After my post here the other day about reading, I was moved to hunt around for some more of my old favorites in electronic form. I found some and have just finished one called Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton Porter. And in some ways, I still love it. It’s sentimental and silly in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t bother me much. But some of the attitudes shown in this and other of this author’s books just are not comfortable to read.
In fact, reading old books is one of the best ways to discover the real changes that have taken place in modern sensibilities. In older books, there are frequent displays of what today is considered racism. Characters of African-American, Jewish or other backgrounds which are not the same as that of the author are frequently caricatures rather than being as close to “real people” as characters of the author’s own race and class. Now I’m sure this is still true to some extent, but these days it is not acceptable to be openly prejudiced. And in books written as late as the early twentieth century, prejudice is not in the least hidden. And it sticks in my craw.
Fortunately, I’m pretty good at ignoring the things I don’t like in a book I do like, so I still enjoyed the experience of reading this book. But I do feel that this is one of the things that makes reading older books hard for modern readers.
This book is set in Indiana, near the Limberlost swamp. Ms. Porter is very enthusiastic about nature, and this book is particularly focused on birds, so it seems right to include an image of one of the birds of the area.
And here is an image of the edition of another of the author’s books, set in the same area, A Girl of the Limberlost.
I shall be reading this one pretty soon. And I shall ignore any uncomfortable bits as best I can. Skimming works very well for that purpose.