Monthly Archives: February 2010

Reading Alice

First published in 1865, there are many editions of Alice.

Oh the hype! The anticipation! The new Alice in Wonderland movie opens March 5 and the media and internet are abuzz: the wild costumes and make-up; the Disney, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton collaboration; the venerable classic gone 21st century. I remember watching the first version as a child and can still see Alice in her blue dress and apron, the purple Cheshire Cat grinning, the smoke rings, the frightening Duchess and the roses, oh the roses. This promises to be a very different movie. But yes, I want a ticket.

Right along with the movie buildup are new offerings of the BOOK.

I love the illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia in the new edition of Alice from Harper. Garcia’s art is part Goth, part graphic, and so very mauve and pink and tropically colorful. It’s a nice size too, with creamy smooth paper and a stitched binding. Reading it is as much a tactile experience as a tickle to your imagination. We were all thrilled when we received a signed, limited edition lithograph of Garcia’s art to hang on the walls of the bookstore.

I am also smitten with the facsimile edition of Alice’s Adventures Underground from the British Library (University of Chicago in this country). In the introduction, Sally Brown writes, “Although Alice would become perhaps the most famous and best-loved children’s tale of all time, the original story – Alice’s Adventures Underground – remains less well known.” Alice began as tell-out-loud story that Charles Dodgson, a shy mathematician, spun for the three daughters of the dean of Cathedral College during a boat ride. At the behest of one of the sisters, Alice, he wrote the story down and illustrated it, which is what we see in the facsimile. Later, at the urging of friends, he rewrote and polished it into Alice in Wonderland and it has been read ever since.

The version of Alice in Wonderland we all know and I favor, is the original published version with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.  I keep a nice (but not antiquarian) old hardcover that I like to pick up now and then. Penguin offers an inexpensive paperback that includes both Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the Tenniel artwork. If you don’t own a copy or haven’t read it since you were ten, this is a good edition to start with before seeing the movie.

Dodgson, whom we know as Lewis Carroll, was a mathematician his entire life, an accomplished amateur photographer, and, after Alice, the bestselling author of children’s books of his day.  He has been the subject of countless biographies and much scrutiny. This month Jenny Woolf tackles his life, and his mind, with new insights in The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland. Of course, you don’t need to know about Lewis Carroll to enjoy Alice but reading this book adds to the intrigue.
All this is a long-winded way of suggesting that this is the perfect time to take a literary trip down the rabbit hole. Posted by Suzy


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Consider Consider the Lobster

As you read this, David Foster Wallace’s Consider the Lobster sits on shelves of bookstores everywhere, unassuming. It is tucked, in all likelihood, between other collections of essays or nonfiction musings or books generally disadvantaged by no exciting, fictional tagline. On its cover is the image of a lobster with one claw outstretched, as if waving, knowing perhaps that the average bookstore-browser needs some extra incentive to pick up a collection of essays, some extra waving-lobster-like encouragement. Note to all bookstore-browsers: give in to the lobster – this one knows what he’s talking about.

I recently watched a Charlie Rose interview with the late (and much younger) DFW, in which they talked about film, education, DFW’s own experience with writing and being a professor. Having seen, and listened, to him speak only reinforces the feeling I got when I read Consider the Lobster:  through his essays, DFW is having a conversation with you. It’s a frighteningly eloquent conversation, but it’s a conversation nonetheless. Reading Consider the Lobster was to picture him telling me, with his trademark bandana, about Updike’s latest book, about the Maine Lobster Festival, even about the US porn industry, if I could keep my puritanism from getting the better of me.

DFW writes with a voice that straddles the fence between erudition and colloquialism; he is at once your most intimidating professor and your student coffee date. And when the time calls, he admits, as any good writer (or professor, or coffee date) should, when he is out of his league. Culinary goings on and lobsters is one such league. 9/11 is another. In describing a television broadcast he watched on the morning of 9/11, he says, in a short sentence describing what I can only imagine all of us feel when thinking of what he refers to as The Horror: “I’m not sure what else to say.”

In general, the word essay summons something dry, academic. These are anything but. Come to think of it, I’d even go so far as to call the word a misnomer: these pieces, some almost unbelievable in their content but all compelling, read like fiction – with observatory notes, compliments of DFW, thrown in for good measure. If it wasn’t for the lobster, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have picked it up. Now, if only someone could come up with a more enticing cover for his 1079-page Infinite Jest.



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