The Nightmare Before Christmas

img_2396The evolution of Halloween over time puts it in a unique position among holidays and traditions. Not that there have not been changes in other holidays, of course, but the contrast between the night of literal tricks or treats mayhem in the past and the more lighthearted trick or treating of today is quite stark. This makes it a bit more difficult to define what is “classic” in Halloween—we do not have the same sort of classical tradition in film and music that is carried through with Christmas. There are classic horror films, but these are not truly constrained to or even tied to Halloween. Enter here, the bridge between these two, and I give you a Halloween classic: The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Most know this story from the movie, which we will forever be debating about—is it a Halloween movie, or a Christmas movie? (Both, obviously, but I digress.) A little over a decade before this stop-animation film came to be, it was a poem written by Tim Burton. The poem is a basic outline of the story of the film, starting with its own rhyme and meter, then switching to match that of the original Christmas poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Jack Skellington is discontent in Halloweenland, and when walking through the woods stumbles upon a strange door that takes him in to Christmastown. He is excited about this discovery, wishing to bring Christmas back home with him. As in the film, the Halloween takeover leads to disaster, although it does not end with the same level of excitement of a Santa kidnapping and rescue. Santa intervenes, Jack learns his lesson; Santa does realize that Jack meant no harm, and so brings a bit of Christmas to Halloweenland to show that there are no hard feelings.

Although it well predates the film, the poem was not published until the time of the film’s release. This particular edition is a special release for the 20th anniversary of the original publication and film release. The poem is set up into a picture book with original illustrations by Tim Burton. I believe some of these are from the original publication, but there are some new illustrations added to the anniversary edition. As a fan of both the poem and the film, this was a fun look behind the scenes for me. The illustrations are reminiscent of the animation, perhaps serving as a bit of a storyboard around which the film was fleshed out with its songs and plot additions. This book holds a special place on my shelf year-round, but is out for display this time of year. I love the detailed simplicity of this gold and white cover, with the iconic scene of Jack on the hill, bordered by some lovely little drawings of Zero the ghost dog.

Boris’s thoughts: “It could use a few more black cats, but otherwise I approve. 3 paws.”

Land of Stories Treasury

img_0706This month on Books On My Cat, Boris and I have decided to do things a little differently. Rather than update on our current reads, we will be featuring a series! I started reading The Land of Stories, written by Chris Colfer, shortly after the first book came out. The series following the adventures of twins Alex and Connor after they accidentally enter the fairy tale world by falling into a book given to them by their grandmother. It consists of six primary novels, as well as several companion books. Throughout the monthly of July, I will post about each of these, as well as three of the companion books, starting with the Land of Stories Treasury. (In addition to the books I will cover, there are two children’s picture books as well as a “behind the scenes” guide created for fans of the series.)

The Land of Stories Treasury is a collection of classic fairy tale adaptations, and ostensibly the book cited in the series as “starting it all.” It includes versions of all of the fairy tales that are referenced throughout the series, as well as a few additional stories and traditional nursery rhymes. There are a few bonuses added at the end, including a “survival guide” for anyone who finds themselves trapped in a fairy tale, as well as brief biographies of the authors—those who created this collection, as well as each of the original authors featured.

I really love this collection—the book itself is beautifully made, and the illustrations are a perfect complement to the stories. While the stories are adaptations and the language is updated a bit, they are for the most part true to the original stories. At least, I should qualify, the stories that I am familiar with true to the original. Despite my love of fairy tales, I freely admit that I have not read all of the original material. Each of the stories is kept brief, told within about 10 pages or fewer including illustrations, which would make this a great book of bedtime stories for kids. I am looking forward to sharing these with by niece and nephews when they get a bit older!

Around the World in 80 Days

img_0515Dates Read: June 2 to 9, 2019

Rating: 3 (of 5) stars

This was my choice for the June prompt for The Unread Shelf Project: a book about travel, or set in a country that you’ve never been. When considering the books I had that fit this description, it was an easy choice. Not only does this seem the quintessential choice for a book on travel, it is primarily set in countries that I have never been.

I actually had some high hopes for this book, being a classic that has been recreated in many forms, and frequently referenced in popular culture. Despite many renditions of the story being available, I knew relatively little about the actual story going into the book. It is an adventure story about a man who travels around the world. Well, yes, but not exactly. The premise of the book is straightforward, and similar to my expectations: Phileas Fogg has entered into a wager that he cannot travel around the world in 80 days, and so he sets out to do so.

Fogg is initially presented to us as a precise and practical man. He is particular about his routine, and does not vary. It is a bit surprising at first that we would agree to such a wager, but after he does, it should not surprise anyone that he goes about it in the most practical and routine way possible. Phileas Fogg is not interested in travel, adventure, or seeing the world—simply in traversing it. The style of the writing matches this, as it is fairly straightforward and matter of fact. While I can agree that it is fitting with the character, I did find it a little dull. We do get some glimpses of the sights through Fogg’s manservant, Passepartout, and I did enjoy some of the facts and information about locations that were included. The inclusion of the detective chasing Fogg around the globe was interesting addition as well.

It does make sense to me why this became a classic, but I feel like it is, unfortunately, one that did not age particularly well. There is definitely comedy and adventure here, but it does not really meet the same criteria that we use to define those things today. It’s not quite a laughing type of funny, but more of a “oh, ha, that was clever” type of comedy. Similarly, when taken in the context of when it was published, I imagine that many of the locales and descriptions made by Verne were strange and exotic. Much of the information included was not common knowledge, and not accessible to the general population. However, it just did not hold the “wow” that I was hoping for. I definitely appreciate it for what it is, but overall it just did not excite me.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think this Fogg guy has the right idea about life: it’s all about routine. I would have never taken that bet though; it would interfere with my napping schedule. 3 paws.”

Bridge to Terabitha

img_0492Date Read: May 28 to June 1, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Bridge to Terabithia is one of those classic children’s novels that I somehow never read when I was a kid. Even as an adult reading it, I was quickly drawn in to the story. Jess is a boy that feels himself on the fringes of society. He does not quite fit in with his family, and does not quite fit in with the kids at school either. What seems to start off rocky with a new girl at school develops into the most meaningful friendship of his life. Jess finds a refuge in his friendship with Leslie, and their made up world of Terabithia.

While I was able to avoid direct spoilers for this one, I had been forewarned that it was sad and dealt with loss. Even knowing that, this one hit me harder than I was expecting. This is not merely a sad story, it is the kind of sad that I want to tell everyone I know that they need to read this book—but I also do not want to pass this profound sadness on to others. I usually try to avoid major spoilers when writing, but I do not know how I can give this book justice without them. Stop here if you do not want to know. Leslie dies, unexpectedly and tragically. Jess is away, having a “perfect day,” when this happens. The later chapters, as Jess begins to process and accept what has happened, are full of so many things that are difficult but so important.

Stepping away from the book for a moment, I need to talk about Samantha. Samantha was one of my closest friends in high school. She was fun, she was sweet, and she was one of those people that you knew you could always count on to be on your side when you needed her. We created cartoon characters to draw in each other’s notebooks, and talked about all of the things that we would do after high school. I was a few years older, and we started to see less of each other after I graduated. Despite ending up at the same college a few years later, we only saw each other occasionally. Although we were no longer every day friends, each time we saw each other, it was as if no time had passed. She was still my friend that would always be there—until she wasn’t. Samantha died unexpectedly at 22.

I don’t know if it’s fair to generalize the loss of a friend as a young adult to the loss of a friend as a child—but I do know that many of the actions, thoughts, and feelings of Jess after losing Leslie reflected my own experience. Paterson perfectly captures the essence of a great loss, and Jess’s reaction to his loss is so genuine that I grieved for him as well as Leslie. Every new piece hit home for me, starting from the initial shock and unreality, the sorrow of the loss itself, and then adding on secondary pain caused by the reactions of others, or even your own thoughts.

In the end, Jess does begin to see hope in a future without Leslie—while he misses her terribly, he recognizes the impact that she made on him, and uses that to move forward. I still think about Samantha often. I cannot say what path our friendship would have taken if she were still here, but I can say with certainty that I am fortunate to have known her. There are bits of her in many of the things that I do and think every day. I remember a gift she gave me for my birthday one year—a necklace and a pair of flashy earrings that I had admired at the store, but decided not to buy. She told me she knew I thought they were impractical, but that I needed them: it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks if I like them, and there’s never a good excuse not to wear hot pink. What an attitude to have.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think I would have liked her. 4 paws.”

Brave New World

img_9303Date Read: March 3 to 18, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

Third time is the charm, so to speak. After starting this book on two other occasions, I finally made it all the way through!

I had a bit of difficulty with March’s prompt from The Unread Shelf Project: the book that has been on your shelf the longest. Here’s the thing– I have about 60 books that have been on my shelf the longest (the books that I added within the first two days of starting my Goodreads account 8 years ago). Part of the reason that I chose this one over the others is that I had started it before, but never made it very far in. A friend of mine also lists this as one of her favorites, so I thought it would be worth powering through! (It was.)

I am not sure that you can get more “classic dystopia” than Brave New World. While I think we can all agree why the society is problematic from any viewpoint, there is an interesting balance struck. Society is functional, as it balances productivity with consumption, and meets human needs on a very basic level (really, what more do we need than food, sex, and entertainment?). To top it off, everyone is trained from birth to know what they want and to be happy with their place.

While I was not really crazy about the writing style (a bit dry, matter of fact, like I would expect in a textbook), I did like the way that the society was initially set up for us. We get a basis of how the society is built by its introduction to the students touring the hatchery, and then the details are filled in from three perspectives: Lenina, who is wholly satisfied in this world; Bernard, who knows enough to be critical, but is content enough to do little more than push boundaries; and finally the Savage, a complete outsider who is horrified by what he sees happening around him.

One other piece to this that I found interesting, is that this is a problematic society that recognizes that it is problematic. Those at the top realize the monotony of life for the individual, but choose to maintain it as is. Being “in the know” gives them to freedom to think and even criticize society, but this must be kept secret from the masses. This puts quite a spin on the punishment of being transferred to an island– the islands are the only place where people can live and think freely! Even the Director admits at the end, it would be a sort of unknown luxury to live on an island. Perhaps I should see about being transferred to Iceland.

Boris’s thoughts: “Any society that does not include CATS is not worth considering. 1 paw.”

Cannery Row

img_8918Date Read: January 20 to February 2, 2019

Rating: 5 (of 5) stars

Cannery Row is not so much a novel, as a capturing of a moment in time. Light on plot, but heavy in description, it features dozens of characters that each play a part (however small) in the central story. Although there’s a long and winding road to get there, the main story centers on the planning of a party for Doc, orchestrated by Mack and the boys, a group of homeless men who have taken over an old warehouse. Their initial plan is ill conceived and leads to minor disaster, but eventually circles around through the community for a happier ending.

Taking place in a relatively quiet California coastal town during the Great Depression, the story is told through a series of vignettes of various length. There are some clearly driving the plot, and others that link to the main story in ways that are not obvious as you are reading. The style gives the book a inextricable feeling of community. The small details of each moment, the strings of each life in Monterey interwoven.

Part of what is interesting to me, is that each character seems to know their place and their part in the scheme of their own world. Most are destitute, but content where they are. Mack and the boys certainly know what they need to do to improve their situation, but are content to get by with life as it is. They have a roof over their heads, the little dog Darling to care for, and just enough niceties to make the Palace Flophouse home. Another character I found interesting was the woman who loves to throw parties, but cannot afford to actually put on a party herself. When she’s not able to help in planning for others, she contents herself with tea parties with the neighborhood cats. Well, why not?

Boris’s thoughts: “I am concerned with the collecting of cats for Doc… but would really enjoy a tea party, so I’ll even it out: 2 paws.”

 

Gingerbread Friends

img_8670While this one is not strictly a Christmas story, there is something about Jan Brett that just feels Christmasy to me. This book is a follow up to her telling of a more traditional Gingerbread Man. In this case, it is a Gingerbread Baby. After running of on his initial adventure, the Gingerbread Baby has made his way back home. The story starts with him living contentedly in a gingerbread home with Mattie, although feeling terribly lonely when Mattie goes off to school or out to play with his friends. The Gingerbread Baby goes off on a second adventure in search of friends.

Unfortunately, he goes looking for friends in a plain, normal bakery… where none of the other cookie creatures can talk or play! He is perplexed and decides to rest while he thinks about what to do next. Of course, resting turns into sleep, which is interrupted by a hungry mouse! The Gingerbread Baby decides that this friendship search is not working out for him, and dashes back home– leading to the chase scene that we expect from Gingerbread characters. While he is discouraged from his journey, he does find a nice surprise waiting for him when he gets home, which folds out into an extra large pop-up picture for the end in the hardcover edition.

I like this story as a read aloud. It’s a nice traditional type story, and has a combination of normal storytelling, as well as some verse in the Gingerbread Baby’s speech. The pictures are great: large and with tons of details to look through with kids. One of the compliments of Jan Brett’s books I have heard is about the beautiful borders around the pages of her stories, and this is no exception. I like in this one that the borders serve a dual purpose– there is a recipe for gingerbread cookies included, while we also get to see what Mattie has been up to while the Gingerbread Baby has been away.

Boris’s thoughts: “I think the real lesson here is that I don’t ever need to leave my comfy home. Sounds good– it’s time for a nap.”