Or Maybe I’m a Humorless Crone…

Things are tough around here. I can't go into details, but take my word for it. One of the hardest side effects of our particular (massively irritating but not truly terrible) troubles: no books. Or, almost no books. None in the house, none on the kitchen table, just (almost) no books. It's part of the trouble, it's temporary, and it bites.

It wears on a person. Add to that the fact that I finished the one, lone book I was reading (A Visit From the Goon Squad—moving but also discombobulating in ways both good and bad) halfway through a long subway child-ferrying odyssey. So there I was, miles to go before I slept, profound exhaustion, irritability, anxiety, but at least a seat on the train. "Help," I said to Diana. "I need a book. You'll have to give me one of yours."

Diana is a young lady very protective about her books, and her privacy (which are somehow linked in her mind). She pushed me away from some, rooted around in her we-just-got-back-from-the-library bag (she only got to take out 3 books, quel horreur) and gave me this:

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Reader: I tried. I swear I did. I mean, I like a silly book as much as the next person. I've happily read Amber Brown over and over. I'll read People magazine! I'll ready anything. But this? I just didn't like it.

What's weird is that I've always had a very friendly feelings towards these books previously, just judging by their covers (isn't that wise of me? Judging a book by its cover?). They seemed so normal, somehow, some sort of cross between Judy Blume and manga and…I don't know, something reassuring.

But that's not what it was at all! It felt entirely off to me. All this cutesy talk of "gerds" (girl nerds) and the popularity levels; it in no way resonated. Is this because I am old? I (of course) don't think so. It felt false to me, the person behind the curtain far too evident, the wires visible trying to make things funny! It tried so hard. I kept thinking, "She wouldn't think like that, she wouldn't talk like that, her mother wouldn't do that at all!"

This scares me, because I don't want to become James Wood talking about The Finkler Question: in which criticism he responded to every comic exaggeration with "No he didn't." Which ended up making him sound a tad, um, less than fun?

Which I guess is where I am now. And what I don't understand is that I see kids responding like crazy to these books. One of Diana's good friends did nothing but read these books for two years; both my children read them happily. I say this not because they are such arbiters of literary excellence, but because they're, you know, kids. Wouldn't the falsehood, if it were there, grate on them even more than it did on me? But then again, this is the generation that has happily gulped down the awful Junie B. Jones, whose utter falseness stinks to high heaven. So there you go.

But what gives? Am I just too old and severe to appreciate the humor here? Or what?

5 thoughts on “Or Maybe I’m a Humorless Crone…

  1. I’m thinking it’s not really all that different than the Bears mentioned in your previous post. Somehow they aren’t reading these books for their resonance but because of some aspirational aspect that in retrospect we adults can’t quite find or remember our way back to.
    It’s like the popularity of those Disney sitcoms now and The Brady Bunch then. In retrospect, no real value but it certainly scratches an itch that we have at a certain age.
    Here’s hoping more quality books are in your particular future.

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  2. And also, I think sometimes there is a kind of comfort in lack of realism, or in a book that follows a formula. It can be nice to know what you’re going to get and to watch the same structure play out many times. Sometimes you just want to give the thinking brain a rest and let someone else shape things for a while. Even as an adult, sometimes I enjoy formulaic books and entertainment for that reason.
    I really hope things improve soon, and that you are amongst more books again shortly. Would an e-reader serve?

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  3. Eh, I just can’t relate to them because I never was a girl like Jaimie, nor did I hang with girls like her. Popularity and clothes were never my big issues.

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  4. I think that often, in cases like these, I find myself trying really hard to respect my child’s opinion (“You and I don’t have to have the same taste; it’s okay if we disagree”) while at the same time trying to instill an appreciation of objective quality. This is why, when we do both like something, I like talking about why we do–whether it’s Harry Potter or Where the Wild Things Are, we can find measures of quality where we both feel it excels. But when we disagree, I’m sometimes not sure how to feel. When you say it “rings false,” that feels like the kind of thing that I would be almost forced to point out. I want to show them where things fall short so they can appreciate when things are done well. But of course, I also have no interest in graphic novels, not because of their quality but because of my tastes. So who am I to say that according to some other criteria, something I just hate is considered great?
    It got awfully wordy, but I understand how hard it is when you just don’t see the appeal. And I can drive myself mad trying to figure out why I don’t.

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  5. While growing up, I loved, LOVED the Babysitter’s Club books. Devoured them, re-read them again and again…
    But now looking back on them (there are websites now which recount the girls’ fashion choices, using snippets of text from the books) and…oh my word, they were so ridiculous! Things like “Dawn was such a cool California girl, and she chewed her gum like she knew it” (a quote a just made up, but along that same level) 🙂 . Nonetheless, the books will always hold an (embarrassing) place in my heart. I read them with a longing to be cooler, older, with awesome 80’s clothes and my own phone line. (HA).
    So I would agree with a previous commenter, just like the Brady Bunch in the 70’s, Full House and Saved by the Bell in the 80’s, and Disney sitcoms today…these silly things just scratch some kind of itch at a young age. Don’t worry, they will eventually grow out of it and read more sophisticated things (and yes, with a dose of People magazine, full of people wearing equally ridiculous clothing).
    And @Kaethe, are you saying that you must be “popular,” in order to like books about “popular girls?” I would have to vehemently disagree. I was no way a “cool California girl” but I loved reading about ‘Dawn’ in the Babysitter’s Club who was. I also love the movie Iron Man, even though I am not a robot 😉 , and “The King’s Speech,” even though I am not a king. It’s part escapism and part “following along with a good story” – it’s quite lovely!

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