Andersen took children seriously. He speaks to them not only about life’s joyous adventures, but about its woes, its miseries, its often undeserved defeats. His fairy tales, peopled with fantastic creatures, are more realistic than whole tons of today’s stories for children, which fret about verisimilitude and avoid wonders like the plague. Andersen had the courage to write stories with unhappy endings. He didn’t believe that you should try to be good because it pays (as today’s moral tales insistently advertise, though it doesn’t necessarily turn out that way in real life), but because evil stems from intellectual and emotional stuntedness and is the one form of poverty that should be shunned.
From the author’s note:
I GOT THE IDEA OF writing Nonrequired Reading from the section called “Books Received” you find in many literary journals. It was easy to see that only a tiny percentage of the books listed later made their way to the reviewer’s desk.
At first I thought I’d be writing real reviews, that is, in each case I’d describe the nature of the book at hand, place it in some larger context, then give the reader to understand that it was better than some and worse than others. But I soon realized that I couldn’t write reviews and didn’t even want to. That basically I am and wish to remain a reader, an amateur, and a fan, unburdened by the weight of ceaseless evaluation. Sometimes the book itself is my main subject; at other times it’s just a pretext for spinning out various loose associations. Anyone who calls these pieces sketches will be correct. Anyone insisting on “reviews” will incur my displeasure. One more comment from the heart: I’m old-fashioned and think that reading books is the most glorious pastime that humankind has yet devised.