Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's no Hugo Cabret, but ...

... Brian Selznick's Wonderstruck is a warm and entertaining book.

It's written in the same style as Hugo Cabret: neither graphic novel nor ordinary prose, it's something in between, with the book's story interspersed between the author's own pencil drawings. The book is doubly-spun, for it tells two inter-related stories, 70 years separated, as it goes.

Although the book touches many subjects, I was particularly drawn to its observations about how we organize our knowledge, whether it be in museums, atlases, and libraries, or just in the spaces we inhabit.

In a way, anyone who collects things in the privacy of his own home is a curator. Simply choosing how to display your things, deciding what pictures to hang where, and in which order your books belong, places you in the same category as a museum curator.

The urge to collect, to organize, and to understand is so universal; it provides a delightful underlying motif in the book.

He noticed a discarded map of the museum next to the sink. He unfolded it and read the names of the halls: Meteorites, Gems and Minerals, Man in Africa, Northwest Coast Indians, Biology of Birds, Small Mammals, Earth History. Like his mom's library, the entire universe was here, organized and waiting.

Selznick particularly captures the plight of the young mind, exposed to so much knowledge, trying to drink it all in:

Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you'd be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad.

Of course, your dad isn't cataloged in a library anywhere; some things we each discover on our own.

What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house, and his books, and the secret room, he realized he'd already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.

If you've got a young reader, just setting forth on his own voyage of discovery and knowledge, reading and exploring and collecting and questioning, I think the two of you will very much enjoy reading Wonderstruck together.

No comments:

Post a Comment