People always talk about summer reading, but I’ve never really believed in it. I think it’s because of the stupid book lists I’d get in high school to read while I was away. Yeah, right. “What I did during my summer was read what you gave me, and now I’m back. It was great.” But this summer, I decide to overcome my aversion to that book list feeling, with its corresponding smells of linoleum and pubescent body odor, and read a classic, Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. And I’m going camping.
My parents have the idea to camp, so my siblings and I, along with our spouses and progenies, descend on a poor camping site like a flock of turkey buzzards. Thankfully, my parents live in the Pacific Northwest, so it’s unlikely that we’ll combust due to overexposure to that searing fireball we call the sun.
I survive the first night, despite a root trying to spoon a couple of my ribs, and I meander around our campsite looking for a paper plate.
From what I’ve read so far this morning, I don’t at all feel like a Robinson. After the first few nights “shipwrecked,” I think they’d already scavenged their ship like three times and come up with not only one but two sets of silverware. I look for my assigned spork.
As I scratch my belly and look back at my dwelling, held together with stretchy string and a few radio antennas, I compare it to a Robinson dwelling. They build a treehouse and eventually hollow out the tree trunk just to build an indoor staircase with windows. Their home is like the Berenstain Bears’ house with an addition of the Weasleys’ home from the Harry Potter series. That is, of course, if the Weasleys were filthy rich or had a shipwreck nearby.
Chewing on my instant oatmeal, I think about the flamingo stew the Good Mother (as Mr. Robinson calls his wife) serves for breakfast. And I think (not very well) about how bankrupt my knowledge is in comparison with Mr. Robinson’s bottomless knowledge of absolutely everything. I guess if you know everything and you’re shipwrecked and the ship is full of absolutely everything you could ever need – herb garden, anyone? Oh, here are some cows, pigs, dogs, guns, forge (yes, a forge), axes, hammers, nails, more guns, matches – oh, wait, we don’t need matches because Mr. Robinson will down a tree that will split perfectly down the middle, take the pith (the weird stuff in the middle of trees), and tap two pebbles together to start a bonfire.
I snigger about know-it-alls and how someday they’ll get what’s coming to them as I begin scrounging around in our plastic tubs full of food-stuffs and the occasional diaper. There it is, instant coffee.
Ha! The Robinsons scoff at my pitiful bag of whatever it is that makes up gross coffee. While my family huddles around our gas-powered, fake fire pit thingy, the Robinsons would be discovering a yacht inside their ship! Then, they’d set sail.
We go surfing. Standing in the ocean, I attempt to pry one of my niece’s frozen fingers off of a surfboard. I think I might die out here.
Speaking of dead things, the Robinsons approach to nature is this: If it’s not tameable in the first five minutes, kill it. If it’s a threat, kill it. If it’s pretty, kill it. If it’s just sort of casually hanging out, bang. They’re a blood-thirsty family. My family finds a snake near the bathroom, and we run for our lives. Now we use the woods.
Every bit of potential danger in the book is either remedied very quickly and violently with guns or Mr. Robinson thinks of something ingenious or nature plainly fails to deliver. Imagine Jurassic Park if all the dinosaurs have the personality of Barney the purple dinosaur on mute (muting him would be key).
Now that my coffee is finally kicking in and my three-year-old niece is squealing in my ear that she’s not Uncle Philip (she initiates conversations through confrontation), I realize that perhaps the reason Mr. Robinson comes out looking like a titan of strength and knowledge is because he’s the one doing the writing. I read in the front of the book that it was authored by a son of a reverend who used to entertain his boys with tales of adventure in the great outdoors.
Another cup of coffee later and a twig in my eye from one of my nephews, I’m thinking that the son must have been a naturalist who never went outside and an absolutely horrible storyteller. He’s somehow able to suck the tension out of the entire story. He could have sprinkled in a little human nature and gotten Lord of the Flies, or a little real nature and come up with something more like Lost with it’s time-traveling, nuclear-powered, moving islands and parallel universes.
Sure, there’s a girl that they rescue, but she’s been shipwrecked herself so she’s found stuffing herself with berries and barbecue. She didn’t need rescuing; she’d been shipwrecked!
I’m not sure how to wrap this up, but neither did Mr. Robinson. Finally, he admits to the peril of boring his readers to death by continuing to tell his tensionless, self-congratulatory anecdotes and ends the book. Um, yeah, why didn’t he do that sooner? This genius knows why. They pay you by the word.