If you haven't heard yet, Maurice Sendak, author of the well known children's book "Where The Wild Things Are", passed away yesterday. I must admit, I loved that book when I was younger. It had a way of transporting me into this nightmarish, imaginative world with big ugly beasts and total anarchy. I personally want to know what happened to that culture of nightmarish books, ugly villains, and tall tales coaxing you on this wild journey through the mind. It seems children's books these days have lost their edge, their ability to explore the recesses of humanity that need to be explored, and they are now all full of fluff and what not. So maybe its just that my son hasn't gotten to the age when those books will be acceptable to read to him, but then again, maybe not. Even if you take a look at any Dr. Seuss book and compare it to something written recently, you will find that imagination has fallen drastically and that children's books these days do not require relinquishing our grasp on reality. I have read a good number of children's books to our son and by far, my favorites are the ones that have stuck around from my childhood. There are one or two more recent books that I have come to enjoy reading, but a good number of them just don't make the grade for me these days. Out of the books I have to choose from, I would much rather grab a Dr. Seuss book or another one of my favorites "The Giving Tree" (which if you read it is actually quite depressing).
With the passing of Sendak we lose another twisted, imaginative mind that created alternative worlds for children to delve into, maybe learn a little about life, and keep them coming back for more. But I want to go beyond just the lack of imagination in young children's books these days and on to a comment that Maurice Sendak had about books in general. When asked what his thoughts were about electronic books last year, Sendak replied, "“I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of sex. There isn’t another kind of book! A book is a book is a book.” And you know what, I have to agree with him on this one. Yes, electronic "readers" (as I will call them), are much easier to carry around, can hold many more books in its memory, and allow you to read despite the ambient light, but as Sendak said, its not a book. No matter how you try and spin it, an electronic reader is just that, an electronic device that contains the contents of a book and allows you to read it on a digital screen. A book by contrast is made of paper and ink, has a distinct smell, and forces you to become more intimate with it. One of the big problems that I see with the electronic readers is that, despite their ease of operation, they can contain too many books. If you are reading along and all of a sudden find that you are no longer interested in a given selection, you can pull up a different one and start anew. In carrying around an actual paper book, you are making a commitment to reading that book in its entirety, or at least while you are away from your home. But that is simply my personal opinion.
What we really need are some more "Wild Things" in our lives, some imagination and temporary suspension of reality. Everything has become incredibly serious, black and white, and where will it lead us? We can't hope to instill a sense of adventure or imagination by plopping our children in front of an electronic reader and pulling up the latest children's book. We can't for that matter do the same with any electronic device. What we need is to do is bring back the books of our childhood with all their twisted stories and wild illustrations and perhaps we can bring some creativity back into our children's lives. Maybe I am going a little far, but hey, its my opinion and I am entitled to it. And for the record, I am only 29 and yes I still would rather sit down with an actual book than an electronic reader. Perhaps I should be older, or have been born in a different era, but it is what it is. If you think about it, I am being a little hypocritical here as I am writing on a computer for people to read on a computer, paper and ink be damned, but then again, if I were writing this on paper with a pen, how many people would actually read this? Probably very, very, very few. So as I find myself caught between the allure of paper and ink and the necessity of a keyboard and bright screen, my mind drifts off to dwell with the "Wild Things" for a while. Who knows, maybe I will turn into one of those delightfully twisted monsters, ARGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!