The power of a good story

One of the most delightful things about e-book publishing, in my opinion, is the great number of children’s books that I read as a child which are now available on Kindle. Classics like Charlotte’s Web and Harriet the Spy have remained in print and on bookstore shelves for decades, but on Kindle you can find many of the lesser-known gems.

The Cricket in Times Square, for example, is still available in hardback and paperback print editions, but you can also purchase it on Kindle, complete with the exquisite Garth Williams illustrations. (I still have a tattered and yellowed trade paperback copy from the 1970s.) George Selden wrote six other books about Chester Cricket and his friend Tucker the Mouse, but he also wrote an unrelated book that I borrowed many times from the library and never owned: The Genie of Sutton Place.

I just finished re-reading this book on Kindle. I’m not sure I can summarize it without giving it all away, but it involves an orphaned boy whose dad was an eccentric interested in “the Occult Sciences”, the maiden aunt who takes him in, his dog Sam, and a genie. A genie who has been imprisoned for a thousand years not in a lamp, but in a tapestry that hangs in the National Museum. It’s set partly in Sutton Place, partly in Greenwich Village, with a lot of humor based on the contrast between polite society and the beatnik/hippie/artist culture of the Village. If you read children’s books, no matter how old you are, I recommend it to you. Many of the reviews on Amazon are by adults like myself who grabbed the Kindle edition to revisit a childhood favorite and were not disappointed.

When I first read the book, however, I did not know that it was based on an episode of an early television anthology, Westinghouse’s Studio One in Hollywood. As with the better-remembered Twilight Zone, each episode of the show was a self-contained story, essentially a short play performed in front of cameras. Two of the actors in that episode were people I recognized: Jonathan Harris and William Marshall. Harris, of course, is loved and remembered as the acerbic and wily Dr. Smith of Lost in Space, insulter of robots and occasional protector of Will Robinson. William Marshall, who played the genie, was an African-American actor who turned up years later on Pee-wee’s Playhouse as the King of Cartoons, introducing short clips from vintage cartoons.

To my mind, a story is a story. I don’t care whether it was written for paid publication or for fannish readers, nor do I care whether it was written for adults, children, young adults, boys, girls, or educated parrots. I only care if it’s A Good Story. Does the plot make sense? Do I care about the characters? Does it use language well? Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tale, the first of his novels about Sir Gawain and King Arthur’s court, was published in 1998, when I was 42. I’ve read the entire series, thirteen books, multiple times. I suppose they are technically young adult novels; all I care about is that they retell stories I’ve loved for most of my life in a way that makes sense to me. They pass those tests of plot, characterization, and use of language with flying colors.

Try this, sometime: Open up your Kindle app and go to the store. Search the title of a book you loved as a kid and don’t have a copy of. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. A good story is a good story, no matter what shelf it’s on.

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