Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sorry, Charlie!

I didn't read correctly as a child. Wait, wait! I knew perfectly well how to read. I just didn't follow conventional developmental patterns in my reading. I've probably mentioned this. The main reason for this was that I had no one to suggest books to me. Neither of my parents were readers. In fact, I don't think my father has ever read a book, and I know my brother has never completed a book, not even for school. My mom reads occasionally, but she's not a "reader" nor did she grow up spending a lot of time reading. I'm somewhat of an aberration, since how much a child reads is almost always determined by how much the parents read and how much encouragement they give the child in reading. But I started reading early. Before kindergarten. I just didn't know what I was supposed to be reading.

I started out reading science books. Non-fiction. Yes, I'm serious. I was into dinosaurs, so that's where I started. In fact, in 1st grade I got accused (by my teacher!) of making up the word paleontologist when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. She made me go to the board and spell it for her. Because, you know, if I could spell it, somehow, that meant I hadn't made it up. No, I don't really follow the logic, either, but there you have it. I spent the first few years of my schooling reading texts about dinosaurs and astronomy, mostly. I branched into history next. I was in 4th grade before I really discovered fiction. The Hardy Boys. By that time, some school counselor or something had told my mom that I had some kind developmental delay in reading, because I wasn't reading what other kids my age read.

And I still haven't read a lot of those books. I just didn't know about them. Make a list of books you read and loved as a child, and I would bet I haven't read most of them. Some of them, I may not have even heard of. My wife, after more than a dozen years of marriage, still reacts with shock and dismay when she mentions books she read and loved as a kid that I've never read. Like The Wizard of Oz. The Edward Eager books. The Phantom Tollbooth. Of course, I've been trying to correct some of these oversights, and I have to say, if you haven't read it, go, right now, and get Tollbooth. It's awesome!

To make this even more clear, I loved, loved, loved Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (this being the movie, not the book) when I was a kid. I still adore that movie. Gene Wilder is amazing. As much as I love Johnny Depp, he will never come close to Gene Wilder as Wonka for me. In fact, I really don't much like Burton's movie version of the book. Here's the thing, I grew up thinking that that was just a movie. I had no idea that there was a book, and I was, probably, in my 20s before I even heard of Roald Dahl. After all, he's not exactly high school reading.

Last year, my younger son had to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for school. That was 3rd grade. I just want to point out, that I didn't have to any read any books for school until I was in, oh, 5th or 6th grade, when we started having to do book reports, and we got to choose the books. My kids started getting books assigned in 2nd grade. I don't know if this a difference caused by evolution in the wider school system or if it's because I live in California, now, and not Louisiana (not exactly known for its stellar educational system). At any rate, I remembered, at that point, that I'd never read a Dahl book and decided that I should fix that. I ordered both of the Charlie books.

I finally got around to reading them, recently. I was disappointed. And I was disappointed that I was disappointed. I went into it fully expecting the like the heck out of the books. I mean, I loved the movie! I'm not sure there's been any other movie from a book where I've liked the movie and not the book. It's unprecedented. The cliche response is always, "The book was better." But not this time. I should have whizzed through the 150 pages of chocolate factory, but I disenjoyed it so much that it actually took me two weeks to read it. I felt bad about it, too. And my son... well, my son is still in disbelief that I didn't like the book. Maybe, I shouldn't have told him? However, I did know enough to know that my daughter, our not-reader, would like it and passed it on to her, and she did like it, so that was good.

I've tried to reconcile this whole issue of not liking the book. Maybe, it's just because I'm an adult, now, that it didn't click for me. That's totally possible, although I haven't had that issue with other books. I still love Narnia, after all. So, I thought, maybe the movie just got in the way for me. Because I love the movie. Have I mentioned that? I still do. But, really, the movie is not exactly the book, and, maybe, I just wasn't liking it because it didn't mesh for me. I thought, I'll read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and that will be better, because I won't have any false expectations for that one.

I didn't like it either. I felt really bad. Part of that one, though, is that it takes place, mostly, in space. What? That's not where Charlie belongs. I couldn't come to grips with that. We've gone from a book about a magical chocolate factory to an adventure in space? I'll say it again: What!?!? But it goes beyond that. I really just don't enjoy Dahl's style. It's too... sporadic, for lack of a better term, for me. He seems to have the attention span of a teenager in the way he writes. I couldn't deal. Glass Elevator also dragged for me and took much longer to read than it should have.

My wife, also, can't believe that I don't like the books. But I can't help it. I'm fairly certain I won't try any more Dahl.

Now, I'm not saying that there weren't clever bits of writing in there or even that I may not have chuckled once or twice, but the books just didn't take hold in me. I'm glad my kids like them, though. Maybe, if I'd followed a more conventional reading path as a child, things would be different, but I can't say I'm sorry for the path I took. Although, I do wish I'd had someone along with me that could have said to me, "Hey, why don't you try this? I think you'll like it." I could have augmented the path I took if I'd had someone there to do that. More than anything else, I try to be that person for my kids.


  1. I will agree with you that I love the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory way better then the book or the Johnny Depp version of the movie....maybe its the awesome songs?? Both of my children are huge readers although my son did have some trouble with reading and saw a specialist at his school in first and second grade but he loves to read and that has helped him alot. My husband has never read a book that was not an instructional manual or some sort of teaching text. I find it strange. I am going to go eat some chocolate now! Thanks

  2. There's no earthly way of knowing, which direction we are going...

    That is my favorite movie EVER. I agree, the book is not as enjoyable as the movie. I read somewhere that Roald Dahl hated the movie with a fiery passion, too. Go figure. Don't give up on Dahl though! Try reading Matilda (skip the movie), The Twits or James and the Giant Peach.

  3. Oh goodness. I was the same way with movies. I still haven't seen "Star Wars." It took me years to finally see "Mary Poppins" in its entirety. I think I was just too busy reading!

    Will go check out "The Phantom Tollbooth." That's one I missed, too. Was re-reading "Little House on the Prairie" series for about the fifteenth time instead :)

  4. Tagged you in a post. Check it out!

  5. Jennifer: The songs definitely are awesome. And so much better than the ones in the book. The chocolate factory in the movie seems like such a magical place to me, unlike the one in the book.

    Rachel: Yes, Dahl didn't like the movie, and his family was much more pleased with the Burton/Depp version than the Wilder version. Maybe, one day, I'll try some other Dahl, but I don't think it will be any time soon.

    Bess: You know, if you didn't live 3000 miles away, you might be being forced to see Star Wars very soon. :)
    I still haven't read the Little House books, although I did grow up watching the TV show. I watched waaay too much TV as a kid.
    Read The Phantom Tollbooth! It's incredible!
    And thanks for the tag, I will try to get to that this weekend. :)

  6. I'm in the same boat with not having read books for kids as a kid. My parents were readers and suggested books, and I loved the books they suggested, but I was just far more fascinated with their bookshelves than mine.

  7. I never really cared for Dahl either. Some great lines, but the books just fall flat for me. They were also some of the few I tried to read to my son when he was younger that he didn't care for. He was much more interested in me reading him something like Coraline.

    I have the same experience with my son's school work here in VA vs. what I remember in Louisiana. He's in 4th grade, and they are doing some serious pre-algebra in math. I'm pretty sure we didn't do that when I was in school... Never sure whether it's the different state, or just different times.

  8. Shannon: It's kind of funny, actually, because I never suggest "age appropriate" reading for my kids. My daughter, who just finished 2nd grade, reads it anyway, and I'm glad that she does, because she's the one we have to make read, but I'm always pushing my kids to read books of more substance.

    Sarah: Coraline was great. I haven't been able to get my kids to read it, though, after we saw the movie. My daughter was too creeped out, and both of my sons gave it a pass. Have you looked The Graveyard Book? That may be one of Gaiman's best.