Alexis Deacon

George Selden vs. Roland Barthes

One of the weird things, I've found, about becoming a parent is that people keep saying to me -- this started when I was pregnant -- "Oh, now you'll have the fun of re-reading all your favorite books from when you were little! Won't that be great?" Well, sure. But the thing is, I never stopped re-reading all my favorite books from when I was little. At my bedside table are at least thirty books, but one of them -- it actually lives in the table's drawer -- is a copy of Corduroy by Don Freeman. It's a newer copy I bought at the Foundry Bookstore; my original childhood copy fell apart aeons ago. This is a book that I have taken out every few months to read to myself at bedtime. My husband has gotten used to my showing him some of my favorite pictures to him: "Doesn't he look just so sad??? Poor Corduroy..."

It is true that one of the best parts of being mother to my daughter is reading to her and watching her learn to appreciate books, though at this point she's most interested in tearing them or standing on them, only once or twice a day actually sitting down and pretending to really read them. (She's good at mimicking the sound of me reading to her, though.) But the idea that I left my children's books behind when I reached the age of 13 or something is just moronic. I can't imagine doing that. I know most people do, but I think it's a real shame. Most people also think re-reading in general is a waste of time, but I don't. Most books are a waste of time; usually my feeling is, You might as well focus on the ones you love, and read them until they fall apart, like my beloved copy of Corduroy.

I did not keep all of my books from my childhood and youth; my family moved a couple of times, and that meant deaccessioning. But I have easily three shelves' worth of books from my own childhood and I do re-read them, some of them very regularly. The All-of-a-Kind-Family books get read usually twice a year (once at Passover, once at the High Holidays; sometimes, okay, at Chanukkah, too). Ronnie and Rosey by Judie Angell (a YA novel) gets read usually once a year; I actually picked up a second copy of it a couple of years ago because my original was just beat. Pippi Longstocking, the oeuvre of E.L. Konigsburg (Father's Arcane Daughter, (George), A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, and About the B'nai Bagelsin particular), and all of the novels by Louise Fitzhugh are re-read at least yearly. Ditto The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill, which has to be read in multiple editions because the text changes. Also, the George and Martha stories by James Marshall, the four Mary Poppins books, and a YA novel by Alice Bach entitled They'll Never Make a Movie Starring Me.

All of these are in regular rotation, and I'd take any one of them, any day, over a novel by Philip Roth.

There are children's books which have joined these ranks more recently, such as Beegu and Slow Loris by Alexis Deacon, and the Provensens' Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, which I somehow missed when I was a kid. (My parents didn't believe in farms, I guess.) I am in love with it and have one copy for me and one for my daughter.

I don't understand why people pack up and toss their books from childhood if they don't have to. Why would you want to forget the stories that made you what you are? In college, when better minds (or at least more grade-grubbing minds, I guess) were happily reading moronic texts on literary theory assigned by Paul Fry (I took a class at Yale one summer; boy, was that a bummer), I was re-reading stories that were actually stories, not just pretentious trickery. The Genie of Sutton Place by George Selden is more important to me than anything Gadamer or de Man ever came up with. Let alone Roland freaking Barthes. Between The Genie of Sutton Place and S/Z? No contest.