Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown

I will preface this with the statement that I don’t have much to say about Flat Stanley.

I don’t have much to say about Flat Stanley.

A. M. Homes listed this book as #8 in his Top Ten list.

Now that I’ve cleared that up, Flat Stanley is a children’s tale written in 1964. I found out when searching it on amazon that it’s since spawned a whole collection of Flat Stanley tales. Some were written by the original creator, but since his death was somewhere around 2003 (Wikipedia isn’t always the treasure trove of information you’d wish it would be and you have to obtain facts by contextual clues), this Flat Stanley book published in 2014, obviously is not written by Jeff Brown. Click on that link. Seriously. Do it. It confuses me that there would be 12 Flat Stanley books that are in addition to the original ones written by Jeff Brown and yet I’ve seriously never heard of anything beyond Flat Stanley. I feel that I need to turn in my “books of all genres nerd” badge and go home.

Flat Stanley is a book that if you have a child whether boy or girl, and if you can get said child to want to hear about something that isn’t Disney princesses or Bat Man, this would be a good selection to read. It’s a funny story. Basically Stanley is squished flat by a bulletin board that his father hung on the wall for Stanley and his brother to use to pin up papers and all sorts of stuff on (I envision a treasure map with a picture of Selena Gomez underneath).

Now, because this was the 60s and not the 2010s, no authorities were called when Stanley was squished to an inch wide by his father’s inexpert hanging of large bulletin boards next to little boys’ beds and the doctor in fact just marveled at it and said that there were some things even doctors didn’t know.

Stanley has a variety of adventures as a flat boy until



His brother blows him back up to normal size using a bicycle pump. Thereby ending Stanley’s adventures and heartache of being a flat boy.

If you read the author bio, you find out that Jeff wrote these after making them up as nighttime stories for his sons. You can tell sometimes, since there’s just the right touch of Cleaver morality thrown in (Cleaver, as in Leave it To Beaver, not cleaver as in the meat cleaver at Just Good Meats here in Omaha). Stanley’s mother tells off policemen for calling her crazy while Stanley is in the sewer finding her wedding ring and she is holding him by a piece of string (seriously!? these parents could get away with -anything-!!!!) and tells them that if they can’t say something nice they shouldn’t say anything. They tell her they’ll remember that going forward. There’s a couple of other instances like this.

It is cute. You should read it to your sons and your daughters. I do like that it could be for a boy. I feel like there aren’t a whole lot of books that are straight fiction written for young boys. It’s changing, but I know if you go look at children’s books, there’s usually way more for girls really. But, I also like that it’s funny enough and interesting enough that any kid, girl or boy would get into it.

Eating Crow

So, way back in the very beginning of this blog (almost two years! Which is crazy), I told Dave that I would never, ever read My Antonia by Willa Cather.  See here for Dave’s explanation of the situation.

In my defense, during college, I never personally had to read a Cather book.  Which was weird in retrospect, since I was an English major at a small school in Seward, Nebraska.  But it happened.  Anyway, I never had to read one but plenty of my classmates did.  That weren’t English majors.  Who weren’t readers.  And what do non-readers being forced to read a classic do when it’s time to write a paper?  They go to their English major friends.  I _thought_ My Antonia was one of these.  But, I have since figured out it was O Pioneers by Willa Cather, that I would have to read stultifying boring sections of to help my friends write their papers. 

When I was in the library on Tuesday, I thought, “You know, I’m going to just -look- at the Willa Cather books.  I’m just going to check out My Antonia and -glance- through it”.  From the second chapter, I knew I was about to have to eat a whole, whole lot of crow. 

I loved it.  I read it in approximately 36 hours, which I do on a regular basis with books, but usually -not- one of the ones for here.  If you have been a reader for awhile, you might remember my time spent with Les Miserables (to be fair, that book is hellaciously long and very dry in some spots.  I believe it took even Dave longer than his average 24 hours per book.  This is not an exaggeration). 

My Antonia has so much in it.  The main character who narrates the book in first person is a young boy, approximately age 10 who moves from Virginia to Nebraska.  He does this due to the death of his parents, his grandparents are in Nebraska, so off he went.  When he is on the train, a train official talks about the Bohemian family in the next carriage.  He especially mentions a girl close to Jake’s age.  Jake feels embarrassed by this and doesn’t go to the next carriage.  He does see the family as they leave and get into the other wagon waiting at the station.

The story involves Jake’s friendship with Antonia, the Bohemian girl close to him in age.  They live near his grandparents and later when they are older, she is next door to him in town for awhile.  He admires Antonia, or feels exasperated by her, or disgusted by her “airs” that she has at one point.  Their friendship goes through some pretty normal changes for two friends in which one (Antonia) is a couple of years older than the other one.  They both grow up and the story mostly ends when Jake is 21, except the very end is twenty years later. 

Cather populates her book with real characters.  None of them feel like caricatures.  They all feel like people you could have known if you were around back then.  Hollywood and popular fiction have given us so many caricatures of Western settlers over the years that it was definitely a change to not be able to pick out certain types.

I would give you quotes from the book, but I was so into it that I didn’t even stop to look for anything. 

Cather writes a child narrator growing up beautifully.  I feel she led him through an aging procession, a maturing process beautifully.  Also, for her to do this with a child narrator of the opposite sex from herself, and to do it so well, took my breath away.

I am definitely glad that reading My Antonia was not the experience of the DaVinci Code, where a book was so hyped and when finally read turned out to be crap.

I do think this is a book I could find myself re-reading at some point and loving just as much.  It’s definitely not a very hard classic to read and very accessible language wise. 

Consider this my big plate of crow, and for having read My Antonia, I’m happy to be swallowing the feathers.


OH!  The following authors listed My Antonia:  Tom Perrotta, Richard Powers, and Meg Wolitzer.

To The Lighthouse–Virginia Woolf

(*note to Dave* I know I said Hamlet, but I changed my mind. 😀 )

I read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf for this week’s blog.  The following authors all listed it in their favorites:

Michael Cunningham, Margaret Drabble, Mary Gaitskill, Haven Kimmel, Susan Minot, Stewart O’Nan, Reynolds Price, Roxana Robinson, Lee Smith, and Meg Wolitzer.

In college, for a modern literature class, we read Mrs. Dalloway.  I didn’t like it much, so I have since really avoided Virginia Woolf.  Now I realize that might have been a mistake.

To The Lighthouse is a beautiful novel.  Sometimes I am reading a book and am just awestruck by the beauty of the prose.  I dabble in poetry sometimes, and some of the best novels are also poetry in many ways.  Woolf attained this in To The Lighthouse.

The story basically is about a family and the cottage they vacation at each year.  They always have various guests, both intellectual and artistic.  The Ramseys consist of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey and their eight children.  Mr. Ramsey is a philosopher and runs around just feeling whatever emotion comes over him.  So, his wife, the children and his houseguests will often walk around quietly (so to speak) due to not knowing if he will suddenly be feeling impatience and temper.   Lily is a houseguest there, a 34 year old “old maid” whom Mrs. Ramsey is attempting to marry off to Mr. Banke, an old friend of the family.  Lily is a painter, who feels she is not very good.

The book covers two different summers.  The first has the whole family there.  The second, Mrs. Ramsey and two of the children have died, and it has been years since the family has vacationed there.

Woolf plays with and masters the switching narrator narrative.  She meshes characters together so that when one narrative changes it flows into the next.  For example, Mrs. Ramsey might be talking to her son and another person is contemplating her, remembering something.  The narrative will change to what Mrs. Ramsey is thinking and doing right at that second.

It’s said about To The Lighthouse that Woolf was grappling with the age old question “What is the meaning of life?”, and while different characters pose that question through the course of the book, I didn’t get that as the main gist of the book.  To me, due to the switching narratives and the contemplations on Mrs. Ramsey in the second half of the book, it was more about how we see ourselves versus how others see us.  How people saw Mrs. Ramsey was quite different than how she saw herself.  It also showed how time can change the perspectives people view us under. 

I found the following quotations particularly…illuminating? amazing? (not sure what word is best here, so pick one!).

The first one is a rumination that Mrs. Ramsey has after sending her youngest child to bed, about the effects that being alone has to a mother.

“To be silent; to be alone.  All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others.  Although she continued to knot and sat upright, it was thus that she felt herself; and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.  When life sank down for a moment, the range of experience seemed limitless.”

Mrs. Ramsey thinking of her husband and his tendency to wander around saying whatever popped into his head.

“…that directly he had said them he always seemed more cheerful than usual.  All this phrase-making was a game, she thought, for if she had said half what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”

Mrs. Ramsey while reading a book in the evening and knitting at the same time (I liked this one because it describes how one sometimes does read a book).

“And she opened the book and began reading here and there at random, and as she did so, she felt that she was climbing backwards, upwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her, so that she only knew this is white, or this is red.”

Lily, thinking on Mrs. Ramsey after her death, during the second visit.

“She was astonishingly beautiful, as William said.  But beauty was not everything.  Beauty had this penalty it came too readily, came too completely.  It stilled life froze it.  One forgot the little agitations; the flush, the pallor, some queer distortion, some light or shadow, which made the face unrecognizable for a moment and yet added a quality one saw for ever after.  It was simpler to smooth that all out under the cover of beauty”.

In the first half, the youngest boy James, desperately wants to go the lighthouse.  Mrs. Ramsey says they will go the following day, to which Mr. Ramsey cruelly dashes the hope.  In the second half, James finally goes to the lighthouse with his father and his sister Cam.

“Now James looked at the Lighthouse.  He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry.  So that was the Lighthouse was it?  No the other was also the Lighthouse (referring to his imaginings and sightings of the lighthouse as a boy).  For nothing was simply one thing.  The other LIghthouse was true too.”

If you are a Downton Abbey fan and are jonesing for season 4, I highly recommend reading this.  It has a bit less “drama” than Downton, but the language and the feel of the book will prepare you for Downton, and hopefully keep your addictive need to watch it tamped down a bit.

Til next time!