In response to numerous requests from authors, publishers and other book nerds, The Daily Herald has begun printing book reviews. Here is a small sampling.
“Hop on Pop,” by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1963, 64 pgs.) This surrealist tale winds and weaves through a dizzying canyon of consciousness, flitting from one topic to another with the precise, ordered randomness of James Joyce, while maintaining the vocabulary of the slow kid who creeps you out at Wal-Mart. Bizarre images like pups in cups and houses on mouses float past the eye, leading to a disturbing sequence in which two juveniles “hop on pop” — literally jumping violently upon their father’s belly without regard for the physical consequences. Later, Mr. Brown is bounced out of town, only to come back with Mr. Black — an extraordinary turn of events, given the political climate in which Seuss wrote. It is difficult to find meaning in this jumbled, flawed bricolage of excesses, but those who make the extra effort will come away immensely satisfied. A-
“Old Hat New Hat,” by Stan and Jan Berenstain (Random House, 1970, 27 pgs.) A disappointing attempt to endow haberdashery with nuance, this worthless book belabors what points it does have to the point of tedium, and ignores other possible avenues that would have provoked thought. A young bear-like creature desires a new hat to replace his old, tattered one, but a trip to a hat store proves fruitless as he rejects every single item placed before him. What could have been a marvelous lesson on the consequences of pickiness, or on the dangers of allowing bears to shop in department stores, instead becomes a jejune, lifeless squandering of 27 precious pages. A “surprise” ending in which the bear-boy decides his old hat was best after all is predictable and pointless. D
“Come over to My House,” by Theo. LeSieg and Richard Erdoes (Random House, 1966, 63 pgs.) Despite the alluring title, “Come over to My House” proves to be a harmless bore, the sort of book one forgets instantly upon finishing the reading of it. Its message? That different sorts of people live in different sorts of houses. Brilliant, Mssrs. LeSieg and Erdoes! You have astounded the logicians with your bold assertions. Next time, find something less obvious to write about, like the sky being blue or grass being green. C-
“The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1957, 61 pgs.) Rarely, if ever, has a more chilling story of youthful disobedience and wanton feline malevolence forced its way onto the pages of a book. Here is a tale that will curdle the blood, a tale of children harassed endlessly by a pervicacious tabby hell-bent on ruining their relationship with their mother. The children — young and unsupervised — live in terror of their unseen mother, who is evidently a cruel taskmaster who will not be at all pleased to find the children have had fun in her absence. The titular cat causes disturbances, makes messes, and introduces two androgynous forms called Thing One and Thing Two into the home. When the children’s pet fish admonishes the cat to leave, the cat humiliates the fish with reckless fury, all the while urging the children not to tell their mother than any of it ever happened. “It will just be our little secret” is the cat’s creepy, subtextual message. For good old-fashioned nightmare fuel, you cannot beat “The Cat in the Hat.” A+
It just seemed like fun, that's all. Plus, I had these books lying around the house anyway. Might as well put them to good use.
I believe the phrase "good old-fashioned nightmare fuel" is from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" in reference to some movie or other.
The inside joke with myself in this column is that the Daily Herald really had been getting requests to start doing book reviews -- mostly from local authors, who wanted us to "review" (that is, provide free positive publicity for) their books. We didn't do it, though, because we lacked manpower and motivation.