frog and toad are friends

Wednesday reading — languages, little houses and lunacy

What I've been reading

I read Wonderstruck, which uses the full-page cinematic illustrations interspersing the prose text that Brian Selsnick pioneered in The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I absolutely love this technique, which I find so much more enjoyable to read than traditional sequential art with its cramped panels, but of course the tradeoff in terms of paper usage is real. This book has the additional twist that the prose story and the graphic story are completely separate at the beginning, although by the time they converge it becomes clear how they're connected. Also, a substantial portion is set in one of my favorite places: the American Natural History museum.

I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is deservedly included on a lot of lists of best opening sentences/paragraphs. Although I did wish that Mary Katerine's liking Richard Plantagenet figured into the story along with her sister Constance and the deathcap mushroom. I mean, even in such a short, spare story I feel like it could have come up somehow!

I reread Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, a collection of miscellany adapted from lectures given by Umberto Eco. It's funny how the bestsellerdom of The Name of the Rose got this book a reasonably-priced edition from a mainstream publisher, even though a.) it's rather abstruse and b.) it mostly consists of addenda to The Search for the Perfect Language, which is only available in pricier academic editions. The piece about Dante is the most interesting to me, naturally.

I reread Little House in the Big Woods, which is something that I hadn't done in ages, even though I used to practically have these books memorized as a kid. This one especially is so cozy—much more isolated than I would actually enjoy, but they're still relatively close to a town and most of their handful of neighbors are family. Even as a kid I felt like Charles Ingalls's judgement was questionable.

I reread Little House on the Prairie, which indeed features a significantly reduced quality of living, although building the new house from scratch is a great opportunity for a whole new set of details. Jack the bulldog is such an important character in this book, even more than the first one, that it's really bizarre to think that in real life they traded him along with the ponies when they left Kansas.

Pa was on top of the walls, stretching the canvas wagon-top over the skeleton roof of saplings. The canvas billowed in the wind, Pa’s beard blew wildly and his hair stood up from his head as if it were trying to pull itself out. He held on to the canvas and fought it. Once it jerked so hard that Laura thought he must let go or sail into the air like a bird. But he held tight to the wall with his legs, and tight to the canvas with his hands, and he tied it down.

“There!” he said to it. “Stay where you are, and be—”
“Charles!” Ma said. She stood with her arms full of quilts and looked up at him reprovingly.
“—and be good,” Pa said to the canvas. “Why, Caroline, what did you think I was going to say?”
“Oh, Charles!” Ma said. “You scalawag!”

I finally realized what Pa was actually about to say there!

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