Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


100 Books by 40: MATILDA

Book: Matilda
Author: Roald Dahl
Published: 1988

Adults have numerous opportunities to tyrannize children. Teachers, coaches, church elders, parents have ample opportunity to be cruel. Their reasons aside, it’s a wonder that so many of us grow into kind adults.

This book tells the story of some very cruel adults and a few kind adults, and how they influence the children in their lives. I was the kind of kid that took cruelty personally. When and adult humiliated or shamed me, my natural assumption was that they were right and I was wrong. This served me well in that I was open to correction, but it was damaging when emotionally stunted adults would cross my path. I could have used a little Roald Dahl in my life.

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100 Books by 40: BFG and Swallows and Amazons

It’s been a bit since I last posted about books. I actually finished BFG some weeks ago. It totally slipped my mind to write about it. I have also been spending quality time with Anna Karenina and Brideshead Revisited. I should wrap both of those up in the next week or two. So while I haven’t been writing about reading, I have been doing a considerable amount of reading.

BFG is and acronym for Big Ugly Giant. Said giant steals an orphan from her bed. To the girl’s horror, she learns that there is a land of human eating giants. Luckily, her BFG seems to be a vegetarian. Adventures ensue when they attempt to thwart the human-munching giants.

Roald Dahl seems to be deliberate in the morality he delivers in his books if Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is representative of the rest of his work. It follows that he is making a point about the morality of eating animals. He doesn’t shy  away from dark topics, and the way he glibly describes the different flavor profiles of humans across the globe seems to mirror the way in which we talk about pork, beef, or chicken. Maybe I’m interpreting this too directly. Maybe he’s making a broader statement about consumption, and the willful ignorance that it requires to maintain peace of mind.

In casting the orphan girl and an unattractive giant as the protagonists, he is suggesting that people just outside the norm have inherent value. Toward the end of the book the girl and BFG get treated to a dinner with The Queen, which seems to suggest that the world will value you for what you can deliver to it rather than how you look. I love this as a message, but I don’t think the world is inherently fair. People who deliver valuable work are routinely judged by more superficial measures. Of the lies that I used to believe, my faith in fairness was the most difficult to shed.

Jeez. I didn’t know I had this much to say about this book. I didn’t love it when I was reading it. But I love the way it made me think. It’s a short, easy, thought-provoking read, so I suggest it.

Swallows and Amazons is a precious book. It’s the most romanticized tale of childhood that I have read yet. It’s a pleasant read in that it prompted me to daydream about racing dirt bikes and building tree forts. But it was too precious. A couple bites of cotton candy are nice; a whole bag of cotton candy rots the teeth. Swallows and Amazons is a great thoughtless beach read, but it’s utterly unmemorable.

Now then, back to Anna KarininaBrideshead RevisitedA Suitable Boy, and Naughts and Crosses.


100 Book by 40: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

My book quest has made it into my dreams. Typically my dreams are about anxiety or mundane activities with a little weird thrown in. I spent many years bartending and waiting tables; my anxiety dreams for nearly a decade involved some form of me being in the weeds. If you aren’t familiar with the phrase “in the weeds”, it’s a service industry phrase to describe getting overwhelmed by your tables/customers. There are many causes for a good server to be in the weeds, but they normally stem from a particularly needy table or poor seating timing. My mundane dreams typically involve something that I would do in my waking hours. A few weeks ago, I had a dream that I was required to converse with other people using only PHP (server-side web programming language) statements and methods. I woke up laughing.

So, my book dream, I was with Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder and not Johnny Depp).  He was giving me a tour of my high school cafeteria. My classmates were at various tables acting out assorted Disney movies. I’m not sure why or how the cafeteria transformed into the set for Bedknobs and Broomsticks, but it did. Willy Wonka seemed to take this morphing as an obvious transition and proceeded the tour in our new location. This is where I woke up.

I’ve seen the 1971 edition of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory several times, although the last sitting was years and years ago. I’ve not seen the 2005 version. Here’s the first thing that struck me about the book in contrast to the movies. Willy Wonka isn’t as weird in the book as he is portrayed to be in either of the movies, but particularly the 2005 release.

As a kid, I found Willy Wonka terrifying, and the oompa loompas doubly so. Full disclosure, I am completely freaked out by little people. I am ashamed that I feel that way, as I know they are people and should be treated with respect. They freak me out in the same way that an unleashed dog nearing me freaks me out. I was bitten by an Irish Setter when I was 5, and unfamiliar dogs still make that lizard part of my brain light up with the fight or flight response. I feel the same when confronted by a little person, although I was not bitten one. Still the same fight or flight physical response happens.

After the first few chapters of the book, I was put at ease by a number of things. First, Willy Wonka was peculiar, but not to the extent that I was expecting given both the movies. And the oompa loompas were described as being knee-height, bearing more in common with Tinkerbell than the orange-faced terrors in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Once the uncomfortably weird aspects of the movie were purged from my mind, I really enjoyed the book. The book was less dark than either of the movies. With one exception, the uncertain fates of the naughty children are pretty heavy. They imply that Augustus Gloop could be mashed into raspberry cream. Veruca Salt along with her parents could be incinerated. Although the book seems to pass this off as less scary than it seems as I write it now.

In short, I really liked this book. I liked it more than either of the movies, and I am a Gene Wilder fan. Because Willy Wonka is less frightening, the ending with Charlie and his family moving into the factory is far more sensible. Finally as a vehicle for teaching morality to children, I thought it wasn’t as heavy handed as some of my other reads on this list. Now, only to get over my irrational issues with little people…