More Books

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Grade: A+

We were assigned this book way back in high-school French class, but then we were supposed to read it in the original French. I did not finish it. I probably didn’t get past the first few pages. The truth is, I never could read French comfortably. I was very good at picking up the grammar, the basic vocabulary, and even (I like to think) the accent, but for some reason I could never quite remember all the joining words that go between the nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The durings, befores, and betweens eluded me. Consequently, when I try to read French, I get the gist, but often miss the exact meaning.

This time, when I tackled The Little Prince, it was in my own native tongue (ah, English, how I love you!).  It was so much easier. And I’m glad that I read it, because it is a charming story, though a bit sad. It’s about a little prince who comes from an asteroid. On his tiny planet, the flowers can talk, volcanoes can be kept from erupting by cleaning them out periodically, and the biggest threat is the baobab tree, which must be uprooted immediately lest it grow too big and tear apart the planet with its roots. But there is a special flower there, a proud one who irritates him, and so he leaves his little planet and travels to earth, but once away from his flower, he begins to worry about her.

I recommend The Little Prince highly and wonder why it’s not on the top 100 list of children’s books.

The Twilight of Magic by Hugh Lofting
Grade: B+

Hugh Lofting is best known for his series of books about Dr. Dolittle. Those stories have always been favorites of mine, though the original versions are mostly out of print due to racist undertones. While censored editions of many of the books are available, I cannot bring myself to purchase them. I think it’s wrong to censor books, even when they may contain racist ideas. I think it’s better to let the kids read the books and then discuss the questionable parts with them. So when I’m at used book sales, I keep a lookout for old editions of Lofting’s work. I spotted this one at the most recent Westerly book sale. I had no idea he had ever published anything non-Dolittlish.

In the foreword of The Twilight of Magic, his son wrote, “Exactly why my father decided to interrupt the flow of the Doctor Dolittle series to write The Twilight of Magic in 1930 is not quite clear.” I don’t get it either. He had a good thing going with Dr. Dolittle, and this book is a completely different animal. It’s a sort of fairy tale. Two children, hoping to save their family from financial ruin, ask the Applewoman (a.k.a. Scragga the Witch) for help. She finds a magic shell for them. One hears in this shell not the roaring of the sea, but the comments that others are making behind one’s back. All that the children must do is give the shell to the one person who will be most helped by it, and they will find their fortune.

Overall I’d say it’s a cute book with some truly magical moments, but Lofting’s tell-it-don’t-show-it style of writing can be a drag at times. I want to keep it, thinking that perhaps it would be a good story to read to youngsters, but the whole point of grading these books is to decide which ones stay and which ones go. B+ is not good enough to warrant keeping the book.

The Secret of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
Grade: A

I love G.K. Chesterton’s style. And I love that he’s not afraid to repeat a word. In the first chapter, Father Brown was asked to talk about the cases he had solved.

Father Brown also lifted his glass, and the glow of the fire turned the red wine transparent, like the glorious blood-red glass of a martyr’s window. The red flame seemed to hold his eyes and absorb his gaze that sank deeper and deeper into it, as if that single cup held a red sea of the blood of all men, and his soul were a diver, ever plunging in dark humility and inverted imagination, lower than its lowest monsters and its most ancient slime. In that cup, as in a red mirror, he saw many things; the doings of his last days moved in crimson shadows; the examples that his companions demanded danced in symbolic shapes; and there passed before him all the stories that are told here. Now, the luminous wine was like a vast red sunset upon dark red sands, where stood dark figures of men; one was fallen and another running towards him. Then the sunset seemed to break up into patches: red lanterns swinging from garden trees and a pond gleaming red with reflection; and then all the colour seemed to cluster again into a great rose of red crystal, a jewel that irradiated the world like a red sun, save for the shadow of a tall figure with a high head-dress as of some prehistoric priest; and then faded again till nothing was left but a flame of wild red beard blowing in the wind upon a wild grey moor. All these things, which may be seen later from other angles and in other moods than his own, rose up in his memory at the challenge and began to form themselves into anecdotes and arguments.

A lesser author would have ruined the flow with a dozen pathetic attempts to vary the language, using any and every synonym of “red” in order to avoid repeating it too many times. Chesterton knew that sometimes only one word would do, and he wasn’t afraid to use it as many times as was necessary.

I think I enjoyed this collection of stories more for the author’s style than for the character of Father Brown. Not that there’s anything horribly wrong with Chesterton’s “detective,” but he’s a Catholic priest, and religion is not my cup of tea. Still, at times Father Brown’s religion allows the author the opportunity to discuss matters of morality and forgiveness, and that doesn’t bother me at all. I recommend this book, even for theophobes. I will definitely make it a point to track down copies of the other three Father Brown collections.

The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager
Grade: A

Is a well wisher someone who wishes well to another, or is it someone who wishes on a wishing well, or is it both? That is the idea behind this wonderful book. The children in the story make wishes on their “magic” wishing well and then wait for opportunities for doing good to “magically” arise. It’s so sweet and “aw-shucks-y” that it might not appeal to all tastes, but I adore it. The Well-Wishers is one of Eager’s best.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Grade: A

Me Talk Pretty One Day is another collection of essays by David Sedaris. If I wanted to learn how to write the perfect modern, humorous, American essay, this is the book I would use as my guide. Bravo!

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  1. Pingback: This One’s a Keeper | Blue-Footed Musings

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