When I was very young, my great grandmother owned a children’s book by Sesame Street showrunner Jon Stone, called The Monster at the end of This Book. Now, a little archiving is in order: Sesame Street began playing on PBS in 1969. The book was written in 1971. And my life in Sacramento ended in 1975, I believe. So, in five years, even proper women like Great Grandma Barnes had heard of Sesame Street enough to, at least, procure an offshoot book by these guys.
Even today, the book makes me smile. Everyone loves Grover, the lovable, blue furry, slightly manic, very ridiculous Muppet. Over the years I’ve seen lots of Sesame Street books, and this is the only one that doesn’t come across as tinny and cheap mini-sermon about sharing, or numbers, or (God help us all) pooping with Elmo. Jon Stone’s writing had Grover’s personality pitch-perfect.
The plot is quite simple. Your lovable, furry pal Grover has heard that there is a monster at the end of the book you are reading. And he wants you to stop, right now, and not turn another page because “it will only get you closer to the end of the book.” He then ropes the page down, and lays an entire page behind brick. But for all his shouting and screaming, you eventually reach the end of the book, for a little surprise.
Michael Smollin absolutely nails the art, with its frantic blue monster thrashings-about and dirty bricklaying and rope-tying destruction. There are even hand-drawn rips at the corners and edges of the book.
The book is smart. It is interactive without being an electronic device. The Monster at the End of this Book is a page-turner in the literal sense of the term, ironically urging the reader NOT to keep turning pages. It has the tight rise-and-fall of masterful storytelling, all compacted into 30-or-so pages. The story’s climax and resolution is something to behold, when we discover that, despite Grover’s prophecies of doom, the monster at the end of the book isn’t something all that scary.
Jon Stone (“You know NOTHING, Jon Stone.” I had to say it…) and Michael Smollin have both passed away. They both worked on Sesame Street for years. Incidentally, do *not* read The Other Monster at the End of This Book. It throws Grover and Elmo into the ring, so there are, not one but TWO monsters when you reach the end of the book. And nobody cares.
But the original book, well, I give it Five Stars of Five because, even though I first read the thing 40 years ago, the book is still funny, the art is still crisp, and the writing still stands up. That’s pretty amazing for a book that is perhaps 400 words long.
In fact, this post is 500 words long, and I haven’t accomplished anything except, perhaps, to convince someone how monsters, and reading, are not all that scary.
I went a little overboard today. What I came here to talk about is the end of things. There was a meme a few years ago, springing up in the late 1990s, where people might find an austere web page that says something like “You have reached the end of the Internet. There is nothing more to see here. Now, turn off your computer and go outside.” The joke is a tired one. We know this because Comcast even borrowed the idea for a commercial.
“I thought you were surfing the World Wide Web,” the wife said.
“I’m done,” said the husband.
“What”? Exclaims the wife.
“There’s no more internet. I’ve gone through everything. See?” And the husband shows her one of those websites.
Fast web connection, you see. Ohhh Comcast, YOUSOFUNNY!
Now we all know this can’t be true. You can’t see everything, not in a million, berjillion years could you see the Internet.
But some nights, it feels like it. Last night, I was languishing for something new on the web. Social media wasn’t doing it for me. The Southwestern food I’d eaten for Judi’s Mother’s Day dinner had my stomach tied in three kinds of sailor’s knots. My feet hurt after a physically exhausting day at work, And I was lying on the bed, looking for All The Funny in the dark corners of the Interwebs. 9Gag was tired. Reddit’s r/funny group seemed to have been invaded by fifth graders. And Facebook was filled with people wishing their mothers Happy Mother’s Day, and folks posting onanistic pre-electioneering invective.
Maybe I had reached the end of the Internet. The ends of things are out there, right? Like Grover’s ropes, dangling from the edges of his monster-safe book. I chatted with a few old friends on Facebook, shut off my phone and went downstairs to read.
It’s kind of like those Stretch Armstrong dolls we played with in the 70s. You could really yank on his arms, and he’d eventually take his shape again. When salt loses its savor, and your ice cream tastes like lard, it’s time to just put things down and make a change. They eventually snap back, reform and stuff, right? Then you can go about your business.
I’m thinking about writing a novel again. We shall see if, in a few weeks, I’ll put on my fiction boots and start walking that path.
Happy Mother’s Day to my mom. I love her very very much, even though she’s probably busy fishing and won’t read this for a few days.
It turns out that, after all these pages, I, lovable furry BJaneCarp, am the monster at the end of this book! Me!
Have a great day, folks. Feel free to unfasten your seat belts and move about the cabin.