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Posts Tagged ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’

‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ at Fifty

October 31, 2011 | by

'The Phantom Tollbooth' by Norton Juster turns fifty.

Even the most confident of writers can be excused for wondering if words, mere black-and-white glyphs, can compete in a world filled with ever more animated, flashing, full-color, special-effects-crammed and interactive visual media. At such times, it’s helpful to remember a passage from Norton Juster’s children’s novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, describing a visit by the hero, Milo, to the archives of the Soundkeeper in the Lands Beyond.

The Soundkeeper boasts that her vaults contain “every sound that’s ever been made in history.” To prove it, she opens a drawer and pulls out “a small brown envelope,” explaining that it contains “the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777.” Milo, Juster writes, “peered into the envelope and, sure enough, that’s exactly what was in it.” The narrative moves briskly on.

Like much of the best fiction for children, this scene illustrates how writing well consists not only of knowing what to put in, but also of knowing what to leave out. Read More »


A Week in Culture: Matthew Specktor, Writer and Editor, Part 2

May 26, 2011 | by

This is the second installment of Specktor’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

Photography by Lisa Jane Persky.


8:30 A.M. Breakfast, and a chunk of The Pale King.

11:40 A.M. I meet up with The Los Angeles Review of Books’ splendid poetry editor, Ms. Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Knowing her is even better than saying her name, which you could, if you wanted, skip rope to. We talk about Fairport Convention, Vietnam metaphors, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Joe Boyd, Frank Bidart, Richard Howard, and Led Zeppelin. (Always, Led Zeppelin!) We eat soup. I walk away feeling the way I always do after talking with Gaby, namely that I got the better half of the bargain.

3:20 P.M. Nicolas Jaar, and a nap. My draft of Zeroville is very nearly almost done, and I’ve gotten my licks in on a few more LARB essays. I feel semijustified in caving in to fever, and so, do.

8:15 P.M. I find myself standing in an intolerably humid Skylight Books, listening to an invisible Bret Easton Ellis—he’s somewhere up there, obstructed by the mob—read from Imperial Bedrooms. He then answers questions about The Hills, Glee, Twitter, screenwriting, loneliness. Just about everything except books. He’s charming, patient, funny, articulate, and reminds me how odd it can be when the reality of an author—or of anything—gets eclipsed by reputation. Lethem has a piece in his forthcoming Ecstasy of Influence in which he argues that notoriety is the only form of postwar American literary fame. He’s persuasive, dividing fame from regard among readers and suggesting that knife fights (Mailer), feuds (Vidal), and censorship (Nabokov, Ellis) are the royal road to visibility. Maybe. But this place is packed, largely with people half my age who are carrying thoroughly destroyed–looking Vintage editions of Ellis’s older books. Someone’s reading him, and that’s a good thing, regardless of what strains they’re locating in his work. A stray tweet I read later refers to “being here with other weirdos waiting to hear Bret Easton Ellis read.” I take that as proof positive that literature has not nearly outlived its use.

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