I await my much anticipated copy of ‘Go Set A Watchman’ to arrive by snail mail. I want to feel this book in my hands while I read it, and when I have finished, to place it alongside its sister on the shelf. So I have resisted the pull to download it to my e-reader.
What I have been unable to resist is the charged debate about the author, Harper Lee, and her books, splashed across social media and in print. The disgust, the derision, and occasionally a good review from someone who has seen beyond the publisher’s hype, set me thinking about other books written many years ago and how they might fit into today’s societal parameters.
Favourite books and authors from my childhood, Enid Blyton is a great example, are or have been taken from our library shelves due to their inappropriate content. Some have even been edited for today’s readers and put back. The content is mostly related to racism and sexism. And yes, read now with no consideration to the time they were written, not read in context, those books may surprise or shock young readers.
Another example is a series I loved as girl, the Donna Parker series, by Marcia Martin. I remember well the bliss of finding a new one wrapped and waiting on my birthday. But it would likely be considered sexist and most unsuitable for today’s readers. I remember a comment in one book which mildly derided women drivers. (When I think of the heavy cars without power steering that were driven then, it might come as no surprise some women found them difficult. And I bet some of the men too if they were honest.)
To let our children read these now would lead to interesting debate. Or should. Isn’t that a good thing? To compare the era in which they were written to the present, for children to embrace the changes, to show them how change can happen for the good, to find the underlying message? Do we talk enough to children about the books they read, to ask them what it is about them they like, what scares them or what questions might evolve? Just to encourage them to pick up a book and read has to be a good thing.
I wonder, is everything so monochrome, so politically correct that we give our children no room to use their imagination, to allow them to read books in context, to allow them to make up their own minds, have their own opinions?
Books like Noddy and the Secret Seven have certainly led to debate over the years, by adults. Should we deny our kids the chance to read the classics we loved, the ones with the simple messages of friendship and good and bad? They are part of our history and we can’t change our history, or make it disappear, but we can learn and teach by it.
Futuristic and fantasy genres are a large part of the market in books read today. We trust our children to know these are not real worlds and love that they are lost in the enjoyment of reading. Can we trust them to read the classics we loved?
While the debate regarding Harper Lee’s works might not be exactly the same, I will read it in context before denying it a chance of survival. It is a book of its time, from a young emerging writer, a book which perhaps needs editing, a companion book to one of the greatest classics. I know when I read the first chapter online, I felt as though I was curling up with an old friend, and I can’t wait to read it all the way through. Will I then change my mind? Stay tuned. (I have read it, read my post here).
Happy reading, what ever you choose to read.