Uncertainty and Whimsy, 20 Books continues…..

Over the weekend I read two more books from the 20 Books of Summer shelf, both admittedly short and both using a child like whimsy and sense of fairy tale to explore their themes. One was more successful than the other…..

No 664 Light Boxes Shane Jones

light boxes

500 copies of Light Boxes were originally published, but a cult following and a pick up by a major publisher now sees the book about to be made into a film by Spike Jonze. I can see the attraction as Light Boxes has a very visual, magical feel to it– a dark fairy tale for adults. Jones’ fable follows the experiences of a town waiting for a spring that will never come. Their lives have been blighted by a cruel, godlike figure named February, who has banished them to endless winter, outlawed flight of all kinds and is kidnapping their children. While some townspeople give in to the despair that this endless grey brings, others pledge to fight back and begin a war effort against February.

The story focuses on a man named Thaddeus and his wife Selah and kidnapped daughter Bianca but we also meet a group of priests who police February, a professor who builds the titular light boxes in an attempt to bring back Spring and eight men called The Solution who wear coloured bird masks and lead the war effort and a pivotal girl ‘who smells of honey and smoke’. Light Boxes is only 145 pages long, and some pages feature only one line, lists or the same line repeated over and over in differing fonts.

Early reading of this short book suggests that it is an allegory for seasonal affective disorder, but we soon learn that February is in fact a depressed writer struggling to create the story we are reading. His girlfriend (who turns out to be the girl who smells of honey and smoke) is also trying to finish the book for him and they clash over how it should end. We are told this by the clunky and questionable inclusion of a List of Artists Who Created Fantasy Worlds To Try and Cure Bouts of Sadness.

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This is a book that is not for everyone and it wasn’t really for me. While it can be read as an effective allegory of the creative process (the inability of the imagination to take flight) I felt that it was a little too self-aware, almost too precious to be truly affecting. The formatting of different typefaces and fonts can work effectively sometimes but it is often used with no real discernible purpose. The constant references to kites and balloons can be wearing and the metaphors and allegorical narratives pile on to one another until it is hard to know what to make of anything.

Style and poetry is certainly favoured here over linear structure and Jones can create magical moments that linger in the imagination, such as the passages describing the death of the townspeople’s horses as a moss grows over their skin.

I dreamed you a field of running horses, Selah. For you Bianca, a balloon the size of the sky, my body a kite you can throw in the air. Pull me by string and horse.

Jones’ has a strong poetic voice but for me it needs to be reined in and given more structure. Many will love this book (many have), but it was trying a little too hard for my liking.

20 Books of Summer: 12/20

Number Read: 83

Number Remaining: 663

 

The Principles of Uncertainty by Maire Kalman

principles-of-uncertainty

Maire Kalman’s children’s books have long been criticised for being too grown up for actual children to read, so it stands to reason that she would create what is effectively a picture book for grownups.

The Principles of Uncertainty is an odd little treasure that juxtaposes our feelings of bewilderment of the human experience with moments of small joy that buoy us along and keep us going and then going some more.

What can I tell you? The realization that we are ALL (You, ME) going to die and the attending DISBELIEF – isn’t that the central premise of EVERYTHING? It stops me DEAD in my tracks a dozen times a day. Do you think I remain frozen? No. I spring into action. I find meaningful distraction.

Her paintings of sofas, marvellous hat and fruit bowls exude the joy that we often miss in life. This diary slash picture book muses on philosophers, writers, war and the meaning of life in a light, witty manner, using humour and surprise to explore our inherent confusion and incoherence in the face of death.

 

Kalman sees the beauty in the ordinary – a honey cake or an ice cream. She is curious and questioning. She follows old people not knowing how to help them. She keeps collections of postcards, candy bars and suitcases as a

Tangible evidence of history, memory. Longing, delight

She finds beauty in old sponges and great art and through her words and images conveys the essence of what it is to be human.

There is nothing illusory in this tiny heaven. I am silent with gratitude. I will go and bake a honey cake and that’s all

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Again, this isn’t a book for everyone, but it was for me. It is sweet, perhaps too sweet for many, but like a good box of chocolates it doesn’t have to be consumed all in one go but can be dipped into when you need a treat.

20 Books of Summer: 13/20

Number Read: 84

Number Remaining: 662

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16 thoughts on “Uncertainty and Whimsy, 20 Books continues…..

  1. Well The Principles of Uncertainty looks amazing what wonderful imagery.
    When #20booksofsummer I have drifted away from my list. I read 16 of the 20. Then began reading other things (so have read more than twenty since starting) but the 4 I have left will get read just not sure if they will be finished by beginning of September. I am a fickle reader these days.

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  2. Second book sounds “niche”. Oh dear, the first is exactly the type of book that annoys me and everyone else loves! You have to be very careful if you are to include authors as characters, and to invite comparison with the great GGM is perhaps inviting trouble – his fantasy worlds had a strong political grounding and purpose and were also I presume much more well done. (Well done for getting through both books!)

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    • I enjoyed The Principles of Uncertainty Denise, and I got through Light Boxes because it was really short! I did think the author was aiming for that kind of magic realism that GGM does so well, but he just didn’t get there…

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  3. Another book that inserts a struggling author (but it is only a small part of the whole novel) is called People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. It is a beautiful book, if anyone is interested in seeing metafiction done well.

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  4. Oh man, I loved The Principles of Uncertainty too! I love books that are basically picture books for adults–good illustration with commentary. This is possibly because I can’t draw at all myself. Kalman’s work is such a wonderful example of that sort of thing!

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