17 May 2006

Whales on Stilts...Whales on Stilts

M. T. Anderson's Whales on Stilts is a fun read. With that title, how could it not be? But I deliberately call it a "read" rather than, say, a mere "book" because the act of reading seems foundational to the universe underlying this story.

The heroine has two close friends who both seem to have burst out of series fiction. Jasper Dash is Tom Swift a century too late, his attitude still heroic but his idea of the latest technology leaning toward copper pipes riveted together. Katie Mulligan lives in a spine-tingling neighborhood of the sort we visit via Fear Street; Harcourt editors even follow her around to ensure none of her hair-raising adventures is lost to commerce. (That's not how real editors work, as Anderson well knows, but it's how sitcom watchers think real editors work, so no harm done.)

Toward the end of the book there's a remark about how important the kids' friendship is, but I don't buy it. This book strikes me as less about friendship than about the solitary pleasure of reading series books. Especially in summer, when you're away from home and homework, and rain is dripping off the trees or the pool's too crowded, and you find a whole shelf of Tom Swift with the cloth covers and the strange racist characterizations, or Three Investigators, or Goosebumps,
or even Reader's Digest. Their slightly pulpy, slightly moldy smell beckons. You have no idea many eyes have read them before you, but you know that for the next several hours, or days, they're your private universe. You can immerse yourself in their little worlds and never get in over your head.

Anderson's previous novel, The Game of Sunken Places, also seems to reflect a fondness for past generations' series books. So my next question is, will Whales on Stilts become a series?


Amanda said...

The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen : M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales (M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales) (Hardcover)
by M. T. Anderson, Kurt Cyrus (Illustrator)

I believe the book comes out in June--my son and I enjoyed the literature circle questions at the end of Whales on Stilts as they prompted us to make up our own based on the books he had to read that year in class.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the heads-up about Lederhosen!

Your comment reminded me of another way Whales on Stilts is a book about books. Thanks again.

a Fly on the Wall said...

Actually, there will be two more books in the series (says the editor who signed the books up and edited the first).

J. L. Bell said...

Always good to hear the word from Elf Boy.