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Favorite Things: Mark Neese and his hardcover ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’

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Mark Neese, 51, a cataloging assistant at Capital Area District Libraries, of course, has a soft spot for books in general. However, there’s one classic title he’s kept since his childhood days in the Motor City. Here’s what he told City Pulse:

My favorite thing is an old hardcover copy of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” by Roald Dahl. My Grandma Cutler bought it for me when I was about 9 or 10, so this would have been 1977 or 1978. My family was still living in Detroit, only a few blocks away from Grandma’s house on Stahelin Avenue.

I was with her the day she bought it at the old Kresge Department Store in the Grandland Shopping Center on the corner of Grand River and Fenkell Avenue. Grandland was like a smaller scale Frandor and Kresge was a discount store that was the precursor to Kmart, but on a smaller scale.

Books were not major merch at Kresge, so I’m pretty sure this copy of “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” was discounted. The retail price on the dust jacket is $4.95. It’s the 1973 revised edition, so I doubt it has much monetary value, even today.

Back then, I did read it and I was also familiar with the 1971 film adaptation — what kid didn’t love that? But the book was so much better, as is almost always the case with books vs. films.

It inspired me to read the sequel, “Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator,” which is also quite good.

In the time we lived in Detroit, from 1973 to ’79, I spent a lot of time at Grandma’s. Christmases. Summer days. She’d take me to the Chaney branch of the Detroit Public Library, and sometimes my mom would come along, too. We’d check out books together. For me, it was usually Beverly Cleary or books about World War II. For Grandma: the latest John Jakes, Michener or some mystery novel.

By 1979, my family moved to the thumb in Cairo, a small town. I lived there until 1986, when I came to Michigan State University. I’ve been in the Lansing area ever since.

Today, at my family’s house, we’ve got one book case in the living room, one book case in the hallway and tons more in the basement. My copy of “Charlie” stays upstairs in the living room.

Most, if not all, of my other childhood books are gone now, but not this one.
Grandma Cutler died in 2000 at age 93. This might sound corny, but whenever I see the spine, I’m that 9-year old kid at Kresge with Grandma — that sends me to memories of reading books in one of her upstairs bedrooms in the summer with wind blowing through the screen windows and Mr. Seiler mowing his lawn next door.

The book also simply reminds me of my grandmother: her generosity, her spirit and her love of reading.

I’ll always love this book. It still holds up — the wicked British sense of humor in particular. The last time I read it was about eight or nine years ago to my oldest son, who’s now at MSU.

(This interview was edited and condensed by Rich Tupica. If you have a suggestion for Favorite Things, email rich@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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