On reading the same book but reading different stories

I’m well on my way reading my next book on my ‘1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much)‘ list – Clockwork, or All Wound Up, by Philip Pullman. Or rather, I am well on my way reading the bind up for four of Philip Pullman’s tales that contains Clockwork – I haven’t actually started reading Clockwork yet. However, I can’t help thinking back about Harriet the Spy, particularly the postscript, written by Wendy Cooling.

The postscript contemplates on what a lonely, misunderstood child Harriet is in the story, as none of the adults in her life really have time for her. She talks about how Harriet’s spy route (where she goes and spies on particular people everyday, after popping home for milk and cake) allows Harriet to have some sort of routine in her life. Wendy Cooling writes: ‘ She is like a boat adrift at sea and has nothing to help her through life.’

I disagree.

I’m not saying that Wendy Cooling is wrong; it’s just that she and I read different books. Or rather, the way we saw the books were very different. I find it so interesting that people can read the same book and come out thinking very different things. I did not see Harriet as pining for the adults in her life – I thought the lack of adult supervision was just in the way that sometimes stories need to get adults out of the way in order for the real story to happen. I thought the lack of adults was because Harriet is so wrapped up in her own self that she doesn’t have time to think about other people, like her nurse’s happiness in finding a man she wants to marry. I thought the main story was about Harriet learning that other people are not just there for her own entertainment, and sometimes her self-centeredness can be hurtful to others.

But, again, that does not mean that Wendy Cooling is wrong. It just means that our lives make us see things in different lights, and stories in different lights. I’m sure that people might read what I think about books and say, ‘That’s not at all what I got out of the story.’

But doesn’t that make talking to people about books more interesting? That the same book can contain thousands of different stories, all read in thousands of different ways?

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: On trees growing in libraries « 1001 Children's Books

  2. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

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