You should read this review if:
1. You haven’t read this book and need to know why you should,
2. You’ve read this book, but need to know about the connection between Daddy-Long-Legs
and J.D. Salinger.
(Okay, or: 3. Regardless of whether or not you’ve read this book, you now think I’ve been smoking something I shouldn’t have been. Please read this review so I can convince you otherwise. Thank you.)
There is something to be said for not having read the classics as a kid – provided, of course, you steal time as an adult to catch up on everything you’ve missed. There’s nothing like finding out the fun way, in your 20s or 30s or 40s, that the reason a particular work is called a classic is that it’s absolutely wonderful.
This isn’t always the case. I can’t guarantee you’ll shriek, “Where have you BEEN all my life?” if you pick up, say, Gargantuan and Pantagruel
. But I’ve had two separate friends express their startled delight that Anna Karenina
is not only not
too hard for mere mortals to read, but is in fact a moving and engrossing read (and a ripping good one at that). I myself missed out on To Kill A Mockingbird
until I was in my 40s, because everybody only talked about the important moral issues it discusses, and nobody mentioned how hard its writing kicks arse. (I only finally read it because I got too embarrassed about having to admit that I hadn’t and I’m a lousy liar.)
is an absolute delight. I figured it would be cute and, given how long ago it was written, probably pretty sappy. That’s okay. I can deal with a little sap. Sometimes I even like it.
But the young narrator, Jerusha Abbott, is mercilessly sharp and laugh-out-loud funny. Put it to you this way: My son decided to read this after he kept cracking up from all the bits I read out loud to him at the breakfast table. He’s a sixteen-year-old EDM aficionado. If you’re still holding out, I don’t know what to tell you.
This is the story of a girl who insists on being her own spiky, sharp, funny self in spite of growing up in an orphanage whose goal, as Jerusha puts it, “is to turn the ninety-seven orphans into ninety-seven twins.” This is not
“virtue rewarded” in the usual sense of the phrase. Jerusha is given a scholarship to college thanks to her excellent writing. The essay that snagged her this scholarship was a bitterly funny piece about the orphanage.
the fact that Jerusha escapes a horrible situation by speaking up about how awful it is. Yes, I’ve been reading too many Regency-era novels about how women who suffer ills and abuses patiently are rewarded. This book was the perfect antidote.
Here’s something else I didn’t expect from this book: a Salinger connection.
I recently reread The Catcher in the Rye
. If you’ve read it, too, you’ll probably recall that the narrator, Holden Caulfield, starts this book having less than a wonderful day. Specifically, he just found out he’s being expelled from his swanky boarding school. He goes to his room to try to relax with a book:
“I’d only read about three pages, though, when I heard somebody coming through the shower curtains. Even without looking up, I knew right away who it was. It was Robert Ackley, this guy that roomed right next to me. ...Nobody ever called him anything except ‘Ackley.’ Not even Herb Gale, his own roommate, ever called him ‘Bob’ or even ‘Ack.’ If he ever gets married, his own wife’ll probably call him ‘Ackley.’”
That’s a funny passage. It also emphasizes Ackley’s name.
It becomes clear very quickly that Holden isn’t fond of Ackley at the best of times. Today he finds him particularly annoying because Ackley won’t let him read. No matter how often Holden hints that he’s reading, or at least he’d like to be, annoying Ackley just won’t leave.
Okay. Big deal. Way to be random, Deborah.
Here is a wonderful passage from Daddy-Long-Legs
, part of a chapter in which the narrator has been listing all the reasons it’s been a lousy day at school. (Jerusha has mentioned earlier that the best part of every day for her is the evening, when she curls up to read – not assigned reading, but “just plain books” to make up for all the lost time at the bookless orphanage.)
“Friday is sweeping day, and the maid had mixed all the papers on my desk. We had tombstone for dessert (milk and gelatin flavored with vanilla). We were kept in chapel twenty minutes later than usual to listen to a speech about womanly women. And then – just as I was settling down with a sigh of well-earned relief to The Portrait of a Lady
, a girl named Ackerly, a dough-faced, deadly, unintermittently stupid girl, who sits next to me in Latin because her name begins with A, came to ask if Monday’s lesson commenced at paragraph 69 or 70, and stayed ONE HOUR. She has just gone.”
Am I one of those Salinger conspiracy-theorist weirdos, or does it sound like Salinger liked Daddy-Long-Legs
and paid it a strange little tribute in his best-known book?
You should read Daddy-Long-Legs
and decide for yourself. If you’ve already read it but it’s been a long time, you should read it again and see how much fun it is to read classics when you’re a chronological grownup and can decide for yourself what you feel like reading.