Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Call of Childhood is a Little Weaker Than I Thought

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After finishing The Eyre Affair novels, I decided it was time to get back to tackling my reading list. Of course, this was a considerably easy decision to make when I was temporarily out of Jasper Fforde novels to read. But either way, I knew that I should take advantage of my summer oasis and opportunity for a reading binge so I dove back into the list. Well… actually, I kind of waded back in, back tracking in my reading gaps to ones created in my middle school years and picking up Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.

It’s a very bizarre experience to go from reading books like On the Road and The Once and Future King to reading a book designated appropriate material for young adults. Not only is this the first book I’ve read with illustrations since I don’t even know when, but it was also the first book told from a non-human perspective that I’ve encountered (with the exception of The Art of Racing in the Rain) since… middle school? I honestly had to reread the first paragraph several times before I realized that the narrator is a dog.

For someone who avidly read the Bunnicula series growing up, it was an odd moment to recognize that I’ve matured to the point that a canine narrator is no longer perfectly normal.

Also, how did we ever read books with illustrations as kids? They’re not only distracting, but often contain spoilers of what’s coming on the next page. Granted, my parents had a really beautiful copy of this book and the illustrations were gorgeous, but still! It just made them even more distracting.

The most unsettling sign of the onset of adulthood I discovered while reading this novel was that I had no idea how to judge it. I’ve become so accustomed to the elevated language, the experimental structures, and the jammed-packed symbolism of the other books on my list that I forgot what merits a good book for younger readers. I assume that it is widely agreed that Call of the Wild is considered such a book given that it is on most middle school English class syllabi, and I think I agree, but I don’t feel qualified to judge anymore.

Besides assessing its merits in the scope of literature, I couldn’t even tell if I enjoyed it. I loved how effortless a read it was and it was kind of fun to have an animal narrator again, but beyond that, I’m not sure. It was upsetting and eye opening to see how sled dogs were treated during the Klondike Gold Rush (who kidnaps a family pet??), but I didn’t particularly enjoy watching Buck revert from a sweet pet to a vicious sled dog.

Maybe I should have taken a children’s literature class in college. I always wanted to, but never managed to fit one in. Maybe children’s stories really don’t have the depth of meaning that I was looking for?

Or maybe I’m just too old for this…