Vacation of the Mind Part 1

During a recent trip to the Netherlands, in addition to seeing a great many sights and enjoying the company of my host, his friends, and others I interacted with over the two weeks I was there, I also had a large chunk of free time that I could devote to reading.  Upon reflection, I’ve realized I was sucked into the delicious vortex of mental stimulation that I so often crave but can never seem to devote myself fully to. 

It was a delightful reminder of the power of reading.  I love all forms of storytelling from books to comics to televisual to video games; however, this trip brought me back to my summers of lifeguarding empty pools (nevermind that they were 5 feet deep in the deep end!) where I pretty much read endlessly for months.  I think my best record for one summer (marked by open pool season as from Memorial Day to Labor Day), I read some 42 books.  Those days are long gone at least in terms of the range of demands on my time preventing me from reading that much, but I was still amazed how easily I slipped back into the groove.  Unlike that summer of books, where they mostly fell into science-fiction and fantasy (a mixture of classic and dismal material), this mixture of seven books ran the gamut from young adult to erotica to political satire to nonfiction and all of them registered something in me.

I'm Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti

I never travel without a few physical books and several loaded up on my mp3 player, but that never stops me from buying more when I’m away…I’m a booklover; my apartment is one match away from an alternative level in hell than any mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.  So of course, the first thing I bought when I was out of the country was another book.  I have the film, I’m Not Scared because I believe it’s an excellent example of a thriller that doesn’t use excessive violence or weak gimmicks to affect viewers but relies a compelling plot, interesting viewpoint, and strong development to keep viewings engaged until the very end.  When I saw the book at the airport, I couldn’t resist purchasing it, despite my general policy to not buy “new” books, but get them used.  But it ultimately launched my reading frenzy, and for that, I’m grateful.

It was interesting to note how accurate the film worked with regards to the book. Niccolo Ammaniti’s I’m Not Scared follows a young boy, Michele Amitrano and his life in a small rural Italian home.  Told through Michele’s eyes, the story creates a credible experience of dealing with a limiting childhood in terms of material goods and actual friends.  He has little choice but to play with his younger sister and the few children in the village and though he never says it, he’s clearly frustrated by it.  When Michele discovers a young boy of equal size and age locked in a underground room connected to an abandoned house, the story takes a dark turn that brims with suspense coupled with curiosity.  Both reader and Michele wonder who this boy is and while some of Michele’s conclusions are obviously wrong, we as the reader can understand why or how a 9-year-old’s imagination can make such connections.  And that’s what drives the story; Ammaniti’s skill comes from recreating the world through Michele’s eyes; a pair of eyes that doesn’t believe in monsters…except when he does.  He’s been hardened by both life and the older children of the village but that no less makes him susceptible to his vivid imagination.  In many ways, this book reminds me of Stephen King’s novella, The Body (also fairly well adapted into the movie, Stand By Me) in that there’s an earnestness with which the author reminds the reader of life in before adulthood, but unlike The Body, it’s not a “coming of age story.”

(Just note about the trailer; it is clearly overdramatic and certainly doesn’t represent the film in a clearly accurate manner.  While there is an intensity to the film (and text, even), it’s clear the trailer is trying to forge the film into classic “American thriller” and I think the beauty of this film (all the way till the end) is that it isn’t the standard film.)

In the end, what made this powerful for me was that Ammaniti’s prose did bring me into Michele’s world, but it was the fact that Michele’s world in some ways was no different from my own childhood—filled with nonexistent (but existing) monsters and frights and the occasional real danger (though none in hindsight compare to Michele’s, no matter how much I would have suggested at the time). 

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.