Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I am currently reading The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. If you need to catch up, you can read my first post on this book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

In the first major literary biography of L. Frank Baum, Rebecca Loncraine tells the story of Oz as you've never heard it, with a look behind the curtain at the vivid life and eccentric imagination of its creator.

The Real Wizard of Oz is an imaginatively written work that stretches the genre of biography and enriches our understanding of modern fairytales. L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its thirteen sequels, lived during eventful times in American history-- from 1856 to 1919-- that influenced nearly every aspect of his writing, from the Civil War to Hollywood, which was emerging as a modern Emerald City full of broken dreams and humbug wizards, to the gulf between America's prairie heartland, with its wild tornadoes, and its cities teeming with "Tin Man" factory workers. This is a colorful portrait of one man's vivid and eccentric imagination and the world that shaped it. Baum's famous fairytale is filled with the pain of the economic uncertainties of the Gilded Age and with a yearning for real change, ideas which many contemporary Americans will recognize. The Wizard of Oz continues to fascinate and influence us because it explores universal themes of longing for a better world, homesickness and finding inner strength amid the storms.

My thoughts so far:

Boy, I am just loving this book. The number of places I have marked is incredible - I could probably take up several posts just on this section of the book, but since I don't want to ruin YOUR enjoyment, I'll try to keep my thoughts brief. =)

This section talks about Baum's life as he lives for a time on the plains of South Dakota, and then later in Chicago. Once again, it is fascinating to see how the small details of his life have been transformed into unforgettable characters and moments in his Oz stories. Baum had a genius for taking ordinary events that readers could completely relate to, and making them seem magical. This is modern fairy-tale making at its pinnacle. "The best thing about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is its interpretive opennness, its clarity of vision and psychological depth. Readers could see so many things in the story. It was (and still is) impossible to exhaust its hypnotic simplicity and the many-layered interpretations it offers." (page 173)

I'm also finding myself actually liking Baum as a man. He was determined to support his family, refusing help from others, and though his ideas were often far-fetched and somewhat ill-conceived, he always did what needed to be done to pay the bills. He admitted failure and moved on, rather than continually pursuing nebulous dreams that weren't going to come true. He wasn't afraid to hold opinions that were outside the norm, and was an early champion of the women's suffrage movement in the 1800s. He was an interesting combination of practical and imaginative, and I think I would have enjoyed getting to know him and his wife as people. The book doesn't gloss over his faults - and he certainly had them - but in general, he just seems like he was a good guy.

I could go on and on, with citations and examples - but I really don't want to spoil the book for you. I'm not completely finished yet, but I have a feeling this is a book that I will definitely be recommending. I'm surprised I haven't seen more about it around the internet - maybe the yearly tv viewing of the Judy Garland movie will spark some more interest. In any case, it's a great biography, and I can't wait to finish it.

Also, make sure you stop by and visit Jehara, my Nonfiction Files buddy, as she makes her way through a biography of Anne Sexton. If you'd like to join us, let me know - we're a pretty easygoing group, no rules or requirements, just a love of reading and talking about the nonfiction we've been reading. =)

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

I am really glad you are enjoying this book so much. I have to admit that I am getting a little more excited about it as I find out more through your weekly reviews. It sounds like a really good biography, and I haven't read one of those in a long while. I'll be interested in reading the wrap up and seeing if your final opinion is a good one as well. Great review!