Well-read people are less likely to be evil.
-Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope
I used to be labeled as somewhat bookish and fear I carry that title without the reading history to back it up. It’s true, I spent most of my time in childhood reading. I was homeschooled for part of elementary school, nearly all of middle school, and half of high school, so I would often finish my work fairly early in the day which left me with the rest of the day to read. I burned through books like crazy quite proud of the ratio of read-to-not-read books on the little bookshelf at the end of the hall.
However, I always wanted to be one of those people who loved classic literature. After quite a few school assignments and several attempts at reading classic novels on my own, I have come the conclusion that many of those books are not really my thing. I can read them, but I don’t enjoy most of them and usually find myself trudging through in order to check the book off on Goodreads or something.
As I am sure you know, when people say ‘It’s my pleasure,’ they usually mean something along the lines of, ‘There’s nothing on Earth I would rather do less.’ […]
–The Penultimate Peril
Over the past few years, I haven’t read very many books partially because I have felt the crushing weight of adulthood telling me that I must grow up and learn to enjoy Chaucer and Plath and Tolkien and leave the children’s books behind. My standard response has been to pick up a few children’s books here and there and read through them while stifling the pressure I feel shoving me toward books intended for adults.
I don’t exactly know where this pressure comes from. I remember my mother telling me in high school that, “A good book is a good book no matter who it was written for.” I think perhaps it comes from the constant struggle to feel more like an adult because I am 26 and I have a full-time job and a 401k and a food dehydrator, but I still feel as unsure of my future and my understanding of the way I think things should be as I ever have. Maybe I think that adopting the reading habits of a Grown-Up Person will cement the fact that I am also grown because I like media that is made for adults. I’m not sure.
What I have realized recently is that I like children’s literature for reasons more complex than it being easy to read. I, like many adults out there, don’t have life all figured out. I’m still experiencing new things, I still feel like a baby every once in awhile, and there are a lot of things about life that I simply don’t understand. I also have a really difficult time expressing myself through any means other than the written word (and even that is hit or miss). Many times, an attempt to discover why I am upset about something will result in a friend and I literally repeating the same conversation two or three times before I can figure out why I feel a certain way. I don’t understand my own emotions sometimes (which, I gather, is somewhat common amongst adults).
I think this is the reason I love children’s literature as much as I do. Children’s authors are often able to pluck the words from my very emotions and plaster them on a page. It’s the reason, in the wake of my friend’s death last year, I referred so often to Lemony Snicket. Because, try as I might, there was no better way to explain what was going on, especially as I’d never had to process through real grief before.
It is useless for me to describe to you how terrible Violet, Klaus, and even Sunny felt in the time that followed. If you have ever lost someone very important to you, then you already know how it feels, and if you haven’t, you cannot possibly imagine it.
–The Bad Beginning
Literature intended for children has to stop to explain the way the world works because the intended audience hasn’t learned that yet. Authors must carefully weave tidbits of wisdom between layers of action and emotion because children are still trying to figure everything out. Books intended for adults often leave some of this out, assuming that the readers have a grasp on the realities of life, that they have it somewhat together.
But, I’m still trying to figure a lot of stuff out. Stuff like…
Oftentimes. when people are miserable, they will want to make other people miserable, too. But it never helps.
–The Wide Window
Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble. For instance, one morning you might wake up and make the assumption that your bed was in the same place that it always was, even though you would have no real evidence that this was so. But when you got out of your bed, you might discover that it had floated out to sea, and now you would be in terrible trouble all because of the incorrect assumption that you’d made. You can see that it is better not to make too many assumptions, particularly in the morning.
–The Austere Academy
One of the greatest myths in the world – and the phrase ‘greatest myths’ is just a fancy way of saying ‘big fat lies’ — is that troublesome things get less and less troublesome if you do them more and more. People say this myth when they are teaching children to ride bicycles, for instance, as though falling off a bicycle and skinning your knee is less troublesome the fourteenth time you do it than it is the first time. The truth is that troublesome things tend to remain troublesome no matter how many times you do them, and that you should avoid doing them unless they are absolutely urgent.
–The Ersatz Elevator
Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.
–The Beatrice Letters
So, I think I identify with children’s literature a bit more than adult literature. Not because I’m childlike or naive or immature; but because I know myself enough to know that I don’t fully understand everything that happens in the world nor my own reactions to such happenings. And sometimes, having someone else put into words thoughts and emotions that are fairly common is comforting. Because who wants to feel alone in their reactions to the craziness of the world around them?