human behavior

Recommended reading: The Book that Eats People

Posted in Recommended Reading, Reviews by humanb on October 24, 2009

The Book that Eats PeopleI’ve always been a fan of children’s books. They’re fantastic morality tales and character-building tools told in simple, powerful language with provocative illustrations. The best of them are works of art, really.

I don’t have children, but I’ve become even more fascinated by children’s books since my sister had two little girls. They’re delightful girls but like all children, their moral compasses still frantically swivel, uncertain and frequently pointing in suspect directions.

The elder (age 6) has a frightening talent for manipulation and artifice. She’s a gifted faker. The younger (age 3) is highly attuned to her own wants – the hell with yours – and is not above using a bit of physical violence to make her point. My sister calls her a sociopath. In jest, of course.

The elder also went through a phase where she was obsessed with the morbid. I use to worry that it wasn’t normal for a child to be so fascinated by death and the means to get there. And since TV went to multiple 24 hour children’s channels on cable, both girls have become less interested in reading.

Enter the aunt. I periodically browse the children’s sections of Sydney book stores looking for interesting books for the girls that may not be available in Virginia. When I bring presents to the girls, the elder often flatly declares before a gift is even unwrapped “It’s a book.” I’ve dutifully sent them various books on Australian animals and the like, and some that feature Australia’s cruder, more irreverent humor. One such book with a scatological focus was deemed too crass for their American sensibilities, but it was pretty funny. The Australian sales clerk who sold me the book, a middle-aged woman, had assured me that it was appropriate and very popular with mothers, but she also cautioned that its Aussie humor may not go down well in America. She was right. It has joined a collection of books held by their grandmother in the “restricted section” of her bedroom closet.

My latest find is a real gem though.

bookeatsflap2It’s called The Book that Eats People and it’s wonderfully morbid and scary. I thought it was the perfect book to give a child with morbid fascinations to get her interested in reading again. I thought this book would illustrate that reading doesn’t have to be boring. Who wants to read about mom’s trip to the grocery store, or Sally’s visit to the bloody dentist? Let’s read about a book that eats little children and spits out their bones. Let’s read about a book that never gets caught. Forget honesty and tolerance. Let’s read about unadulterated gluttony, greed and evil, embodied in a book that eats people.

I’m very interested in the moral and character development of children. And I’m confused and fascinated by how some people manage to raise decent, intellectually curious, and well-adjusted children. How do they do it? Maybe a child doesn’t build character by just being told what is right, or by being told, “There are bad consequences if you don’t do what is right, so do it“. Maybe a child needs to see what is wrong too. Maybe they need to make their own judgments for their sense of right and wrong to really stick.

I’m not too sure about this book. I think it’s bloody brilliant; but I can laugh about the kids being eaten whole because I’m at a developmental stage where I think children being harmed in the real world is the most horrific crime imaginable. But should a 6-year-old laugh about it?

The book is also pretty scary. The point of buying the book was to get the girls excited about reading again, and a little less inclined to turn on Hannah Montana when they’re bored. The last thing I want is to make them afraid of books. But I wouldn’t mind their coming to appreciate their power.

The Book that Eats People by John Perry, illustrations by Mark Fearing

5 out of 5 stars

Elsewhere: The infamous book that eats people has a Facebook page.

Advertisements

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. John Perry said, on October 26, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for writing about “The Book That Eats People.”
    I’m glad you found it in a bookstore in (of all places!) Sydney. Your nieces might well have had trouble finding it in a Virginian outlet since, to my increasing chagrin, it’s apparently quite hard for a book to get shelf space anywhere.

    Fundamentally “The Book That Eats People” is about the unparalleled power of books. While my book (it is, of course, very substantially Mark Fearing’s and Abigail Samoun’s–I don’t assume they endorse this interpretation) literally devours readers, the ideas in other books genuinely consume people in ways that are often subtle, frequently insidious and, sometimes, epochal.

    Anyone with a little reading can think of numerous examples of books that contain ideas and beauty that can profoundly alter the souls and minds of those who read them. Books called “Sacred” such as The Bible, The Koran, and the huckster Joseph Smith’s tome, fit the bill, as do works on economic theory such as Adam Smith’s “An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations” or Karl Marx’s works. An unwary, uncritical, youthful or credulous person can read any one of the above and conclude, unfortunately, “This is the only book I will ever need.” Worse, many of these people come to believe their favorite book is the only one anyone needs, the last-and-best Word on everything under the sun.

    When “The Book That Eats People” eats books in the reference section, it’s destroying some of its competitors.

    While “The Book That Eats People” is an awful, anthropophagous monster, the narration unequivocally recognizes it as such. “This is a bad book,” it says, and goes on to encourage the reader to grind or burn the book.

    Finally, as a father of two girls I couldn’t agree with you more that “children being harmed in the real world is the most horrific crime imaginable.” Think what dreadful, frightening tales are commonly rehearsed to children in the interest of “moral instruction”: Noah’s Ark describes the destruction of all humanity by an angry God; the Hebrews escape from servitude after God’s Angel of Death kills all the first-born of Egypt, to cite a couple. I’m happy to say that Sammy, Victoria, Isabel, Joey and Juan are safe and whole in their absurd, imaginary, cartoon world.

    Thanks again, whoever you are, for your thoughts. Good luck with your nieces. Mostly I hope kids just get some big laughs and fun from “The Book That Eats People.”

    Yerz,
    John Perry

    • humanb said, on October 26, 2009 at 5:44 pm

      Thanks so much for you reply John. What a treat to have the author’s perspective.

      You wrote:

      * * *

      “An unwary, uncritical, youthful or credulous person can read any one of the above and conclude, unfortunately, “This is the only book I will ever need.” Worse, many of these people come to believe their favorite book is the only one anyone needs, the last-and-best Word on everything under the sun.

      When “The Book That Eats People” eats books in the reference section, it’s destroying some of its competitors.”

      * * *

      I am thrilled to learn a bit more here about the underlying message of the book that can consume us (for better or worse). Just wonderful.

      I don’t know if the book is available in the mainstream book store chains here in Sydney. I picked it up in the Picture Books section of Sydney’s most comprehensive, truly international bookstore, Kinokuniya (www.kinokuniya.com). There were a few copies.

      Good luck with the book! I can’t wait to see my nieces’ reaction to it at Christmas. And thanks for giving me some big laughs and fun.

      Cheers,

      humanb

  2. […] Here’s a link to the review at human behavior. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: