When I went to the bookstore last week, I intended to purchase the new Roald Dahl biography, “Storyteller.” It was an enticing book for me because I grew up a Dahl devotee, devouring all of his stories, the popular and the obscure. More than any other author, Dahl stoked the fire that made me a lifelong reader. That said, “Storyteller” is 600+ pages. There’s no Chocolate Factory, no Giant Peach, and certainly no Big Friendly Giant. So, there I was, in the new release section of Joseph Beth, contemplating whether I should attempt to read the biography of my favorite children’s author…
I’m not usually one for rereading books. To me it can be like dwelling on the past. There is so much to read that is current and I feel that wasting time on seconds of the same course isn’t the best use of my time. For the most part, I think this is the right attitude. But once in a while it’s perfectly ok to linger in the middle school yearbook, read old Kairos letters, think about the first girlfriend, or read a favorite book again. So just a few hours later, immersed in the story of James and his awful aunts and his magical peach, I was a kid again, hanging out at the Dublin Public Library, putting stickers on my summer reading contest map, and browsing the stacks until my neck was sore. It was wonderful.
Without fail, every time I take one of those personality tests I get the same results. I favor my creative brain, I tend to be more emotive, and I prefer the big picture as opposed to the small details. I wonder if that is courtesy of Roald Dahl. I just love that a giant peach rolled down a hill, crushed two evil aunts, and opened up a new world to a young boy right when he needed it most. I loved that a glowworm doubled as a flashlight and that 502 seagulls carried a peach to New York City using spider silk. Dahl is high-octane fuel for an emerging imagination. Anything is possible in his world, yet his human characters are entirely believable. He allows us to imagine us in a fantasy world. More than once he was my summer tour guide on a wild adventure.
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More” begins with this: “This book is dedicated with affection and sympathy to all young people…who are going through that difficult metamorphosis when they are no longer children and have not yet become adults.” This book is radically different from “James and the Giant Peach.” It’s for the kid with pimples and not the kid with a baby-face. It’s Dahl saying—“I know you are about to grow too old for me, but please don’t forget that adults can dream and imagine too.” There is a bittersweet tone to the entire collection of stories as Dahl graduates his readers to the main room of the bookstore. The book concludes with a magnificent autobiographical story about how Dahl began writing.
My stroll down memory lane with Roald Dahl led me down a different, less traveled path. I’m at the age where even the most casual of friends feel it appropriate to ask about my wife and our reproductive plans. While I find that to be moderately annoying, I will acknowledge that some of these individuals have gone on to give very sound advice about parenting and about how life changes when kids arrive. Perhaps the most alarming counsel was from a friend who warned that I wouldn’t be able to read as much, if at all, if we ended up with a few children. Believe it or not, of all the things that frighten me about the idea of having children, not being able to spend time with a book is pretty damn high on the list. Some of you may think that sounds selfish, but I truly enjoy the time I get with even the driest book on say, labor policy in America. I worry I would resent that I was forced to change a diaper instead of read the newest Krakauer book or that I would be hosting a sleepover instead of pretending I was a character in the newest Pelecanos book.
And along comes good old Roald. And his giant peach. And his magical characters and new worlds and evil aunts and spiders and centipedes and silkworms. I had a wonderful time rereading these books. I also had fun thinking about how much fun I had reading them the first time. Then it occurred to me that if we had kids, then maybe it would be fun to watch them read Dahl too. Sure, I’d occasionally miss a Krakauer or a Michael Lewis or the newest tome about this or that, but on the other hand, I’d get to be back with James and Charlie, plus Carle’s hungry caterpillar, Sendak’s wild things, White’s pigs and spiders and everyone in Lewis’ Narnia. It wouldn’t be about dwelling on the past because instead it would be about looking to the future.
Let’s be clear, I’m not trying to break any news here. Honest. There’s no news to break. However, if you read this blog, you know I like to muse on how books make me feel and what I’m thinking when I’m reading them. That’s all I’m doing here. But once again, Roald Dahl has opened the door to a whole new world of possibilities.
Thanks for reading.