Really loving a book is a funny thing. You would think that it would be easy to write about your favorite stories, but sometimes I find that this isn't quite true. That's my excuse for waiting so long to write a Library Monday post about The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It is a book that I first read as a ten year old, but still think about as a thirty-two year old. It is clever, it is funny, it is full of imagination and wit and an ingenious use of language. It is stunningly good and yesterday, I got to meet its author.
Norton Juster was at a local bookstore this weekend, attending a book signing for his newest book, The Odious Ogre. We had originally made other plans for Sunday, plans that involved watching people use thousand pound pumpkins as boats, but even the madness of pumpkin boats was no match for taking Mariam to see the man who wrote my absolute favorite book from childhood. I have a distinct memory of reading The Phantom Tollbooth and having it be my first experience with wishing that a book would never end, and I honestly just kind of wanted to say thanks to the man who wrote it.
I did get my chance to do that, and got a copy of the book signed for Mariam, as well as one for a friend who I think will appreciate it. And I also got a reminder of the feeling of complete magic that comes from being a young child and truly loving a book. One of the nicest thing about being someone's mother is getting to have that feeling all over again as I share my favorites with Mariam.
So, I don't know that I can adequately sum up The Phantom Tollbooth, since I've come to the realization that it has kind of come to represent my love of language, reading and imagination as a child. I'll give you a little bit of a teaser though.
The Phantom Tollbooth is an adventure tale in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland: a young boy, exasperated by boring school days and adults who never quite explain themselves adequately, is transported through a magical portal (in this case a tollbooth) into a world where everything makes absolutely no sense and therefore manages to explain quite a bit about all that he never understood. The book is full of puns, and many of the characters and events are the result of imagining what would happen if we lived in a world where idioms and nonsensical sayings were actually literal. The main character, Milo, is a boy who is bored with school and the ordinary workings of the ordinary world. By passing through the tollbooth, he finds himself on a hero's quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from exile, meeting one fantastic character after another along the way and eventually rediscovering his desire to learn about the world around him.
It is hard to know just what to say about a book like this one. But yesterday, at the book signing, the owner of the bookstore said this: "This book is so good, it's like no one wrote it." I couldn't agree more.