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Life of the Party


Every day our national deficit rises by something approaching the gross domestic product of Mongolia. Thirty-thousand households default on their mortgages; schools, libraries, daycare centers get closed. And one in ten Americans is actively failing to find employment – some say the percentage is higher. There are no easy answers, we are everywhere reminded, which should be massively reassuring for anyone accustomed to receiving their guidance from bullhorns and other blunt instruments. You mean, we can finally stop chanting? Good Lord, that was exhausting, trying to remember so many buzzwords. 

In these noisy, gassy times, we could do worse than to try and remind ourselves – and maybe, while we are at it, our children – how much we definitely don’t know by performing a quick inventory of what we sort of do. Metaphors may occupy a pretty fair patch of our psychic clutter, still it’s also becoming harder to distinguish our private ruminations in all of the theoretical news. As a great politician once said, everybody’s entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. (Oh well). This was for the purposes of problem-solving generally, and kind of a bummer, because you can pretty much manufacture opinions as fast as your lips or thumbs or teleprompter will move, and they are inexhaustible, and lead to much narrative zaniness, like when a baseball bat ends up at a tea party, which kind of sounds like one of those birthday celebrations where you have to invite all the boys.

Talk about a big tent. In the spirit of inclusiveness then, let us quote another great American politician – “Drill, baby, drill!” -  to describe what Ann and Paul Rand are apparently up to in I Know a Lot of Things. Beneath all of the layers of learning and forgetting and rationalizing, here is something close to the original source of our most precious human asset: curiosity. Never mind the cat that goes meow and the dog that goes bowwow (sometimes we learn very little by listening too closely to our elders) and consider instead how it is that in all of the whole wide world we should ever discover “a leaf can be a ferry for snail.” That “a house has glass and bricks and lots of sticks,” and “a book needs pages and a cake takes ages to bake.” These and twelve more cornerstones are painted against clean, bright backgrounds virtually begging to be filled.

I’ve seen this book (and two others with similar aspirations: the amazingly forgotten While I Am Little by Heidi Goennel, and much better known, The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown) described as exuberant and unaffected and whimsical – all of the regular hoohah from reviewers demonstrably eager to move on to subjects more befitting their talents, like toothpaste, serious literature, political candidates – though I would rather call it determined. Even a little inspiring sometimes, when things are looking weird. Maybe it’s late, maybe just whimsical, but is it really so childish to want to wrench apart the puzzle occasionally and start over?


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