Wednesday, December 16, 2009


When I write the words "children's books" I naturally think of ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll. This book I've read many times through the years mostly because it is such a superbly crafted, wonderfully written, imaginative piece of literature. It actually goes well beyond the Children's category, and shouldn't be dismissed as just that. This book takes on philosophy, linguistics, politics, justice, and so on, and so on. The absurdity in the language and actions of the characters underline the basic limitations of our society and each other. ALICE IN WONDERLAND is an absolute masterpiece. I love it, and always have. ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS also.

There are exceptional works of literature directed towards children, but most of the them have been written a century or so ago. My wife and I have always read to our children, but almost always read the old classic children's books to them---uncensored. What I mean by this is take for instance the Brother's Grimm. Their FAIRY TALES are stark and at times quite frightening, but they hold a confirmed truth in the stories that cannot be undermined. Lately, certain groups have been trying to "water down" these classics in order to present a "nice" version of the Tales so that their kids don't see the really nasty side of life. Kids will learn about that side of life soon enough, you can be sure. I don't believe in this, but then I'm just a purest when it comes to literature.

Other books for children are; THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame. This is a wonderful Wimsey tale of very English animals in a delightful caper, where Toad is the uncontrollable gamester. It's excellent. And then, of course, you have all the WINNIE THE POOH series by A.A. Milne. That lovable old bear with his many friends. These books are a great delight, and children love these adventures.

I really have to say something about Walt Disney, and his compulsive trashing of the classics in his ridiculous cartoons. I don't think there is anyone or any company who has done so much damage to the world's greatest children's classics then Walt Disney. He(and his company) have altered, toned down, rearranged, rewritten, and damaged beyond repair almost all the old classic literature for children. Children now see Scrooge as a duck, Alice as an air-head, Winnie the pooh as a sap, and so on. It's a shame. Until these kids actually read the books, they will only "know" these great characters as Disney erroneously presented them in the cartoons. Therefore, I think, there are a lot of people who have never really read these books, and don't really know them, even when they think they do because they saw the Disney cartoon. It is a shame.

Anyway, enough of the rant. Other books are anything by Robert Louis Stevenson. THE BLACK ARROW, TREASURE ISLAND, KIDNAPPED, of course. DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is not a child's book, and Stevenson nearly got beaten up for writing it. People at that time couldn't understand why he would write such an evil novel---we're glad he did.

Today there are many, many books directed to children, and not all squeaky clean either. Any of the wonderful Harry Potter books comes to mind. I read them all. My daughter sent me the first one way back a few years ago, and told me to read it. I did, and I was hooked. The Harry Potter series is quite excellent, quite exciting, and quite rich in anything written in this field. Maybe in a later post I'll talk exclusively about HP.
Stephenie Meyer's TWILIGHT series is also very popular, and directed toward the young. I find this series at times very silly, poorly written, and does not contain any valuable literary worth. But it's fun to read, and enjoyable to follow the characters. Anything to keep people, no matter whet age, to continue to read.
Neil Gaiman's CORALINE is also a very good "modern" child's book. Nightmarish and exciting---although a few things "lifted from ALICE---this book ranks up there with one of the best. But I don't think it will actually have lasting appeal.

My next post will be my "50th". I don't believe it! I usually bail out from anything like this by now. I must celebrate, so my next post theme will remain a mystery

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Ah, Hermann Hesse. How many still remember how important and influencial this old German writer was during the heady days of the 60's? Hermann Hesse is a German writer belonging to the early part of the last century---he died in 1962. He was the most read author of the university scene, and picked up by the hippies and artsy types soon after. A person wasn't really into current literature at the time unless he/she was well versed in the novels of this beloved author. I still have all his books I bought and read so many years ago. I'll list some of them.

SIDDHARTHA was about the young Buddah, his early life and his great revelations. This was a must for the college crowd who were getting weary of Christian dominance.
STEPPENWOLF. Yes, this is where the Canadian rock band got its name. This is a great book, probably one of his best. By the way, In San Francisco they have the "Magic Theatre" play groups which have become quite famous. They got their name from this book where Hesse writes about the "magic Theatre fo Madman Only". Good book.
Others are: BENEATH THE WHEEL---sad novel about a young boy and how the demands of his school destroyed him.
JOURNEY TO THE EAST and THE GLASS BEAD GAME were sought after eagerly; great books.

I remember sometime in the 70's there was a PEANUTS cartoon in the newspaper that mentioned Hesse. I believe Snoopy was trying to read a modern novel and getting nowhere with it, so he sat back in his doghouse and said,"Oh well, back to Hesse". Honestly, looking at the line-up of novels lately, I understand the sentiment.

I just finished reading THIRTEEN MOONS by Charles Frazier, and I don't know what to say about it, really. Frazier is such a good writer, his writing is smooth and sometimes quite exciting. I enjoy reading anything he writes, but this novel really wore me down. I found it was sounding like a memoir written by an old man for his family only, not many people would be interested. It's a story(long) about a man's life, the people involved with him, his fortunes and woes, and an historical background that is quite accurate and descriptive. But I found I really wasn't interested in this character, therefor the book dragged. Charles Frazier wrote the excellent novel COLD MOUNTAIN which was one of the best novels I've ever read. And, like everyone else, I waited for his second book to appear. I read later that when THIRTEEN MOONS was published, there was a rush to buy it. The publisher ran off hundreds of thousands of copies, and then the selling died out completely leaving the publisher with a huge loss. That's not good for a writer. Readers complained and reviewers slashed---so it goes. I imagine I'm not the only reader who got bogged down with this novel.

My wife is reading UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King. She really likes King. I read a few of his novels---very few. I don't think he's a great writer, but his charaters are wonderful, and his plot twists are amazing, and the stories themselves are quite engenious, but I find he doesn't seem to be able the end the stories properly. He builds suspence to such a degree that it becomes almost impossible to have a satisfactory conclusion, and then the story breaks down.

This book is over one thousand pages---it's a huge book. My wife is reading it, everything is quiet, then there a crash as the book falls from her little hands and splatters on the floor. That happens a lot. Already the book is a mess. I suggested that she get the sissors, cut out the pages she thinks she would read that evening, and put the rest of it aside. Even though it is a first edition, its condition from the frequent falls that have occured nightly have rendered it next to useless as far as any value that would be attached to it. I told her this in so many words, trying to help, mind you. She told me that it would be a better idea if I would continue reading my book and leave her to her reading and demolishing her new novel by S. King. That's cool.

Next: Children's books.