Thursday 25 December 2008

I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows

My easy reading project continues and I would say it's been a success so far. I'm loving the return to mostly kids' books and want to thank my good friend Yuri for so strenuously recommending that I check out Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth.

Juster's book is a sometimes heavy-handed fictional ass-kicking for all those kids out there who think everything's boring and go around moping all the time. It was, however, also hilarious and Juster's endlessly energetic word play was delightful; indeed, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that this book helped to inspire that PBS TV gem WordGirl. In fact, I would say that as much as I like WordGirl, it's kind of the homeless man's version of this book, the latter of which presented about 20 big and awesome words on every single page (WordGirl just does one massive new word per episode).

If I had sprogs, I would get them reading The Phantom Tollbooth for besides being fun as hell, it also provides great overviews in basic linguistic theory, math, the butterfly effect, and peacenikishness. A perfect storm of early learning I'd say.

Having finished The Phantom Tollbooth this morning, I dove right into and finished another book I've had on the go for awhile, Richard Lederer's Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language. Rohan from Novel Readings suggested this one to me after I blogged about Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls and so I was really looking forward to more hysterical giggling.

I definitely got a good dose of the hysterical giggles from Lederer's compilation, although not nearly as many as I was expecting. For me, a misplaced modifier isn't in itself enough; the resulting sense has to be truly absurd for me to be amused.

But there were gems in this one such as the following, which I transcribe for your Festivus reading pleasure. (The entire accident reports section had me curled up in a ball on the streetcar trying to stifle my hysterical laughter.)

About Socrates:

"After his death, his career suffered a dramatic decline."

From an actual courtroom:
"Q. When he went, had you gone and had she, if she wanted to and were able, for the time being excluding all the restraints on her not to go also, would he have brought you, meaning you and she, with him to the station.

A. Objection. That question should be taken out and shot."

From actual car accident reports:
"Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I didn't have."

"I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment."

"I saw a slow-moving, sad faced old gentleman, as he bounced off the hood of my car."

"I was thrown from my car as it left the road. I was later found in a ditch by some stray cows."

"One wheel went into the ditch. My foot jumped from brake to accelerator, leaped across the road to the other side, and jumped into the trunk of a tree."

"A cow wandered into my car. I was later informed that the unfortunate cow was half-witted."

Courtesy of Sam Goldwyn:

"Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."

Besides too many examples of misplaced modifiers and nonsensical things that just weren't ridiculous enough to be funny, I was a little put off by how many of Lederer's examples I'd already chuckled over while reading Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls.

My irritation wasn't that I thought Lederer was stealing shit but that probably the funniest ones, which both books share, were actually made up by somebody smart and funny, and have since become the stuff of student blooper urban legend (i.e., "Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of the same name" or "Gorgons have snakes for hair and are like women but only more horrible.") For me, half the fun was in believing students really wrote such things and when that belief is cast into doubt, well...

Well, it might be time to get back to the fiction is all. Happy Saturnalia everyone!


Bookfool said...

I loved The Phantom Tollbooth. As to the nonfiction -- I know what you mean. Some of it has been rehashed so many times that you just want to kick the "authors" (who are really collectors, not writers) in the shin.

Yuri... said...

I'm glad that you loved The Phantom Tollbooth so much! Since we discussed it, I have kept my eye on the junior section of a few of Halifax's used bookstores in hopes of being able to arrange a rereading myself...

Bookphilia said...

Bookfool: Yes, some good shin-kickings are definitely in order. :)

Yuri: Please feel to recommend other kids' books to me. Good luck finding the book - unfortunately, we don't have a copy here. :(