The first book I decided as part of my rereading side-project is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I first read The Phantom Tollbooth when I borrowed it from a friend when I was younger – I can’t remember which friend, or when this was, or how old I was – I just remember reading it and loving it. Because of the fuzziness of my memory surrounding the book – I couldn’t remember it’s title, so when I thought about ‘this great story I read as a kid full of puns and wordplay and a city that sells words’, I could never reread it, because I couldn’t remember what it was called to buy or borrow it. This tragic tale of forgotten books, however, ended happily when somehow, one day, I stumbled across it and, reading the back, realised it was the book that I had longed to reread. The Phantom Tollbooth and I now live happily ever after.
The reason why The Phantom Tollbooth stands up to multiple rereadings is because of it’s simplicity, combined with it’s sophistication. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of reading The Phantom Tollbooth (and I sincerely urge to to reconsider your un-read stance on this book), it is about a boy called Milo who discovers a tollbooth has been delivered to his bedroom, and when he drives through it in his toy car, finds himself in the Kingdom of Wisdom. The Kingdom of Wisdom, however, is in a bit of a mess, due to the disappearance of the two princesses Rhyme and Reason (can you see already some of the lovely wordplay that occurs in this book?). Milo meets numerous wonderful and wacky characters, including a spelling bee, the awful dynne, Canby (who is as happy and as sad as can be) and .58, a boy who is only .58 of a person from an ‘average family’, which has 2.58 children.
As I was saying, the reason that I have reread this book several times since I rediscovered it is while the story is simple and whimsical, it is the puns, wordplay, jokes and language frivolity that makes me enjoy this book so much. And I think you almost have to reread it, especially if you read it as a child, as there are so many wordy jokes that no doubt go over your head when you are young – and to not enjoy them is ridiculous. If you have read The Phantom Tollbooth, but have not read it since your age was in single-digits, read it again. I assure you you will enjoy it. I will leave you with this quote from New Girl – Schmidt states that The Phantom Tollbooth is one of his desert-island books. Cece says that she also loves the book, to which Schmidt replies, “Of course you do. You’re a human being.”
You should try Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Auxier. There is something about the book that feels like Tollbooth. I e-mailed the author, and Auxier said his whole “Just Deserts” (yes, deserts, not desserts) section is kind of an homage to Juster.
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