Friday, December 22, 2006

Goodnight Mush

I enjoyed Elizabeth Kolbert's article "Goodnight Mush" in the Dec. 4 issue of the New Yorker:

'If, as Joan Didion famously put it, “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” why do we tell stories to our children? In my experience, mostly it is to get them to shut up. A book read to a toddler who, after running around the house all day, has had to be stuffed, quite literally, into his pajamas, may traffic in imaginative freedom and wonder, but it is still an instrument of control. I will read this to you, and then you will go to sleep. End of story.'

The article lives up to this opening (and it is nice to see that EK can write well about other things, and not just about her usual terrifying topic, global warming).


mrjumbo said...

Fitting that the best line in a review of picture books is a tossed-off remark about French lingerie.

The Kolbert report names Clement Hurd, who illustrated "Good Night, Moon." (And why has James Thurber's "Many Moons," far more droll, gone out of print?) That made me remember Edith Thacher Hurd, his wife. (Their son writes picture books too.)

When I was a lad, I had a cousin, Rosie Bliven, who lived out at Kingscote Gardens at Stanford with her husband Bruce, a journalist. They were of my grandmother's generation and would come to Christmas dinners.

Rose gave me one year a picture book by Edith Thacher Hurd, illustrated by Clement: a story about a farm. On the farm were two cats, Rosie and Posie. Those cats, Rosie told me, were named after her. I listened wide-eyed. I knew Cousin Bruce had written books, but this was special in a different way. It was my first peek into the existence of the literary circle that was yesterday's Manhattan.

Generations have come and gone; nobody remembers any of these people anymore. Wikipedia has nothing on Edith Thacher Hurd; I'm sure no one at today's New Yorker remembers Naomi Bliven (the daughter-in-law), who reviewed books there for years.

But it's pleasing to see that a review of children's literature that begins by invoking Joan Didion's latest title comes home to the tall shadow cast on the wall by a different memory, one more distant but also closer to home.

Andrew Shields said...

I don't know what I might have read by Edith Thacher Hurd, but the name rings a bell. For that matter, so does Naomi Bliven.

And don't underestimate the people who work for the New Yorker; I get the feeling they all have a strong sense of the history of the magazine!

And finally, thanks for the Thurber tip.