Friday, September 30, 2011

I'm such a slacker./Have you met the Moomins?

I haven't updated in a month! I am terrible! I have, though, been a busy reader since then. What have I read since Wonderstruck, you may or may not be wondering?

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, The Sea of Monsters & The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson 2 & 3) by Rick Riordan, Cosmic by Frank C. Boyce, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, & The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Over the next week I promise a steady string of reviews of each of those books! I only disliked one of them - & boy did I intensely dislike it. Can you guess which?

I also read the book I'm going to turn my attention to today: Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson.

I first met the Moomins three or four years ago when a friend who knew my love for children's lit insisted I seek out Jansson's series. She described it as something like "trippy Nordic children's books from the '40s." I immediately ordered an old, battered paperback from Amazon of The Finn Family Moomintroll, caught a glimpse of the hippo-like Moomin family, & fell instantly in love.

Recently Macmillan's Square Fish imprint released gorgeous repackages of the series. Here's a few of them. Lovely, right?

How to explain the experience of reading a Moomin book? Tove Jansson's creative genius is impossible to put into words. You can't read one without marveling at how deep her imagination well is. (...What did I just say?) The first inclination is almost to feel that something was lost in translation from the Swedish, because it's just so weird, like peeking into a child's fever dream. But then you realize that Jansson is just that awesome, & it's just that rare to come across a person whose work (both books & art) feels so original, so unpretentiously set apart from the mainstream. A comparable children's book personality might be Nancy Willard, who I was lucky enough to experience as our writer in residence one summer at Hollins. Both women live in these beautiful worlds of their own creation, & both weren't afraid to challenge their child audiences with big ideas about life.

So anyway, summer was coming to a close, so I thought it the perfect time to read Moominsummer Madness. The Moomin books always open with a cast of characters. In this case, the Moomin family: Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Moomintroll, & their friends: the Snork Maiden, Snufkin, Sniff, the Groke, the Muskrat, Thingumy & Bob, the Hemulen, Too-ticky, & Little My. Those names! Intrigued enough to read it yet?

In this summertime adventure, the Moomin family home is flooded after a volcano erupts. Never ones to be daunted by natural or unnatural disasters, the Moomins & friends take to the roof until a new house floats by - a new house that just happens to be a theater, where they promptly decide to put on a play. The Moomins are an impressive bunch. They sometimes get discouraged, but they take everything in stride. Everything is met with optimism & the ingenuity to solve any problem. They don't get stressed. Well, sometimes the Snork Maiden is a little melodramatic, & Little My is always melodramatic, but the family as a whole is blissfully laid-back.
"Moomintroll was lying in his customary place (or one of his places), curled up on the green-and-yellow moss with his tail carefully tucked in under him. He looked gravely and contentedly down into the water while he listened to the rustle of wings and the drowsy buzz of bees around him."

They are a bunch of characters taken to contemplation, resourcefulness, & filled with a real love for each other. Even in melancholy scenes, when characters are sad, lost, lonely, despondent, you get the sense that there's a kind of joy bubbling up under it all, that everyone knows that just around the corner they'll be happy & content again. Life give you lemons? Put on a play! I don't know about you, but that's a lesson I need to hear pretty much every day of my life.

The book - & this is true for the whole series - should be read for its illustrations as much as the story itself. I wish I could share them all with you here. I can't say this about many books, but I cannot imagine a person who wouldn't love the Moomins. Sure, they're a little unconventional, but for a series that began about 70 years ago(!) their appeal is everlasting & universal. I'd even go so far as to assert that I cannot imagine a person reading Moominsummer Madness & not immediately picking up the rest of the series. They're that loveable - absurd & wacky & sometimes a little naive, but absolutely loveable. Pure magic. Pick it up.

& in another month it'll be time to read Moominvalley in November! I'll be back next time - & this will be SOON - with We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.