?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Good Taste Through Rebellion? (Inspired by Ferrett) - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Good Taste Through Rebellion? (Inspired by Ferrett) [Sep. 30th, 2009|10:06 am]
Zoethe
[Current Mood |contemplativerambling]

When I was eight years old, I read The Sinking of the Bismark. This book was in our house not as literature but as part of a centerpiece atop a TV console - three small glass fishing floats, a piece of driftwood, a hurricane lamp, and four or five books with an oceanic theme. My mother had picked them up at a garage sale and never opened them. I don't remember my mother reading at that point, but when she took up books a few years later, her idea of literature was Valley of the Dolls and Love Story.

At eight, I was engaged in a battle of wills with my school and my parents. The school librarian relegated first through third graders to the picture book section. I would sneak over to the novels section only to be shooed back to picture books. Protests that I had read The Wizard of Oz and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books fell on deaf ears: third graders could only take out from the picture book section. About the longest book I could borrow was Frog and Toad are Friends.

My mother, on the other hand, could never get around to taking me to the public library, and complained about having to pay fines when the books were late getting back. I had read the few books I owned over and over, and was bored sick of them. So I plucked Bismark from the centerpiece, causing consternation over my damage to the aesthetics and considerable scorn for my ability to finish reading, let alone understand, it.

But I did. It was dry and filled with words I didn't know, and I struggled hard with the concepts, but I got through the whole thing. And made my mother write a note for me to deliver to the school librarian attesting to this and demanding that I be allowed to take out real books.

The librarian acquiesced, but said I could only check out one book. I remember that first book: Ginnie and her Juniors. It was a book about a girl starting a babysitting service, but it caught my eye because the lead character had my name, with my (then) spelling! I'd never seen that before!

I took it out on a Friday and brought it back on Monday. "Humph!" said the librarian. "Too hard after all?"

"No," said I, confused and a little offended. "I finished it. I want to check out the next one."

Weirdly enough, the librarian's resentment never ceased, and she crowed with delight when I handed her Little Women.

"You shouldn't even try this one."

She was right that time. It was culturally too confusing for a hick-town seven year old, and I had to return it without finishing it. (It took all the way until 5th grade before I was ready for Alcott again, and I started with Eight Cousins, which avoids the Pilgrim's Progress and Transcendentalism of Little Women, things I better understood when I finally read it the next year.)

Looking back, I resent that librarian more than just about anyone else in my childhood. My reading over the rest of my childhood was a haphazard affair: lots of seriously mediocre books purchased from Scholastic's quarterly fliers, much Nancy Drew and Bobbsie Twins, and the occasional stumble over something really wonderful. I was given a copy of Jane Eyre when I was 12 and must have read it 10 times, but no one thought, "oh, steer her toward more Bronte" or "with her book tastes, she should be introduced to Austin!"

How much better read might I be if the librarian had taken an interest in this child who clearly loved books, rather than resenting me for upsetting her ridiculous and arbitrary rules? Certainly no one at home was going to do it. My dad never read, and when I was in fifth grade I was sent to my room on Christmas morning for giving my brother a book about sports heroes - it was selfish for me to give him something that only I would like. (I sobbed into my pillow for an hour because I'd been very excited to give it to him, since he was so into sports. This is one of those hard little resentments in life I will never overcome.)

Despite a TV-glutted environment where there was no encouragement toward reading, I was a passionate reader by nature. Learning to love classical music was another matter. That one came when I began, as a teen, to babysit for people with a large classical collection. Once the kids were in bed, I would put on an LP and force myself to listen.

I was bored senseless. I had no ear for the music. All I had was determination.

Now, this was the accessible stuff: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart. If I'd started with Bartok, I'm certain I would have abandoned the project immediately. It took a while, but familiarity and then enjoyment blossomed.

Living in a household where American Top 40 and Tom Jones were pretty much the extent of the musical choices, other than my collection of John Denver and Neil Diamond, I kept this project to myself. Because I'd suffered enough accusations of being hoity toity for my refusal to spend all evenings watching TV with the family and then - horrors - wanting to watch Masterpiece Theater. To watch that, I was banished to my room, where PBS reception generally wavered and everyone, Upstairs or Downstairs, apparently - and obliviously - endured a perpetual snowstorm.

So, in light of Ferrett's journal entry today, I find myself asking what of my current tastes developed as a reaction against family and institutions, and what is my own nature? I think the love of reading (which is shared passionately by one sister and somewhat by the other) came naturally and my battle for it was not rebellion but defense. Classical music was a reaction to my perception (probably thanks to reading) of what appalling rednecks surrounded my and was a generalized rebellion against that.

Masterpiece Theater was open rebellion against my mother. I didn't even like Upstairs, Downstairs - again, lacking a taste for that kind of thing at the time. But I watched it, by gods, because it was superior to Dallas.

Unlike Ferrett and The Beatles, though, hearing Vivaldi or watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice does not trigger a, "take that, my protoplasmic ancestors!" reaction in me. I know that I love them, plain and simple. I know that it makes me different from my family (when people ask me how I can be related to them, I explain that I am a faerie child, switched at birth), but I don't generally think about it much.

But I bet if I ever tried Upstairs, Downstairs again, though, I bet that I would.
LinkReply

Comments:
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>
[User Picture]From: jadecat
2009-09-30 03:41 pm (UTC)
Wow, that librarian you knew was just awful! I have to wonder what would have happened if you knew the librarian I had in elementary school. She actually wanted to encourage us to read. In order to challenge a few of us- she borrowed some books from the junior high to lend us. One of those books probably wasn't good- there were some sexual situations that a 6th grader probably doesn't need to be aware of (and I'm not sure why it was in the jr. high either).

I do think it interesting to see what people come up with as likes/dislikes when it's despite of those around us, or to spite those around us.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 03:48 pm (UTC)
Rebellion does indeed take many forms!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lordindra
2009-09-30 03:41 pm (UTC)
My school librarian would basically just say "you sure you don't want something from the younger kids section?", and that was that. IT was targeted more to make sure we didn't get frustrated by stuff too hard for us, than it was to keep us from advancing at our own pace. I have no idea what the actual policies were as written, but as enforced at my school they were pretty good.

There was slightly stronger questioning of anything to do with war or violence, but only slightly. Reasonable I think, school violence is a concern. Of course, back then, they actually used judgement and it mostly worked. They'd find it odd that a 3rd grader would want a book on WWII written for 8th graders, but they wouldn't flip out over it unless you showed other signs of violent tendencies. Interest in books on violence was not assumed to be a 100% reliable predictor of actual violent behavior the way it seems to be taken now.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: lordindra
2009-09-30 03:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, I should say, that while they'd lightly question your initial withdrawals of relatively advanced books, after you'd done it a couple times and seemed to like it, they'd assume you knew what you were doing. They wanted you to be able to read, and while they had a concern about a kid trying to advance too fast and getting frustrated, if you were advancing faster than normal but doing so succesfully they were quite happy to see that.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: hugh_mannity
2009-09-30 03:49 pm (UTC)
My mother was not that sort of librarian at all. The only time she ever went to bat for me was when the school (boarding school, English Public School even) confiscated books she'd bought for me. Apparently 12 year olds aren't supposed to want to read George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and William Golding. She never censored my reading in any way.

Except for one thing: she was (and still is actually) a terrible snob and had decided in her best snobbish librarian fashion that Science Fiction was not Literature. So that was my adolescent rebellion -- read all the SF I could lay hands on.

Both she and my dad were classical music fans, which was fine, but I developed a lifelong love of Rock 'n' Roll out of sheer adolescent defiance. My iPod however, has as much classical as classic rock, along with an assortment of punk and reggae. I get auditory whiplash a lot when it's on shuffle.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 03:54 pm (UTC)
My kids both love punk, but they also can enjoy classical and love the opera. I never wanted to limit their exposure to their own culture, just make sure their horizons were broad.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ba1126
2009-09-30 03:55 pm (UTC)
I recognize your librarian's attitude. My kids are VERY bright, and were all early readers (kindergarten or earlier). Rather than delight in their intellect, some teachers they had over the years resented and/or were threatened by it.
My son read Pilgrim's Progress in 4th. grade, and his teacher scoffed. When a teacher said the Earth was round, he said "well, I've read that it's actually ovoid because of the bulge at the poles". That was not received well.
Thankfully, there were teachers who delighted in a child that was a challenge, but not as many as you would think.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:04 pm (UTC)
Having suffered through teachers who resented my piping up with outside information, I sympathize.

I had a friend whose first grade daughter got an F on her very well done science project about volcanoes. Dad went into school to find out what was going on. The teacher said, "You obviously did this for her; no first grader knows what magma is."

Rick turned to her and said, "Chelsea, what's magma?"

Chelsea said, "Magma is molten rock within a volcano."

Rick turned back to the teacher, who spat out, "She only knows that because you taught it to her!"

Like teaching things to your own children isn't allowed.

(This was followed by a forced march to the principal's office, a heated discussion, and the moving of Chelsea to the other first grade class, it being very early in the school year.)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: zevhonith
2009-09-30 03:59 pm (UTC)
That's appalling. Why was that woman even a librarian?

I was very, very lucky to grow up in a house with two parents who loved to read one (one of whom taught English at the college level) and who never limited my reading choices. I remember my dad aghast once when he found me reading Armisted Maupin at age 8, but if I could get my hands on it, I was allowed to read it, and he acknowledged that it was his fault for leaving it where I could get it. Anyway, like I told him, it wasn't much worse than Stephen King.

My sister, on the other hand, despite growing up in the same house with the same influences, is just not a reader. Oh, she likes books from time to time, but her personal library is one or two dozen books, and she doesn't ever seek out new stuff. Reading is not and will never be a hobby for her.

Interestingly, I think my dad did a lot of what you did; growing up in a Central California agricultural family, he decided at age 16 that he was going to Rome, and he did. He worked HARD to be the person he wanted to be, in the face of a family that, I think, still doesn't always understand him.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:06 pm (UTC)
I think I would like your dad!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: trillian42
2009-09-30 03:59 pm (UTC)
I LOVED Upstairs, Downstairs when I was little. I even named one of my dolls Lady Marjorie. I've been getting it from Netflix recently, and I can't for the life of my figure out why I would have loved it -- I couldn't possibly have understood a fraction of what was going on. I mean, it's British -- the subtext has subtext. But I obviously was watching and retaining, because I found myself remembering character names before they were introduced, and remembering certain plot points before they happened.

Er... for the rest... I got nothin'. My mom's fight was to try to keep me from taking books in the bathtub, because I'd stay in till I was shivering. She also volunteered at the public library.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
I really should Netflix it. I think I would love it now.

Erin fell in love with opera at 4 years old, far too early to really understand what was going on. I learned to love opera from my kid!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: jeffpalmatier
2009-09-30 04:00 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of a section in Ralph Keyes' The Writer's Book of Hope (which would make a great present for Ferrett, I think.) Keyes made the observation of how some people in our lives act as negative motivators in that their scorn of us prompts us to accomplish various goals because we think, "Oh, yeah?! I'll show those bastards!" Keyes then gives various examples of writers who wrote out of revenge. Not a positive motivation, but it did lead them somewhere positive.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
Interesting! I shall look into it!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: naath
2009-09-30 04:02 pm (UTC)
My primary school insisted we read through the whole set of books they had got for the purpose of teaching us to read gradually before allowing us to borrow any other books. At one point they confiscated my copy of Lord of the Rings (as it happens primary-school-aged me did not actually follow the plot very well, but I had loved the Hobbit) for not being what I was meant to be reading(and then gave it back to my mother, which made me cross, for it was my book not hers).

Fortunately my mother had more sense, and allowed me to read pretty much whatever I liked at home even taking me to the public library to get stuff (and arguing the librarians into letting me into the grown up section before I was officially old enough).
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:11 pm (UTC)
Oh, for a situation like that! I didn't even know of the existence of Lord of the Rings until high school.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: the_dream_king
2009-09-30 04:04 pm (UTC)
You have my deepest condolences. There are few things in life as wondrous as a good book, and that you were deprived of them at a young age is truly a shame. I was remarkably fortunate in that I have a brother that is 3 years older than me: thus, right before I was to start school, my mother was teaching him how to read and, in turn, taught me. I was the fourth grader sitting in the back of the class, having to be told repeatedly to put my book away; I was a constant reader and, to a degree, still am today. While I cannot fathom your problems from a familial standpoint, I was constantly berated by my peers, who were remarkably ignorant, most of them rednecks, yes.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:12 pm (UTC)
I read continually, just the same books over and over because I had no others and HAD TO READ.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
From: scarfman
2009-09-30 04:07 pm (UTC)

In first grade when they took us to the school library to teach us how it works, I took out Winnie-the-Pooh. My mother's only objection was, "But we have that at home, you don't need to get it from the library." I was not articulate enough to say, "I wanted the first book I took from a library to be Winnie-the-Pooh." If this was indicative of a trend, it was indicative of my tendency to stick to what I know I like, to the possible detriment of the appropriate trying out of new things. I'm like that most noticeably in restaurants.

Meanwhile, since our books haven't been in proper order for several moves, to this day I still sometimes go to the library for a book I own but can't find.

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:13 pm (UTC)
I used to reread a lot, but have so many books to read that rereading seems a sinful self-indulgence!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: veedub
2009-09-30 04:08 pm (UTC)
when i was a kid, i was lucky in finding a librarian who would not only let me read anything i wanted, but would even let me take out books from the grownup section of the library, ostensibly for my mother. i would scurry over to the neighborhood public library every day after school in order to read, and when my mother came home from work she would have to call the library to send me home.

A shout-out to Miss Dorothy Federgreen, librarian par exellence!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:16 pm (UTC)
Our public library was too far away, and across a highway. I was not allowed to go there. It was also tiny.

The first time in high school I went to the Portland Public Library, it was so large and so filled with books that I teared up. I had never seen such a thing of beauty.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: kisekinotenshi
2009-09-30 04:16 pm (UTC)
I learned to read right before kindergarten, and my mother still tells the story about how, at the end of the year, she had a brief chat with the teacher, who had no idea I could read. AFTER AN ENTIRE YEAR. I mean, it wasn't like I was reading in class (we couldn't bring books to school and since it was a kindergarten there wasn't a library), but there were a lot of clues. 9.9 I was reading at a 5th grade level by the end of 1st grade, I only remember because they actually had grade labels on the books in my elementary school.

As far as the rest of your point, I already made a comment on Ferrett's journal about some of the influences on my taste. In hindsight, I think my main rebellion as a teenager wasn't in my tastes (although my dad dislikes classical music, my mom likes it), it was in my stubborn refusal to diet. It was almost expected of me, and I often got a lot of flak for it from my parents and extended family, but I wanted to eat food, not sawdust. XP
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:18 pm (UTC)
You are beautiful and amazing, and should not be forced to be someone other than your beautiful and amazing self.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: forestmaster
2009-09-30 04:37 pm (UTC)
Oh man, reading your post I felt the urge to shower you with books to read... I did get to read and was encouraged to do so. I also have a family that's a lot more focused on being glued to the TV too. My mom reads though... mostly romances. My dad reads some, but both spend far more time in front of the TV... I spend too much time in front of a computer most days, but still try to get in my fair share of reading whatever whenever, too.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 04:39 pm (UTC)
Yes, the computer definitely cuts into reading time. I need to regulate it better.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: phillipalden
2009-09-30 04:48 pm (UTC)
When John Waters, (director of "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray" was a kid, he used to sneak into the "restricted" section of the library and just take the books he wasn't "allowed" to read.

And the man is twisted, but in a good way.

"If a kid is old enough to have heard of 'Naked Lunch' he should be allowed to read it." (John Waters)
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 09:35 pm (UTC)
Persistence pays off!
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: clodia_risa
2009-09-30 04:55 pm (UTC)
Reading your post and most of these comments make me so angry.

I also read a lot as a child. A lot a lot. Fortunately, my mother wanted to encourage me. When I was going into 7th grade she one of my teachers for a list of the high school reading list and assigned me several books from it to read over the summer. One of them was Animal Farm. I was very distraught over this partly because I didn't get it as I was a little too young for it but mostly because she refused to let me read the book I wanted to read until I finished it. I was reading Les Miserables.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-09-30 09:37 pm (UTC)
Color me impressed. My one shot at Les Miserables was a dismal failure.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
Page 1 of 3
<<[1] [2] [3] >>