Friday, June 18, 2010

FFB: William Saroyan: MY NAME IS ARAM World 1940; Harold Courlander RIDE WITH THE SUN McGraw-Hill 1955; Susan Feldman THE STORYTELLING STONE Dell 1965



I picked up my old World hardcover edition of William Saroyan's My Name is Aram the other day (as opposed to my somewhat less old but still old Dell Laurel Leaf edition), and the mix of deadpan and often somewhat heartbreaking realism and infrequent tall-tale touches and Old Country Meets New World situations is still engaging, in these linked, largely autobiographical short stories originally published in the likes of Harper's and Esquire...but in a book that has been marketed, when in print, to young readers primarily (hence the Laurel Leaf paperback). Saroyan is a bit pat and cute at times in a way I didn't note as readily when I first read this when I was about nine or ten, but it's still reading that will reward an adult, who might have a greater sense of what it meant to be Armenian in California in the early part of the last century...at least have a sense of the background more readily than young readers, unaware of an Ottoman Empire, Young Turks or the Armenian genocide, might...till they read the book. Even then, the grimmer details on the world stage are supplanted by what grim details are close to home for Aram, our protagonist, and his friends and family, very much including younger and older adults...but more of their adventures are relatively light-hearted than grim...but a fine Orthodox Christian pessimism informs this work (even if Aram is a very casual Catholic).

But what's again at least briefly interesting is that this book was sucked into the kids' canon, much as Sterling North's memoir Rascal or John Knowles's A Separate Peace (this last more pushed into the YA realm by well-meaning teachers and their colleagues) or Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game largely because it's About children...even The Lord of the Flies is more likely to be read by children these days than adults, though it was by no means aimed at them. A book perhaps aimed a little more in the young reader's direction, but not exclusively so, was the collection of folktales from around the world put together by Harold Courlander, a prolfic folklorist and mythologist, under commission from the United Nations Women's Guild...with folklore and creation myths from each of the United Nations' member states. This volume, which apparently led to Courlander taking on the editorship of The United Nations Review for three years and change, was the widest-ranging assortment of such material I'd stumbled across at that time, after reading as many young-reader's Greek, Roman, and Native American anthologies as I could find, and listening to Manu Tupou's Caedmon Records recordings of Polynesian folktales retold. I went on to read Courlander's more adult collections, often focused on one nation or culture's traditions, such as those of the Dineh (or Navajo)...but even before I found this Courlander, I had read and been charmed and occasionally puzzled by Susan Feldman's The Storytelling Stone, an unstuffy but still relatively scholarly survey of Native American myths and tales from all over North America; puzzling mostly for such situations as the trickster who uses a wooden dildo to break the teeth of some vagina-dentata women who've been terrorizing a certain commnunity (just in case you mistook institutional sexism as somehow a European introduction into the continent). But more telling yet were such vignettes as the argument between the creator lizard and the creator coyote as to how a human hand will be formed...with the lizard's splayed fingers or the coyote's grouped paw. The lizard carries the day on this point, so the sullen coyote demands, "Then they will have to die." Some tough trading in those days. As far as I can tell, Stone was a Dell Laurel Leaf original publication, thus a rather fine mass market original that is the only one of these three still in print...and the one, as I imagine you might've gathered, most likely to raise the ire of the Tipper Gores and Phyllis Schlaflys...I will be very surprised if it's not on the American Library Association's list of banned or challenged books. (I first found it in a public, not school, library.)

I've picked up a copy of Ride tonight, or so I hope, since I'd like to have it around, along with my copies of the others. For more "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

9 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

All new to me as you might expect although I have read other things by Saroyan.

Mark L. said...

I believe that if you check the Dell edition against the old hardcover edition, you'll find that Saroyan revisited and revised the writing-- not dramatically, just a word here and a word there. The Dell edition of THE HUMAN COMEDY had one or two more significant revisions.

Todd Mason said...

Patti--well, let's see...I first read the Saroyan because an old reading textbook, maybe for seventh graders, I'd bought at a yard sale when I was eight or nine had the first story from ARAM in it, as its first story. The Courlander was reprinted in a set of Scott, Foresman hardcover books for classrooms my Enfield, CT, fifth and sixth grade class had available (Keith Robertson's HENRY REED'S JOURNEY was another of those...it was a pretty impressive set) and, as I mentioned, I'd found the Feldman in the Enfield Public Library, having exhausted my school libraries for Native Am mythology and folklore books.

Todd Mason said...

Mark- I think I remember that from the copyright page of the Dell edition, now that you mention it...though I'm pretty sure my Dell edition is in Virginia storage, so I haven't seen it for a while. (Also, I'll have to double check to see if the first edition was published by World, or by Harcourt, Brace, who would merge...my HC is an HB...)

George said...

I remember reading William Saroyan's BOYS AND GIRLS TOGETHER. I my memory serves me, the book had a provocative cover.

Todd said...

I haven't read that one yet, but Saroyan was definitely one to upset the easily upset...the potential confusion introduced by William Goldman and Neil Gaiman since using the title, leaving aside the Mamas, the Papa and the Child-Raping Papa can further muddy the memory...

K. A. Laity said...

I think I have owned a copy of Saroyan's book and never ever read it. It's probably in the storage book collection which I think I am ready to abandon. Stone sounds fantastic. I cringe at the mention of A Separate Peace and Card (that insane homophobe) and hope that children are not reading either.

Todd Mason said...

Well, my 8th-grade peers rebelled at A SEPARATE PEACE when they'd had it assigned to them through a substitute--I was out with a rather late personal encounter with chicken pox (I'd found it terribly dull to the point of early abandonment when I was about 9); homophobia isn't the only problem with Card's work, which I abandoned after a few of the ridiculous "Hot Sleep" stories of his early career, and have found no compelling reason to jump back in, particularly given such contemporaneous and slightly later attempts of his such as "Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory" and "Lost Boys"...

Todd Mason said...

And the Feldman is still in print, albeit these days in a QP format and not marketed for the kids...perhaps it's notable that this one reversed the pathway that the Courlander was difference-splitting and the Saroyan was nudged towards...