Children don’t read “genres”; they read stories. Below a certain age, they don’t distinguish between “true” and “not true,” because they see no reason that a white rabbit shouldn’t possess a pocket watch, that whales shouldn’t talk, or that sentient beings shouldn’t live on other planets and travel around in spaceships. Science-fiction tropes aren’t read as “science fiction”; they’re read as fiction. And fiction is read as reality. And sometimes reality lives under the bed and has very large teeth, and it’s no use pretending otherwise.
“The Spider Women” by Margaret Atwood, The New Yorker, June 4 & 11, 2012
There are no dirty words any more, they’ve been neutered, now they’re only parts of speech; but I recall the feeling, puzzled, baffled, when I found out some words were dirty and the rest were clean. The bad ones in French were the religious ones, the worst ones in any language were what they were most afraid of and in English it was the body, that was even scarier than God. You could also say Jesus Christ, but it meant you were angry or disgusted. I learned about religion the way most children then learned about sex, not in the gutter but in the gravel-and-cement schoolyard, during the winter months of real school. They would cluster in groups, holding each other’s mittened hands and whispering. They terrified me by telling me there was a dead man in the sky watching everything I did and I retaliated by explaining where babies came from. Some of their mothers phoned mine to complain, though I think I was more upset than they were: they didn’t believe me but I believed them.
How amazing to everyone, back then—not only everyone in school but everyone, for in that armpit of a town they’d known to a millimetre who drank and who didn’t and who was no better than she should be and how much change you kept in your back pocket—how amazing that golden-boy Bob had singled out insignificant Verna for the Snow Queen’s Palace winter formal. Pretty Verna, three years younger; studious, grade-skipping, innocent Verna, tolerated but not included, clawing her way toward a scholarship as her ticket out of town. Gullible Verna, who’d believed she was in love.
Or who was in love. When it came to love, wasn’t believing the same as the real thing? Such beliefs drain your strength and cloud your vision. She’s never allowed herself to be skewered in that tiger trap again.
“Stone Mattress” by Margaret Atwood, The New Yorker, December 19 & 26, 2011
The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.
We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.