Up and Out: Five Things We Can All Learn from Roald Dahl

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Dahl: Not the nicest guy, apparently. But a hell of a storyteller.

When I was six years old, I copied out the entirety of Roald Dahl’s The Twits. By hand. When I filled  one lined page, I’d apply an inch-wide swath of rubber cement and attach the next paper to the bottom, so that I wound up with a scroll the diameter of a car tire. I do still wonder why my teacher allowed me to do this during school time. She was the one who’d read us the book, so maybe she saw it as flattering. Or maybe she saw it as a way to improve my abysmal handwriting. Or maybe she was a genius.

I should acknowledge here that Roald Dahl was, by all accounts, a pretty terrible human being. (If you aren’t familiar with his personal life, this philippic should convince you to take him off your “Writers I’d Have Dinner With” list.) But my five-year-old has discovered Dahl this summer, is already three books in (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, George’s Marvelous Medicine, and Esio Trot), and I couldn’t be happier. She doesn’t want help reading these, and even though this means she’s missing a bit of plot, I agree—Dahl should be consumed in private. But I can’t resist flipping through after she’s gone to sleep, and I’m remembering what made me love him. I think I absorbed something in all that Twit-copying, but even thirty years later, I’m still trying to break down what those lessons are.

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