Monday, 26 March 2018

Reading Challenge Week 12 - A book with a name in the title

Well, this week the challenge was to read a book with a name in the title. That, obviously left us with a temptation to read all of the Harry Potter books.

We resisted for this week. But mostly because there are other challenges coming up which are better suited to the Potter books.

Here are some books we did read:

Luc Brien read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

This week was less a challenge and more an absolute joy, as I picked up one of my favourite childhood books: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (in the Curriculum Collection at c820 CAR). It’s been a while since I last read it, and plunging myself back down the rabbit hole with Alice was a hit right in the nostalgia feels. For the uninitiated, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland follows Alice, a girl about 7 years old, as she finds herself on an unbelievable adventure in Wonderland - a nonsensical fantasy world inhabited by, amongst others things, talking animals, magical food stuffs, a never ending tea party, a caterpillar with a bad habit, and a queen with an unhealthy fondness of decapitation. And a cat from Cheshire.

The strange, sometimes meandering, tale is full of whimsical twists (a baby turning into a piglet for no apparent reason) and absurd conversations (but why is a raven like a writing desk?) that I find delightful and often hilarious. However, not everyone thinks so. Other people I talk to about this book think that the prose is confusing and weird. They find Alice a frustrating character whose decisions while in Wonderland make no sense - which is kind of the point, due to the reveal at the end.

First published in 1865, Alice is very much a product of its time. The language, the structure, the characters (and the the views they present), as well as the overarching story are heavily Victorian, and that doesn’t resonate with some people - and that’s OK. For me, as someone who read it growing up, who learned most of Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, by heart, it’s a joyful romp through Lewis Carroll’s ridiculous imagination. I’m so happy that I took this opportunity to re-read it.

It’s hard to understate the importance of Alice in Western literature. It’s been a hugely influential book for generations, and we can still see tropes and the essence of Alice in many modern stories, songs, plays, and video games.

Sharon Bryan read A Dog Called George, by Margaret Balderson.

I found this book in the Curriculum Collection (at c820.94 BAL) a few weeks back when I was getting Bedknob and Broomstick for an earlier book in the challenge, and I simply had to borrow it. For a good 15 years or so (until she died a couple of years ago) I had a dog called George, so it seemed like an obvious choice.

It’s a strange book, because it’s hard to say who the intended readership is. The book features a primary-school aged boy (probably 12 at the oldest) who is a reluctant reader, but I don’t think it’s targeted at primary school aged boys – and certainly not reluctant readers. The language is too complex, and there are a a lot of subtle undercurrents layered throughout this ostensibly straight-forward story. The language would probably be more comfortable in a book for early-teenaged girls who are confident readers, rather than primary-school aged boys who are not.

The plot centres around a boy in Canberra who finds a dog and, as a result, develops some social skills and finds an activity he’s good at. On his way to school one morning, Tony comes across an Old English Sheepdog sitting under a tree. Somehow, he ends up taking it home and calling it George. His mother, who loves dogs and wishes her husband would let the family have one, is delighted with the temporary guest – although she tries to make sure Tony knows that the dog’s owners will have to be found so the dog can go home.

In it’s own way, the book is almost about Tony’s mother as much as it is about Tony and George. Although the story sticks with Tony, we come to know the mother’s character really well – and all through indirect references. It’s amazing how much her character becomes clear without the book ever once stopping to look at her directly.

While I was reading the book, I started to feel it would go down really well with readers of The People’s Friend – a magazine that publishes short stories and serials whose readership is largely women over the age of 40. That magazine occasionally features stories written from the perspective of children, but for an adult readership. And perhaps that’s the best audience for this book: people who are no longer children themselves – perhaps people who have raised their own children – but are happy to read a book set in a child's world and in which the protagonist is a child.

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