Book Review: Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Bambi: A Life in the WoodsBambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not Disney. This book was incredible. The description was so real, the language not dumbed down for kids. Yes, the animals talked, but it wasn’t cutesy, silly talking. It was Watership Down kind of talking. I read this to my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter (I’m trying to give her the original versions of all of the stories before she sees the Disney versions). When the first scary thing happened, I worried that I’d made a horrible mistake. But, although she was upset, she put it all into perspective very quickly. I loved watching her build a connection with the characters. At one point she said something like, “The words seem so real!” How wonderful to watch my daughter’s love of reading and storytelling develop!
Update: I’ve thought about this book overnight and now I’ve got a few more things I wanted to add. Like another reviewer mentioned, the conversation between two leaves at the end of fall was masterful. There are so many issues of life and death and of God and of domestication. I was thinking about this book in the context of Salten’s life as a Jew in Austria before the second World War. Apparently, he was born in Budapest in 1869 and moved to Vienna when he was just a baby because in 1867, Jews got full citizenship in Vienna. This book was published in 1926, and I’m just starting to think about the messages in the book in the context of what was going on in Europe at the time. There are just so many layers of understanding. No wonder I found this book so satisfying.

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Yes, As a Matter of Fact, Overanalyzing Things is Quite Fun for Me

Why did I go with my children to two birthday parties today when I’ve just said recently that I don’t want to go to too many parties? My best guess is that I didn’t want to be the kind of person who actively avoids interpersonal contact.

The second party I attended was a grown-ups + kids party. The kids ran around playing while the grown-ups hung out and talked. Many of the attendees were from Spain. My grandfather is from Spain. My dad spoke Spanish with me when I was very young (like up to preschool age). I’ve taken beginning Spanish about five times in my life. I actually speak it fairly well if I’ve had enough alcohol and if the conversation takes place only in the present tense and uses no slang. Because I didn’t drink alcohol tonight, I didn’t attempt to speak Spanish until the car ride home when I sang (and then translated) Spanish songs with my daughter and my husband.

I think the main reason I don’t ever seem to learn Spanish is that I’m too embarrassed to speak it with people who actually know it. And speaking Spanish with people who don’t know the language, while it may sound impressive to them, doesn’t really help me to improve my Spanish. Neither does only speaking Spanish to native Spanish speakers while I’m drunk.

I’m also afraid of not being understood and of not understanding what others are saying. This is also a big reason I’ve never left the country (except for a high school band trip to Toronto, which barely qualifies, I suspect). I don’t like looking silly. Or stupid. But I suppose smiling vacantly on the periphery of an ongoing conversation is probably just as silly-looking (if not more so) than trying to participate in the conversation.

I would like to overcome this fear and actually advance to Intermediate Spanish at some point in my lifetime.

This month is not the month for that, though, because, while Risk Looking Silly is one of my personal commandments, it is definitely not Fun.

It seems I’ve translated “December is Fun Month” into “December is the Month for Not Even Risking Not Having Fun,” which I’m fairly certain is a sure-fire recipe for not having fun. Even things I frequently enjoy aren’t always fun. And things I frequently don’t enjoy aren’t always not fun.

So what the heck am I supposed to do during Fun Month? Do I go with things that I think will be fun but that might not be, or do I go with things that I think won’t be fun but might be?

And why is it I seem incapable of just having fun, rather than analyzing it? Maybe analyzing things is in itself fun for me.

One thing that I did find unreservedly fun today: reading Chapter Two of Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten to my daughter before bed. It was just she and I. The baby was already asleep and my husband was upstairs watching football. My daughter and I snuggled close in her bed and read about newborn Bambi discovering his world, safe and secure at his mother’s side. Now that I reflect on that moment, I remember what’s coming in the story, and I’m feeling a little nervous about how my daughter is going to react to the less idyllic parts of the book. But the moment itself I enjoyed immensely.

It’s almost like a metaphor for motherhood. There are these special times of closeness during which I get to share in my children’s innocent discovery, which are made all the more sacred by the knowledge that, not long from now, the veil of innocence will be lifted from my children’s eyes, and they’ll see not only the wonders in the world but also the horrors. And I can do nothing to stop this from happening.

Maybe for me, something isn’t fun unless I’m aware of the shadow side of the activity. It’s like that little teaspoon of lemon juice in the blueberry sauce, breaking the sweetness just enough that it’s even more enjoyable.