Reading a book 200 times is a surefire way to find out whether you love it or want to throw its rhyming llama couplets into the diaper pail. Children's books especially do a tricky dance for an audience of squinty-eyed parents and wide-eyed tots: the best ones, like a syringe of infant-suspension Tylenol, have a little something for the parent at the end. These are the ones we are celebrating in This Book Belongs To — the books that send us back to the days of our own footed pajamas, and make us feel only half-exhausted when our tiny overlords ask to read them one more time.
When I was a kid, I loved to read. Since I had no job or social obligations and a bedtime of 8:30 p.m. (which was half an hour later than most of my friends), I was able to peruse a fair amount of books when I wasn’t busy scarfing down Twinkies and playing a game of my own invention called “Throw the Stick Over the Fence.” (I’ll let you work out what the objective was.)
Most of the books I used to read were about courage, or love, or the meaning of friendship. And then there was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which is about the futile search for meaning in a chaotic, unknowable void.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m glad I read it. Lewis Carroll’s beloved nonsense narrative taught me a lot about imagination, being different, and thinking outside the box, all of which were extremely meaningful life lessons for someone who liked to wear a witch costume to school on days that weren’t Halloween. Really, it’s a great book. I guess I just didn’t expect to find myself lying awake at night and wondering, “OK, BUT WHEN IS AN ANTHROPOMORPHIC CATERPILLAR GOING TO APPEAR AND ASK ME TO JUSTIFY MY EXISTENCE?”
Alice in Wonderland forced me to think critically. Sometimes too critically. Here is every existential crisis I was forced to undergo as a result.