Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nostalgia Challenge

Cheshire Cat, in his comment on this post claims all of us have the bad taste to feel nostalgic about the crap we read when we were kids.

I've been trying to come up with examples to counter his outlandish theory, and I'm not sure I can find anything, really. I mean, re-reading Enid Blyton makes me cringe. I know I don't need to go back to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to know how bad they can get, ditto the Bobbsy Twins and Biggles.

Anyone who had the slightest fondness for Commando d'you feel about them today? And those Indrajal comics and the occassional Walt Disney stuff we could lay our hands on?

Wait...there's one book that I loved when I was kid that I still have: Tales From A South Indian Village it was called. I remember loving that one. And Sujata and the Elephant. But god knows what I'll make of them now. (Note to myself: read the kozhakattai story again)

So here's the deal: is there anything you guys have re-read recently, a book or comic, that deserves the nostalgia with which you remember it?

Caveat: you can't include anything that counts as kiddie stuff that you read later in your life and liked. Or stuff that you've discovered now for your kids or anything like that (for those of you who have kids! I mean, my son has SO many amazing, fun books that I've found now that we never had when we were growing up. Where was Dr. Seuss when I was five?!)

Let me know if you can think of anything. Go to it!


Veena said...

Carrol. And some Russian stories that I re-read last time I was home - can't remember the name but everyone was called Vanya. (Remember the Misha and House of Soviet Culture days? I used to love those books) And some Enid Blytons don't make me cringe but yeah, I wouldn't include them here.

Define kid. How old are we talking about here? If we have the cutoff is at say 16, then I will put Asimov and all the classics in :)

Bill says Feluda! True to Bong roots.

Space Bar said...

Up to 10 is kid...Cat already mentioned Carrol, which made me kick myself. I'm a little uncertain about Pooh. I thihnk you have to older to appreciate pooh, but that's just me.

Feluda...sigh...Bongs have an unfair advantage! We didn't have translations of when I was growing up, and I was born too late to wait at the door for the latest Kalki with Ponniyin Selvan. Bah!

Those Russian stories were our stand by, no? But I can't remember a single one of those stories.

Falstaff said...

That's easy. Asterix. And Tintin. I can reread those (especially the former) endlessly. Also the Hobbit. And Peter Pan. And The Wind in the Willows. (I can't remember how old I was when I first read Durrell.).

I'm not sure any of this disproves Cat's theory (which I actually agree with and don't think is outlandish) though. I mean, it's true that I still feel nostalgic for things I probably couldn't stand now (Biggles, Enid Blyton, The Three Investigators), although I've never really got around to rereading any of that stuff, because really, who has the time. The fact that there are things that deserve my nostalgia is just pure chance. If you read a wide enough selection of things as a child, and felt nostalgic for most of it, chances are some of it would be decent, by pure dumb luck. (Sorry, this is probably the academic in me getting carried away).

Space Bar said...

See? i must have had a deprived childhood. I read all of that stuff much later, including Andrew Lang's Chronicles of Pantouflia, McDonald's At the Back of the North Wind; and though I had Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies I never read them until I was much older.

I think also, that what you're saying is slightly different from what Cat's saying: you're saying that if you've read widely enough, some of what you read will merit the nostalgia. Cat's saying that most of what you remember with nostalgia will turn out to not live up to the glow with which you cover it now. Whether that's because nothing can match the gilding or because it's pure bad taste, I'm not sure. (I could be entirely wrong, of course).

Falstaff said...

I actually think what Cat and I are saying is fairly similar, even in the way you articulate it (isn't it wonderful, btw, how we're happy to speculate on what Cat is saying instead of just waiting for him to say it again). Basically I'm saying you're going to be nostalgic about stuff you read as a child. Much of that is going to be crap. Some of it will be good. You'll feel nostalgic about most of it entirely independent of its quality.

And it's not even like you'll appreciate for the right reasons as a kid. I mean, I loved Asterix as a child - they were pretty much the first books I read - but if anyone had suggested to me at the age of six that they were anything but deathly serious stories about our brave heroes struggling against an evil foe, I would have looked at them as if they were mad. It was only when I eventually re-read them later in life that I started to appreciate the puns and the jokes. So I could have been reading ACK and my fondness for it would probably be similar.

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: Heh! Yeah...wonder what he really has to say about it. Cat, floor's yours.

Though, if I remember the inversion theory accurately from the comment, the more nostalgic you get, the crappier the book ought to turn out to be.

Wait. Cat(1): 'Thinking about it, we can only be nostalgic about things that have no aesthetic value.'

Cat(2): 'I posited that inverse relationship hoping someone would disagree with me. But it's not enough to disagree, counter-examples are in order.

'The point being, children have such awful taste.'

By that logic, the book I feel most nostalgic about ought to be those abridged tales from shakespeare, or five-page-hans christian andersens. Something wrong somewhere...

Cat, quickly. Your take.

Falstaff said...

space bar: Ah, I hadn't actually read that bit. Ya, the "only" in 'Cat[1]' is what I disagree with.

Though I suppose you could argue that if you appreciate something as a grown-up, then is your fondness for it really nostalgia? I'm very clear that the only reason I treasure Enid Blyton is for the nostalgia - with Asterix it's less clear, because a lot of what I feel is a result of seeing things in a new light. Though now we're firmly in the realm of semantic distinctions.

Which also brings us to the interesting question of what do we mean by awful taste. Is it bad taste if you read stuff because you don't have access to anything else / don't know any better. Or is it only bad taste if you choose something crap over something good. I read a bunch of Commando / Walt Disney comics as a child, and still look back on them with a certain fondness, but I'm fairly sure I was clear, even back then, that Asterix was infinitely superior. It's just that after I got to the point when I had the Asterix memorized page by page, I needed something else to read. And I suspect that's true for a lot of people.

Cheshire Cat said...

Alas, it's true, what I treasure most are Amar Chitra Kathas and mythological Tamil movies from a time of rudimentary special effects, Blyton and "Hello, Harold Hare!" (my all-time favorite) and ersatz comics starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, drastically abridged renderings of Andersen fairy tales - the more clumsily drawn, the better. Even now I am drawn to picture books that display an unconscious honesty about language's clumsy beginnings, the naivete of art. I have a boundless affection for kitsch, and not ashamed of it.

I think it's important to remember that nostalgia is an adult feeling - we are being protective of our childhood selves. There is no reason to be protective of good art, it will survive on its own. It is bad art, drudge art, art produced by those who deceive themselves that they are making art, which deserves our loyalty.

So, yeah, Space Bar, you're closer to the truth (of what I meant), I believe that nostalgia is negatively correlated with quality, not just independent of it. Falstaff's "Though I suppose you could argue...", more or less. But it is true we are drawn to the vulgar, the garish, in childhood. As we grow older we know better, it would seem, and I am gentle with memory.

appa said...

Things I can re-read without cringing:
1. Noddy
2. Target
3. The Amar Chitra Katha comics
4. Witches (or was it 3 witches) by Roald Dahl, which perhaps doesn't count because I liked it for different reasons when I first read it.

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: Ah yes...venturing into the murky waters of aesthetics and what constitutes bad taste needs another post!

Cat: It is bad art, drudge art, art produced by those who deceive themselves that they are making art, which deserves our loyalty.

sigh... :D

Appa: Dahl so counts! And those different reasons are what make re-reads wonderful, no?

anita & amit said...

ok, you know about me and the whole russian books thing, right? and i LOVED Target. Indrajal doesnt make me cringe - i quite love the attempts-to-be-noir still. AmarCK i'm fully suspicious about now (but still a little enamoured of - i think it's shaped our romance aesthetic quite a bit no? ;) and i loved the jataka series). asterix yes, but before that tintin, though today tintin makes me wince. fully incorrect!

Veena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veena said...

Space Bar: You too a PS fan? COOL! I knew it. I don't know if listening to stories count. My mother used to read the whole Ponniyin Selvan thing to me every week. Years later, I read it and found it to be as good, if not better.

Blatant self-promotion since cannot resist a PS mention: You surely have read this?

Space Bar said...

Gosh, Veena! I was first off th eblock too, for the new translations! I nagged and nagged the lady at my local book store and made her get every volume and outsized though it was, I read them in one go.

Unfortunately, I did my Chola country trip before I read it (amma never read PS out to me from Kalki; not even sure of the chronology, but we weren't in TN). In fact, the temple after whose deity my parents named me lies in Chola territory!

Have you read the Parthiban Kanavu translation that came out later?

Veena said...

Space Bar: Yes, Dad shipped Parthiban Kanavu as soon as it came out. Didn't like it as much obviously but if we don't make the comparison, its good. As Bill says "how can you not like a book where the kid's inheritance consists of a vel and the original scroll of the Thirukural?,"

Must say we have very good taste in men. Moreau and Vandiyathevan! Cool no?

??! said...

Did nobody read Nesbit?