Friday, April 27, 2007

Knowing Me, Knowing You

The latest chapter book we've been reading to C is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The other day at breakfast C declared that he wished Charlie was a real person. I presumed, though I didn't ask, that he wished this because he thought Charlie was a nice kid and that he would be fun to hang out with. I can picture it, they have a lot in common: their names both start with the letter C, they both have grandfather's named Joe, and they both have a penchant for finding money.
In an effort to reinforce the joys of reading I said that I'd read books where I'd wished the characters were real as well.
Once I said it I was immediately sorry because I knew what was coming.
"Who did you wish was real?"
Who indeed.
Well, it's not exactly high brow, but for a long while I wished that the cool friends in Bridget Jones's Diary were my friends. The friends get short changed in the movie, you need to read the book to appreciate them. But upon further consideration I decided that my friends were just as cool. They even have the added advantage of being real; most of them just live too far away. Bridget not only had cool friends who lived near by, she also got to date both Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Lucky girl.
I read The Devil Wears Prada not that long ago. I enjoyed the character of the roommate, Lily, who was flawed yet likable - I don't want any pretend friends who are too perfect.
Currently I'm reading a book about the Transcendentalists called American Bloomsbury. I wouldn't have minded knowing Emerson, Hawthorn, Thoreau, Alcott, and Margaret Fuller. But they were real, it's just that they lived 150 years ago, so they don't count.
Then I got to thinking about how where you are in life might affect the important decision of who to choose for fantasy book-character relationships. If you'd asked me in high school, I would have offered up a resounding Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Not because I wanted to meet them, but because I wanted to date them. If I met them now, to Sydney I would say: "Stop! she's not worth it! She doesn't even like you!" A far, far better place indeed. Sap. And to Heathcliff I would advise: "she married someone else, get over it already." There's no need to spend half the book moping about. On the other hand, characters I didn't think twice about back then I might find intriguing today. For example Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter fame. She was an interesting character to be sure, not to mention someone in need of a friend. I could probably do without knowing Gene or Phineas from A Separate Peace, and Holden Caulfield was too pessimistic even for yours truly.
After the rromance infatuation stage, I moved on to the pull-your-self-up-by-the-bootstraps and live-your-value types. People like Howard Roark and Dominique Francon, and John-the-savage from Brave New World.
I have heard people talk about books that "changed their lives." An acquaintance once said she decided to get divorced after reading Kerouac's Dharma Bums. Remind me never to read that. All I ever got from reading Kerouac was a headache, though I must admit I quit after On The Road. Likewise, I did not enjoy Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I knew someone who adopted Hunter Thompsons's schizophrenic style of writing, I guess you could say Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas changed his life, though I'm not sure for the better.
Getting back to my son's question though, I suppose what he meant to ask was, "when you were my age, mommy, what character did you wish was real?" That's easy. Pippi Longstocking. Definitely Pippi Longstocking.

song: Knowing Me, Knowing You • artist: Abba

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