Amongst the many trivial niceties found in casual conversation, the query of ‘what is your favourite book’ will often surface sooner, rather than later.
It’s a good one, as it can really give you a broad interpretation of the kind of person you’re speaking with. They might dip into the classics, expressing with gusto their fondness for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Or they could be a more offbeat sort of character, opting instead for the poetic barbarity of Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale.
Ladies and gentlemen, the magnificent peanut man!
And those are pretty solid options, sure. To paraphrase a staple of the Australian literature canon, “I liked them, but they weren’t my favourite”.
No, I must be transparent when I try to explain the merit of my most cherished book. One that, I might even so boldly claim, had an impact on the writing style I would eventually implement to this very day: expressive, clumsy and shameless.
For you see, my top book of all time is The Monster at the End of this Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover by Jon Stone, with illustrations by Michael Smollin.
As alluded to in its title, the protagonist here is Sesame Street’s very own Grover (whether he is loveable, furry or old is a matter of interpretation). Though he delights at first in hanging out with you for a chill sesh, upon turning to the first page, he does a double take.
“Holy shit,” he gasps, the words barely escaping his lips as his whole body is suddenly gripped with terror. “Did that title say that there’s a monster at the end of this book? That’s fucked, dude! Absolutely fucked!!”
It’s been a few years since I last read the book, so I’m probably paraphrasing a little. The point is, Grover has deduced that the only thing waiting for him at this story’s conclusion is an encounter with a hideous, ravenous ghoul.
Is it the blemiyeh? The kraken? The Kesha?
He sure doesn’t want to find out. So he politely requests that you don’t turn the page, thereby preventing progression to the end of the book. And already, you’re hit with a dilemma.
The title has indicated that Grover is your closest, dearest friend, and he has reached out to you in his time of need. Surely, that should be your cue to put the book down, or fling it out the window to protect him from a terrible fate.
“Great story, mom and dad,” you would state to your bewildered parents, who are simultaneously confused by your actions and impressed by your upper body strength to have launched the book such a distance. “And yet now, I need to go to bed and never read another book ever again, so as to mitigate the risk of Grover getting into another precarious situation.”
What an eloquent child you are! But we know for a fact that this wasn’t you. No, the moment you saw Grover quivering in fear, you did it, you heartless fiend…
You turned the fucking page.
Grover is aghast. Maybe you didn’t hear him right the first time, or you haven’t understood the severity of the situation. Worse still, he has to come to grips with the possibility that you actually weren’t the friend he thought you were.
No more fucking around, decides Grover, who begins binding pages together in what was likely a child’s earliest introduction to rope play.
That’ll put a stop to your shenanigans, surely. We all know nothing is stronger than fictional pieces of string assembled by a story book Muppet. Dare you try to turn the page again? Can your ego handle the failure that is imminent?
If, somehow, you were to succeed at this herculean task, Grover will be beside himself with grief. What follows can only be described as a descent into madness, as he attempts more outlandish means of obstruction — from a wooden apparatus to a brick wall, and stopping just short of reaching from the page and biting your nose off like a fuzzy blue Sadako — until at last, you approach the climax.
With only a single page left standing between him and disaster, Grover makes one last impassioned plea. Is this what you really want? For this innocent man to be callously sacrificed to an eldritch horror in order to satisfy your curiosity? This is the page that really separates the good samaritans from the psychopaths.
Then, it happens. You’ve reached the dreaded finale, and Grover has a life-altering experience as he realises that the monster at the end of the book is… Grover himself.
Not since the reveal that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same has literature grappled with such a thematic blow. Our presumed hero — the allegedly lovable, furry old Grover — is that which he feared the most in life.
He tries to play it off all cool and stuff, but it’s clear that he’s shaken, changed. His lateral thinking and burgeoning construction skills meant nothing in the face of catastrophe, and now he must live with the torrid truths he unearthed on this day.
As Frederick Nietzsche once said, “whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you”.
Overall, 10 out of 10, good and best book. My favourite page is the one where he is hammering the wooden barricade together and his hammer goes ‘KLONK’.
I swear I intended to actually write something credible, but I just got so excited by the concept of giving you a play-by-play of The Monster at the End of this Book that I neglected to offer anything meaningful. Par for the course, I suppose.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start the book over again, so that Grover’s existential punishment may never end. That’ll teach him a lesson.
…He knows what he did.