While brainstorming for an English essay around finals week, I realized that I have my own personal literary canon. These are my sacred texts, which contain the philosophies that inform and influence and reflect my everyday life.
Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life
by Maurice Sendak
This is a picture book about a dog named Jennie. Sho has everything (even ear-drops), but sets out to find more. It is very strange and involves a lot of eating. It also has an illustrated play at the end, which is nice.
Lessons learned: Nothing is what it seems; eating basically everything you see can turn out ok; it’s fine to leave your home and those who love you unconditionally, as long as you become a star and eat salami.
by Margaret Moore
This is a children’s book from 1951 (I have my dad’s copy). It’s about a worm without ambition, which I can sometimes relate to. Willie meets a frog named Wog and likes singing odd little songs. Whatever floats his boat. In the end, Willie Without finds a hat that exactly represents his internal identity, allowing him to finally be himself.
Lessons learned: I guess that we’re all out looking for our perfect hats in this world, our own truth and identity and way of being. Also, a hat worn at a jaunty angle can make or break a worm.
The Spider’s Palace
by Richard Hughes
This collection of short stories (which my mom got as a birthday present in the ‘70s) wins the weirdness prize hands down. It’s from 1932 and includes a girl who decides to live in a whale with her dog (there’s an especially strange part where the whale goes to Harrod’s to buy a bed), a girl who travels through a telephone wire and then lives with the strangers on the other end (who are cool with the arrangement) and a girl who goes down the drain with the bathwater (and nobody cares).
Lessons learned: You will never understand everything. Or anything. Just go with it. And don’t expect satisfying conclusions.
Everything written by E. Nesbit
E. Nesbit, possibly the mother of modern fantasy, was my number one favorite writer when I was little (and my mom’s favorite when she was little). She probably remains my favorite to this day. Her stories belie a complex, way ahead-of-her-time philosophy. In her worlds, rich and poor children can be friends, princesses can be strong, and Jewish pawnbrokers can be generous (a twist on the traditional stereotypes). She was an incredibly strong, smart, independent turn-of-the-century woman, who discussed ideas about social status, gender expectations, and economics in London’s intellectual circles. She helped found the socialist Fabian society.
Lessons learned: Innumerable. My desire for an old-fashioned English picnic and a flying carpet has definitely made me the woman I am today.
“No Thank You, John” by Christina Rossetti and “Indian Summer” by Dorothy Parker
These are two caustic poems in which a woman explains to a man why she won’t bend to his will; in “No Thank You, John” the speaker turns down a marriage proposal, and in “Indian Summer” she explains that she’s comfortable with herself, and no longer changes to please boys.
Lessons learned: I’ve never liked that Grease alter-yourself-to-win-the-guy attitude. Both of these female poets were ahead of their times in terms of remaining themselves despite the opinions of pushy men.