The great book swap continues! You might remember that as a January resolution the ‘boy’ and I decided to challenge each other with a book to broaden the mind. One book each month, something that the other one would never dream of picking up but that would give them a new perspective on great literature. Last time we got as far as debating language vs plot and cleverness vs intellect… recent events have proved that great works split opinion, and there are some things we will never agree on!February (see here for our reasons behind the chosen titles)
I gave him WONDER by R.J. Palacio
He said –
While the message of the book is commendable and important, I feel that the author’s voice drowns out the child characters’ voices because she feels she has an important lesson for readers – but tells it in a manner which is purposefully childish. It came across as trite, preachy and patronising as a result. I hate to be a reviewer who negatively reviews a book which is so obviously not aimed at him, but I do feel that there is children’s literature out there which conveys a similar message but with a story and characters complex enough to leave more of a lasting impression. And without the infuriatingly-schmaltzy Hollywood ending. While it is a decent story relatively well told, I got the impression it’s the kind of story adults think children should be reading to turn them into sensible and sensitive people, rather than what children really want to read.
He gave me FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
I said –
I absolutely loved this. It felt like reading THE HANDMAID’S TALE all over again, a stark warning about abandoning things which are crucial to humanity in favour of ‘progress’. The burning of books has been a symbol for centuries of the danger of knowledge, and the restriction of freedom. From the burning of Ashurbanipal in 612 BC, to the Nazi book burning campaign in 1933 where over 25,000 texts were destroyed, to set alight a book symbolises far more than flame on paper. Even today the burning of books is a regular occurrence. Whether that’s the Qu’ran in Florida or stacks of Harry Potter books, it is a statement of aggression, and violence that somehow transgresses a physical violation. Ray Bradbury’s story is one that will stay with me, his stark prose and vivid characters were excellent. And despite the dystopian world I thought he betrayed a sense of hope in Montag’s innate need for literature; for poetry, prose, history and society devoured from paper. It made me wonder what this meant for eBooks – is there a danger that the transience of the digital word betrays the perpetuity of paper?
I gave him KIT’S WILDERNESS by David Almond
The reaction I got to WONDER made me certain that my next move had to be a good one. I wanted to prove that children’s literature can be hugely powerful, and scary, moving, and dangerous. The sense of uneasiness that Almond regularly creates in his writing has stayed with me beyond plot points and character details and I knew that it was a good book for a boy who loves powerful prose and sparse writing.
He said –
Read any work by David Almond and you immediately get a sense of someone who understands the complexity of young readers’ minds, what inspires them, what excites them and the type of story they can get lost in. Kit’s Wilderness is a perfect example. It deals with themes like friendship, belonging, rejection, redemption, and all with a subtlety of touch which gets under the skin and remains with you long after reading. There is nothing patronising in his style – he treats readers with respect and urges them to make up their own minds about complex issues like the relationship between Kit and Askew, the meaning of the Death game, the presence of ghosts. While SKELLIG is David Almond’s most famous novel, I feel that KIT’S WILDERNESS is the superior novel in many respects, and showcases an author at the height of his powers, providing a thrilling, utterly absorbing ride for his audience.
He gave me Woody Allen’s Complete Prose
I chose Woody Allen’s Collected Prose because I consider it to be among the best comic prose ever written. It stands alongside Wodehouse, Thurber and Perelman in its consistency of laughs, but with a range of stories and surreal edge which is for me superior to any of those. It is the ultimate ‘dip-in-and-out’ book, with almost every line providing a twist, a turn of phrase, a witty reversal, a master class in joke writing and one liners. Even the most worn stories in my copy, like The Kugelmass Episode and Death Knocks, still surprise me and make me laugh out loud. It is, without doubt, my desert island book.
I said –
Errr… I know that Woody Allen is your hero. I get that he is a comedy genius, and I can see the brilliance at work. But I just didn’t get it. Maybe I should have picked out stories rather than starting at the beginning and working my way through. I was never compelled to pick it up and abandon eating and sleeping to get to the end. I enjoyed it in a distant and slightly removed way, I would like to read more but I think that it will be the kind of book that I can pick up and put down easily, maybe with a few days or weeks in between. But not every book has to be like a blindfold over my consciousness – I’m never going to ‘wake up’ from Woody Allen and realise that I’ve been dribbling into my muesli for 3 hours.
He’s giving me THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde
This was the first of Oscar Wilde’s works I ever came across and it hooked me from the first chapter on. His prose contains a musicality that transcends words on a page in a way I’ve never encountered anywhere else. Although the story of Dorian Gray is well known even by those who haven’t read it, the joy of Wilde’s wit makes it worth reading, again and again. I think you’ll get lost in the book and completely fall in love with the author.
I’m giving him WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT by Judith Kerr
This book is dog eared and well loved. It has my name (and age – 6) printed neatly in the corner. It was my book that I carried around with me, just looking at the cover and thinking that it was real, that it actually happened. That her daddy was just like my daddy, and it could have been me who had to disappear from my home and my friends. Judith Kerr’s book was my gateway to Anne Frank, to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and to Primo Levi. It was, and remains my favourite book. I know you will love it, and I know you will understand how important it is.
Are there any books that you are desperately trying to get other people to read? Which ones are you avoiding? Are there any books that have shaped how you read today? Any thoughts, let us know!