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.