The hiatus was actually very productive. I revamped my novel plans, figured out a new blog schedule, and did a lot of reading. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the act of reading, and the fallout that happens when that act doesn't get thought through properly.
I was one of those kids who learned how to read nigh-instantly, not gradually. There are plenty of people like that — any given university English class has tons of people who did the same — but I know from teacher's college that we're not usually accounted for when elementary school curricula are planned.
When I was about eleven I borrowed The Hunchback of Notre Dame from the school library. The librarian praised me for starting on the classics at an early age. My teacher praised me. My parents praised me.
This is how I learned two important things. One: not nearly as many people who think they know the Hunchback story have actually read the book. Two: if a book with sex, violence, and cruelty in it is old enough, the age for which it is appropriate lowers.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame isn't exactly Flowers in the Attic, or even Lady Chatterly's Lover, but it does have:
- a man attempting to seduce a woman and getting as far as taking her blouse off
- a woman bound to the back of a cart wearing nothing but a slip, trying to keep it from falling down by holding on to the top edge with her teeth as she is paraded through the streets of Paris
- a crazy old woman kept in a cage... just because she's a crazy old woman
There's more where those examples came from, but the point of this blog post isn't to ban Hunchback from elementary schools. Even as I was reading it I was thinking, "I'm too young for this stuff." But I read it anyhow, and as near as I can tell there were no permanent scars as a result. Sure, I lost faith in the wisdom of grown-ups, but that was about due to happen anyhow.
My point, if anything, is to offer a public service announcement to remind grown-ups that children do not grow up in a happy never-never land, and that, try as they might, adults are pretty bad at deciding what is and isn't "appropriate" for a given book-reading kid. There's a difference between protecting kids and isolating them, after all.
Also: The Hunchback of Notre Dame is an excellent read for anyone who likes Gothic horror, and would make a nice back-to-back with Frankenstein. Read it if you're old enough to get away with being seen carrying it.