Tuesday, December 18, 2007

History Is A Nightmare From Which I Am Trying To Awake

Last year I bought my 12-year-old niece a novel. My sister-in-law says that as far as books goes, my niece likes memoirs and history, like The Diary of Anne Frank. I ended up buying my niece something other than a book. But I wonder what would be a good book to buy my niece.

I presented this to the salesperson at Barnes and Noble as, "Suggest a book like the Diary... about a girl growing up in troubled circumstances. She suggested Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood. This does not seem a good answer to me. I haven't read Zailckas' book. From a review, I know she went to Syracuse University, and, for some reason, I think she may be a product of the Syracuse creative writing program. I have a vague impression that that program is quite good. The authors I associate with it write well about drunkenness and drugs.

I could always loan my niece a book from my collection. Perhaps my niece would like Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991. I find the Russian names in Hope Against Hope confusing, even with the translator's or editor's appendix. Likewise, I think Antonio Gramsci's Letters from Prison is not understandable without quite a bit of knowledge of the historical setting. I seem to have mislaid my copy of Biko. I just bought The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood and will not lend that away until I have read it.

I've loaned my copy of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier to a young friend of mine. This was his choice in a selection I thought of after he told me about a somewhat autistic kid in his class: "He's even better at math than I am." I think I talked him out of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by trying to explain the concept of a unreliable narrator. I don't seem to be able to sell Life As We Know It: A Father, A Family, And An Exceptional Child, including to my sister, who has children and a degree from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

A salesperson at Borders suggested Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo. A librarian in Rome, NY, suggested Four Girls From Berlin: A Ture Story of a Friendship That Defied the Holocause and two novels: The Devil's Arithmetic and The Diary of Pelly D. Come to think of it, isn't the Speilberg film, The Empire of the Sun, based on a memoir?

Does anybody have any comments on any of the above books or any further suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Hey Robert,

Empire of the Sun is based on J. G. Ballard's memoir. Haven't read it but I hear it's completely different to most Ballard stuff, but still good.

Anonymous said...

In the same vein as Hobsbawm, "A People's History of the United States. 1492-Present" by Howard Zinn is to advise. But aren't these books too hard for a 12-years old?

What about "Friedrich" by Hans Peter Richter? I remember to have read this around the same age and loved it.

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks for the suggestion, blop. Based on the info at Amazon, Friedrich seems to fit. I agree many of these are too advanced for a 12-year-old. I don't know what my niece's attitude is, but I was always ready to read books too advanced for me and get what I can. Besides, I'm thinking to asking he to choose from a range of titles, with advice on each.

Mike, I guess I should have looked up Empire of the Sun.

Anonymous said...

Well, anything by Ursula le Guin would be ideal -- she does lots for young adults, although The Dispossessed would be my personal recommendation. It is such a good book.

In terms of comics, Watchmen or V for Vendetta by Alan Moore are both excellent.

In terms of history books, Zinn's is a classic and also recommended.

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks Iain. Le Guin is another author that I don't seem to be able to promote.

Anonymous said...

Klaus Kordon has written some excellent historical novels, aiming at young as well as adult readers. His characters are working class or marginalised people. It's about a microperspective on different chapters of German history (like the revolutions of 1848 and 1918 and the Weimar Republic and the Nazi time). But I guess the novels have not been translated :-/

Robert Vienneau said...

I cannot read german. Trying to read children's book in French (i.e., Le Petit Prince) is good for my humility.