Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Reactions to my books from fellow commuters

I have to say, the reactions of fellow commuters to the books one reads on public transport can be quite amusing - on the odd occasion I'm not so absorbed in what I'm reading that I actually notice! This morning, I was continuing with the Arab-Israeli history I started the other day. I looked up at one point to see someone eyeballing me from the seat opposite - and not looking exactly friendly - even if the less than comfortable nature of an early morning bus was taken into account.

It brought other books to mind. I own about half the series of The Abbey Girls - an out of print series by Elsie J. Oxenham, of vintage English boarding school stories. Don't shoot me... The first few I had are part of a collection of books that have just ALWAYS been in my bookcases - probably old books of my mother's. But then in my late teens, when we moved from the country to the city and there were suddenly lots of second hand bookcases, I started finding them everywhere. Years later, when I was in art school, I discovered there were clubs of women all over the world that were formed around ownership of books in this particular series, and I joined - and I don't do the whole group thing. At that point, I started hunting in earnest for them and got the collection up to the point it is now, which includes a number of difficult to obtain rare ones. While that series was a common point among us, everyone had significant collections of children's literature, with interestingly different styles.

But I digress...

I have been on public transport with some of these books, and let me tell you, being dressed professionally - I'm not madly corporate, but it's clear I'm heading to some kind of office - and having my nose buried in a large, fat hardcover novel with a dust-jacket sporting a period illustration of girls in whites playing cricket, or in facsimile period dress folk dancing, has raised some eyebrows!

And yet, I'd like a dollar for every corporate type (actual suits...) I've seen in the last few months on the ferries and buses deeply absorbed in The Hunger Games, and there are still odd volumes of the Harry Potter books to be seen in the hands of adults.

While I began with the reaction to my deadly serious Middle-Eastern history this morning, it triggered memories of my journeys with children's books. So, what is it? There seem to be those who are amused, and look kind of, I don't know, condescending. And yet, there are all those grown ups en route to their day in the office, traveling in the realm of story-telling. Personally, I think it's very healthy - there are some great kids books with more solid stories than some of the current pulp fiction (still working on where I sit on The Hunger Games). But, is it such a guilty pleasure?

Not for me. I have my hefty history, which in the bites afforded to me by the time it takes me to get into the city, will take me some time to get through. At home, when I just want to chill and not think too hard, I'm currently reading E. Nesbit's The Railway Children. I loved it as a kid, and adored the BBC's version with Jenny Agutter as Bobbie, and I have a hazy memory about there being a remake in the pipeline with Agutter back again as the children's mother.... I'll have to watch out for that.

There's a child in all of us. Those great stories we loved - they're still great, and still worth reading - so we can remember that there are books that are just great stories, intended to transport, to be thought about too seriously, just to be enjoyed...


  1. Karen, I love teenage fiction! The Harry Potter books are wonderful and so are John Marsden's Tomorrow series.

  2. Hi Rachel!

    I love Marsden's books too - my copies are in Adelaide with Twenty, as he was needing them for a school thing around the time I was packing up to relocated back here... So I've not read them for ages. I actually did reference that series in a previous post somewhere - one of 'The Hunger Games' ones, I think.

    Lovely to hear from you!