Sunday, May 23, 2010

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankenweiler

By the time I'd read E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler, I'd been to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art many times. My parents took us there, mostly to amuse themselves. Looking back, I think they'd visit the museum in an attempt to break the crushing monotony of Long Island suburban living, an admirable goal. But I don't think they realized how those visits infused the imagination of a young boy who, perhaps they'd just brought along as luggage.

The Met was one of the first places that introduced me to the notion that human existence was perhaps something greater than the banal suburban landscape I'd known. The Egyptian wing, the hall of armour, the pseudo-sexual statue of Perseus holding Medusa's severed head, the lush, massive historical European murals - I processed all these things and although I did not understand their context and discourse...I understood that this palace-like building housed an experience providing a toehold into wonder and dreams.


I'd read From the Mixed Up Files in seventh grade and never forgot it. Claudia decides her parents need a lesson in Claudia appreciation, so she decides to take her younger brother Jamie and run away to live in the Met. That's when this book hooked me. Besides the fact that there was a male character named Jamie (my name), the main characters were kids and they were fearless of the dangers of 1970's New York City.

As if I needed another reason to adore Wes Anderson's work, when I saw The Royal Tenebaums in 2001, I nearly leapt out of my seat and screamed during the film's opening sequences. Young Margot and Richie Tenebaum are shown camping out in the 'African Wing' of the 'City Archives' building. The beauty of The Mixed Up Files is that it captures the spirit of uncorrupted children seeking an adventurous sense of beauty before they are shackled with the stagnant doldrums of adulthood. (Anderson's Tenebaums is rooted in a Franny & Zooey-like exploration of the rigors of adult disappointment).

I checked this book out of my local library and raced through it. It was like remembering an old friend, from a simpler time. Considering I've been toiling through Proust's In Search of Lost Time. This was a light, welcome distraction.

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