April 22, 2012

Adolescent Tales

So here are two very different books.  They probably couldn't be more different.  If you were to draw a Venn diagram there would be a very large circle around all the names of the people who read Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids; her years with the artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  There would be a somewhat smaller circle around E. D. Baker's middle grade fractured fairy tale in which it turns out Sleeping Beauty has a younger sister who has all kinds of adventures trying to save  the entire sleeping kingdom from a curse.  I'm imaging the place where these two circles intersect, where there are people have read both books, is but a sliver.

I also imagine a similar Venn diagram which displays people who have blogged about both books.  I have no evidence for this, but I imagine I'm alone in the intersection of these two circles, especially as I have decided to write about both books in one post.

But what is life without a challenge, I say.

Neither book was of my choosing, other than agreeing to read them.  Smith's book was chosen by the resident music expert in our book club.  We get into so many musical conversations about the people like Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin et cetera, that it was inevitable we read something more directly music related.  Might as well be something that won the National Book Award.

Baker's book was chosen by my daughter for our most recent read-aloud.  She's on a big fantasy kick and especially loves these new meta versions of fairly tales like the Sister's Grimm and the movie Tangled.  I think she picked it up at the most recent school book fair.

These books, believe it or not, are not entirely unrelated.  They both concern adolescents on a quest and helped by a male companion who knows and relates to them in ways no other can, inspiring and pushing them on through their journeys.

Patti has Robert Mapplethorpe.  She meets him in New York in 1967 and they spend a very intense next seven years together figuring out who they are as people, as artists, as lovers, as everything.  Now I realize that she was 21 when she met him--not everyone's idea of adolescent--but they are both definitely immature and learning to grow up into the people and artists they will later become.

Princess Annie has Liam, one of her father's guards who happened to be one of those few outside the castle grounds when the sleeping spell hits.  Together they go on a quest to round up as many princes as they can in an attempt to break the spell.  First up is Digby, the official betrothed, but with him being such an ass, it can't hurt to get as many royals as possible just in case.

Liam and Robert are both resourceful and focused men who are incredibly devoted to their quests and their partners.  They both also happen to have a few secrets up their sleeves.

Patti and Annie are both smart, funny and interesting young ladies who can spot a phony a mile away and are equally focused and devoted to their respective Prince Charmings.  Also, neither one is beautiful in any conventional sense.  Patti because she has other priorities (though she does have a vivid memory for everything she's ever worn), and Annie because while most other royals have fairy magic sprinkled on them during their christenings that make them unnaturally good looking and talented, Annie is different.  A fairy gave her the gift/curse of being impervious to magic.  She can't be hurt or helped by it in any way.  She's her own woman.  Liam is similarly "natural" and they find themselves enjoying each other's company more because of this.

Patti and Annie do seem to have one magic power however.  They both seem unable to avoid any famous person in their vicinity.  Patti interacts with Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol's entire retinue, Sam Sheppard, Jim Carroll, Janis Joplin, Bruce Springsteen and many more.  Annie meets the inspirations for the frog prince, Hansel & Gretel, the princess and the pea, Rapunzel and more.

Now I'm not saying anyone who enjoys one of these books will enjoy the other.  They are very different.  Smith's is of a specific time and place and if you don't care about these things, then no amount of her poetical writing will make you care.  Baker's is meant for kids aged 8-12 who like to laugh at clever twists on familiar tales.

For some reason, though, they came into my reading life at the same time and I couldn't help that they were both bouncing around in my noggin at the same time when I sat down to write about them.  That ever happen to you?

2 comments:

C.B. James said...

I sometimes look at the books reviewed on my own blog and worry about what people might think. I still read enough YA for people to assume mine is a YA blog, but I also read a good deal of adult material, some of it very adult.

I think that's just something that comes with being a teacher, like this situation comes from being a father.

Jim Randolph said...

Don't worry. People are only thinking, "How does he read so much more than I do?" And probably, "And such cool and eclectic books too!" And also, "Why that's a mighty fine green hoodie he's wearing in his profile pic."