The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

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Preview on Amazon Kindle

I love the movie The Wizard of Oz. When I was 4 years old, my mom got me a copy of the movie on VHS, but when I put it in the VCR (I feel so old!), the tape was nothing but squiggles. Somehow the tape had become corrupted, and I was devastated. We went back to the store to exchange it, and the store clerk sadly told me that they didn’t have any other copies but that I could pick out any other movie I wanted. Well, I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I took my little brother, and we marched up every aisle, looking behind every movie, because I knew there had to be another copy hidden there somewhere. And our hard work paid off — I found a copy of the special 50th anniversary commemorative edition. It had a booklet on the front cover talking about how the movie was made, and it had a beautiful close-up picture of Dorothy’s red sequined shoes. I was in heaven. I must have watched that tape over and over and over. I flipped through the booklet so often that within a few years, it was in tatters. Even though I haven’t used a VCR in years, that’s probably still one of the most used presents I’ve ever received.

So it was only natural that I would want to read the original story. As a child, the book didn’t compare to the movie. There was no singing, dancing, or magical transition from black-and-white to color. And they got some of the details wrong — Dorothy’s shoes are supposed to be red, not silver, and Miss Gulch is supposed to scare Toto in the beginning and become the Wicked Witch of the West.

As an adult, however, I enjoy reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz every now and then. The movie follows the book loosely, with a few of the lines in the movie taken directly out of the book. And the book has a darkness and morality that is reminiscent of the Grimm fairy tales. (The Tin Man became the Tin Man because the Wicked Witch of the West enchanted his ax to basically hack his body apart.) But it’s still so whimsical that I guess you can consider it a children’s story. The other Oz books aren’t as captivating to me as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is. But perhaps I’m biased.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: A little

You might also likeThe Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster; Coraline, by Neil Gaiman; Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

 

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The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in 1890, and in true Wilde fashion, it provides a critical (and often stinging) portrait of British society at the turn of the century. Because I am not very familiar with British politics and pop culture from the late 1800’s, many of the references are lost on me. However, I feel like many of Wilde’s critical remarks could be made today. His characters are vain, petty, immoral, and silly. They elevate things of little importance and ridicule that which is of most importance. They are obsessed with beauty and art and themselves. One only has to browse social media for a few minutes to realize that we are much the same today. Just like the characters Wilde has created, we are trying to stop the hands of time to remain forever young and beautiful. Our pop culture icons seem more important than the ugly tragedies taking place throughout the world. And the lives of our pop culture icons (often truly tragic) are seen as a form of entertainment. Wilde’s satirical society has, unfortunately, become reality. Although I prefer Wilde as a playwright, his novel is one that could easily be adapted to today’s time and not much would be lost.

 

The first half of this book is a bit tedious, as it is mostly social commentary with references that I didn’t always understand. The story that we are most familiar with (the aging of Gray’s portrait) really picks up in the last half of the book.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Very, very mild

You might also likeAmerican Gods, by Neil Gaiman; The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende; Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky