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Bookish Diversions: Mere Child’s Play
Children’s Books, Kids’ Questions, Negative Book Reviews, the Biggest Book in China, More
¶ Children’s stories are usually set in the countryside or the city and rarely, if ever, in the suburbs. Why? Here’s one take. “Children’s literature thrives on imaginative or surprising encounters, which need a geography that creates mischief and curiosity. But the suburbs, for all their benefits in real life, are places that in children’s literature lack imagination, or at least don’t provide suitable stage-sets for imaginative adventure and exploration: they are the geography of nowhere. Consequently, the most engaging stories are almost never set there.”
¶ What do kids know about philosophy? “Humans are strange. Life is stranger,” writes Elissa Strauss. “Kids, new as they are to the whole being alive thing, are sensitive to this strangeness in a way that makes them particularly attuned to the loose threads of logic and morality that most grown-ups ignore. We can’t tug, because doing so might unravel everything. They must tug because it is through this tugging that they understand the world and find their place in it.“
¶ Big questions from little minds. Scott Hershovitz, whose book Elissa Strauss reviewed in the link above, answers kids philosophical queries, including: “I sometimes feel like I’m the only real person and everyone else is a robot. How can I know if that’s true?”
¶ It’s amazing what you’ll find in old children’s books. This is an image from Ruth Belov Gross’s book, Money Money Money, published by Scholastic in 1971. The book presents the history of money and starts with barter. Here’s a man trading his wife for an axe; she’s not happy about it.
¶ The cube and the scribble. Picasso’s how-to-draw manuals for his daughter.
¶ Anarchist’s cookbook. Imagine an Italian railing against pasta: That’s what Filippo Tommaso Marinetti did in his intentionally scandalous Futurist Cookbook of 1932, miraculously still in print. Instead of old standbys and classics, it presents gastronomic incendiary devices such as The Excited Pig (“a skinless salami served upright on a dizzying blend of hot black coffee and eau de cologne“) and Tennis Chop (“a veal cutlet, anchovy, and banana are arranged in a downright ghastly way to resemble a racket”). Bon Appetit recently ran a delightful article on Marinetti’s indigestion-inducing book.
¶ Ancient cookbooks feature menu for the ages. “Vintage recipes include flaming peacocks and kangaroo brains.” Mmmm.
¶ I bet you were wondering about the biggest book in China. Wonder no more. Here it is.
¶ There’s been a noticeable decline in negative book reviews over the last decade. Say what you will, but I’m contributing to the trend here; I tend to focus only on books I like. But rough-and-tumble reviews serve a valuable function. How? They (1) save readers time, attention, and cash otherwise wasted on poor fare and (2) help readers critically engage in books by exposing faulty arguments, bad evidence, dud characters, and lumpy narratives. Here’s a look at the decline of this public good. And here, for your edification, is a ranking of seven vicious book reviews. Did you know, for instance, that H. L. Mencken once savaged F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby? News to me.
¶ Opinions, right and wrong.
It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
—G.K. Chesterton, The Catholic Church and Conversion
¶ Random thought: Texts don’t actually teach anything per se. Texts are attempts to communicate. But success depends on both the author/editor and the reader. What determines accurate or faulty readings exists above/outside the text in interpretive traditions that vouch for the reading. So traditions teach us, not texts. I suspect we know this is true because the more a book supposedly speaks for itself the more it requires, and acquires, interpreters.
¶ Reading is a joint venture.
It takes readers as well as writers to make literature.
—Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners
¶ My friend Gabe Wicks has worked at Thomas Nelson for ages and has done some great work there over the years. As many of you might know, Nelson is one of the world’s largest Bible publishers. For a sample of the good humor Gabe brings to the job, here’s a short documentary-style spoof he did about how Bibles are made. Enjoy!
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