Aug 10, 2022

they don't miss it

Malcolm and I finished Lord of the Flies last month, after Animal Farm (brilliant, as though written yesterday) and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (what’s all the fuss about??). Lord of the Flies was harrowing, of course, and unlike Orwell, William Golding has a pretty baroque style that meant that Malcolm followed along fine, but missed plenty of expressive passages laden with early 20th century words. Still, though—he was absolutely stricken by the violence late in the book, and we took a couple of breaks before returning to it for the end. On one of these nights, Brian witnessed our despair and, without knowing anything else, said: “Piggy?” Confirmed. The best part of raising children is seeing anew how books speak across language and generation. It’s good to be breaking bread with the dead, as my friend Alan Jacobs says.

Another friend gifted us some lighter fare to follow, yet another classic that I’ve never read: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. Juster was an architect as well as writer, and it shows:

Then where is Reality?” barked Tock.

“Right here,” cried Alec, waving his arms. “You’re standing in the middle of Main Street.”

They looked around very carefully. Tock sniffed suspiciously at the wind and the Humbug gingerly stabbed his cane in the air, but there was nothing at all to see.

“It’s really a very pleasant city,” said Alec as he strolled down the street, pointing out several of the sights, which didn’t seem to be there, and tipping his cap to the passers-by. There were great crowds of people rushing along with their heads down, and they all appeared to know exactly where they were going as they darted around and down the nonexistent streets and in and out of the missing buildings.

“I don’t see any city,” said Milo very softly.

“Neither do they,” Alec remarked sadly, “but it hardly matters, for they don’t miss it at all.”