Children's · Classics

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by: L. Frank Baum

I listened to Anne Hathaway’s reading of this book – Audible is doing a celebrity reading series.  I really loved her rendition.  I will say some of the voices of the minor characters were a little on the weird side but other than that, it was fantastic.  There were delightfully subtle inflections that really made her reading pop. Plus her voice is just pleasant to listen to and her ability to emote and create a scene is, of course, superb. I loved the voices she did for the scarecrow and the tinman – had I not known better, I would’ve thought a man was reading those parts. And she manages to emphasize the humorous bits with just the right inflection. If you want a version to play for the kids that the adults will enjoy, I will gladly endorse this one.  (It’s a short 3+ hours, so perfect for a longish road trip.)

The story itself is really quite good. It’s simple and goes quickly, without ever being overwhelming or confusing.  The novel version differs significantly from the movie versions – the movie version doesn’t significantly change much, but it does leave out quite a bit.  I like the book more – though I normally do – for its expanded adventures and because I like the depiction of Dorothy better.  It is a children’s book, written well but simplistically, with little elaboration or in-depth analysis of any situation. It makes getting lost in the story quite easy.

The story itself is compelling and fun.  Nothing is too serious, though I imagine kids will find their pulses racing at certain points.  Plus, Hathaway does an excellent job of making a scene seem full to bursting with excitement.  I like that Dorothy is able to enjoy herself and her adventures while still wanting to go home.  And, of course, reading it as adult made me realize that the scarecrow had brains, the tinman had brains, and the lion had courage all along.  Baum does a really wonderful job of endowing his characters with their desired characteristics without ever having to state that they exist.  And I think it’s true that people are often blind to their best traits, so it’s amusing to see in a book.

Dorothy is sweet and adventurous, polite and brave.  She’s not a super-strong character,  but she doesn’t need to be. Being polite and courteous to others can often be strength in and of itself; plus, she takes on the Wicked Witch of the West with such bravery and aplomb.  She’s extremely homesick but doesn’t let that control her or stop her from enjoying this new world of Oz.  The pacing is excellent, the scenery and people of Oz unique and compelling – cute and funny.  (Much more than the movie could show!)

If you’ve got children or you want to revisit childhood again, I would recommend this book.  If you’ve no patience for children’s books, or if you like stories that provoke deep thoughts or delve into complex subjects, then, alas!, this may not be the book for you.

Science Fiction

Ender’s Game

by: Orson Scott Card

I actually listened to the 20th anniversary edition of this book rather than officially rereading it.   The novel is in 3rd person limited and every character has a different narrator.  With the exception of Valentine’s part, the readers were rather excellent and the voices all pleasant to listen to.  The woman voicing Valentine was a good reader, but she had a very breathy, sensual voice and the way she emoted and stressed words made nearly everything Valentine thought seem either romantic or overly sexual.  It is a bit disturbing to hear a 11 yr old’s thoughts about her older brother being narrated as “Peter had…penetrated her mind” in breathy, excited tones a la Marilyn Monroe.  Also, ew.  The end result, ignoring any incestual implications, was that Valentine sounded like a hysterical 25 yr old woman in a romantic drama rather an an unsure 11 yr old girl in a science fiction adventure for the majority of the novel.  (And one more time, ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.)

If you’ve never read Ender’s Game, it’s the story of Ender Wiggin, born in a future, where mankind has been discovered and attacked by an alien race known as the buggers.  Having already survived two wars against them, Earth fear that it will not survive a third.  In preparation, they select 6 yr old children with the greatest potential and send them off to battle school to become the greatest army the world has ever known; training them to become soldiers and commanders using brutal military tactics.

These children are extraordinarily bright and gifted, so much so that it is easy to forget that they are children.  It is not the areas they excel in that show their age; it is the things they are blind to that truly reveal the tragedy of the situation.They can see and use others’ strengths and weaknesses, certainly, and Valentine and Peter (Ender’s siblings) are masters of manipulating the public in general.  However, with the possible exception of Peter, the – to quote Jeeves – “psychology of the individual” quite escapes them.  They know what to do to manipulate others, but they don’t seem to understand why it works.  With the exception of Peter, they lack both foresight and the ability to think through the implications and nuances of the decisions they make.

As for the characters themselves, Ender is a young boy, destined by birth and training for greatness who is as sympathetic as any football story underdog. Peter, his older brother, is a psychopath, also brilliant, who eludes the understanding of all around him, too cruel for military command (yes, that is actually a thing in real life, too.)  Valentine, his sister, is the exact opposite, brilliant, yet too tenderhearted and empathetic to lead wars.

This book is sexist as hell, if you couldn’t tell from the difference between Peter and Valentine. Its depictions of women are heavily driven by stereotypes.  There are only two female characters and both of them are the wink link, either easily and frequently emotionally manipulated by others or breaking under the strain (emotionally, of course) before anyone else.  Ender’s father’s opinions are an important indicator of current political thought and yet his mother isn’t given a voice on the subject, despite the fact that she was picked to have children that are intellectually superior to the majority of the human race.  What is that nonsense? All the authoritative figures are males, even though it is made clear the women are accepted into military school and trained exactly like the men. Sexism is a huge problem in the science fiction genre as a whole, of course, but it’s especially saddening when it’s so prominent in one of the few scifi books I like.

Ender’s Game is great for complex moral questions.  I can’t explain all of them without spoiling the book, but the questions raised are horrific.  Yet it is easy enough to find a train of thought or belief system that justifies the decisions made.  Would you do what they did, knowing what they know? Would you believe it was the right thing to do?  If not right, was it necessary? I don’t know, myself.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

While I’ve tried to keep the post spoiler-free, I’m not going to do so in the comments for the sake of discussion.  I’d really love to hear others’ thoughts about Ender’s Game, no restriction.  What do you think?


I reread books

Do you? Reread books, that is.

I do.  I reread books all the time.  Sometimes for comfort or because I’m tired and just want to read something I know and love  – Julia Quinn I return to time and time again. Others I reread less frequently but with greater pleasure – every three or four years I reread The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, which I’ve done since I first read them as an elementary school kid.

I’ll reread a book because there’s a movie version coming out and I want to have a fresh impression of the book before I go in – The Great Gatsby, for instance, or, more recently, Ender’s Game. (There is a review coming for that; I just need to think about what I want to say first.) If a new book in a series is about to come out, it’s not unusual for me to pick up one or more of the preceding books and reread them, especially if the series needs to be read sequentially.  Something may remind of a book I’ve forgotten and I’ll go back and reread it.

I read many, many classics as a child and teenager and as I get older, and theoretically wiser, I slowly go back and reread them.  This is probably the most rewarding of the rereadings that I do, as there is much I missed as a child.  The fact that I’m rereading also allows me to go slower and think more about the book.  (Some classics I will never reread – Lolita, which I read as a college freshman, I loved but can’t see myself ever revisiting.)  

I’ve discovered in the past year that I really enjoy “rereading” a book by listening to the audiobook. I love audiobooks but have a harder time keeping everything straight because I can’t flip back easily if I get distracted or miss a detail.  If I know the story, I have a much easier time keeping up with what’s going on.  (And I pay more attention, though I’m not sure why.)

My dad, on the other hand, doesn’t reread books or rewatch movies, figuring that he already knows what happened and there’s no point.  I know a fair amount of people who don’t reread because there are lots of unread books out there – why waste time on a book you’ve already read?

Do you reread, my fair readers? Do you have books you constantly revisit or is rereading an honor reserved only for a few special books? Is your pile of to-be-reads so large you can’t justify opening a book you’ve already finished?  Leave your thoughts in the comments!