There is a certain way I judge a great movie.
I stay through the credits, as if trying to soak up as much of the film as possible before it is gone. Both the first and second Spider Man films kept me glued to my seat long after the last scene ended, even though my wife was tugging at my arm and the theater usher was already sweeping the floor. No Country for Old Men, the entire Lord of the Rings series, Pan’s Labyrinth, the list goes on and on.
I have never been able to apply that same type of judgement to a book. Until yesterday.
I finished the last few pages of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a hulking 500+ page masterpiece of words and art that tell a story so masterfully magical that my own feeble and clumsy words cannot explain it. It is everything I love about children’s literature. A young protagonist with an amazing natural talent, a peculiar girl with an adventurous spirit, twists, turns, charm, heart, and a mystery that takes the reader on a journey through the magic of books and film and how lives are changed through both. It is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.
I don’t want to go too much into the plot because I feel it would lessen some of the magic. I will tell you that it follows a young boy named Hugo, recently orphaned, who hides in the walls of a train station in Paris and keeps the clocks working. Before his tragic death in a museum fire, Hugo’s father was trying to fix an automaton, a small mechanical man with a mysterious past. Hugo is obsessed with finishing his father’s work and often steals parts from the toy shop located in the train station. When he is finally caught by the toy maker, however, things begin to unravel for Hugo as he is plunged into a secret kept hidden for years that connects Hugo, his father, and the toy maker in ways he never would have imagined.
This book combines (and glorifies) two of my great loves: books and movies. There are intentional shout-outs to classic directors/actors like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and Charlie Chaplin. In addition to his own drawings, Selznick also includes stills from classic films that compliment the story and add to its realism and magic. A book store in the train station resembles The Cemetery of Forgotten Books from The Shadow of the Wind. It is a book lover’s paradise, with wall-to-wall bookshelves and a floor littered with stacks of books. I imagined I could find any book in a heaven such as this.
Just trust me when I say you should read this book. The 500+ pages is misleading, as is calling it a “children’s book.” I finished it in just a few days. Even if you have seen the movie (I have), the book its own magical journey and a very different experience than the film. It also has a better ending.
Back to my point. I literally read every word of the book, right down to the notes on the final page about what type of font was used. I was so enchanted by the book that I wanted to absorb every bit of its magical energy into my heart and mind before putting it down and moving on to something else. And even now, I am resisting the urge to pick it up and read it again. It will be tough to send it back to the library, but I am excited about passing it on for someone else to enjoy its charm. With a cover price of $24.99, it may be a while before the book graces my bookshelf, but in time…
Until later. “Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was meant to do…Maybe it’s the same with people,” Hugo continued. “If you lose your purpose…it’s like your broken.”
― Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret