Thursday, November 29, 2007

Daring Is As Daring Does

It's been forever since I posted here, mostly because I've been sick, sick, sick and then sick again, and the reviews are the first thing to go when I'm not feeling well (hard to remember what I'm even supposed to be writing about, let alone whether I liked the thing or not, when my head's hovering over the toilet.) But I'd been dying to write about The Daring Book For Girls, because I so loved The Dangerous Book For Boys and because, well, I just love the spirit of the whole thing. Every girl and boy probably needs one or both of these books on their bookshelf, if only so that they'll know that, sometimes, the coolest information isn't the kind that you Google, but the kind that's preserved between two dusty hard covers, on dog-eared pages that beg to scribbled upon with personal notes. I may well end up buying both of these books in bulk, just so that I'll always have just the perfect gift for any adolescent - or adolescent-at-heart - that crosses my path.

But it's been an exceptionally hard week, and it's hard to fully summon review-friendly enthusiasm for anything, least of all a book that celebrates childish joie-de-vivre. There's not much joie in my vie right now, because I've been forced to contemplate what the life of my future child will look like if certain genetic/chromosomal test results hold up. How could I celebrate 'daring' when there's now every possibility that my child's life will not, could not, be 'daring' or 'dangerous' or involve any of those wonderful words that evoke stolen horses and secret hide-outs and covert missions and great adventures?

So I wasn't feeling particularly enthusiastic about this review-enterprise when I flipped open The Daring Book this morning, weeks after first reading it, having forgotten everything about it and well in the midst of a deep, dark funk. But then I found myself lingering over passages about how to make the coolest paper airplane, ever, and about palm-reading and making a willow-whistle, and then scrolling down a list of books that could change a girl's life, and it occurred to me that daring is not necessarily all about great physical adventures. It occured to me - rather banally, I suppose - that a daring life might just be one that is well-lived, whatever the terms. My child might (might) never jump rope or climb a tree - but she might exult in a willow-whistle, or thrill to stories about Artemesia or Boudica or Cleopatra or Josephine Baker. Daring doesn't always mean stealing horses. It sometimes means just living, in the very best way that one can.

The Daring Book For Girls skews heavily toward the stealing horses (not that they advocate that, though I do) kind of daring. Climbing trees, doing back-flips, plotting spy missions, skipping rope, playing four-square, paddling canoes - independent spirit understood here, mostly, as physical spirit. But not entirely. Alongside female adventurers are female inventors; alongside daring feats of strength and agility are feats of intelligence and creativity; there are books to read and codes to write and many, many a story of incredible women who have changed history (and a solid reminder to keep a copy of Herodotus' Histories - history's first equal-opportunity story-teller, and one of its finest - on your child's bookshelf.) Would I keep this book on the bookshelf for my special-needs child (if I have one)? I don't know. I might just go straight to Herodotus and Little Women (wherein it's useful to remember that Beth is, in her way, just as daring - if not more daring, in bravely facing death - a girl as Jo). I'm having trouble viewing anything through any lens other than what if? right now, which maybe isn't fair to the book, but still.

So maybe this book wouldn't be ideal for a girl who can't run or jump or skip rope or steal horses. It doesn't, end of the day, really matter. It's still a fabulous, life-affirming book. And today I found that this book was good for me. It reminded me that taking joy in life takes many forms, and that folding a super-awesome paper airplane can make one feel pretty good. And I needed that.

(Part of the Mother-Talk book tour for The Daring Book For Girls.)