Friday, March 14, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

The movie version of the Dr Seuss classic, Horton Hears a Who opened this week. I thought a lot of Horton when I was a boy, and kept close tabs on all of the Dr Seuss books. Horton was a very softhearted elephant who in one adventure was talked into sitting on the egg of a certain “Mayzie” bird (so named because it rhymed with lazy) who flew off on a tropical vacation ,only to come back when the egg hatched.. The book is best known for its stirring motto “ I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” In the Who story, the lesson is that “People are people, no matter how small.” That story involves Horton picking up a flower or some type of speck and finding out that an entire planet of “Whos” lived on the speck. I assume that these are the same “Whos” who are featured in the Seuss story “ How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

 

As I said, I read all of these books, and a good many  more, when I was in the First Grade at Richmond Elementary School. In the First Grade, we were only allowed to check out books in the school library from a certain section. Those fit for the youngest readers. My school library was an amazing place. We got to go once a week to check out a book (if we remembered to check in the one from the previous week). I can’t recall our librarian’s name, despite the fact that she stamped my check out sheet on the back cover of  my library book, once a week ,for five years. But I do recall how she looked. She looked like what all librarians  looked like in those days. Remember Mr. Bookman, the library cop on Seinfeld ?  “ In my day the librarian was a single unattractive woman, she didn’t talk about her social life, you didn’t want to know about her social life, she didn’t have a social life.” Or something like that. Librarians have changed a lot since then, I’m married to one now, although she may claim not to have much of a social life either.

 

In second grade, Mrs. Bolton told you when you were ready to advance from the small children’s books to the older children’s books. I was always stuck in the second reading group (I blamed it on my lack of penmanship) and so it was some time into the year that I got a crack at the real books. I recall vividly the first day I was allowed to browse what seemed like endless shelves of books (I probably own three or four times the number of books that were contained in that library, but it seemed enormous to me at the time). The problem was, as I soon found out, that I had to get Mrs. Bolton’s approval of any book I wanted to check out. I spent the entire library period that day taking one book after another to Mrs. Bolton and having them rejected as too sophisticated for me. At the end of the period, she took me over to the stacks and pulled out a book called, I think, The Spirit of St Louis, although it may have been called Lucky Lindy. At any rate, she explained to me that it was about a man that flew an airplane across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a damn good book. This was in the fall of 1960. Lindy had made his flight in 1927, so only 33 years had passed since that great event. Of course to me it seemed like ancient history. Interestingly, about forty years have now passed since we landed on the moon. But that does not seem so long ago.

 

That little library changed my life. I had always enjoyed books, but had never had access to so many different books with so many different ideas. I went on to read just about everything in that place. I focused for awhile on Dr. Doolittle, moved on to Greek Mythology and finally to biography and history, where I still am today. I was wondering this morning if the school library still means as much to today’s youth. It is hard for Horton’s book to compete with an animated version, or with the inevitable video game. There is a lack of patience among children today that has been brought on by the neurosis of modern society, which most people mistake for excitement (Evelyn Waugh). This lack of patience makes it harder, or at least less interesting to sit down and lose yourself in a book about an elephant who talks to creatures on a tiny planet. I fear that the libraries of the future will be just so many computer stations, with the books a dusty afterthought. I hope not. The experience I had of discovering reading would  be missed. One hundred percent.

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