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Worth the Candle
IMHO, the world of texting and Twitter owes a huge debt to William Steig. It's not something easily proven, but it seems likely that C D B!, and its successor, C D C?, were childhood favorites of many of today's computer engineers and LOLcats.
The books have one swell joke, played out far longer than most of us would have thought possible. Steig writes captions for merry little drawings, and these captions consist of letters and symbols that are the homophonic equivalents of words or syllables. Thus C D B translates to "See the bee!" -a meaning made clear by the drawing of a little boy and girl near a flower and a buzzing insect. This game is, of course, child's play when only a couple of letters form a sentence. But the books quickly zoom into complicated statements like this one, said by a doctor to a nurse as they stand in a waiting room where a little girl and boy wait: B-4 U X-M-N L-C, X-M-N R-V.
Steig's doughy drawings, populated by people with expressive eyebrows who gesticulate helpfully, create an odd little world of their own. This sweet otherworldliness is underlined by the way the puzzle solutions often sound like English learned as a second language, with sounds clipped off and cadences jumping like popcorn in the popper. The effect is utterly endearing, and a reminder of how endlessly enchanting language can be.
The books have recently come out in lightly colorized new editions that include--of all things - an answer key! This strikes us as a little beside the point, because one of the great pleasures in reading C D B! was to figure out as much as you could on your own, and then seek out people who would help you decipher the rest. Rarely has a book worked equally as well as a solitary pleasure and a communal experience. (Drivers, just think how you yearn for passengers when you encounter a particularly obscure personalized license plate.) An answer key in C D B! seems a capitulation to an attention-deficient society. We suggest you just staple that page shut, and if you need help, try crowd-sourcing.