Ok, I have already started on my goal of 30 books for this year. But before I start with book number one, I want to talk briefly about the last book I read for 2011.
Before the last year ended, a friend told me about one of his favorite childhood books, The Phantom Tollbooth. And when I said that I’d not only never read it, but never heard of it, he went out and bought me a copy. When I walked around with my new copy, people would often tell me how they loved that book growing up. Apparently I’d missed out on a well-known classic. Go figure.
But for those of you who are in the same boat as I was, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (and illustrated by Jules Feiffer) starts off in a similar manner to Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always. Juster’s protagonist is a young boy who finds himself, well, uninterested in life and learning:
“There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always.”
Milo comes home one day to find a tollbooth (some assembly required), a couple coins, and a map waiting for him in his room. Despite the many other toys and gadgets in his room, he has nothing better to do and decides to build the tollbooth and take his little toy car to a random destination on the map: Dictionopolis.
As might be expected, once Milo passes through that tollbooth, he is in for quite an adventure. Along the way he is joined by friends, such as Tock, the literal watchdog (see picture), and the Humbug, a well dressed and well meaning, but rather cowardly and bumbling bug.
He visits lands such as Dictionopolis, the Duldrums, Digitopolis, the Isle of Conclusions, the Mountains of Ignorance, the Valley of Sound and many more. He is assigned the quest of rescuing the princesses Rhyme and Reason, who are the only ones who can bring peace back to a troubled land.
Needless to say, the book is full of colorful characters, thoughtful lessons, quirky adventures, and an impressive amount of play on words. For example, the first person Milo meets on his adventure is the whether man, who claims:
“I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.”
Milo ends up at one point literally eating his words, jumping to conclusions, missing what’s in front of his nose, and hearing nothing in a valley of sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read. A bit quick-paced at times, especially for all the characters introduced and tasks assigned, but a fun adventure nonetheless. It is full of great lines and quotes and I am glad that I’m now caught up on another classic. Check. (I would go on more, but I don’t want to spoil the ending for you.) Overall grade: A-
Now on to my first book of the year: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is yet another classic that I had not read before. Such are the troubles of an English major–they make the books faster than we can read all of them. Fortunately, one of my students specifically requested that we read this book, so the opportunity presented itself.
If it counts for anything, I have seen Muppet Treasure Island (who doesn’t love Tim Curry in that?), so I knew the basic plot going in. I also saw Treasure Planet, which I inconveniently keep calling the book every time I mention it.
The basic Sparknotes version is that the protagonist, Jim, and his family are visited by a stranger at their inn. They soon find out that their unruly tenant is a wanted pirate! And he is not just wanted by the law, but other pirates as well (especially the one-legged pirate–he’s the worst of them all) because he possesses something extremely valuable: a treasure map to the booty of old Cap’n Flint.
Pirates show up to get him one day and their tenant dies of a stroke–blast that rum! Before the pirates can get them, Jim opens the stranger’s chest and steals the treasure map. The pirates are run out of town by the village doctor and Jim shares his secret with the doctor and his friend, the squire. And so the adventure begins!
They acquire a ship and a crew and set sail. Their ship cook, Long John Silver, is a one-legged inn owner. Jim is suspicious of him, and eventually finds that his suspicions are right as mutiny takes place once they reach the island. Turns out half the crew were pirates! It is now a battle to the death and winner takes all.
Overall, it’s a great adventure story. Who doesn’t love a pirate or two and a hunt for treasure? Unfortunately I wish I’d read it when I was younger because a bit of the magic was gone. However, maybe that will change when I get to teach it next week. Grade: B+
But I could always watch this: