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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Wild Book (The)
by Juan Villoro
Age Range: 12+
The summer holidays are approaching and thirteen-year-old narrator Juan is looking forward to spending time with his best friend Pablo, but this year is going to be different. With the heart-breaking news that his parents are separating, Juan must spend the summer with his reclusive and eccentric uncle Tito, who has zigzag eyebrows, drinks fifteen cups of smoky tea a day, and whose house is a vast library brimming with every kind of book imaginable.
As Juan adjusts to his new life amidst this labyrinth of books he finds comfort searching the dusty shelves and working out the odd classification which follows a rather strange system where the subjects are quite random – “Cheeses that Stink but Taste Delicious”, “Maps of the Ancient World”, The Teeth of Grandmothers” and “Foolish Atoms”. He also discovers that the books take on a life of their own by moving around the library. Uncle Tito tells him he is a Princeps Reader – a ‘unique reader’ of books.
“There are people who think they understand a book just because they know how to read.” Uncle Tito tells Juan. “I already told you that books are like mirrors: every person finds in them what they have in their head. The problem is that you only discover what you have inside you when you read the right book. Books are indiscreet and risky mirrors: they make your most original ideas take flight, inspiring thoughts you never knew you had. When you don’t read, those thoughts remain prisoners in your head. They’re no use at all.”
Only Juan can find the elusive, never-before-read Wild Book and together with the help of his new friend Catalina they begin a painstaking search of the library. Juan knows it’s a race against time as he must find the Wild Book before the story-stealing Pirate Book does.
Prize-winning Mexican author Juan Villoro’s novel about books and the power of reading has sold over one million copies in Spanish. For Juan it is an adventure and a portal into the world of books and there are untold words of wisdom in these pages. When Catalina discovers a book entitled The Clock of Letters it reveals how – “Books serve to remember not only what has been written, but also things that are outside books.” They are “the eternal memory of mankind _ a warehouse of memories.”
Villoro’s prose also provide some gentle wit especially around the loveable Uncle Tito. When Uncle Tito acquires a passion for cooking it has to be book related. “We ate a marine banquet: octopus soup in the style of Captain Nemo, fish à la Moby Dick, and for dessert, Billy Budd’s sea-foam meringue. Everything was delicious and was served with a side of fun anecdotes. ‘Dishes taste better paired with conversation than they do when paired with silence’, the author of the meal explained.”
The author also conjures up dramatic images of books as living entities. When the library is infested with fungus Uncle Tito concentrates on curing his sick books – “the library became a hospital for dying pages.” Or the braille books living in the shadows.
Translated by award-winning Lawrence Schimel, Villoro’s prose flow effortlessly. Each of the twenty-one chapters is accompanied by Eko’s stunning woodcut-style illustrations.
The Wild Book is a refreshingly timeless classic in the making with its message of the empowerment of books; a magical ode that celebrates the wonderful world of books and reading.