Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Finished The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting yesterday. I had not thought of reading this book until I decided to read the winners of The Newbery Medal in chronological order and discovered that the second book in the series had won the second medal in 1923. It made sense to start at the beginning, so there I was.

The edition I borrowed from the public library was a recent, expurgated version with the derogatory terms removed and the chapter featuring Prince Bumpo altered. Also missing were Lofting's own illustrations for the book. These in particular interested me. I was able to obtain a 1920 edition from the University library, read the Prince Bumpo chapter in it's original form and look through the author's charming drawings. Being able to make the comparison was exciting.

The book itself was better than I expected. Somehow my only exposure to Dr. Dolittle before this was through the 1967 Twentieth Century Fox musical starring Rex Harrison. I remember being plunked down in front of the television to watch it on Thanksgiving and finding it long and dull (might be worth a second viewing today).

The characters of the animals are amusing, as is the Doctor himself. Just having returned from the Darwin exhibit at The Field Museum in Chicago I couldn't help comparing the two naturalists who set off on long voyages across the sea. A bit of Googling brought up a book from Yale University Press Doctor Dolittle’s Delusion: Animals and the Uniqueness of Human Language by Stephen R. Anderson. A critique by Professor Marc Hauser, Harvard University states, "If Dr. Dolittle had met Charles Darwin, they would have shared two things in common: an extraordinary love of animals and a deep belief in the continuity of human and animal communication. In this book, the distinguished linguist Stephen Anderson challenges Dolittle and Darwin’s belief in the continuity claim, arguing that our capacity for language generates a uniquely designed system of communication, unparalleled in the history of life on earth. Written in a playful and highly accessible style, Anderson navigates some of the difficult territory of linguistics to provide an illuminating discussion of the evolution of language.


Monday, October 29, 2007


Finished Ian McEwan's Atonement last night. In some ways it felt Proustian because such a long time was spent describing the incidents of one day. In other ways it reminded me of Waugh's Brideshead Revisited in terms of coming of age, family saga and sensuous detail. The characters are so human, and thus prone to making mistakes, that the pain of those mistakes was somehow more bearable because I was able to recognize myself in some of the characters.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Uncommon Reader

Finished The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett yesterday. It's a delightful book. I had read about it in The New York Times Book Review a few weeks ago. As a novella it's quite short so you can breeze through it pretty quickly.

The Queen has an unexpected encounter with the Bookmobile and out of politeness is compelled to borrow a book. This launches her on a journey she never foresaw. Along the way there are numerous references to books that are old friends to seasoned readers.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the way in which members of the Queen's staff, and those beyond, continually attempt to sabotage her efforts to "catch up" on all the books she's missed over the years. Reading for pleasure is an entirely new pastime for the Queen. Her relentlessly regimented existence begins to change. Reading gives small things and insignificant people meaning. Things that were beyond her notice before are now obvious and troubling to her. It's a funny book. I liked the Queen and I found myself rooting for her.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Good Master

Finished The Good Master by Kate Seredy last night. It's a sweet, warm book, peppered with Hungarian folktales. It won a Newbery Honor Medal in 1936. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel The Singing Tree, which won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1940. Seredy won the Newbery Medal for The White Stag in 1938. Haven't read that yet either. Seredy illustrated her own books. I'm curious to know how many other Newbery Medalists did this as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Finished reading March this weekend. It won the Pulitzer in 2006. A very emotional experience. It is the story of Mr. March, the father character from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and his experiences before and during the Civil War. Various details that are glossed over by Alcott are examined and drawn out by Brooks. We learn how the March family lost their fortune and came to live in the modest house next door to Mr. Lawrence. While this is exciting for Little Women fans, they should be aware that March is a difficult read at times. Brooks portrays the brutalities of war and the lives lead by slaves in such detail that I found myself nauseated at one point. That fact aside, I really enjoyed this book. While it probably stands on it's own without the reader's prior knowledge of Little Women, familiarity with the story really enriches the experience of reading it.

The Alcott family has always fascinated me. I visited Orchard House a few years ago and wish I could have spent more time there.