Monday, June 16, 2008

Nathan Bransford's Celebrate Reading Pick: THE CAT IN THE HAT by Dr. Seuss

Today, we welcome Nathan Bransford as our Celebrate Reading Guest Blogger.

About the Guest Blogger: Nathan Bransford is a literary agent with the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., a New York based agency that has been representing writers since 1914. Among his diverse interests are literary fiction, mysteries and suspense, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, business, history, sports, politics, current events, young adult fiction, and science fiction.

Thanks very much to Moonrat for the opportunity to pontificate on an important book. What important book, you say? Um...

Here's the thing about picking a book we all should celebrate. I have chosen a career in which I am devoting myself to books, and so I badly want to point to one book and say THAT book was the one that started it all. And yet which book is the one that most impacted me along the way? Was it the first I remember? (THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD). The first chapter book I successfully read? (THE SILVER SWORD). The first classic? (OLIVER TWIST). My favorite as a slightly older child? (HARRY'S MAD). The longest? (BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM). The shortest? (THE GIVING TREE). My favorite as a slightly older older child? (MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN)

What about in high school when I started seeing that there were things happening beneath the surface in books that I never even realized (THE SOUND AND THE FURY), that there were funnier books out there than I ever imagined (HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), and books that were so expansive and incredible I could barely fathom that they were ever written in the first place (MOBY DICK).

I AGONIZED over what book to choose (THE WIFE OF MARTIN GUERRE? KAVALIER AND CLAY? ATONEMENT?), and yes, I'm sending Moonrat the psychiatry bills.

Oh, did you think I was finished talking about which books I considered picking? Genre blast: historical fiction (JOHNNY TREMAINE, MY BROTHER SAM IS DEAD, THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST), fantasy (THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA, PAWN OF PROPHECY), and books about which college student Nathan wrote weighty papers (ULYSSES, THE GRAPES OF WRATH).

So. What book did I pick after all of this? THE CAT IN THE HAT.

When I was four years old, this book blew. my. mind. Heck, I'm 27 and this book still blows my mind.

Let's examine the setup. You have a couple of kids whose parents have left. You have a badass cat, wearing a hat, whose SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE is to entertain these poor children. And then you have a pissy goldfish. People. Does it get any better than that? From that point on the book could have written itself, but then it just goes and gets better. The cat brings two of the creepiest characters in the history of literature along with him -- Thing One and Thing Two. Their purpose? Unclear.

So basically, the cat entertains the kids, Thing One and Thing Two proceed to be extremely creepy, Cat and Things make a mess, kids get nervous, the Cat cleans it up before the parents come home. A great time is had by everyone but the goldfish.

You know how long it took Dr. Seuss to write the THE CAT IN THE HAT, which uses only 236 words? A year and a half. And I believe it. It's as perfect a distillation of setup, plot, complication, climax and resolution as you'll see on the page.

There are so many books that have moved me in my life, but THE CAT IN THE HAT embodies why it's so much fun to read books. Take an interesting setup, add some compelling characters, transport people to a new world and envelop them in unique language, and with a dash of genius you have a book that stays with people the rest of their lives.


Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks, Moonrat!

Gina Black said...

Oh how I loved this book. I'm old enough that my first copy *might* have been a first edition. :)

Conduit said...

At last! A book I've read! Admittedly, it was at primary school, but I've read it. And if I remember my four- or five-year-old self, I loved it. It's one of the few books that's formative for readers all over the world. Along with my weekly copy of The Beano, it was one of my earliest reading experiences. Good choice, Nathan.

cindy said...

great choice, nathan! also a favorite of my kids. i read ALL THE WAY through but the hub can only read half at a time. haha! which just doesn't sit right with me.

i love the pissy gold fish.

as an aside, i did not grow up with seuss, and it's fun to read them to my kids now. =)

Christy Raedeke said...

This is some of the best literary criticism I’ve ever read! Hilarious.

Ah, the tension! Cat in the Hat was a tension festival for me; I remember being so nervous about the mom coming home early. I mean, that cat cuts it down to the wire!

Ello said...

Oh man! I was gonna post on Green Eggs and Ham but Moonie dissuaded me! I owe all my poetry skills to Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss is the reason
During any season
That I can rhyme

I am sad, because that was bad.
I think I stink, no, I stink, I think.
No more rhymes I mean it,
Anybody want a peanut? :o)

JES said...

Outstanding choice, Nathan. I loved Dr. Seuss (although I didn't care for some of the later, much more explicitly message-y books, like THE LORAX).

And who knew somebody head-over-heels for Melville and McEwan would also have such high-falutin' tasted in kids' lit?

Hélène Boudreau said...

Bravo, Nathan!

So many people diss Dr. Seuss, but you're so right. Making that kind of an impression on millions of people with 236 words?

Beat that!

Linda said...

Great choice! One of my favorites and, now, my young daughter's - she just finished reading this, her first book (!), out loud to me last week. All she wants for her birthday is more Seuss books.

I take extreme comfort knowing it too Dr. S 1.5 years to write this. Really. TCITH is pure geniosity, but still... 1.5 years. Peace, Linda

Heidi the Hick said...

Excellent post!

I missed out on a lot of the usual children's classics when I was a kid, but darnit, I had Dr Seuss! The ratty old books are still at my mom's. I bought a new set, one book at a time, when my kids were little. They still get read. By me.

Writers can learn a lot from these books.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good pick. A great childhood book for me was "Pagoo," the story of a little hermit crab trying to survive in the big bad ocean. A great story.

Bernita said...

Think there's a battered copy in our attic.

Colorado Writer said...

It's only 236 words?

Oh, wow!

jesslovesnyc said...

The Cat in the Hat was the first book I could read on my own, beginning to end. I still remember that breakthrough moment as clear as day! Can't help but love Dr. Seuss after that, it'll always be a favourite. :) Excellent pick!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Seuss made it look easy, which is why we have so many completely horrible celebrity children's books these days. One and a half years!

I really enjoyed this review because it makes you see how clever this book really is.

AmyB said...

THE CAT IN THE HAT is one of few books I didn't mind reading to my kids over and over again. I haven't met a small child yet who didn't love it. And the sequel's even better.

ChrisEldin said...

My children loved this book. It helped them learn how to read. I think Dr. Seuss was a genius in his own right, glad someone picked one of his!!

(does this mean you'll consider repping children's books?):-)

Lisa said...

Hands down, definitely one of the best fictional characters ever, EVER.

Ooh, and I loved MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. I still fantasize about going off to live alone in a hollowed out tree :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I have a great fondness for Cat in the Hat, as it's the book I learned to read just before my 3rd birthday.

Funny, as a kid, I thought Things 1 & 2 weren't creepy at all. As an adult, I can see what you mean...

AC Gaughen said...

Great list, Nathan, even if it was by exclusion! Johnny Tremain was possibly my favorite book as a kid, I'm glad it got a mention!

x AC

Adaora A. said...

A very good pick. I'll confess that I never thought that he'd pick that, but it really is fantawstic.

"w" on purpose.

mlh said...

Wow. I never thought to dissect "The Cat in the Hat" in such a way. I loved it, although you have officially freaked me out (in a good way) with the review. Pissy goldfish. Things 1&2 causing mass destruction. They should put warning labels on the cover.

A Paperback Writer said...

I must've been a weird kid because that cat always made me apprehensive. I identified with the worried fish.
Now that I'm older, I think I've taught Thing 1 and Thing 2 -- and all their relatives.
My all time favorite Seuss books were Green Eggs and Ham, The ABC Book, The Birthday Book, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
I was never too keen on Horton.

Anonymous said...

Dr Suess came in handy when animal control paid a visit:
I would not, could not
tie a dog to a log

Don't worry...the visit was unfounded. With 11 large Great Pyrenees on the farm to guard our sheep, we certainly can't afford (nor do we have the desire) to 'abuse' animals.

Since TCITH is so widely read (and understood), I often use it to illustrate biosecurity. Things 1&2 and their attempt to 'clean' up the joint are perfect examples of how seemingly invisible contaminants end up everywhere.


Polenth said...

I love Dr. Seuss! Though I always thought the Cat in the Hat was a shady sort. The fish was on to something.

I preferred 'The Lorax', due to the fluffy trees. You can't beat fluffy trees.

jeanoram said...

You think CAT IN THE HAT has few words? Try GREEN EGGS AND HAM. Seuss uses less than 50 different words. I counted them...I think it was 47. He did it on a bet--his editor said he couldn't write a book using 50 or few words. Ha! He showed him. :)

E.A. West said...

Great review! Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite authors. Such creativity.

Lynne said...

Nathan's exactly right. Thing 1 and Thing 2 were deadly scary. Period. The last line of the book says it all: "What would you do, if your mother asked you?" Here's what I'd do...I would Freaking Tell! I'd blame my brother for letting the bad cat in. Keep the fish, send brother to juvie preschool, alert the media. Sign me up for sessions with a shrink. Please.