My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Doodle Lit, the work of Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver, is a book that I specifically requested to review and my thanks to the publishers for the review copy. I specifically requested it for several reasons: the boom in colouring in books currently hitting the United Kingdom market and also the fact that it was a book that paired doodling with classics. I was, as you might say in a TL:DR sort of fashion, intrigued.
And how could I not be? I read a lot but I only recently read my first ever Jane Austen. I have a fragile relationship with canonical texts. I would desert island with books such as The Secret Garden, but I’d run a mile were my only option something like a Thomas Hardy. And I grant that a lot of that is due to my educational exposure to these texts, to over-studying a lot of them (I only really got back Sylvia Plath quite recently, after my A-Levels pretty much took her away from me), but it’s also related to a lot of the expectations that go on around the idea of a classic text. They are texts that a lot of people revere and love. There are texts that have burnt through the years as though they were paper and each word was a flame. These texts exist and they cut through the world for a reason – but they don’t do that for everyone. They can be intimidating spaces precisely because of that weight behind them, that power. Sometimes it’s hard to find a fix on a text which is from a different world from you. Sometimes it’s hard to find the key to the door, let alone even see the door.
And so : Doodle Lit. It’s split into several sections; a brief introduction of an author with a quote about their doodling (Mark Twain : “I have never let my schooling interfere with my doodling”), followed by several pages of thematically relevant doodling. Shakespeare sees a page asking us to design our coat of arms, whilst another asks you to draw a bunch of rose and another offers some cut out and keep mask outlines. Tolstoy’s section (“Everything that I understand, I understand only because I doodle”) sees us being asked to design an evening bag for Anna, and another spread asks us to give her a new hair do.
I did feel that the book slightly lost its way at points; Lewis Carroll is included twice, albeit with a different focus on his work (his nonsense poetry vs Alice-in-Wonderland) and the activities in Emily Brontë’s section in particular felt a little tenuous at points (though I did rather adore the spread which declares: “Cathy is hanging up her laundry to dry on the clothesline. Doodle it”)
Despite these dips, there’s a lot of quality here. I can understand why books like this are problematic for some (I’m thinking of some of the media coverage of books like srsly Hamlet for example), I’d argue that there is definitely a space for books like Doodle Lit. It’s been produced with a lot of quality, the paper was thick enough that the felt-tips I used didn’t bleed through to the other side (I tested! For science!) and each page is printed with a perforated edge so that it tears out easily. It’s a good book. It’s been put together with a lot of care and consideration for the texts in question (though I can only specifically comment on the ones that I’ve read, do bear that in mind), and I like that. I like people that are taking risks and trying to introduce the classics to a new audience. I like that they’re breaking them down for readers to find that space within them for themselves. I like that a lot. Plus, I like the first spread a lot (“What kind of dog does Mr Darcy have? Doodle it and give it a name”).
(He’s got a purple spotted dog called Percy.)