18 June 2010

The Eiffel Tower

We all have our favorites. Pretty much my whole life, I've gone through phases where I become fixated on a particular piece of entertainment. A sudden interest in watching Fight Club, or High Fidelity. Putting an album like Cardinology or Is This It? on Repeat on my iPod. My wife does the same with individual songs. As a kid, it was always Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies for me, all the time.

Now, it's our son's turn. The Doozer gets fixated on a particular book and is often not satisfied until it has been read to him consecutively two, three, even four or five times. Treating us like his own personal iPod, hitting the Repeat function over and over again.

I suppose we should be thankful that the Doozer has turned out to be (at least initially) a connoisseur of literature. Of course, there have been occasions where my wife and I have wished to commit hara-kari, rather than slog through one of these tomes again. This proved particularly true of the condensed version of Rumplestiltskin we received from some no doubt well-intentioned individual who thought, "Oh, that's a classic." And perhaps it is in some circles, based upon different versions. But in some bizarre attempt to perhaps simplify the tale and make it more accessible to young, developing minds, it has become so truncated in this version as to be infuriatingly incomprehensible. And even by the standards of most folklore, replete as these stories are with all manner of fantastical elements, aspects of this story are so incredibly, utterly ludicrous as to be maddening when subjected to continuing scrutiny.

For instance, the princess just happens to be wandering through the woods at night and overhears him singing a song about himself and uttering his name aloud? Really? Not to mention the inexplicable climax of this tale ends up raising far more questions than it bothers to answer. He just disappears? I don't get it.

My wife and I routinely find ourselves questioning certain storytelling aspects of the other entertainments our son fixates upon, like episodes of Dora the Explorer, as well. It seems the standards of traditional storytelling logic are often severely reinterpreted (or just plain out-of-whack) when it comes to material aimed at children.

Certainly there are those obsessions of the Doozer I have learned to love in my own way. He has recently taken to clambering up onto my wife's desk chair, pointing at the computer, and demanding, "Watch . . . video . . . Elmo!" (The proper ordering of words in a sentence being a concept that is still, on occasion, out of his grasp.) Currently, he is fanatical about "A Song About Elmo," which I admit, I find hilarious and seriously clever, and that I've discovered myself singing even when alone, in the shower or driving the car, not remotely irritated by the fact that it appears to be stuck on a semi-permanent loop in my brain.

"I kissed Adam Sandler!"

"Okay . . . "

Unfortunately, the Doozer's current literary obsession falls to the far opposite end of the spectrum and, I'm afraid, may soon go the way of Rumplestiltskin, which my wife and I had to hide some months ago, lest we be forced to commit ritual suicide in order to avoid reading it one more time. Also, I must say I use the term "literary" very loosely here. This book is titled, simply, The Eiffel Tower and offers the historical highlights of said structure's design and creation. My wife got it when she was 10 and perhaps it is suitable for a child that age, although that remains debatable.

The Doozer's bookshelf is stocked with volumes such as these, from both of our existing collections, stretching back to our own childhoods. I have so far refrained from putting any Hunter S. Thompson works in front of him, but it's only a matter of time. He did, in fact, one day pull down a copy of The Rum Diary from our bookshelf and ask for it to be read aloud, which my wife dutifully did for a few minutes, taking care to avoid the words we wouldn't want him to repeat and he sat there silently entranced, hanging on every one of Thompson's words.


So, we don't exactly read him the Eiffel Tower book, per se, even though he does ask politely, "Read . . . Ife . . . Ter . . . book, please!" For one thing, it would take too long and for another, it is too advanced at this point. Not to mention the fact that we are staunch imperialists, xenophobic Americans who . . .

I'm kidding. But I do question the appropriateness of the book. My favorite part is the section about a man named Reichelt, an inventor taken in by some shady circus producers, who in December 1911 was convinced to jump off the tower, testing a special suit with wings that he had designed. He strapped on this "batman" costume, jumped, and promptly plummeted to his death. The section is made complete with a dynamic, colorful illustration of this grisly, tragic event. Throughout, the book's simple prose and colorful pictures would indicate that this is indeed a work for children, but this bit seems a little out of place.

If nothing else, we have been able to use this book to introduce a new word into the Doozer's vocabulary: cowboy. Apparently, Buffalo Bill Cody was a famous early visitor to the Eiffel Tower. Who knew?

What with all the words and the questionable content, we end up just showing him the pictures and asking him to tell us what he sees there. And so it seems the story of the Eiffel Tower can be summed up pretty succinctly, and thusly: "Statue of Liberty, pyramid, palm tree, horse, bumpy bridge, ladder, bucket, wheelbarrow, flag, umbrella, man have beard, elephant, bike, fireworks, hot coffee, cowboy." The End.

If only more history books were like that. Take note, David McCullough. Nobody needs your lengthy prose, meticulous research, and copious footnotes. This is a history so compelling, in fact, that the Doozer instantly requests that it be recounted to him again.

And repeat . . .

1 comment:

  1. love this. and Ruby loves her "Knuffle Bunny" book for sure!