R.J. Anderson (rj_anderson) wrote,
R.J. Anderson

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Kitchen-sink books, and why I love them

Book cover of There are books that make me feel quiet and solemn with their lyrical beauty. There are books so tense and electric that my heart pounds and my breath quickens as I approach the climax. There are books that make me laugh out loud, or sometimes even weep along with the characters. And then there are books that make me wriggle with glee because they are just so much fun to read – either because they remind me of favorite books I read as a child, or just because they are their own quirky and ridiculous selves.

Of the latter group, most are middle grade books. Most also fall into a category I like to call "kitchen sink" books, because they contain just about everything but. Swashbuckling adventure. Madcap schemes. Ridiculous disguises. A supporting cast of eccentric characters who may be loveable, or dangerous, or both at once. A plot like a jigsaw puzzle, made up of interlocking episodes. And, as often as not, a narrative style that gleefully breaks the fourth wall and dances on the rubble.

Classic examples of kitchen-sink books would be Alice in Wonderland and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth. Thurber's The 13 Clocks is another example, as is William Goldman's much-loved The Princess Bride (and it's a kitchen sink of a movie, too).

On the more modern side – technically A Series of Unfortunate Events should fall into this category, but I personally found the series too cynical and self-consciously bleak to delight me. I've got much more pleasure out of Philip Reeve's Larklight and Starcross (where not only is the narration cheekily intrusive with its asides and footnotes, but the illustrator has his own wicked sense of humor) and most recently, Adrienne Kress's delightful Alex and the Ironic Gentleman (known in the UK as Alex and the Wigpowder Treasure), which contains the single most vivid and enjoyable account of a fencing match (complete with helpful diagrams) that I've ever seen*. Sarah Prineas's The Magic Thief is almost too orderly and straightforward to be a kitchen-sink book, as well as being serious in a way that such books seldom are, but something about it gave me the same sort of happy-all-over pleasure (I think it was the combination of Conn's streetwise but good-hearted narration, Nevery's dryly sarcastic diary entries, and the biscuit recipes that did it).

On the adult side, The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a more grown-up, science fictional example (did Douglas Adams ever write anything that wasn't kitchen-sinkish?); and Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair and sequels also have a kitchen-sink mentality, although I found that after the first book the framing device wore a bit thin.

Now for your turn: How do you feel about kitchen-sink stories? Do you enjoy them? What other books or movies would you recommend that fit into this category?

* It also contains a giant octopus of immense personality, which I am sure lizbee will be pleased to know.
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