Jan 31

McDonalds giving away books with Happy Meals; Is it OK to make fun of tragedy? And we can’t wait for you to read Quiet by Susan Cain and The Ice Balloon by Alex Wilkinson.

A very happy meal (maybe)

McDonalds recently announced that it would be including books with children’s Happy Meals in the United Kingdom. This has generated quite a bit of controversy. Michael and I examine our feelings about it which, frankly, are conflicted. The fact that 1 in 3 children in the UK does not own a book is a staggering reality that makes me believe that this program may be OK. Still, I wrestle with the idea of connecting books and junk food.

Should tragedy be funny? (05:21)

A recent New York Times Book Review by Christopher R. Beha about Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son [WARNING: major spoilers included in Beha’s review] has raised the question: is it ever OK to deal with tragic events through the use of humor? The novel, set in North Korea with Kim Jong-Il as a character, does have some humorous elements within, but overall it is not a comic novel.  As I was thinking about the review and Beha’s viewpoint, I happened upon a blog post on The Book Smugglers that questions a young adult book that contains a Nazi joke.  Shalom Auslander’s new novel, Hope: A Tragedy, centers on a farmhouse where Anne Frank lives in the attic as a squatter. My friend Kalen begins her Goodreads review in this way: “I don’t even know where to start reviewing this book. It is so very, very wrong and hysterically funny.”  What do you think? Is there a certain period of time that should pass before tragedy is written about in a way that veers from the serious? Are some subjects untouchable?

Two books we can’t wait for you read (13:20)


Quiet   The Ice Balloon

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is a work of nonfiction that we think will appeal to many of our Books on the Nightstand listeners. The book looks at how extroversion as “the norm” is a fairly recent phenomenon, and how introverts are often “forced” to work with others and in ways that are do not always play to the strengths of the introvert. The book looks at the brain science behind each personality trait, and examines the societal expectations and valuation of introverts and extroverts. Even though many of us share traits of both extroverts and introverts, it’s a fascinating book that has made Michael look at the world a little differently. (Susan blogged about last year’s Books on the Nightstand retreat, even before we knew that her book would be published by Crown, one of the Random House imprints. We’re thrilled that Susan will be joining us at Booktopia:Manchester).

Full confessions: I have not yet read The Ice Balloon by Alex Wilkinson, but many, many of my colleagues have and it’s killing me that I haven’t gotten to it yet. But based on other books that our Books on the Nightstand listeners have read and loved, I didn’t want to wait to tell you about this book. It’s the story of Swedish explorer S.A. Andreé, who in 1897 tried to discover the North Pole by flying over it in a hydrogen balloon. Andreé and his fellow aeronauts were not successful, and they seemingly disappeared into thin air. Wilkinson tells the story of what happened, based on diaries and unexposed films that were found 33 years after the fatal voyage, when their bodies were finally discovered.

  • I am so excited about QUIET!

  • Books with Happy Meals? I wish they’d do that in the US (yes, I’m a grownup…and yes, I sometimes still get Happy Meals….)

  • Pattysnyder26

    Don’t fret so much over books being given away by McDonalds in the UK. It may start a trend in restaurants other than McDonalds. I would love to walk into a McDonalds (disguised of course so not to be recognized) and see a bunch of kids reading. 

    Another a slightly different tangent, visit your nearest Ronald McDonald House whose biggest corporate donor is McDonalds.

  • Bill

    I didn’t like The Orphan Master’s Son nearly as much as you two (or most of the rest of the world) did but I agree with your assessment of the N.Y. Times review.   

  • I know ya’ll tried to be politically correct and “kind” with your comments regarding McDonald’s and books.  You should have just left it as kids are going to have an awesome opportunity to receive books, I wasn’t impressed with the rest of your comments.  Remember, on this big round ball we live on, we are all different, we all read different books, we all watch different television, and our choices in food are different as well.

    Keep up the great work with the books – I just discovered your Podcast, and it makes the drive to work that much better.

  • I was so excited to hear Ann discussing “The Ice Balloon” on the latest episode.  My husband is from Sweden, and while we were living there, I had the opportunity to visit the excellent museum about the expedition in Grenna.  They have an excellent website, but unfortunately, it’s all in Swedish:  http://www.grennamuseum.se/info.aspx?visa=upptackandree

    I’m not much of a history person, but even I was fascinated by the story and by all the artifacts on display that were discovered so long after the deaths of the men.  Really worth a visit on your next visit to Sweden!  🙂

  • Pattysnyder26

    Mel Brooks features WW2 Germany in The Producers. Hogan’s Heroes, a television comedy series from the late 60’s and early 70’s, took place in a German prisoner-of-war camp. Maybe if we all poked fun at and laughed at the ridiculous dictators of the world instead of tippy-toeing around them, they would lose the power to enthrall and enslave.

  • I was very surprised by hearing your reactions about McDonald giving books in Happy Meals because here in Sweden this has been happening for many years and still happen now and then. I´m not a fan of McD and try to avoid it, and my children are now teenagers so they don´t eat Happy meals any more, but I don´t mind at all. Getting a book is much much better than getting a plastic toy. It was also nice to here about The Ice Balloon. Here in Sweden we already have quite a few vey good books about Andrée and his balloon. Did you now that the young Nils Strindberg who was a part of the Andree expedition was engaged to miss Anna Charlier. When he never returned she married another man, but when she many years later learnt that their remains had been found she decided that her hart should be buried together with the remains of Nils Strindberg. So her body is buried in England together with her husband but her cremated heart is resting next to Nils Strinbergs in the Andreé-grave. Sad and romantic!
    Than you for your podcast!

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