Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading - Lizzie Skurnick

Skurnick is a blogger for Jezebel.com and has a literary blog called Old Hag. This bodes well for me enjoying her work. Shelf Discovery is essentially a curated collection of "book reports" about all the books we all read way too many times.

Personal favorites include every book Madeline L'Engle ever wrote for teens and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

The style of the book is very bloggy - conversational, shortish chapters, inside jokes. Skurnick also manages to refocus my old favorites through a generous feminist lens. Most fun, she shows how silly parents, teachers and general alarmists are when they worry about the influence of television and Lindsay Lohan. There's more hormone-filled sex-ed in your average Judy Blume novel than I got in 12 years of public schooling!

This book is sort of a nostalgic love-letter to my early teen years and I nostalgically loved every page of it. I highly recommend this if you spent age 11 with your nose buried in a book.

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe

Unsurprisingly, this is a pretty depressing book about slavery. From the perspective of a non-racist living in a post-slavery country, this book is really preachy. Stowe is susceptible to long-winded passages condemning slave-owners and the Northerners who don't intervene.

As a period piece, this book is still brilliant. The character and depth of Stowe's arguments and story display the nature of America in those years before the Civil War. Stowe is generous with her characters, there are kindly slave-owners, disinterested slave-owners and viciously cruel slave-owners. And there are pious, kind-hearted slaves, and clever slaves and slaves that are as cruel as their masters.

Stowe is a little generous to her sympathetic readers as well- some of the slaves reach freedom and happiness. This happy ending is really emotional and rewarding (and, yes, I teared up.) In the end, the lesson comes with the heart-breaking failure of the most worthy, most harshly-treated slaves, and this also is extremely affecting.

The book's style and use of phoenetic dialog made it a slow read for me, but I did enjoy it to the extent that one can enjoy reading about the disgusting, inhumane treatment of his fellow man. Recommended as an academic read.