Foundational Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

So, if you remember, oh, last summer, I went through some of the books that have made me who I am today, as a writer, but also in general.

(Apologies for being late AGAIN, I can’t even blame the quarantine this time. I did a push to finally get my new SkillShare class live–I always forget how long it takes to edit the videos, and my new microphone is so sensitive I had to get up at 5 am to avoid noise from the small, mobile ones and the neighbors.)

(It’s here, if you’re interested. It’s about setting goals in your writing and sticking with them.)

But I realized I forgot perhaps the most important book at all. The one that I’ve read the most times over the years. The one that I turn to when I need comfort, or I need to sleep after I read/watch something too scary. The one I used for my senior quote in high school. The one I used scenes from to try out for plays. The one I can still quote bits of from memory.

Phantom Tollbooth cover
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I don’t remember who recommended the book to me, but I first read it back in middle school (my copy is the 35th anniversary edition, and we’re coming up on the 60th anniversary, so that tells you how long it’s been in my life). And who knows how many times I read it over in middle and high school. As an adult, I’ve read it less often, but I still do re-read it periodically (I’m currently reading it to the small, mobile ones).

The entire book is a masterful play on words and concepts. Even as an adult I really appreciate the pure mastery of the idea. (I perhaps understand the Humbug better now than I did as a kid.) We have Milo, our bored main character who doesn’t see why anything is worth the bother. When he receives a toy tollbooth from who knows where, he decides to play with it, because he doesn’t have anything better to do. But it allows him access to a world where knowledge is more literal than in real life.

It’s hard to put the book into words, really. This is a book that I have loved so much and so long that I find my tendency is to wax poetic about its many fine features and scenes, and sometimes I get a bit spoiler-y and we can’t have that.

I highly recommend it to anyone, anyone who’s loved learning at any point in their lives, anyone who likes puns, anyone who likes a rewarding story about friendship and what’s possible if you decide to try.

But I will leave you with my favorite quote from the book, from the Whether Man in Chapter 2:

Whether or not you find your own way, you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Read The Phantom Tollbooth, squiders? Favorite character? (I am partial to Tock.) Other related thoughts?

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