Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Boy: Tales of Childhood, by Roald Dahl


Beloved children's author Dahl shares a few anecdotes from his childhood in Wales, England, and Norway, including the adventure of the goat tobacco, how he almost lost his nose, instructions on faking acute appendicitis, various boarding school escapades, and the Great and Daring Mouse Plot.

There really isn't any sort of overarching theme to these stories; Dahl just meanders through the past, walking the reader through some of his more prominent memories, many of which are borderline run-of-the-mill (though some are quite extraordinary).  Occasionally the reader gets a glimpse of an event that influenced Dahl's books (such Cadbury's habit of using boarding schools as 'focus groups' to test new candies and chocolates), but for the most part these are just reflections on a fairly normal life.

Of course, Dahl is not a normal writer; even the most mundane tales become interesting when he tells them.  Not that he spices them up, necessarily.  He just tells them really, really well.  The end result is a book that is, quite simply, a very pleasant read.  I was a bit surprised, actually, by this--this is the man who gave us some fairly dark children's tales, after all.  His darker worldview does creep in from time to time, particularly as he describes the corporal punishment and authority figures at his various boarding schools, most notably one cruel headmaster who was promoted to high position within the Anglican Church (much to Dahl's consternation). But by and large, the tales he tells are surprisingly upbeat and told with gentle good humor and a good deal of affection, especially when discussing his mother, other family members, and the few teachers who apparently didn't loathe small boys.

While this is not the most brilliant autobiography I've read, I enjoyed it, and I suspect others will as well.  It's short, as well--nothing here to intimidate the busy reader (or younger readers, for that matter).

[Fun Fact:  Meg Ryan's character reads this book aloud to children in her bookshop in You've Got Mail.  I'm not sure the book as a whole would be interesting enough to hold the attention of younger kids, but some of the anecdotes are definitely read-aloud-worthy--especially the Great and Daring Mouse Plot, which is what Ryan reads.]

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