Whenever possible, I like to theme my reading or at least the posts I write here on the blog, but sometimes I just wind up reading a lot of disparate trades that have nothing to do with each other. That’s the case with this mix of books I pulled from my To Read boxes and the library. Let’s get into it! Continue reading Trade Post: Wimpy Kid, Shade, Mind MGMT & Robocop Vs. Terminator!
Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 6: Cabin Fever was a bit of a cheat when it came to the Ambitious Summer Reading List 2012. While getting the books I wanted to read this summer together, I had a pretty solid 11 choices and decided to throw Jeff Kinney’s latest on the stack to make it an even dozen. It’s a cheat because these books clock in at just over 200 pages, are written in the voice of a young boy and have plenty of illustrations between the paragraphs to make for a quick reading experience.
All that being said, I’m still a big fan of this book series and have been for about two years. Back in 2010 I interviewed Kinney for MTV Geek and not only had a fantastic conversation with him but also read the entire book series. If you’re unfamiliar the books are a first person recounting of the life of Greg, a grade school kid who also draws cartoons in his diary (though he hates that it’s called a diary). The beauty of the series is that Kinney does such an amazing job of interpreting the world through the eyes of a kid. It feels modern and current while at the same time reminding me of my childhood. I was never quite as conniving and sneaky as Greg is in the books (I’d rather just do the work, he’d rather work hard to get around doing the work) but there are definitely aspects of his creativity and life that I can relate to, and that’s where the real heart is for me in these books.
Cabin Fever, as you might expect after checking out the cover takes place mostly in the winter. The book deals with all kinds of elements from Greg and his pal Rowley trying to set up their own Christmas Bazaar sale (we had those at my school) to his exploits trying to shovel snow (I also used water to try and melt the snow, though with much less disastrous results). There’s also stories that scare me about being a parent these days like the school wanting the kids to stay fit while also removing their playground equipment, the rampant fundraising nonsense and kids getting addicted to energy drinks. I know there are much worse things to worry about, but as a dad, I assume I’ll worry about them all.
The main thrust of the last part of the book involves a huge snow storm that shuts Greg, his two brothers and his mom in the house while dad gets to chillax in a hotel near work. I can definitely relate to the claustrophobia and paranoia that comes from that kind of situation. For Greg, it’s actually a lot worse as the snow leads to basement flooding and his troublesome little brother not only breaks mom’s glasses but also, well, I won’t spoil it, but he makes the whole situation way worse. I hate that kid.
While I did really enjoy this book, I wasn’t as enthralled as I was with the previous installments. Maybe it’s because I was more on the hunt for those books and more caught up in both the reading and interviewing experiences. Maybe it’s just because I didn’t see as much of myself or my childhood in this volume. Maybe my perspective has just generally shifted. Whatever the reason, I’m still really glad I finally got around to reading this book that’s been sitting around my bed since December. By the way, if you want to check these books out, keep your eyes open at places like TJ Maxx or Marshall’s. I’ve gotten most of my copies there for about half the cover price. SAVINGS!
As far as the reading list goes, I’m one book away from the halfway point. Seeing as how July’s almost over and I’m not quite sure when fall starts (August 25th or something?), this pile will probably keep me in books until the end of the year. I am making good progress though and even started Alice Sebold’s The Almost Moon! Progress!
As I mentioned earlier this week, I had a wonderful time reading the five Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, so checking out the movie was a logical next step. One of the questions I asked author Jeff Kinney when I interviewed him for MTV Geek about the latest volume was whether it was difficult coming up with actors to match his cartoons. He said something along the lines of trying to match the spirit of the characters to the actor and hopefully getting a close enough physical match. I’d say everyone involved with the Wimpy Kid flick did a pretty damn good job of it.
Zachary Gordon does a great job of capturing Greg’s innocent arrogance, Robert Capron nails Rowley’s youthfulness, Grayson Russell looks EXACTLY like Fregley and Devon Bostick works pretty well as Greg’s jerky older brother Rodrick. I wasn’t as sold on either of Greg’s parents though, Steve Zahn as Dad and Rachel Harris as mom just didn’t work for me. Zahn just doesn’t seem like dad material to me because I’ve seen and enjoyed him in movies like Saving Silverman, but more importantly–and offputting as a fan of the books–is that Mom and Dad don’t match up very well between the book and the movie. Even with Dad doing his weird Halloween ritual and Mom giving her speech about girly mags to Rodrick intact, there was something missing from the characters that I couldn’t quite place, but definitely felt.
I loved seeing the above gags in the film along with other parts like the trick or treating and ball-vs.-bike game, but one thing that Kinney mentioned to me that I think makes up the biggest difference between the books and the movie is that he tends to write gags that he links together whereas, with a movie like this, there has to be more of a story and plot put into place, which meant some things needed to be moved around, which I didn’t have a problem with. It’s the additions to the movie that left me scratching my head. For instance, I understand what the addition of the Angie character was supposed to show that not everyone needs to try and go for popularity, but as far as the story goes, she doesn’t really serve any purpose. I also didn’t like the mother/son dance scene because, very frankly, no one would applaud the weird synchronized dance Rowley did with his mom, especially a bunch of grade school boys.
Those complaints aside, I still liked the movie as a whole. I was pretty deep into liking it when they broke out with “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” which is one of the all-time greatest jams of all time. The almost-fight scene at the end of the movie between Greg and Rowley was hilarious, though I wasn’t a big fan of how they brought the older kids back in the middle of the day at a school and made Rowley eat the cheese (in the book, no one else is around). I’m also not a huge fan of Greg giving that big speech at the end of the book because I feel like that character wouldn’t do anything to risk losing whatever popularity he had by making a Mean Girls-like closing speech. But overall, it was fun to see a lot of my favorite gags from the book up on the big screen and I’m looking forward to future installments.
Anyone else catch the Wimpy Kid balloon at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade? At first I didn’t like the look of the character with his nervous-looking mouth, but then I got the joke: he’s supposed to be worried that his handlers are going to drop him. At least, I think that’s the joke. Anyone have a better idea?
A few weeks ago I was offered the opportunity to interview Diary Of A Wimpy Kid author and artist Jeff Kinney for MTV Geek. I jumped at the opportunity, but knew I’d have to do some research because, even though I had heard great things about the series, I had never read any of the Wimpy Kid books. I remembered seeing them at Marshall’s for a pretty good price, so I drove over and was able to pick up the first, third and fourth books. But, since the interview was that night and I’m not the fastest reader in the world, I only had time to read the first and fourth book. Luckily I was able to fly through the books, which are a combination of journal entries and one-panel gags from the perspective of recent middle school student Greg Heffley. Many times throughout the first book I found myself laughing out loud both because the jokes are really well crafted, but also because there were so many elements I could relate too.
The thing about Greg is that he’s kind of an arrogant jerk, but he’s still appealing because you kind of write it off as a young kid not really understanding how people or the world works. Plus, Greg has his fair share of Charlie Brown-esque moments where things just don’t work out for him, which creates a wave of disbelief at his actions followed by feeling kind of sorry for him that really keeps the books going. The specific aspects from the first volume that I could relate to revolved around Halloween. Not only do Greg and his more child-like friend Rowley have a plan to run all over town getting the best candy (we used to do that), but there’s also a scene where they plan this incredibly ellaborate haunted house with blood lakes and death traps, but can only actually make one tunnel of terror that’s not really all that scary.
You might be thinking that these books are aimed squarely at kids or, more specifically, geeky kids, but the great thing about Greg is that he doesn’t know that he’s maybe a little weird. He thinks he’s a cool kid who just hasn’t had the chance to show the world (which, to him, is his school and immediate family) everything he can do. There’s something to respect about that. The book also works for adults because, as Kinney told me in the interview, it was actually originally intended for adults and was changed to be aimed at kids towards the end of the process. From a writing level, even though it’s from Greg’s perspective, there’s a lot of humor to be found in Greg’s vision of the world compared to the real world we know as adults. I would imagine there’s plenty in there for kids to relate to, but the jokes often work on multiple levels.
After reading the first and fourth books, I wanted to continue with the series, but couldn’t find the second book on the cheap until the weekend before last when I stumbled upon it. Soon after, I found myself reading 2, 3 and eventually 5 which I was sent a review copy of after doing the interview. I really can’t recommend these books enough to younger and older readers alike. From Greg’s relationship with his parents and his family to his disdain for most of his fellow classmates and middle school in general, there’s really something here for everyone in a very broad sense. I also think that if you grew up in the 70s and 80s, there’s a lot going on here that you can related to. I remember going over to my friend’s house because he always got new video games while I usually waited for the price to go down. I remember going to church and hoping certain girls I didn’t even know would be there just because they were pretty. I remember making up comic strips with stupid jokes and games that could have resulted in some pretty serious injury but thankfully never did. I remember being terrified of teenagers for no real reason. I remember wondering what my first boy/girl party would be like. I might not have been as much of a jerk as Greg (that might depend on which of my grade school classmates you ask, there was a time where I wasn’t the nicest person around) and wasn’t as outgoing as him, but these books were just packed with moments I found myself grinning and full-on laughing at.
The only negative aspect of the books I can see is that kids today might not be able to relate to them as much as I do. I say this knowing that most of the books have ended up on the New York Times Bestseller List, been turned into two major motion pictures and spawned a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this year, but the way the kids act sometimes reminds me more of my childhood than the one of seen of the younger generation. Do parents still let their kids run around by themselves on Halloween? Do kids still run around their neighborhoods playing games? Do schools still do lock ins? I honestly don’t know, though I’ll be personally dining out in a few years. I hope I’m completely wrong about this, but I have my suspicions.
Talking to Kinney was a lot of fun. He turned out to be a really down to earth guy who seemed to not believe how well he’d done since the 2007 premiere of Wimpy Kid. He actually turned the questions around on me when I mentioned that I journaled from 7th grade all the way to the early days of college where I eventually ran out of time. I’ve been thinking about starting it back up, but Kinney mentioned something interesting, saying that you wind up spending more time writing about life than living it. Either way, I love the books and hope to pass them along to a younger read to borrow. I think they’d be a pretty good gateway into comics for a lot of kids and also potentially a way to get them writing in a diary or journal. Anyway, if you see the books around, do give them a shot, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.