literature

It’s the week of Halloween and a picture of Anthony Perkins should only mean one thing at this time of year, right?

Nah.

We did actually put Psycho on, one evening, after the kids had gone up to read. But Claudia came down hungry (bodies at this age, particularly as active as Claudia’s, really know when they need to eat better than the clock does) and she watched the shower scene. “That guy — or woman — or whoever stabbed her — that looked like a tokusatsu movie,” she said, mouth full of over easy eggs. “Every time he used the knife it went like this –” she made a parallel movement against her body — “instead of like this.” She pantomimed stabbing a knife into her belly.

Well. Alfred Hitchcock, you are excused. Claude was interested momentarily, for the academic value, in seeing Anthony Perkins so young, but she had already seen him in what I consider to be one of his finest roles earlier that afternoon, and so already thought of him as an older man. Seeing him as boyish Norman Bates was just a novelty.

I was eight when the made-for-TV version of Les Miserables with Perkins as Inspector Javert premiered, and over however many nights it aired, I was riveted. I remember lying on the couch alone (my dad could have been washing dishes; my mother worked nights) and I just loved it. I had never heard of Psycho then and didn’t need to — the narcissism of Javert and his relentless fool-making of himself as he attempted to bring down Jean Valjean was so unbelievably evil… and pathetic. Even at eight, I knew he was pathetic. I was still shocked when he tumbled, without even bending at the hips, into the river, committing suicide for his own wasted life; I felt relief for him.

I found my father’s copy of “Les Miserables” and spent the next couple of years trying to read just the scenes I recalled from the teleplay, but the book itself was far too much.

Last week, on a rainy afternoon, after an evening of long discussion about books and what to read and why to read it, we watched my favorite Les Miserables and both kids were just as riveted. They did not end up thinking much of France, but it’s not been high on their list anyway. I decided to watch this with them because the night before, I had found an ad online advertising some special edited versions of Victor Hugo’s novel — a children’s version that was about 10% of the original content, and then a high school version.

Since Claudia loves historical novels and since Béla loves a good war novel, I got the children’s version — and thought letting them see the movie first would help with all the proper nouns. It has, so far — although it’s being made clear to me that reading this is not Recreation (and I really allow most reading to be just that.) I have only just started to creep in with the concept of “a book you need to read for school”, and I did not think less than 10% of “Les Miserables” was a bad place to start for Claudia. (She had been offered James Baldwin’s “Go Tell It On The Mountain” but told me it was “too Christian” and wouldn’t read it.)

For someone who wants to go to Oxford, particularly, I think it’s time that Claudia learn to do a few things that she does not want to do, as it will help her reach her dreams. Béla is very open about the fact that he does not know what he wants to do with his adult life — he is having enough challenge navigating his current life, but I am so honored and honestly touched by grace that he shares the details of that with me — and as far as I’m concerned he can read whatever makes him happy. (Lots of reading does NOT make him happy and he has returned books to me specifically based on the content being too heavy for him to handle, particularly before bed.)

That’s why I was a little alarmed earlier this week when he asked me, “Mom — what is that book kids my age read — it’s not ‘The Fly’…”

I knew exactly what it was. How did he know about this? As it turns out, the fantasy and spy novels he reads, in the Young Adult category, often have characters who are referencing the book “Lord of the Flies”, and that was enough to get him interested.

We watched some old trailers from the film. I do not think this book is going to make him happy, although he has some lessons to learn about peer pressure and trying to take over social groups. Sadly, the dynamics in the trailer reminded him of a homeschool group where he was not treated nicely and it may do him some good to know it’s not just him (and, that sometimes, there’s a reason you get singled out, and you can’t always blame it on having “Asian eyes”.) But, I’m going to encourage him to read it. Or to at least try.

We just finished — and it was a thrill for me to do this, a dream come true — reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree” out loud. This was read aloud to my fifth grade class and so it seemed perfect timing. I cried, they tolerated me. Tuck is home less to carry on with “Robin Hood” and I cannot do the voices, so we may go into holiday-themed works further until hitting Claudia’s 12th birthday and the start of “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban. I am so excited and happy. We are branching out from trade paperback fantasy and into Real Books, which is only appropriate since Claudia gave us an exclusive reading from the early draft of her novel last week. While I think B’s biggest goal is to just keep reading and enjoying it, I think Claudia needs to start reading more like a writer (or to try it out.)

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