Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Another Month in the Classics: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

First, an Introduction:

New Year’s Day found me sitting at my little desk, contemplating resolutions that I might want to have and keep. I scribbled them all down—twenty-five or more notions—onto a slip of paper and tacked to the cork board which is suspended above my desk. Among these things, the third down on the list, was to ‘read a minimum of two “classics” a month’. I might have been a bit over-ambitious in saying ‘two’ classics every month. As my sister pointed out in a jest: “You mean you’re going to read Moby Dick and War and Peace in the same month?” Yes, well, that could be a bit daunting, couldn’t it? Still, I resolved to try—even if some of those more lengthy works never made it into my scheme, and I would be just as happy if they didn’t.

During the month of January, I contented myself with perusing about half of a collection of Grimm’s fairytales—collection I resolved to come back to at a later date so as to structure a sort of ‘fairytale’ reading schedule and actually allow myself to dig into the old tales more. When February rolled in, I settled down into the armor-clad hull of the Nautilus with Captain Nemo, Professor Arronax, his faithful servant Consiel, and the vibrant Ned Land. (But more on them later)

And now, the Point:

The second classic for this month was brought to mind by the viewing of the film which shares the same title, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. (Mind you, the Gene Wilder version, and not the one featuring Johnny Depp.) I had seen the movie years before, but had mostly forgotten about it until it was dug out of a stack of tapes and revived. My family sat down together to watch and, whatever I might have thought of the film the first time I saw it, this time was purely magical.

I honestly cannot remember how much I liked the movie before, I think I enjoyed it but found it a little too strange. Now, I adored it and all it’s Willy Wackiness. And, even though I knew much of the story and the ending, it was like witnessing one’s favorite story all over again but also for the first time. I was reliving a moment of bliss and wonder and didn’t want it to end. I didn’t realize just how much I loved that movie.

With the movie over, I remembered that my dad had once kept a copy of Dahl’s book on his shelf but was unable to find it. Instead, I discovered a long-lost collection of children’s poetry of my sister’s and, before returning it to her (ahem), thumbed through its pages. There, I found a number of Dahl’s other works, and laughed aloud when I read his version of Little Red Riding Hood. I knew he was a classic author, but I’d never really given Roald Dahl much thought, despite having seen so much of his work in the media and hearing him quoted by my favorite contemporary authors on more than one occasion. I resolved then, that I must educate myself on this classic children’s writer as a matter of principle if nothing else.

So, from my local library this week, I picked up a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and read it all in the course of one afternoon. Although there were, of course, marked differences between the movie I had come to love and Dahl’s original, the same charm and wittiness and over all ludicrous nature of the story had me once again spell-bound. It’s hard to say which I prefer, the movie or the book. 

I feel guilty admitting this, but it’s absurd when you think about it. After all, Don’t Judge the Book by its Movie does not have to hold true, does it? Whenever we hear that one of our favorite stories is to be introduced into the world of Hollywood, we rejoice and anticipate the arrival. Often, our hopes are held too high aloft and come crashing down a bit, but at times we are rewarded. (Aside: I should add that I also watched Disney’s 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea and was not overtly impressed, although it made a fair showing.) So why should I feel any consternation in the fact that the movie was a good adaptation? (Aside: Forgive me, I cannot say one way or another about the new version of the film, although my curiosity is now peaked and I may soon view it also.)

In any case, I am quite pleased to add Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my list of favorite classics and look forward to reading Dahl’s other stories in the near future.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Palace of Stone

Title: Palace of Stone
Author: Shannon Hale
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 5

I will begin this review by saying that one truly must read its predecessor, Princess Academy—not for the mere reason that this novel would make no sense to the reader otherwise, but simply for the merits of the first tale of Miri and her mountain. Princess Academy is one of my all-time favorites, a book I hope to soon have sitting upon my own library shelves. And Palace of Stone is not far behind.

I had prepared myself for disappointment when I found this sequel to a beloved tale, due to the fact that a good number of sequels are so far set apart from the grand beginning. I had recently experienced one of those emotional rollercoasters of anticipation followed by dissatisfaction and did not like to take the ride all over again. But here was a sequel to one of my favorite stories, so I would have to be an idiot not to at least pick it up. I was rewarded both for my reluctance and hope by this delightful read.

This second adventure in the life of Miri, the girl from Mount Eskel—the place where the linder stone sings and the goats bleat and the mountain remembers—unfolded cautiously, like the first flower after the frost, but what a beautiful bloom it made. I cannot, I think, say with any justice that Palace of Stone was quite as good as Princess Academy, but it was certainly a splendid read and a worthy heir. (Aside: Mrs. Hale has me speaking rather metaphorically at the moment. My pardons.) Whereas PA was more a tale of adventure and friendship, PoS was one of intrigue and finding home.

Hale’s works never fail to inspire her reader with the scents of the country, the openness of the skies, the closeness of a forest, or the magic of a language unknown.

Truly, I wish I had more to say, but on the account of this being a sequel—and a beautiful tale—I hate to give anything of the story away. So, I suppose, let it be known that Shannon Hale’s latest novel is a work of art with the tapping rhythm of her verse and the lyrical sweetness of her prose. It carries with it that simple beauty and homely grace and expectant hope which gives a tale warmth and heart and life.

In short, I highly recommend this book—that is, to those who have read Princess Academy. And if you have not then…what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review: The Black Book of Secrets

 Title: The Black Book of Secrets
Author: F. E. Higgins
Genre: Children's Fiction
Rating: 4

This book was discovered via systematically going through my local library with a mind to organize and straighten out all the juvenile novels. When I first picked it up, I thought it might be a little dark, due to the black cover and semi-Gothic designs. However, since the story appeared to be about a Black Book, I took it in stride. I realized, upon reading the opening chapter, that it would indeed be a dark story.

Enter Ludlow Fitch, a young boy of the City who flees from that deathly place and finds refuge in the person of Joe Zabbidou, Secret Pawnbroker. While Ludlow's past hounds him in the dark, his future spreads out before him as Joe takes him on as his apprentice. The two arrive in the mountain village of Pagus Parvus, where life is not sweet. Conniving 'businessman' Jeremiah Ratchet owns most of the town and most of the villagers owe him hefty sums of back rent. From this, Ratchet blackmails them into aiding him in whatever nefarious scheme he comes up with to bring comfort to himself.

Things are looking worse and worse for the town until a pawnbroker sets up shop and very subtly defies Ratchet on his own turf. Villagers begin bringing in worthless items to pawn, all of which Joe Zabbidou accepts and pays good money for. But it's the late-night visits to the pawnshop's backroom which really begin to give Jeremiah Ratchet trouble. Joe Zabbidou offers the villagers two things they can hardly refuse: relief from the burdens of all their deepest secrets, and money with which to crawl out from the thumb of Ratchet.

Ludlow is instructed to write down—word for word—the tales of woe and misery the townspeople tell each night in the Black Book of Secrets. When the tale is finished, Joe pays them. Joe, Secret Pawnbroker, is also a secret keeper; he tells Ludlow very little about himself, the Black Book, or where his wealth comes from and Ludlow is suspicious. Joe inadvertently becomes the town's hero and Ludlow begins to discover what friendship and family might really mean—all while Ratchet grows desperate to keep his hold on the town as its occupants begin a long overdue rebellion against his tyranny.

I don't think I put this book down from the moment I started reading it other than to eat and sleep. It is, as I said, a bit gloomy—as one might imagine a book of a town's darkest secrets to be—and bordering on gruesome in places, but the tone fits the story and vice-versa. There is some minor language towards the end, also. And then there's the head-hopping. The book is broken up into chapters from the first person of Ludlow and a mixture of third-person accounts—not including the first person accounts Ludlow records in the Book. The author explains this at the beginning: The first person pieces are taken from fragments of the black book and Ludlow's memoirs. The rest, Higgins claims, is what she pieced together for the in-between time. With this understanding, I let the issue of not sticking to one perspective slide.

The writing voice is clever and Higgens's use of some very cool Latin phrases makes me want to learn the language more than I did before.

Having said all that, which comes out sounding rather negative in parts, I must say that I truly did enjoy the book. The characters each had well-defined personalities, everything was explained, and the (admittedly secular) themes of confession and redemption were poignant. This was the type of story that I did not want to see come to an end—and fortunately for me, it took forever to do so. Normally it would be considered undesirable for the story to drag on long after the climax, but the continued thread of the story brought added light and warmth to the tale and I was quite satisfied with the story as a whole.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Why The Public Library is Damaging to My Health

Any one who sees my ‘Libraries’ page on the photo-sharing site Pinterest knows my deep fascination with anything to do with books. I love to read books, I love the smell of books, the look of books, the feel of books, the presence of books. It should tell you something that one of my ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ was to obtain a minimum of three antique books aside from any others.

There are several places offered to people like me for alleviating our addiction: bookstores and libraries. I must say I prefer used book stores to those which are filled with the newest, biggest thing. I graduated some years ago from the common term ‘bookworm’ into a full-blown bibliophile. (The difference being that bookworms are those who merely read a lot and bibliophiles are those who, as I spelled out above, love anything remotely to do with books.)

Book stores are better for me because most often I do not have the resources on hand to just buy any book I want and therefore usually refrain from buying any at all. Public libraries, on the other hand…well. That’s another story.

I have two library cards—more, actually, if you count all the old and misplaced ones lying abandoned in the deepest corners of my bedroom—and utilize both liberally. Unfortunately, I am what one might call a slow reader, which is a horrible curse upon any bibliophile anywhere. (Aside: I believe my speed is mostly affected by the way in which I tend to read—as if telling the story aloud, pronouncing every strange name, giving each character a different voice in my head, and etc. This is nothing I am conscious of when actually reading, but I notice it when sitting beside someone who is easily breezing through a book while I flip a few mere pages.)

My problem at libraries tends to be the impulse. I see a book that looks good and start carrying it around, find another one, find a newly released sequel to one I’ve already read, and before I know it my arms are full. It is not unusual for me to check out a stack of a dozen novels in one visit to the library. (And that is aside from the three or four CDs I also borrow on occasion.) It is unusual, though, for me to read through them all. This sometimes results in rejected books—not on any merit or fault of their own, but simply because I run out of time to read them and don’t feel like checking them out again. For example, I just returned three books I never even so much as opened. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with a bibliophile’s book-related obsessive tendencies, this was a nigh unforgivable crime.

Nonfiction is not so bad because must of these I can browse at ease and don’t feel bad not reading each and every word. (I’m also one of those who will, at times, skip a paragraph of narrative and then feel guilty about it and go back, which probably also effects the time I spend reading.) But storybooks are notorious for keeping me up late at night, holding my thoughts for a few days afterward, and inciting almost stalker-like searching for other material by the same author or of the same type.

Apart from the reading and neglect of reading itself, I also tend to pay roughly five dollars in late fines annually. My books are rarely late for long, a day or two at worst, but twenty cents here and there adds up.

What’s worse, I recently began volunteering at my local library. I love it, absolutely love it. But it’s not good for me. Especially since I was assigned to shelving my favorite section: the juvenile books. Everything from Mo Willems’s Gerald and Piggy books, to beautifully illustrated fairytales, to those novels I’ve never before noticed catch my eye as I organize the shelves. This is good for someone like me who tends not to scan thoroughly when seeking books. I glance down the row of spines and if one grabs my attention, I pull it out for study. Just this past week I found three books I never before noticed (reviews of said-books is pending). Found is a relative term, too. I actually ‘found’ far more than that, but I had to move on from there and I forgot several by the time I was clocked-out and could go back to being a patron.

I love libraries and everything they stand for and I cringe more often in reading history when the invading army burns the library than I do any other time. But they aren’t particularly good for me. When caught up in a wonderful book, I tend to forget the most simple and practical things of everyday life. Such as taking the dog out, eating, moving, and the most common of all: sleep. Warning. This sort of total immersion into the literary wonders of the world can result in unhappy pets, rumbling stomachs, numbed limbs, comas, and concerned family members. (And, evidently, an excess of parenthetical statements.)

I comfort myself with the fact that I am not alone. Bibliophile is an actual term and describes a great number of people. (I should know, most of them are my close friends.)

Fortunately for me, the librarians are kind enough most of the time not to lock me in when closing hour rolls around. Most of the time.