When Books Disappear

You know what makes me really sad?

When books go missing from the library.

Now, I’m not talking about books that have been lost or books that are overdue. I’m talking about books that used to be at the library, but are no longer there… Because they have been deemed “no longer relevant”.

I’m talking about classic children’s books.

Elizabeth Enright is one such victim. I grew up with her classic The Saturdays. But does my library carry this book anymore? Nope. Why not? Well, it’s old. It’s set in the past (in the 1940s if memory serves). But so are a lot of other books written today. In fact, I’d say it’s more realistic because a modern author tends to put modern spin on a time period they did not live through.

btbh-032Another victim… Maud Hart Lovelace. Now, I did not grow up with the Betsy-Tacy books, so nobody can accuse me of nostalgia here. (I did grow up with B is for Betsy books, but that’s by a different author.) I discovered Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books in my 20s. And I loved them. They are set in the early 1900s and are marvelously written.

Fortunately, I own a few of them in paperback. About a year and a half ago, I read Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown to my nieces (aged 8 & 9 at the time). We loved it. The horseless carriage. The theatre production. The secret revealed at the end.

Now, here’s the sad part. I went to my library and asked: “Could you please get these books? They have brand-new released versions for sale! It’s not like they’re out of print.  These are wonderful reads and kids deserve to read them! I want my nieces to read them!”

Maybe I picked the wrong librarian. She was probably in her 20s. Her response to me was: “Have you tried inter-library loan?”

For kids?! Really? I wanted my nieces to be able to get these books out for themselves. How realistic is it for them to jump through all the hoops in order to use inter-library loan!

Here’s the thing. I didn’t just come to the librarian with my request that the library buy the  Betsy-Tacy books. There were quite a few other titles on the list (other books I wanted to read but noticed that my library still had not ordered). These other books  were written more recently. Actually, within the past 2-5 years. Like Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (by Wendelin Van Draanen), and Spy Camp (by Stuart Gibbs). And there were at least three more books on my request list (but I can’t remember the exact titles any more).

And you know what? They ordered every single one of those books. But, they did not order a single Betsy-Tacy book.

Now, I like Van Draanen. I like Gibbs. I like modern authors.

But what about Maud Hart Lovelace? What about Elizabeth Enright? What about the other authors that have disappeared into the library’s discard pile? Now, I don’t think every book ever written should be made untouchable. Remember B is for Betsy (the other Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood)? My library does have that one. I picked it up recently. Unfortunately, B is for Betsy has not aged well. I would not classify that book as classic. As an adult, I couldn’t even finish it. Not even for nostalgia’s sake. (Please recall that I have fond memories of reading this book as a child.)

No, the books by Maud Hart Lovelace and Elizabeth Enright are in a different category entirely. They belong with the Jane Austen books. And L.M. Montgomery books. And the C.S. Lewis books. And the Beatrix Potter books.

It made me sad to realize that these librarians couldn’t recognize a book worth keeping.

And when they disappear, I think we miss out on some wonderful literature.

P.S. So far, my library still has many of the books by E. Nesbit (like The Treasure Seekers) and Edgar Eager (like Half Magic). I fear these books might end up like the Betsy-Tacy books. I try to make it a point to take these books out every now and then. Just to show those librarians that people do want to keep the classics alive.

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.

Book Blunders in Narnia

20170317ma_0063Quick Disclaimer: I love the writing of C.S. Lewis! He’s one of my absolute favourite authors of all time. I particularly love the world of Narnia. But that doesn’t mean that the books are free of error. Tiny writing inconsistencies and imperfections… These are the subject of this post. This is not to disparage the books. But like how hand blown glass is more valuable because of the imperfections!

Here I bring up three of the “book blunders” of Narnia…

1) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

When the four Pevensie children first come to Narnia, they find that the White Witch has been ruling for 100 years. It’s “always winter but never Christmas.”

Then we meet the Beavers. Mr. and Mrs. Beaver invite the children to a wonderful spread of tea, including “a wonderfully sticky marmalade roll”. With fare like this, the Beavers don’t seem to be quite as oppressed they claim! It contradicts the whole alway-winter-never-Christmas thing.

2) Prince Caspian

At the end of the book, King Peter, Queen Susan, King Edmund, and Queen Lucy have to leave Narnia.

“It was odd, and not very nice, to take off their royal clothes and to come back in their school things (not very fresh now) into that great assembly. One or two of the nastier Telmarines jeered.”

A similar thing happens in The Silver Chair. This time, Eustace and Jill return to our world still dressed in their Narnian clothing.

“Eustace buried his fine clothes secretly one night in the school grounds, but Jill smuggled hers home and wore them at a fancy-dress ball next holidays.”

Now compare these to the ending of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“And next moment they all came tumbling out of a wardrobe door into the empty room, and they were no longer Kings and Queens in their hunting array but just Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in their old clothes.”

Where did the old clothes come from? Especially in light of the fact that they had to change clothes in Prince Caspian and Jill and Eustace were still wearing theirs in The Silver Chair!

3) The Horse and His Boy

Shasta grows up in Calormen, under the ruthless hand of Arsheesh. Yet, from time to time, he often acts like a boy from our world, and even sounds more like Edmund or Eustace:

“Oh bother breakfast. Bother everything,” said Shasta. “I tell you I can’t move.”

Oh, Shasta, you sound so British!

Rating the Chronicles

20160204ma_0260If I had to rate the books in the Chronicles of Narnia in order of my favourite to my least-favourite, I could do it. It’d be hard, but yes, I could do it.

Mind you, the order has changed over the years. As a kid, I did not really like The Silver Chair or The Horse and His Boy. I’m pretty sure the reason for this is simply because neither of these stories feature the Pevensie children. (Okay, The Horse and His Boy has King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy, but they’re minor characters.) Fast forward to today, and those two books rank much, much higher in my estimation.

My Ranking (as a kid)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#3 – The Magician’s Nephew
#4 – The Last Battle
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Horse and His Boy
#7 – The Silver Chair

My Ranking (as an adult)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Horse and His Boy
#3 – The Silver Chair
#4 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Magician’s Nephew
#7 – The Last Battle (Sorry, I think this is due to how Shift treats Puzzle!)

Please note: I love ALL the books. Just because one is ranked lower on the list doesn’t mean I hate it. No indeed. It just means I’d prefer to re-read the other ones first. 🙂

And if I had to give the books ratings, they’d all be either 4 or 5 Stars!

All Things Jane

20160307ma_0717I’ve been getting Jane Austen commentaries out from the library. The one sitting on my nightstand right now is called Flirting with Pride and Prejudice (edited by Jennifer Crusie).

The book contains commentaries and essays about the most famous of Austen’s books. After reading a dozen or so of the different authors, one of the better observations came in an essay entitled “Plenty of Pride and Prejudice to Go Around” by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. Here she compares Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet with the many incarnations of the Elizabeth in the movies either based upon or inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Baratz-Logsted questions why the Elizabeth Bennet characters have been deteriorated “into characters who, however lofty their careers, however many modern choices arrayed before them, are charming ditzes at best, babbling and insecure bumblers at worst?”

This makes me recall a comment made by one of my friends after first watching Bridget Jones Diary a few years ago. She pointed out that Bridget is in fact NOT an Elizabeth Bennet. No, the movie (and book) is really about the story Mr. Darcy and Lydia Bennet. And I have come to whole-heartedly agree with Wise Friend that Bridget Jones is really Lydia masquerading around behind the mask of the Elizabeth Bennet character.

But back to the book on my night stand (which is now on my lap since I had to look up that quote above). I wasn’t too keen on the section which included the fictionalized mini-stories based on various characters from the book. Why does it feel wrong when another person tries to take Jane Austen’s place and write Georgiana’s story, or tell what happened to Elizabeth after she married Darcy? The one account I did manage to read (it wasn’t long—about five pages) was “The Secret Life of Mary”. But it just seemed convoluted. I mean, a love story between Mary and some Irish footman named Rory who works for Sir William Lucas?! Where Mary becomes famous for writing Austen-esque sketches of her family?!

People, please leave the Jane Austen characters in the capable hands of Jane Austen.

And since Jane Austen is dead, that means, unfortunately, we have to be satisfied with the body of work she turned out. But cheer up! When you read Pride and Prejudice or Emma or Persuasion (or you name the book) a second or third or fourth time, the story only gets better, right?

That’s what makes Jane Austen a great author.