again, another review of a classic that needs no more reviews. It’s interesting, though, to see how children’s literature has evolved over time. Considering my past life as a teacher and private tutor to young people, I’ve stayed slightly more up to date on children’s and middle grade books than I might have otherwise; I think I have at least some authority on which I can make comparisons.
Putting aside the simplest picture books and early readers, the childhood reads that have stayed burned into my memory and part of my library have a certain ponderous quality to them. Of course it makes sense that I would keep, say, The Secret Garden and The Phantom Tollbooth in my library as I got older but eventually give away however many of the Animorphs and Babysitters Club books I’d accumulated. For one, there are practical considerations and limitations when it comes to housing never-ending series as opposed to single stand-alone volumes.
But there are also simply differences in their content, and I like to think I could sense those differences even at first reading (I was reading all of those books at about the same time, from ages 8 to 10). Don’t get me wrong: I definitely enjoyed every single Animorphs and Babysitters Club book I ever read. I was hardly a snob. But if a book had a ponderous or somewhat grown-up aura to it, I think it stuck with me extra much; I cared about it more. (Putting aside the ones that were like running up against a brick wall because they were perhaps a bit too grown-up for my brain, which also happened. I’ve already talked about how long it took me to really appreciate Ursula K. LeGuin here.)
Skimming through books to decide which ones would be appropriate birthday gifts to students, or to see what my students were excited about, I don’t think I ever found something with that same aura. The sense I got was less ponderous and more about distraction. Entertainment. Action. And this is probably a change that was happening even before I was born, considering that the aforementioned Animorphs and Babysitters Club novels of my youth also have the same distracting entertainment quality to them.
Of course, I’ve heard from more than one librarian that the children’s books that win the Big Serious Awards as decided by Adults are never the ones that are actually popular with children. Maybe a hypothetical lack of ponderous depth in children’s literature doesn’t actually matter and I’m just being grumpy.
All of this is to say that Pappan och havet has the same ponderous quality I would have enjoyed as young reader. I’m sad I missed out on it when I was the “right” age, but I’m glad I got to read it now.