Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo, read by Cherry Jones
Random House Audio, 2001 (text published in 2000)
2 discs, unabridged

This is not my first time around for this book, and I'm very happy to report that I'm sure it won't be my last, either. It improves on re-reading. Of all of the books I have read with my parent-child book club over the last three years, this has remained a steady favourite. I can think of only one or two other books that my veteran members mention as much, with as much fondness, as they mention Winn-Dixie. So when we started a second parent-child book club, this was a no-brainer choice. And when my first book club participants have all grown out of it and I'm on to a new crop of families, I'll read it with that group again.

I often don't re-read the books that I've already read for book club again, but I loved this when I read it the first time. The audiobook seemed like a good choice, and it had been a couple of years; a refresher was in order.

I'll refer you to my original entry on this book for the summary. Instead, here I'll talk a bit about the audiobook, and some of the things that occurred to me this go-round.

The audio is well done. Cherry Jones does a solid narration job, and brings India Opal Buloni and Naomi, Florida, to life. Her accent is broadly Southern and puts this Canadian more in mind of Georgia than Florida, which might have surprised me more if one of the parents in the group hadn't mentioned it to me before I got my hands on a copy. But it fits, and the cadence of Opal's voice as written really comes to life when read. It adds an extra flavour to the text, which is already rich with the feel of a small town in Florida in summer. And on audio this book is a breeze, at under two hours. It goes by almost too quickly.

I really noticed two things this time through, and they're completely unconnected. Mechanics first: this story is spare. The fact that I recognized it this time might have been exactly because the audiobook feels so short. Kate diCamillo is an expert at understatement, and there is not a single detail in this book that does not need to be there. She knows where to focus her (and therefore our) attention, and how to make time pass without narrating its passing. And she is concise. Opal and the preacher (her father) have a deeply loving relationship, and a complex one, and it is drawn in its complexity and depth with a few spare strokes. Characters, too, are drawn so carefully yet so naturally that one knows them within a few lines and yet they're not one-dimensional, unless Opal sees them as one-dimensional. And when she grows out of that view, it doesn't take more than a few words for the reader to grow their understanding of the character as well. She's a master of concision and it is a beautiful thing to read (or hear.)

The other is that though Winn-Dixie the dog may be a catalyst, he's not the star of the story as much as Opal thinks he is. She doesn't recognize it herself, but it's her integrity, bravery, and kindness that lead to the changes that happen to her over the summer. She may be braver because Winn-Dixie is beside her, but the decisions she makes are her own, and her choices to seek friendship where others might not, and to foster ties where others might not, to open lines of communications that have been silent previously, are the choices that make the difference, not Winn-Dixie's sunny, intelligent, gentle personality. And not that kids' stories have to have "good messages," but this one, in addition to being a lovely, entertaining, funny, sweetly melancholy story, does. It's a message about being kind and looking beyond the surface. That's not a bad thing to take away from a book, for a child or an adult. It's nice that one doesn't feel Messaged At to get to that point, too.

It's hard for me to say whether or not, if you are only going to do one or the other, you should read this or listen to the audiobook. Either is a good choice. But definitely do one or the other. Don't pass this book by.

4 comments:

Nan said...

I read it in 2005, and gave it an A in my reading journal. I loved it. And I'm very fond of the movie, too. The dog in the movie is a Berger Picard - the first time I had seen one. Adorable.
http://picards.us/

Kiirstin Maki said...

I haven't seen the movie, not sure whether I will or not. I have an odd relationship with moving pictures, and I tend to avoid most movies made from books I love -- though to be fair, some of my favourite movies have been from books I love (the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter being two I was absolutely sure I would hate, and loved instead.) And I've always loved the tv miniseries adaptations of Anne of Green Gables, the ones with Megan Follows. So... I could see giving this a try. I've seen stills from the movie. The dog *is* adorable! Though I pictured Winn-Dixie as more of a fuzzy, Great Dane sort of mutt. :)

Darla D said...

I loved this book, too. It's definitely worth a reread! I recently read The Magician's Elephant for the first time, and I found myself noticing the spareness as I read, too - the essential details, the way she does so much with so little.

Kiirstin Maki said...

I am really looking forward to The Magician's Elephant. I think it will probably be the next DiCamillo I read, though I do have a copy of Flora and Ulysses eying me from one of our library displays right now...