I ducked into Mrs. Dalloway’s, a Berkeley bookstore, to pick up a gift. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Three books with wonder in their titles, all published in the last 12 months.
Wonder Valley, by Ivy Pochoda, “a visionary portrait of contemporary Los Angeles in all its facets, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific, from the 110 to Skid Row.”
The Wonderling, by Mira Bartók, a young-adult novel about “Arthur, a shy, fox-like foundling with only one ear and a desperate desire to belong.”
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, by Steven Johnson, a “lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment.”
For your consideration: Title-wise, has wonder replaced girl as the hot publishing trend?
But wait: It’s not just books! Here’s what’s playing at the Roxy, or another theater near you:
Wonder, about a boy with facial deformities who “becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade.” Based on the 2012 novel by A.J. Palacio, which has also spawned calendars, journals, and other merchandise.
And opening next week:
Wonder Wheel, the latest from Woody Allen, about “four characters whose lives intertwine amid the hustle and bustle of the Coney Island amusement park in the 1950s.”
And let’s not forget the summer’s mega-hit:
Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins.
That’s seven wonders of the present-day pop-culture world. And I’ve probably overlooked a few.
Wonder has multiple meanings, as befits a word that’s been in our vocabulary since Old English (wundor, a “marvelous thing, miracle, or object of astonishment”). In Middle English wonder came to mean the emotion evoked by a “marvelous thing.” The original wonder drug, a term the OED tells us was first used in 1939, was Sulfanilamide, an antibiotic.
It seems to me that title trends are an expression of yearning rather than a reflection of real life. In all those girl titles, wrote Emily Wiseman in the Guardian earlier this year, “the girl is a ‘girl’ not because she’s weak, but because she is on the verge of changing into something else” – a transformation the reader wishes for herself. I think I speak for many of us when I say that 2017 has hardly been a wonderful year, but when we pick up a wonder books or go to a wonder movie, we make a tacit wish for for something better, more extraordinary or even supernatural, to lift us beyond the grim daily headlines and tweets.
By the way, my favorite wonder book is Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, by Alisa Solomon, published in 2013. The title comes from the lyric of “Miracle of Miracles,” one of the musical’s songs. This version is from the 1971 film.