Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


***Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages

selected by Harold Bloom

Reviewed November 3, 2001.
Scribner.  2001.  573 pages.  Available at Sembach Library.

This is under nonfiction, but it’s really a collection of fiction and poetry.

When I saw the title of this book, I laughed and simply had to order it for the library.  The fact is, I’ve always had a big peeve against books “for Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guides.”  Why should people have to insult themselves in order to read a clearly written guide for beginners?  And why, for that matter, are people so seemingly proud to call themselves dummies about computers?  Just because you are ignorant of the way some not-highly-skilled programmer has set up a program to work does not suddenly reduce your intelligence.  You may be ignorant in a subject, you may be a beginner.  That does not mean that you are a dummy.

Indeed, I did pick up a book for dummies at the library and looked at it.  The beginning is full of all the reasons why you are NOT a dummy just because you don’t know the information contained.  I knew that!  So why do they have to put it in the title?

Anyway, I have said for years that some day I’d like to write a book for Highly Intelligent People and see if it sells.  So I was delighted to learn that someone else had done it.  (Though it seems to be much more fashionable to insult yourself than to compliment yourself.)  If for no other reason, I had to check it out from the library so I could say to my sons, “Look, boys!  I found a book at the library that was written especially for YOU!”  Why tear people down in a title?  Why not build them up?

However, it does put me in a bit of a bind.  If I mention that the stories were a bit dry and used lots of big words, the obvious response is that, well, they are for extremely intelligent people.  Perhaps I am not extremely intelligent enough!  And, all in all, (I hasten to add) I did enjoy the stories.  This would be a fun book to own and dip into periodically, choosing several to read aloud to the family.  Trying to get it all read to turn back into the library was a bit of a job, though.

I do think it is a bit unfortunate that the word “children” was used in the title.  I think this book would be especially fun for teenage boys to read.  Indeed, the editor selected stories he enjoyed as a child.  However, what teenage boy would want to be caught with a book in his hands that says it’s for children?  Perhaps the “extremely intelligent” part would redeem it.  I think that my 13-year-old extremely intelligent son would love some of these stories.

However, not all the stories are for all ages.  A large percentage of the stories are vaguely disturbing, in a thought-provoking way, and some are quite scary.  I don’t think they would be good reading or listening for my extremely intelligent 7-year-old son, though I refuse to believe it’s because he’s not extremely intelligent enough.  They are clever.  They are extremely well-written.  But not all are for all ages.

The stories seemed a bit old-fashioned to me.  They don’t generally start with action, and many involve ways of life that I’m not sure exist any more.  Harold Bloom admits that he read most of them as a child, so I think my impression is correct.  (It’s interesting to speculate in what ways the Story has changed over the years.)

With all that said, this is an excellent collection.  There are indeed some selections that make outstanding family reading.  I like the Rudyard Kipling selections like “The Elephant’s Child,” and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” for that.  The editor said he chose poems that slide off the tongue, and indeed I got our whole family reciting “With hey, ho, the wind and the rain!” after I read that Shakespeare poem to them.

The list of authors chosen is stellar--William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Guy de Maupassant, Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Alexander Pushkin, to name a few.  Most of the stories chosen I had never read before, and they are indeed excellent.  There’s even an eery story by E. Nesbit (of all people) about a young man who murders someone and then has the dead body appear next to him over and over again.  (See what I mean about it not quite being appropriate for a 7-year-old?)

So even if you don’t want to delve through the whole book, it’s worth checking out to read a few stories and poems.  You can always compliment your children with it!

I must confess, I did a wicked thing at the library yesterday.  When I put Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages on display on the new books’ shelf, I moved a For Dummies book next to it.  Now people can see the books side by side and decide which one is for them! 

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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