Monday, July 26, 2010

30 Days of Books, Day Four

Day 04 - Your favorite book or series ever

Ever? Like, ever ever? Like in the whole history of ever, my favorite book or series? Ooooh, this is a tough one. Except that the answer to it already popped into my head, but still.

The thing with a question like this is that i'm always going to go for a book I read as a kid, because some of those books are incredibly well-written looking back, and I have the added nostalgia and fascination of reading and re-reading over time, discovering aspects to the book that weren't obvious to me as a little kid.

So, my favorite book or series ever.

This one, my friends, is going into a three-way tie. And not a single one of them is a book geared towards adults. Whatever this says about my personality, I'm okay with it.

The first book: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert O'Brien.

Mrs. Frisby is a mouse with children living in a farmer's field. Her late husband, Jonathan, was a mouse who seemed so often not to age as she did, was incredibly intelligent, and seemed sometimes to be not quite a mouse at all. When one of her children gets sick, she finds herself pressed to ask for help from the mysterious rats who live in the rosebush, and discovers an incredible connection between existed between Jonathan and the Rats of NIMH.

As a kid (well... even as an adult, I'm not ashamed to admit it) the secret-lives-of-animals books were it for me. I liked books where animals were the main characters, had thoughts and feelings. Where the field mouse I might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of running away from a fallen ear of corn in the fall might be a mother with children. Of course, Mrs. Frisby's life is a little more harrowing that I'd like the average field mouse's life to be.

This is on the list of Books My Kids Should Read. It's very well-written, there is a serious sense of panic and hurrying to have enough time through much of it, and of course if your kid reads this, prepared for them to be anti-laboratory-animal-testing after that...

I, somehow, do not yet own this book myself. It's on my list.

I have a very long list.

Next up: Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell.

Anna Sewell was a great lover of animals, and cruelty to animals was, to her, the greatest vice in the world. One of my favorite quotations is by her: 

"There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they life about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to other animals as well as humans, it is all a sham."

I agree, Ms. Sewell. 
Black Beauty is an absolute classic, one of those pieces of literature which endures over time even as time has changed so much. Black Beauty himself is warned as a foal by his mother that humans be cruel to the animals which belong to them, and Beauty's life is a study in both thoughtless, casual cruelty as well as a great and overwhelming amount of kindness. The story is told from Beauty's own perspective, and there is a constant sense of realism: of course, animals don't write books or perhaps even see their world the way we might see it, but Beauty is a believable narrator nonetheless: Anna manages to gives his thoughts and narration of his life a sense of "other"-ness that is all about him seeing the world as a horse and not a person.

This is on my list of Everyone Who Has Not Read This Should. Now. Now Now Now.

I'll wait.

For my third and final Favorite Book of All Time:

The Giver, by Lois Lowry.

I am a huge sci-fi fan, and especially a huge fan of worlds which seem utopian on the surface but underneath are as dystopian as they come. The Giver does not disappoint.

Jonah is a boy living in an unnamed community. He lives with two people who fill the role of his parents: when they wanted a first child, they filled out a form and awaited approval for a boy to be given to them. He has a little sister. Life is rigidly structured by Years in childhood: at age six you receive your first bicycle, for instance. At age 12 you begin to learn about the career which has been chosen for you, which you will then perform for the rest of your life. As an adult, you will be assigned a spouse if you apply for one, you may be assigned children if you are approved. As an Elder, you will retire from your job and live in the Elder's house and be cared for until you are Released.

But what is Release, exactly?

Lowry does an excellent job here: the sense of creeping not-quite-right starts out small in the first chapter and becomes overwhelming less than halfway through, and yet Jonah as a narrator is a wonderful not-quite-blank-slate. His growing awareness of the world around him once he is given the position of apprentice to the Giver, a mysterious old man whose face seems absolutely lined with pain, is painful and a little tragic and his uncertainty and fear is something you are with him through, the whole way.

The ending has been a little polarizing: you either love it or hate it. I came down solidly on the side of hating it as a kid, but I actually love it now. 

So those are my three favorite books of all time. I realize there is something wrong with me in that they're all kids' books.

Oh well! They're my kid's books and I love them.

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