Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things That Aren’t as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn’t Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out
Edited by Ted Thompson with Eli Horowitz
Yes, you read that right — The title of this book really is 52 words long. Much of the McSweeney’s stable delights in the strange, and this collection of short stories takes it to the level of unconventional tall tale. Even the dust jacket is a little bit different. On the inside is the beginning of a short story by Lemony Snicket, and readers were invited to finish it, fold up the jacket, slap a couple stamps on it and send it in. The winner was picked some time in 2006, with their story published in a later book. I love the idea of encouraging creativity in an unusual way, and I love that the proceeds from this book benefit the tutoring center 826NYC.
However, I didn’t necessarily love this book. I didn’t dislike it, but I was glad that it was a quick read. In a way, the book seems better suited towards late-elementary or middle school-aged kids. The stories have peril, but not in an overly adult way. Much of the stories are from a kid’s point of view.
Somewhat predictably, the ones I enjoyed more were ones by authors I’d already read. Nick Hornby, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Safran Foer have good contributions with “Small Country,” “Sunbird,” and “The Sixth Borough.”
Anyone who has attended college might award Gaiman the best quote in the book: “‘I am an academic,’ said Professor Mandalay, ‘and thus have no finely developed senses that would be comprehensible to anyone who has not ever needed to grade papers without actually reading the blessed things.’”
The two contributions that surprised me? “Grimble,” a 1968 story by Clement Freud, and “The ACES Phone” by Jeanne DuPrau. “Grimble” told the tale of a boy whose parents suddenly leave for Peru, but leave him a series of detailed notes on how to get by while they’re gone. The premise seems simple — as most of the plots in this book are — but it’s the one I enjoyed the most. “The ACES Phone” deals with a mysterious phone found in a park, and discovering the meaning behind the strange noises heard at the other end.
Enjoying this book likely comes down to personal taste. I’ll admit that I bought this book because it was on sale and had a ridiculous title that made me laugh, but I don’t typically read such whimsical, fantastical work. Still, it’s beneficial to stretch one’s reading wings now and then, and perhaps in a few years, I can pass the book along to one of my kids.
Book # 3/52
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read challenge, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. The challenge ends October 31, 2010.
This review also appeared on the Pajiba site itself on December 24, 2009.