Thursday, 27 January 2011

Disenchanted reader

I've just finished reading Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood by Maria Tatar and I'm feeling frustrated. The quotations and the blurb promise me that she will pin down, analyse and explain the magic of storytelling and the power of reading in children's lives. Hurray! I thought. Therein lies some questions I'd like answered. But it revealed nothing at all but rather repeated the purely obvious: stories allow children to explore situations and other emotions beyond their own experience and allow them to indulge their imaginations by plunging them into fantasy. Perhaps I have not read carefully enough and there's more substance to this than I'm seeing. She has interesting things to say about various books (especially about the child-centredness of Lewis Carroll and Dr Seuss), and I enjoyed the part about how story-telling morphed into bed-time reading over the ages. There's also an entertaining appendix of quotations from different authors about how they first experienced reading. But on the whole, a disappointment, and I didn't follow Maria Tatar's explanation of why she used a quotation from Lolita for the title at all.

I come away with unanswered questions:

Why does the fantastic appeal to children? Why do they love magic and other worlds, time slips and aliens?

Why do many adults lose the taste for the fantastic? Do they gain something else? Is it to do with the fact that the whole world is less mysterious to them? Is it to do with the fact that they have learned to be critical and can no longer suspend disbelief?

Why do I still like to read children's books? Is this childish? Do I read them the same way as I did when I was a child?

Why do some children become so involved in stories? Or perhaps how? Do they feel part of the action? Or is observing enough? Why do reading children seem to get this all-encompassing involvement often, whereas I only occasionally reach this point with a book (I suspect there is a time-to-spare factor here!).

So here's my plan. I'm going to search out some books about reading, about how we read and why we read, and some books about children's books (or I could reread the dozen on my shelves whose contents I seem to have forgotten). And I'm going to think about it. Maybe the reason Maria Tatar didn't come up with any revelation is because there isn't any. So, more on this at a later date, but if you have any answers or can suggest any promising leads in my quest, let me know.


  1. Well, fantasy and untruths might have smg. to do w/ Christmas. I like fantasy, even as a middle aged bloke, Ian Fleming's bond fantasies are just the escape, like dancing to good music but books are more head than physical, seen?
    Critical literature is a tough read when there isn't some kind of science in the critic's technique, would you not say?
    I think Buddha may have first levitated with a book in his lap. That also inspires me to read more. Personally, reading certainly has not always been a pleasure but that's because I went to Uni and became a teacher. Reading to learn and remember for my profession is vital. So there is a frontier to young adult learners when we read to learn, rather than just for fun. What do you make of this? Any ideas in convincing teens and young adults in the importance of more reading for pure learning?

    If we can picture the scene, associate with characters, it all just becomes so easy. But, science is so hard to explain on page. Video and experimentation are inseparable. The twin towers falling or as most of us would cite, "What the Romans did for us". Sometimes I think that is more important. And youse?

  2. I have/had a great one on the origins/appeal/evolution of fairy tales (with super-duper illustrations) and if I can locate it I'll give you a loan. I suspect eldest daughter of 'borrowing' it a while back.
    I hate it when you read a blurb and think 'yes' and then it's a huge disappointment. Should be able to sue.
    Of course, there's always Jung and Freud. I can lay hands on my copy of 'Fairy Tales: Allegories of the Inner Life' by J C Cooper right now, if that's of interest...

  3. anon- def something to be said for science in critic's technique. Seems like they should follow that A' level essay technique: tell us what you're going to say, then say it, then summarize what you've said! Don't really have the experience of telling teens and young adults, much easier with younger children who tend to just believe you when you tell them reading is necessary and good! Think maybe if they don't get it by teenage they need to come to it for themselves.

    Titus - yes please. I have an enduring love of fairy tales (feel another blog coming on) and have several books on them (Marina Warner, Bettelheim, Zipes, Neil Philip). However, think Jung and Freud may be beyond me (unless hugely abridged).


What do you think?