In The Phantom Tollbooth, each new experience makes funny and concrete some familiar idea or turn of speech: Milo jumps to Conclusions, a crowded island; grows drowsy in the Doldrums; and finds that you can swim in the Sea of Knowledge for hours and not get wet. The book is made magical by Juster’s and Feiffer’s gift for transforming abstract philosophical ideas into unforgettable images. The thinnest fat man in the world turns out to be the fattest thin man; we see them both. We meet the fractional boy, divided in the middle of his smile, who is the “.58 child” in the average American family of 2.58 children. The tone of the book is at once antic and professorial, as if a very smart middle-aged academic were working his way through an absurd and elaborate parable for his kids.
I don’t know about you, but Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth was an essential, constantly re-read classic of my childhood. Initially recommended by my friend Elise — probably at the age of eight, during our regular reading sessions on the bus ride to school — I immediately fell prey to its ridiculous puns and abstract concepts, drinking them in over and over again. Finding out that the book is fifty years old this year was a bit of a shock, since it seems to exist outside time. The New Yorker interviewed Norton Juster and illustrator Jules Feiffer (his Brooklyn Heights neighbor during the 1950s) for the occasion. It’s a great read on the timeliness of the book’s birth and the merits of a liberal education.
Also, how was I not aware that Juster was also responsible for The Dot and the Line? So magical.
“And each stroke of his tongue ripped off skin after successive skin, all the skins of a life in the world, and left behind a nascent patina of shining hairs. My earrings turned back to water and trickled down my shoulders; I shrugged the drops off my beautiful fur.”
Lately, I’ve felt the need to recede from reality. I’m burned out on the mundanities of my daily routine, politics (which makesme wanttoscream, but that’s another story), the endless regurgitation of the same ol’ stuff in my Google Reader, and the humid nastiness that just will not die. Something had to give, so after a long absence of fiction in my life, I decided to throw myself into the collected works of Angela Carter. I’m so glad I did. Her re-workings of classic folk tales and the lives of historical figures, magical realism style — including Lizzie Borden, Edgar Allan Poe and Little Red Riding Hood — allow me to contemplate a world where life-size puppets suck the life-force out of their masters and tigers live in abandoned castles. And her writerly style? Endlessly inspiring; in fact, it makes me want to take up fiction again. Her words are like cooling aloe on the harsh sunburn of my mind. (Dramatic much? Ha!)
“But what I kept wondering about is this: that first second when she felt her skirt burning, what did she think? Before she knew it was candles, did she think she’d done it herself? With the amazing turns of her hips, and the warmth of the music inside her, did she believe, for even one glorious second, that her passion had arrived?” — Aimee Bender’s The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
The Rumpus’s recent interview with Aimee Bender — an amazing author, weirdo and someone whose brain I would love to crawl around inside — is a must-read. I just ordered her new novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which takes the concept of eating your feelings to new depths: the book follows Rose Edelstein, who at age nine bites into her mother’s homemade lemon cake, only to discover that she can taste her mother’s emotion in it. Surreal, beautiful and always interesting, I can’t recommend Aimee’s work enough. I will hit you over the head with it again and again and again.
My name is Alison and this is where I obsess // muse // and drop all of the curious, obsolete, eccentric and otherwise noteworthy things I come across on the weird, wide expanse that is the Internet. Also, cute cat posts.