The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster and Leonard S. Marcus

The Annotated Phantom TollboothI’m sure I’ve mentioned it a million times (most recently), but The Phantom Tollbooth is my favorite book in the history of ever. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely the book I’ve read the most and that I will continue to re-read on an irregular basis until I die. Every time I read it I get a little happier in my heart.

So when this giant annotated edition showed up unexpectedly in the cataloging department, I was like, “MINE GIMME.” And then had to wait several days while it was, you know, cataloged and processed and sent to the library and whatever, I want my book. And then I got it, and I opened it, and I started reading it, and then it was like learning and I fell asleep. Literally. Several times over the course of reading this book.

Which is weird, because I really did like the foreword, in which I learned, among many other things, that Norton Juster was kind of a jerk back in the day and may or may not have created a secret society whose sole purpose was to reject people from said secret society. Which is the sort of awesome thing I would do if I were kind of a jerk. And I quite enjoyed the annotations, most of which were along the lines of “Here’s what this part of the story is based on” and “Here’s what this illustration could have looked like” and “Did you know this really cool etymological fact?” I did not, but now I do!

I think my problem with the annotations, as with any annotated book or commentary-ed DVD, is that it’s difficult for me to do two things at once, e.g. read the story and learn things about it. So I would find myself spending too much time in the margins and forgetting what was going on in the story, or getting lost in the story and having to backtrack to the annotations. But it was totally worth it for the knowledge that some of the weirder characters and places in the story were invented by Juster just to mess with Jules Feiffer, his friend and illustrator. It really makes a lot of sense.

Recommendation: I would definitely not recommend this for your first experience with my beloved Tollbooth, but if you’ve got a reading or two under your belt I think you’ll find a lot to interest you here.

Rating: 8/10

p.s. Happy Pi Day! This seems like a pretty appropriate book to read today, if you haven’t got other plans…


The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster (10 July — 11 July)

So back in the day, I was a big nerd. “Just back in the day?”, I hear you saying, and you are right. But! Nonetheless. Big nerd. As part of my nerdiness, I did things like memorize state capitals and dichotomous keys (the latter has not stayed with me, sadly) found in my Childcraft encyclopedia/instructive books set. Did you have such a set? Because these books were awesome. And one of them, the one focused on math, included an excerpt from The Phantom Tollbooth, wherein Milo meets the Dodecahedron. I knew right away (at what, eight years old?) that I needed to find this book immediately. It’s been my favorite children’s book ever since.

For those of you who didn’t have Childcraft and/or were not interested in nerdy books as a child, The Phantom Tollbooth is the story of a kid called Milo who is just bored with life. I’ll let the author explain:

“When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he’d bothered. Nothing really interested him—least of all the things that should have.”

One day Milo arrived home, bored, to discover a curious package in his living room. Again, let’s let Juster set the scene:

“Who could possibly have left such an enormous package and such a strange one? For, while it was not quite square, it was definitely not round, and for its size it was larger than almost any other big package of smaller dimension that he’d ever seen.”

And it goes on from there. The package is the titular tollbooth, and Milo drives his toy car past it and into a land where all of our idiomatic expressions are taken literally (e.g. Milo jumps to conclusions about his trip and finds himself jumping to an island called Conclusions from which he must swim back) and there is a bit of a feud between math and language. Milo, with his companions Tock the watchdog (a dog with a clock for a torso) and the Humbug (who has a predilection for the number seventeen that I’ve long since assimilated), finds himself volunteering to end this feud by way of a perilous journey to the Castle in the Air, where the princesses Rhyme and Reason have been imprisoned for far too long.

Basically, it’s an adventure book with a great message for kids (knowledge, all of it, is important) and sly references for the adults reading it to them. The illustrations are cute, too.

Rating: 9/10
(Summer Lovin’ Challenge)