Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sometimes Later Is Better Than Sooner

As a school librarian, I work with students of all maturity, interest and reading ability levels, and sometimes it's hard to find "just right" reading that really fits the total student.  Sometimes it's the socially precocious upper elementary kid who's chomping at the bit for the edgy fiction in the high school library; sometimes it's the young JH or HS student with well-meaning parents who are pushing "the classics" to the exclusion of the kid's true interests.  Also, I find that sometimes students will recommend adult books to their friends because they were read and enjoyed in literature class, not realizing that so much of the meaning they got was derived from class discussions with other students and adults. For a long time, elementary librarian Natalie Bernstein even had a list of "what not to read" to elementary students.  Mom & Dad, To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, and Huckleberry Finn can wait.  Really.

In reading Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby Dick?, I came across an example and a quote that I just had to share.  In the spring of 1849 at the ripe old age of 30, Herman Melville first discovered Shakespeare.  He gloried in the entire 7-volume large print set of Shakespeare's plays, and found much inspiration for Moby Dick in the Bard's tormented characters and involved plots. Philbrick writes:
"Melville's example demonstrates the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference." pg. 61

Amen, Brother Philbrick. Amen.

"Call me Ishmael . . ."


Anonymous said...

What a great story. Love the insight from Philbrick. It's been on my mind, while reading Moby-Dick for the first time as a Scot, that this book is often taught in the US to relatively young students. I'm absolutely aware that there is a lot in the novel that only resonates with me because of life experience, and that if I were to read it again in ten years' time, I'd likely see a whole new realm of meaning in Melville's writing, as with any great art.

There's also something liberating about learning that a writer as great as Melville only discovered the Bard at the age of 30!

PiLibrarian said...

Thanks for your comment, Eva. I'm finding it ironic that, because I'm very much enjoying my Moby Dick experience now (at age, mmm, halfway-to-100) that I feel the urge to recommend it to everyone, including my high school students. This despite not being ready, personally, to read it at age 20 at university. I'm pretty sure that most of my students, even if they read the book (they are quite an accomplished and clever lot), would not go so far as all the supplemental analysis and information that I'm driven to and find makes the novel much more rewarding this time around.

Moby Dick will be around for them in 10 or 20 years too.