10 May 2011


Two-Meme Tuesday

If there is one thing that baffles me about the book blogosphere, it would be the fixation on "hot" new releases and "hot" new authors. Most of the writers I read are dead and most of the books I'm really curious about have been around for decades. Even then, it takes me years of seeing them around before I actually get to them. So imagine how long it would take your average "newborn" book. =P

What I love about the Bargain Book Bonanza meme is that we're encouraged to share "old" bargains as well as "new" ones. And that's only appropriate when you remember that most books that are available at a bargain are "old"!

For this week's BBB, I present my small collection of "old" books by a certain dead author . . .

Roald Dahl!!!

It has recently occurred to me that I've never paid full price for a Roald Dahl book. I got Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and Roald Dahl's Incredible Chocolate Box at used bookstores/bookstalls, and bought Matilda discounted at a special sale. The Witches I borrowed from a friend and gave back immediately after I was done with it.

In other words, Dahl just isn't one of my favourite children's authors. I read him because he is part of the "canon" and I think it's important to have a working knowledge of what we call "the books every child should read" . . . but I'm not drawn to him. If anything, I'm slightly repelled. Those books of his I've already read haven't made me feel that I have to try more.

Which is all fair enough, yes--but if that were the case, then why did I get myself that copy of James and the Giant Peach last week?

One reason the TBR Tuesday meme goes so well with the BBB meme is that they both have another look at books whose days of hype are long over. This particular entry does one better by referencing an older post whose window for comments would seem to be closed.

Remember the time I brought up a questionable Cliff McNish novel and started a short combox discussion about "dark" children's literature by British writers? (You should! It was in my first BBB-TBR Tuesday crossover: T is for a Tuesday Meme! LOL!) Roald Dahl's name came up, of course, as did that of the artist who has done illustrations for all of his children's books: Quentin Blake. And they both came up again, rising above my usual mental chatter, as I stood in the used bookstore last week looking at an early edition of James and the Giant Peach that wasn't illustrated by Blake.

Nancy Ekholm Burkert vs. Quentin Blake
See the difference?

Perhaps, I thought to myself, Dahl's stories would go down more easily if I didn't have to swallow them with Blake's subconsciously repellant stylings. Burkert has a softer hand, as you can see, even if she does pile on the shadows.

This thought was challenged almost immediately by my tutees Star Shaker and Skid Breaker, who took one look at Burkert's drawings and pulled back from them, asking:

Why does the boy have no eyes?!?!

And no matter how hard I argued that he just had unusually large and dark irises, they insisted that he had nothing but empty eye sockets. They also didn't care to try the book.

Nervous tutees aside, having bought it, I will get to it. I recently came across an appreciation of Dahl which argued that he is not "dark" as much as "unsentimental": a fascinating thought, in the context of the extreme sentimentality of Victorian literature for children. Still, in the spirit of TBR Tuesday, I thought it worthwhile to ask:

If you have read James and the Giant Peach,
what would you say is the best thing about it?

Image Source: a) James and the Giant Peach 1, b) James and the Giant Peach 2, c) James and the Giant Peach illustration by Nancy Ekholm Burkert


Laurie said...

I so enjoyed poking around your blog today! And I'm definitely going to try the once-a-month poetry game... I've been sharing poems & related tunes on Sundays for a while now and just started a hop for it because a few bloggers asked me to. We'll see if it picks up steam!
Following you now, and so agree about the illustrations here, not to mention the concept of blogging about older books.
Laurie @ whatsheread.blogspot.com

Kristi said...

I'm an unabashed Dahl fan. I grew up reading his books from the time I was about seven or eight. My kids have been reading them as well. I guess I never really thought of them as dark, but I can see how they kind of are.

I did enjoy James and the Giant Peach, but I can't really remember why. It's been a while.

kathy@bookskidslike.com said...

I am also a great fan of Roald Dahl. I love the Britishness of them. Your post has made me think about the appeal his stories might have to children. A word like empowerment comes to mind. Many of his protagonists are children who find themselves in disagreeable circumstances (usually dealing with despicable adults), and they come off the victor. I think the appeal is just this: in real life, children often feel a lack of control over their lives because, in real life, loving adults are in charge and calling the shots. Dahl exaggerates the control issue by making the adults into villians and letting the children come off as the conquerors.

Shannon Young said...

I really like Roald Dahl, but James and the Giant Peach is the only one of his books that I did not like. As a kid I thought it was just too weird and scary. I think I listened to a creepy audio version the first time and that might have had something to do with it. I completely adore the BFG.

Enbrethiliel said...


Laurie -- Thank you! I'll update the "Word & Question" page with the June schedule soon. It's always great to find new players. =)

(My May poem will be up next Wednesday . . . I hope!)

Kristi -- I reread Matilda last night. It's an unapologetic mix of the sweet and the nasty. I can see the appeal, but it's not really for me. =) Thanks for your comment! I appreciate that you took the time.

Kathy -- Oh, I do get what you mean! And in a sense, Matilda's parents really had it coming--not to mention "the Trunchbull"! I'm afraid, however, that I often find the children as despicable as the adults. =/

Charlie Bucket and his family are a great exception: they're dirt poor, but that isn't a character flaw. I think the reason I like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so much is that it has some characters I can love from beginning to end. (Yes, Matilda has Miss Honey . . . but she's a minor character.)

Thanks for adding your thoughtful comment to the discussion! =)

Lesa -- You're welcome. LOL! When my brothers and I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together, we compared it to a Slasher movie, because all the "bad" children kept getting "taken down." ROFL! The story is also a pretty decent morality play and not just an indulgent "Let's get back at the adults!" fantasy.

Oh, I made the Coraline connection, too, although I still have to read it. I wonder how Gaiman's writing for children will compare to Dahl's, McNish's and Almond's.

Shannon -- Believe it or not, it was actually The BFG--Quentin Blake illustrations and all--which I wanted to get at the used bookstore that day. But the place didn't have an EFTPOS machine, and while I was getting cash out elsewhere, someone else bought it ahead of me. =( James and the Giant Peach was kind of my consolation prize. I hope it's not too awful! But thanks for the warning! I shall stay away from all audio versions as well.

KJ Kron said...

I still remember one of my class mates doing a book talk on James and the Giant Peach when I was in elementary school - I've been meaning to read that book for over 30 years. Now that I have a son, maybe I'll get to it :) Love the pic of the boy with no eyes - kind of creepy, but I like that sort of thing.

bearing said...

Are you familiar with Dahl's short stories that were not written for children?

Enbrethiliel said...


Laurie -- I'm still hoping my reply to you from two days ago will show up again!

KJ -- Oh, gosh. I can put off interesting-sounding books for decades, myself! Did your classmate like James and the Giant Peach? And did he comment on the illustrations? LOL! ;-)

Bearing -- I haven't read them, but I know of them and what they're about.

Lesa said...

Why did you buy James? Because it was a bargain, that is why!!

I'm so glad you enjoy BBB and Yay for old books! I read a mix but I'm very partial to the oldies-- there are so many that I've missed and I've been reading oldies since I was a kid!!

Now I feel the need to read Dahl to see if I'm repelled-- I didn't really need another reading project! Thanks!

I've only read Charlie but so many years ago that I only recall the movie. The movie is darkish in a weirdly wonderful way.

I might really like Dahl-- I like Gaiman's kids books and they are on the darkside too.

Actually, that boy with the creepy eyes reminds me of the button eyes in Coraline.

Enbrethiliel said...


Laurie -- I guess my first reply is never coming back, so let me try to reproduce it now . . .

Please feel free to join "Word & Question"! We're always happy to have new players. =)

Lesa -- You are such a dear to come back and repost your original comment! *hug*

Aren't old books the best? New books are good, too (I mean, quality is quality), but there's nothing like age to bring out a book's inner magic!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is probably my favourite Dahl book (so far?) because of the Bucket family. They're likeable and sweet--not just in comparison to the other horrible kids who win golden tickets, but also in themselves. I think I mentioned in one of last week's lost comments that I don't mind some despicable characters now and then, but I do have a problem with the hero being despicable, too--and I got a little of that when I reread Matilda. =S Yes, it was all for fun . . . but Dahl and I just don't share a sense of humour, I guess!

Although I haven't read Coraline, I've seen enough of the art to know exactly what you mean about the button eyes. Creepy indeed!

Patricia Blomeley-Maddigan said...

Ahhh, yes, the classics.... wonderful! Newer books are really getting me down. I pick one up, read a few pages, and that's it! Book goes back on the shelf. I will admit that part of the problem is I do not have much tolerance for excessive use of intolerable language - of the 4 letter kind - and I do not mean words like: kiss, like, love, hate, slow, etc. I feel the same about movies. That was part of how I started read older books, including some from the 60's and the 70's, and others such as the Brontes. I have always wanted to start on reading Dicken's in chronological..... some day... And for what it's worth, "James and the Giant Peach", totally gave me the creeps!!

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Patricia! It's great to see you! Thanks for visiting. =)

Newer books tend to be more edgy, don't they? It will be interesting to see which of them have enough classic and universal appeal to age as well as the older books we're still reading today.

I also enjoy many older movies, although my decade of choice is the 80s. It wasn't a very innocent time, either, I'm afraid, but there is a "glow" to it that I find very appealing.

By the way, I published this post before Blogger's big shutdown, and there were several other comments about James and the Giant Peach that got lost. =( I really wish I still had them, because that novel seems to polarise people and I wanted this to be a proper survey! =/ Thanks for weighing in, though. I appreciate it!

Lesa said...

I was happy to do it-- wish I could replace all the lost comments.

I'm still working on James-- he is inside the peach talking to bugs. It is a short book but I have two other books going not counting Oz w/Talon-- and it is the last week of school so extra busy.

the aunts are horrors and certainly repelling but don't know about the book as a whole yet.

Enbrethiliel said...


What's on the horizon for me is the first week of school--and things are also starting to get a bit hectic. Star Shaker wants revise her entire Biology textbook in advance! =/ I only have time for short books myself . . . or short passages from long books . . .

Good luck getting everything done soon, so you can enjoy your summer! =)

Jillian said...

You should now do an updated bookshelf tour ;)

Oh and that picture of the boy... NIGHTMARES.

Enbrethiliel said...


First I'll need a new bookshelf! =P Some of these books are in drawers and others are on the floor. =(

Hmmmm . . . So I was the only one who found Burkert's James kind of sweet? LOL!

The bars on the window in the background just add to the atmosphere. He's like Harry Potter gone wrong.

Jillian said...

Oh and I just had to comment also on what you said about the book blogosphere's fixation on new releases.

I don't really think we can blame readers about this. It's okay to crave newer books in my opinion; there's just something exciting about a new release coming out. It's the fact that it's 'something new' - which could mean a possibility of finding a new favorite story or a new favorite author.

I mean, if I think about it, I'm sure when the Classics came out at that time, people were also wondering what was up with the obsession with the new releases.

For me, I like a bit of variety in my life, which I'm sure you do too. I like new ones - that's why I read modern novels and even accept review copies from current authors and publishers. But I also like to read as many old ones as I can. I don't reject a book based on how old or how new it is, if that makes sense. If it sounds good, I'll read it. A book is a book. I think it's healthy to embrace both:)

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I've had my own excitement over a new release or two (namely Scream 4), so I know what you mean. I'm just extra cynical when it comes to book bloggers because I think the excitement is fueled mainly by "free" books and swag. If the supply of ARCs suddenly dried up and authors became less willing to give interviews and sponsor giveaways, how many book bloggers would still be "in business"?

But I will admit that looking at this as "old vs. new" is not the best idea. There are lots of "new" books that never get half as much attention because there is no big marketing push behind them. It's not that the books themselves are "hot" (which they could well be and well stay for years to come), but that savvy promoters are telling us to think of the books as hot. That's why I prefer, as much as possible, to let the hype die down a bit.

Jillian said...

I am sure there are some bloggers that made a blog just for the free books and ARCs but I'm sure there are some of us too who would most definitely stay even if we never get them again. But I definitely see your point.
It's like filtering book bloggers now that I think about it. Who would stay who would go? LOL!

Enbrethiliel said...


This line of thinking was inspired by that "controversial" tweet from an author who thinks book bloggers don't really sell books. I was surprised at how many people took it personally: a dead giveaway that they were in it for the swag and were afraid the font of free stuff would dry up.

It would be interesting to see not just who would stay and who would go, but also what book blogs would look like if they were completely unaffected by publisher- or author-driven promotions.