Saturday, June 02, 2012

The house of ideas

"How rude of me not to introduce myself," the lizard who had been doing all the talking said. "I am Reynold and these are my friends, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, Reynold, and Reynold."

"Is everybody here called Reynold?" I asked.

"Of course not," Reynold said. "That would be ridiculous. There are lizards named Raymond and Helena and a lot of things."

There are times I feel pretty ripped off about my childhood, my youth. Not that I had a tragic upbringing or anything, but sometimes it seems to me that it was somewhat confined, limited. Like how come I never got to read Lizard Music as a kid?

I've been hearing great things about Lizard Music, by Daniel Pinkwater, over the last several years and particularly since it's been reissued in The New York Review Books Children's Collection. So I picked up a copy for Helena (my 9-year-old daughter, not a lizard) last Christmas.

She hasn't read it yet. I had started to read it aloud one evening this winter, but I got a little uncomfortable at the bit where 11-year-old Victor is trying his mom's cigarettes, and I thought I should read ahead on my own to see what we were in store for.

This book is very cool. A whole lizard society just beyond our reach!

Victor's parents are away on vacation, and Victor's big sister goes off with her friends, so that leaves Victor all alone, building model airplanes and watching late night TV. After the movie, the lizard band comes on. A bunch of weird things happen in the next couple days—Victor meets the Chicken Man and his chicken Claudia whom he keeps on his head under his hat—and most of the weird things have to do with lizards, and so Victor undertakes an investigation.

The book is a little dated in terms of the references to Walter Cronkite (Victor's obsession with him is shared by the lizards). Also the television world of the 70s included poor reception, snow, stations going off the air at a certain hour, and late night programming, all of which may feel a bit ancient to a culture where you can watch SpongeBob SquarePants on demand.

I think Helena will love it, eventually, when I manage to convince her to give it a try (she's just not the reader I was at her age). I know she can really get behind concepts like pod people and invisible islands.

The House of Ideas was a big empty building with nothing in it. It had no windows and only one door. Outside the door a lizard sat at a small desk. On the desk was a little wooden box. If a lizard had an idea, he could go to the House of Ideas and give an Agama Dollar to the lizard at the desk. Then the lizard at the desk would unlock the door for the lizard with the idea, who would slip inside and shout his idea. For example, a lizard might get the idea that lizards should not give advice to their friends unless they were asked for it. He would go to the House of Ideas, pay one Agama Dollar, and shout, "Lizards should not give advice to their friends unless the friends ask for it." Then the lizard at the desk would lock the door, and the lizard who had the idea would go away satisfied.

"In this way," Reynold explained, "we have collected and kept safe all our ideas for generations."

"You mean that you think all those ideas are still in there?" I asked.

"Of course," Reynold said. "How are they going to get out?" This struck me as a little dumb, but it didn't seem polite to say anything about it.

You can listen to Lizard Music, read by the author, at the Pinkwater Podcast and Audio Archive (files are available under a Creative Commons license).

Neeble neeble neeble.
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