Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (10/10) — A collection of illustrated poems for kids I discovered one night while looking for a bedtime book to read to my niece. (I ordered it for myself the next morning.) I laughed out loud to just about every poem in the book. A clever melding of parables and just silliness. (Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is another kids book that should be on every adult’s bookshelf.)
The Little Prince (audio book) by Antoine Saint-Exupery (9/10) — A classic short novel for young adults and children, this dramatic reading is captivating and moving. It’s about a little boy (or prince) who befriends an airplane pilot who’s crashed in the desert and tells him the story of his lonely, absurd experiences with adults. It’s magical and sad and just as good as the original illustrated book. (Note to Podcast People: I listened to it on my MP3 player while walking to and from work for a week. Not a bad substitute for regular podcast listening.)
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (8/10) — A funny, profound, disturbing and sympathetic story about an American writer who becomes a secret agent during WWII by posing as a Nazi propagandist. Is he one of the good guys or is he just as happy working for the Nazis? Vonnegut reminds me of Woody Allen in that most of his works blend together as variations on a theme, usually deeply ethical. If you like Slaughterhouse-Five, you’ll probably enjoy Mother Night. A quote from pages 163-64:
The dismaying thing about the classic totalitarian mind is that any given gear, though mutilated, will have at its circumference unbroken sequences of teeth that are immaculately maintained, that are exquisitely machined… Hence the cuckoo clock in Hell — keeping perfect time for eight minutes and thirty-three seconds, jumping ahead fourteen minutes, keeping perfect time for six seconds, jumping ahead two seconds, keeping perfect time for two hours and one second, then jumping ahead a year… The missing teeth, of course, are simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten-year-olds, in most cases… The willful filing off of gear teeth, the willful doing without certain obvious pieces of information… That is the closest I can come to explaining the legions, the nations of lunatics I’ve seen in my time.
Leviathan by Paul Auster (7/10) — The second novel in The Collected Novels – Vol. 2. (The first is The Music of Chance, which is more engaging.) It’s the story of a writer writing about every chance happening that led a friend of his to blow himself up one day while building a bomb. Watching all the pieces come together is compelling up to a point. I lost interest near the end because there are few surprises and not much subtlety. The story seems more like a collection of autobiographical sketches stitched together and expanded into a novel. A quote from page 206 of Collected Novels – Vol. 2:
No one can say where a book comes from, least of all the person who wrote it. Books are born out of ignorance, and if they go on living after they are written, it’s only to the degree that they cannot be understood.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (6/10) — I didn’t read it when I was a kid. It’s a swashbuckling adventure story with pirates and buried treasure. Now that I’ve read it, I can’t say I was too entertained by it. It’s just okay. I kept falling asleep while reading it, even during the day.