Wednesday, December 07, 2022

169. Steeped in Stories

Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children's Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls. Mitali Perkins. 2021. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: My lifelong love of children's books begins on a humid summer's day in Flushing, Queens. Our family, newly immigrated from Kolkata, India, is unpacking suitcases in a small, stuffy apartment. I am seven years old, bored of settling in and grumpy. 

Premise/plot: It is a truth universally acknowledged that almost all classics can be found problematic and offensive by some--be it a few, be it a lot. In Steeped in Stories, Mitali Perkins speaks of this in general and in specifics. Her opening and closing chapters are more general, more practical. Take these guidelines and go forth and read, read, read. But be aware, be discerning, ask the right questions. But her middle chapters focus on seven novels: Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Emily of Deep Valley, The Hobbit, Little Women, A Little Princess, and The Silver Chair. The framework is that of virtues [and to some extent vices]. Each novel highlights one of the seven virtues. For example, in her discussion of Little Women, Perkins is talking about the vice self-indulgence and the virtue temperance. She is upfront and straightforward about discussing the flaws or vices of classics--children's classics in this book, but I think her principles can be extended. But she's also well-balanced and grounded. She is not advocating for censorship, banning, bowdlerizing. She stresses again and again to look for the good. [Or to look for the good as well as the bad.] No book is all good; no book is all bad. And again she stresses, that it is easier to find fault with the past than to recognize it in the present. Books published today in the here and now are not immune to being problematic. It isn't as simple as past = bad, present = good. There are virtues and vices. 

My thoughts: I loved the seven books she chose. I am friends with all seven. Perhaps A Little Princess being the one I am least familiar with. But still, it helped immensely that I was familiar with all the books being discussed. These chapters are like literary essays. When you are familiar with the source material, it is FUN and THOUGHT-PROVOKING to read an essay about it. I loved that these children's books were being taken seriously. 

I loved that she was neither extreme. Extremes are scary. Keep reading the books. Don't cancel them. Just read with your eyes wide open. Ask questions. [She even has a list of questions here and there.] Be open to discuss, to ponder, to consider, to examine. Don't be blind to vices. But also look for the good, look for the positive, embrace the goodness that you do find. Though she never uses the word humility or humble, I think that definitely comes into play. 

But above all else, I love that she advocates for rereading books. I have never exactly been ashamed of rereading. But there are times when avid re-readers do face a little judgment or condescension. As if you are wasting your time if you reread books. As if there's never a good reason to reread. 

Favorite quote:

Each time I reread a novel, the encounter is richer and deeper, perhaps because I myself am changed as a reader. Like aromatic leaves that eventually turn water into tea, so those stories changed me...When we reread a novel, we encounter it as all the ages we have been as well as the age we are now. Our souls are steeped in that story.  


© 2022 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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