In a post I wrote a couple of days ago I wrote how it is quite common for adults to read books meant for a younger audience. It can happen the other way around too.
When I was in elementary school, I loved when the school distributed Scholastic book orders. In third grade, I ordered The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. It was above my reading level in some respects and there were words and story elements that went over my head the first time I read it. But I enjoyed what I did understand.
The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, a family pet who is stolen to be traded up to the Arctic north. The gold rush there has fortune-seekers requiring sled dogs. The story follows the transition of Buck from pet to wild dog. White Fang tells of a wild dog that eventually is brought to civilization. As a third-grader, I cheered for Buck as he gains recognition as one of the finest sled-dogs in the north. In White Fang, I felt deliciously creeped out by the stark beginning, where starving wolves pick off a sled dog team, dog by dog, each night, and the two men mushing the dogs realize that they will be on the menu after the dogs are gone.
In each story, the main character – the dog – becomes the beloved companion of a good man. As a rather shy kid, the sense of belonging contained in these man-dog relationships was immensely appealing.
As I grew up, I would often re-read The Call of the Wild and White Fang, gaining more understanding each time. It was a go-to book for me and I never tired of it. A few years ago, I had the book with me on a car trip with my family. My parents had started reading to each other from books on long drives: do-it-yourself audio books. It occurred to me to read White Fang aloud. Everyone seemed to enjoy the story. However, in reading it aloud, London’s repeated assertions that outside forces shaped a person more than inner determination stood out clearer than before. For instance, in describing one despicable character, he says:
In short, Beauty Smith was a monstrosity, and the blame of it lay elsewhere. He was not responsible. The clay of him had been so molded in the making.
Realizing my disagreements with this philosophy did not make me like the book any less. I simply find it interesting how each re-reading of the book adds a greater understanding of it. The dog-eared state of the book endears me even more to it, because the worn nature of the cover and pages reflects its relationship with me.
Do you have a book that you have grown up with?
What ‘adult’ books did you read as a kid and did you enjoy them?