Never too old

I loved author Ann Patchett’s essay in The New York Times the other day, ‘Why We Need Life-Changing Books Right Now’1. Patchett talks about ‘life changing’ reads, describing a time she went back to read a set of books intended for middle-graders (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo), but finding the reading matter transformative, irrespective of the age categorisation it had been intended for. She goes on to list several works supposedly aimed at younger readers that can be enjoyed by readers in any age group. ‘Do not make the mistake I nearly made and fail to read them because you are under the misconception that they are not for you. They are for you,’ she urges.

His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman is one writer who refuses to have age categories assigned to his fiction, refusing to see children’s literature as ‘bad books for grown-ups.’ He has said that ‘To look at the reception of children’s literature today, you’d think that it was a separate thing entirely, almost a separate country, because there are important people like literary editors and critics, who decide what should go where, and why.’ 2

hello-i-m-nik-m7PaAQkxgxw-unsplashPersonally, I miss no longer reading aloud to my kids. (I would, by the way, but they don’t want me to. They even roll their eyeballs now when I read them the ‘Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus’ chapter from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie at Christmas—outrageous!) I used to enjoy fishing out some of the stories I enjoyed as a child and rediscovering them, as well as finding some new reads. Yet linked to the disparagement of children’s fiction, there seems to be this embarrassment by adults to be reading “children’s books”. Consider, for instance, the fact that publisher Bloomsbury brought out—and continue to sell—a range of ‘adult covers’ for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

By the same token, and this was also pointed out by Pullman, so-called ‘adult’ books may be enjoyed by children. A few specifically ‘mature’ topics aside, there seems little reason for the distinction. Particularly after starting secondary school aged eleven, I never thought twice about plundering the communal bookshelves at home for reading matter. These were not necessarily “great literature”, I was not that six-year old, the one who got stuck into Dickens. But detective fiction, romance, yes, and even history, in a way, thanks to a not insignificantly sized set of Georgette Heyers owned by my mother. Some more challenging stuff would sneak in too, however – the main thing was, I had found those books for myself. They were not prescribed.

In the above-mentioned essay, Patchett also notes that ‘[T]here’s something about being able to read an entire book in one sitting that’s emotionally very satisfying.’ Agreed. Though it’s been a while since having the luxury of time… On my traditional ‘Boxing Day Book Binge’ on 26th December, I do believe.

Of course, that may be about to change. If and when it does, I will be there with Honor Arundel’s High House series, or with Diana Wynne-Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle —though I have to admit, the character of Howl, in the book, gives me some ‘adult’ thoughts… Sorry.


1. Anne Patchett, ‘Why We Need Life-Changing Books Right Now’, in The New York Times, 30 March 2020.
2. Philip Pullman, ‘Philip Pullman on Children’s Literature and the Critics Who Disdain It, talk delivered at the Royal Society of Literature, 6 December 2001, transcript on The Literary Hub, 08 October 2019.

Featured photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


18 thoughts on “Never too old

  1. ‘Little house on the prairie’, I remember buying that Primary school…… the Penguin Book Club?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ……………a touch to girly!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No such thing as ‘genre’s books either, just different tastes.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A book is a book is a book. I still love the little house on the prairie books. I loved Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Lemony Snicket’s. I didn’t love his dark materials mostly because I felt it was too dark for the intended age group and honestly, too dark for me too. They were exceptionally well written though. I really wanted to like them a lot more than I did

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed! I loved Snickett ‘s Series of Unfortunate Events books, the dark, skewed wit and inventiveness.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I read a whole book on my first day of “quarantine” and it was awesome. I love the fact that one might be able to indulge in this activity now that we are forced to stop commuting and may end up with extra time on our hands. Thanks for highlighting this article and for your reading recommendations!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I finally managed it this wee kend, the point you ‘come around’ to the real world at the end, like you’ve been hypnotized. Wonderful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have never separated books into adults’ and children’s. One pleasure of mine has been hearing my children read to their own children books I once read to them

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s so rewarding when next generations adore the same, timeless books.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I really hope you will like this earlier post, Libre:
        Jessica was 6 at the time.


        1. Love this post, thank you. Just goes to show how much incidental knowledge we gather from reading, including from fiction. And I am sure we’re less likely to forget it becaue it makes a deeper impression, too.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. And thank you, Libre. 🙂


  5. Penguin book club, th at takes me back! Remember the newsletter?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hmm perhaps not……… as I remember my mother chose our books bless her. ❤


  6. My kids have grown out of me reading to them – I have never done reading a book in one go – although there were many titles in the past which gave me the itch


  7. When I was teaching high school special education, I wanted the kids to enjoy the books that I chose so I always read them aloud. This way I knew they were hearing ALL of the words and then I could also attach some emotion to it, so they wouldn’t get “bored”. The problem I saw in this high school was that kids didn’t read any of the books, they just skimmed to find answers. For whatever reason, reading isn’t fun for a lot of kids anymore. Very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. My kids are a bit the same Stine Writing – I was a massive boookworm, introduced them to a lot of old favourites, and they did enjoy being read aloud to. But later, while my son is an occasional reader, my younger one has to be persuaded into it. I haven’t given up yet!


  9. Agreed about the “age categories”, or excess of marketing segementation. Are the three musketeers a young adult book? Or R.L. Stevenson? Is Ana Karenin a women’s book?
    Now life-changing books? Dire need.
    All well with you?


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