What I straight-facedly refer to as the organized mess of my room has reached its zenith. There are so many stacks of books on the floor I can no longer reach my closet. As I stated in The Books Of My Childhood post, I’m completely reorganizing my bookshelves at the moment. But the real reason I’m undertaking this with such zeal is that I’m trying to unearth certain books from my youth. Last time I managed to uncover the novels that really made me want to read outside of school. But initially I had intended to look for something far more ancient, far more elusive. What the hell happened to the books my parents read to me in my early childhood? I’m talking about All the Mowgli Stories by Rudyard Kipling and Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. I have a distinct memory as a child reading Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile to my younger brother at his bedside. It’s my earliest memory of getting someone a birthday present, and my parents thought it would be real swell if I read it to him myself. But there’s one book in particular I’m hunting- or series of books rather. Since my return from Texas I’ve been trying to locate The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. They’re a series of Steampunk/High Fantasy adventure novels made in beautiful hardbacks. They’re fantastic to look at, let alone read. The artwork and world maps stand out as the most imaginative I think I have ever seen in fiction.
But why am I searching for The Edge Chronicles? They don’t just represent a bridge to my own childhood- something lost in the haze of memory- but they represent a bridge to the childhood of my roommate Aaron. It’s an endless source of interest to me that my friends from the USA, growing up in a small, Midwestern town halfway across the world, seem to have enjoyed many of the same things I did as a kid. Aaron, Anne-Marie, and their siblings are all familiar with The Series of Unfortunate Events which I detailed as being so significant to my childhood in last week’s post. They played the Spyro games on Playstation 1 and the Pokemon games on Gameboy Color. Aaron, in particular, is chasing after his own nostalgia. This summer we made many trips to our local second-hand bookstore where he sought after any Edge books he didn’t yet have. I can’t think of a more beautiful set of books to collect.
Regular readers of TumbleweedWrites will know by now that nostalgia is something of an obsession for me. Not just my own nostalgia, but that of others. Whenever I’m at Aaron or Anne-Marie’s parents’ houses I’m always after yearbooks, family photos, senior photos, family trees. I like the idea that the books we read tell us something about ourselves, and that by reading the childhood favorites of my roommates, I can form a deeper connection to them. Earlier this year I finally got around to reading Our Only May Amelia– a treasured book from Elizabeth’s childhood. But that was actually not the first childhood book of my Americans that I have read. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally ready to blog about my amazing experience reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
In the summer of 2015 my roommates and I were living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I was obsessed with post-apocalyptic settings; I’d just watched the film adaptation of The Road, and played the video game Fallout: New Vegas. Knowing that it was in vogue with me, Anne-Marie asked if I had ever read The Giver. I hadn’t. She went on to tell me that it was one of her favorite childhood books, and I was intrigued by the reverence in her voice. Months later, Aaron was showing me his and Anne-Marie’s bookcase and encouraged me to borrow a book. I liked the idea of sharing books with friends and discussing them. Before I flew home, I asked if I could borrow The Giver. Aaron said yes, but that “if you fail to return it, Anne-Marie will slit your throat”. I tried not to focus on the image of my bloody demise and instead marveled at the book’s importance to them.
I took it home and read it. It’s an important book in my expanding literary tastes, and perhaps the one I point to as the novel that has made me less selective as a reader. It was my first real foray into the genre of Young Adult Fiction. After years of reading slow, meditative modern classics and experimental fiction, this was the first time in years I got to read a real page-turner. I fell in love with Lowry’s writing style. I found that I was thinking about the book when I was not reading it. It was such an intriguing concept- this society starved of emotional depth. The experience of reading it was exhilarating and electrifying- as opposed to studious. It is a novel that echoes the philosophical depth of Fahrenheit 451, but which is accessible for younger readers, and with the mystery and pace of The Chamber of Secrets (my favorite Potter book).
In short, the novel is about a dystopian society founded on the elimination of suffering. When kids reach the age of 12, they are assigned a role in the community at a special ceremony. The book’s protagonist is Jonas, a curious lad who gets chosen for a unique position within the society- The Receiver of Memory. From there, he is tutored by an old man known as The Giver, who is responsible for all the memories of society before it converted to Sameness. It reminded me a lot of Bran’s relationship with the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones, so just imagine a whole book based around that. It’s definitely darker than something like Harry Potter, but the darker aspects are more suggested and secretive than outright gory. Sure, there are themes of infanticide, but if this was Our Only May Amelia the mothers would be throttling the babies with their own disembodied intestines. Probably.
I definitely recommend this book for all those who haven’t read it. It seems to be a Middle School classic in the United States, but so far I haven’t found anyone in the U.K who has heard of it. I know there’s a movie out but I haven’t seen it yet. Should I? Is it a good watch or is it a complete turkey? Let me know in the comments, because I’m curious.
So there we have it, my long-awaited post on The Giver. I felt the time was right, given that I had just blogged about the books of my own childhood, that now I would explore the childhood of my friends. Thanks for reading!