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June 27, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Third Time’s a Charm!

Posted by nicole

It's been a hot week over here at the TBRN headquarters. Everyone settle down, I meant because of the humidity. There are hot summer days and then there are HOT summer days --- the kind where you can't even bear to do anything but curl up in front of a high-powered fan and just indulge in some good old-fashioned comfort reading. So we were all very excited to get back to throwback business. We have a bunch of real hard-hitters for you --- so crack open a frosty beer, turn your AC way, way up and enjoy! Third time's a charm, amirite?

I remember reading THE SCARLET LETTER freshman year of high school and everyone hated it --- except me. I enjoyed all of my high school required reading, from BEOWULF to THE CANTERBURY TALES. Of course, some books were better than others, even though I could respect and value each and every one. I read WINESBURG, OHIO sophomore year of high school when I had that one inspirational teacher (I know you all had one, too) --- Mrs. Steinbaugh --- who crafted an exceptional required reading list, from THE GREAT GATSBY to THE OLD MAN IN THE SEA and of course, FAHRENHEIT 451. I now see why Mrs. Steinbaugh chose to teach sophomore year English --- it was the required reading year for twentieth century novels. And if I know 20Somethings, I know that they love the classics of the twentieth century. I wrote my term paper that year on WINESBURG, OHIO, a collection of short stories of 1919, all set in the fictional town of Winesburg, Ohio. Each short story offers a brief glimpse into the life of a character from the town --- showcasing his/her personal struggles. When you reach the end of the novel, it is clear that each of Anderson's astute observations are all key components to shaping and defining what it means to achieve the American dream in iconic small town life.

Anyone can write a TBT post about the Roald Dahl classic CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. But because I like to shake things up, I’m going to throwback with Dahl’s underrated and hilarious follow-up, CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR. First of all, there’s a glass elevator just kind of floating around space. That blew my mind when I was a kid. Something about the simplicity of the thing, the clean geometry of a gleaming glass cube in space --- with a bunch of people inside it! --- really made sense in my boundless kid brain. The adventure itself is bigger, too, with the President of the United States involved and those terrifying Vermicious Knids (when they spell out “SCRAM?” --- I still get chills when I think about it). I recently referenced the President’s uproariously ineffective fly-trap. (The Gilligrass Patent Fly-trap: “The fly climbs up the ladder on the left,” said the President. “He walks along the plank. He stops. He sniffs. He smells something good. He peers over the edge and sees the sugar lump. ‘Ah-ha!’ he cries. ‘Sugar!’ He is just about to climb down the string to reach it when he sees the basin of water below. ‘Ho-ho!’ he says. ‘It’s a trap! They want me to fall in!’ So he walks on, thinking what a clever fly he is. But as you see, I have left out one of the rungs in the ladder he goes down by, so he falls and breaks his neck.”) Roald Dahl had a great absurdist sense of humor, but he also knew how to deliver a moment of real tenderness, like when Grandma Josephine takes too many Wonka-Vite pills and reverts to a minus state, and the gang has to go rescue her from Minusland. Guys, all I’m saying is they don’t make ‘em like they used to.

Johnny Tremain is an important book to me, because it was the first book I ever flat-out hated. In fact, I despised it.

I was forced to pick a book from a list and read it during the summer going into sixth grade with the idea of a presentation in mind. I remember all of the books looking extremely lame and thought that the one with the kid holding the gun would be cool.

Wrong. I’m actually astounded at how incorrect I was. I’ve never been more wrong in my entire life. Johnny doesn’t really fight in the Revolutionary War; he was injured as a silversmith, forcing him to take up menial jobs that happen to intersect with the founding father. He meets some girl, falls in love and becomes a dedicated Whig.  Snoring already?  My mom read it alongside me, and tried her hardest to convince me it wasn’t all that bad. Fat chance. Classic American YA literature pulled a fast one on me.

I learned my lesson though --- I haven’t read a book that I hated since.

Usually when you have to read a book for school it seems boring. The book looses its charm and thrill because you’ve been forced to read it by your teacher, and it’s no longer fun.

In the sixth grade my teacher assigned us THE GIVER by Lois Lowry as a class book read. Seeing the old man on the cover already had me falling asleep and I couldn’t think of anything more tedious or gruesome than having to read a book about an old man that I assumed was a giver, in the most old-fashioned way. But I was incredibly wrong.

The book was by far like nothing I had assumed in my little unknowing sixth grade brain. In fact, THE GIVER was nothing like anything I had ever read. I was used to reading my Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar and CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS books that were soft, comical and upbeat. THE GIVER was the complete opposite. In fact, I remember getting a little bit scared at the potentiality of a weird dystopian world such as the one of THE GIVER. 

As I read the book in class and at home, I found myself in a different world where people didn’t see in color and everything was freakishly perfect and normal. THE GIVER also gave me a wake up call. I learned a big cliché lesson after reading the novel. “Never judge a book by its cover!” Chances are I would have skipped the book just because of its old man cover, but because it was assigned to me I read it --- and, as it turned out, I loved it! 

If you haven’t read the book, you have probably at least seen the movie. I was ten years old when I read THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE --- the first book in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Ten years later, I still remember every detail of this fantasy book. While the language is simple and precise, the fairy tale aspects and the mythical creatures throughout the book got my imagination running rampant. The plot is truly captivating for a young reader. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy discover that a wardrobe in an old country house is a portal to the magical land of Narnia. Soon, Edmund meets the evil White Witch and is lured into betraying his siblings. The lion Aslan, lord of Narnia, meets with the children and eventually takes Edmund's place and submits to execution at the hands of the witch. Astonishingly, he comes back to life and ---with the help of fairy tale characters --- brings peace to Narnia. I was most astounded when I learned that, after years spent in Narnia, the children finally return through the wardrobe to learn that time has stood still back home. Published in 1950, some people claim that this book has become outdated ---especially when compared to more recent fantasy books like THE LORD OF THE RINGS. However, what I really appreciate about this book is the Christian allegory --- Aslan represents Jesus Christ, as he sacrifices himself for Edmund and is resurrected the following day. While I admit that more contemporary fantasy authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling surpass Lewis in style, I believe Lewis exceeds Tolkien and Rowling in the valuable lessons his book teaches youngsters about redemption and the nature of good and evil. More than half a century later, this book has clearly stood the test of time.

When I was in eighth grade, the girls in my class got into the habit of passing around books we considered to be “scandalous” and read them in secret (a classic Catholic school move). This is how I ended up in possession of THE BOYFRIEND LIST by E. Lockhart at the age of 13, when what I knew about boys was equivalent to what I knew about algebra (absolutely nothing). The book takes readers through the experiences of Ruby Oliver and the 15 guys she “dates” in one year --- the number sounded reasonable to me then, but now, at 20 years old, it seems highly impractical (if not impossible). Through the ups and downs of dating, she learns a lot about guys and about herself, ruins a friendship and realizes that love is a lot more complicated than it’s made out to be. I thought this book was the be-all and end-all of trashy teenage romance novels: witty, entertaining and insightful. It’s really too bad I wasn’t old enough to actually relate to any of it.