Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, 608 pp, RL 4
So, Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick has been sitting on my bookshelf for almost 5 years now, looking super cool (as seen above) as it sits between The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was one of the first books I reviewed when I started this blog in 2008, and The Marvels, which I reviewed when it came out in September of last year. I have no idea why I never read it, but I finally got around to reading Wonderstruck for a handful of reasons. It's required summer reading for my son, who enters sixth grade in the fall. My brother read it out loud to his kids at dinner and, serendipitously, they encountered the film crew for the movie version of Wonderstruck, directed by Todd Haynes while on vacation in NYC this summer and one of the cast signed with my brother. Knowing that my son has to read this book, my brother and niece and nephew enjoyed it and that it is soon to be a movie directed by Todd Haynes (I wonder if the fact that Selznick has Hollywood heritage allows him to score prime directors for adaptations of his books?) was all the nudge that I needed to read it. And OF COURSE I loved it.
Seeing as how this is a very well known, well reviewed book, I don't feel like a traditional review is merited here so I'm going to do something a little different. Museums are a major part of Wonderstruck, which is also the name of a book within this book - a fictional book published by the American Museum Natural History about museums and curation. The main character Ben has a wooden box with a engraving of a wolf on the lid, which he comes to think of as his museum box. Inside the box, Ben has crafted cardboard dividers to house the small treasures he collected over the course of his life, which he has arranged with great care. Ben's story begins in 1977 and is told in text only for the first half of the book. In tandem with Ben's plot is the story of Rose, which begins in 1927 and unfolds in illustrations only for the first half of the book. At first, the only thing Ben and Rose seem to have in common is their deafness. But, like I said, museums have a big role in this book and when their stories collide you feel, well, wonderstruck. With that in mind, I have"curated" these collages filled with images, illustrations and other items that make up the exhibit that is the novel and film (coming in 2017) Wonderstruck.
Ben remembered reading about curators in Wonderstruck, and thought about what it meant to curate your own life, as his dad had done here. What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go into your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house and his books, and the secret room, he realized he'd already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.
(Wonderstruck, page 574)
As with all Brian Selznick books, the acknowledgements and author's notes are almost a story unto themselves. Selznick is a curator, a researcher, an autodidact and a scholar of whatever subject he pursues, and it is always amazing to me to read the many areas that he studied, places he visited and people he interviewed while writing a book. Near the end of his acknowledgements, after listing all the people, places and things that influenced, informed and educated him, I was very pleased to find this nod from Selznick, as this was a book I thought of often while reading Wonderstruck, "Of course, any story about kids who run away to a museum owes a debt of gratitude to E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. In order to pay back that debt, Wonderstruck is filled with references to Konigsburg and her book. How many can you spot?" I am going to have to go back and reread Wonderstruck, as I only found three nods. E. L. stands for Elaine Lobl, Konigsburg's maiden name. Selznick gives the main character's mother the name Elaine and his father the surname Lobel. A character in the book is named Jamie, which is also the name of one of the main characters in Konigsburg's Newbery winning book. If you find any, be sure to let me know!