In local news, Neil Gaiman is coming to Atlanta (well, Decatur, but still…) on December 14th. The world’s greatest children’s bookstore, The Little Shop of Stories, won an appearance by Mr. Gaiman for winning a Halloween party contest promoting his Newberry Prize-winner, The Graveyard Book. The appearance will be hosted at Agnes Scott College and is free. But you have to have a ticket. You can pick up free tickets today, in person, at The Little Shop – one per person. On Monday Dec. 7th additional tickets will also be made available by phone. I’m dashing over there today to pick up my ticket and knock out some holiday shopping. See you there. Check out The Little Shop’s Event Page for all of the details.
If you’re looking for things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, check out Wired’s look at the film adaptation of The Road.
Paste offers up this list of the Top 10 Debut Novels of the Decade:
- Jonathan Safran Foer - Everything is Illuminated
- Junot Diaz – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
- Zadie Smith – White Teeth
- Arthur Phillips – Prague
- Alice Sebold - Lovely Bones
- Joshua Ferris - And Then We Came to the End
- Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner
- Hillary Jordan – Mudnbound
- Marisha Pessl - Special Topics in Calamity Physics
- Rivka Galchen – Atmospheric Disturbances
I might reshuffle the deck a little. I might also ditch the two I haven’t read (Lovely Bones and Prague) and replace with Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, Katie Kitamura’s The Longshot, Michael Fitzgerald’s Radiant Days – just off the top of my head. Which would give me a top 11 list. I know that I am overlooking other excellent debut novels over the past 10 years. Who makes your list? Who would drop from Paste’s list?
Things have been quiet around here due to a litany of excuses: old computer finally exhausted my patience (die!), work travel, home construction project, and back out of town for a wedding. Enjoy these links while the slacking continues:
- An 11 year old girl tries to check out a library book, adults behave badly – and weirdly: “People prayed over me while I was reading it because I did not want those images in my head…”
- The Rory Gilmore Reading Project is a blog centered around the challenge of reading all of the books mentioned by Rory Gilmore. (See how you measure up with the handy Google Docs spreadsheet)
- Please think of the children and keep them away from these excerpts of the titles nominated for the Bad Sex Award
- Back to the wholesome: 50 Best Books for Boys and Young Men
- Dave Eggers haters, The Guardian says you are so last decade. ”Eggers is now mining a vein of American oral storytelling that makes him a worthy successor to the late Studs Terkel.”
- Sarah Plain’s book doesn’t have an index. So Slate made one: ”dialogue, implausibly recreated, 2, 53, 74, 151, 161, 179, 188, 217, 235, 318, 358, 375…evolution, skeptical views of, 217, use of word “Neanderthal” despite, 30, 172″
- And now I need to see New Moon.
The NYT takes an interesting look at the collaboration between Andre Agassi and Pulitzer-winning journalist JR Moehringer on Agassi’s new memoir Open. Which is really just an excuse for us to enthuse once again on Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar. I loved that book. (Glowing review of Tender Bar).
When I first started to read the early glowing reviews of David Owen’s Green Metropolis: Why Living Smarter, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, I’ll admit that I was skeptical. I bought it anyway, and I promptly had my mind blown. In a nutshell Owen’s thesis is this: big cities are inherently greener than the rural/suburban landscapes that many green authorities would have you believe are the platonic ideal of green living. That’s right, New York City is greener than Vermont. I read this book while on a trip to New York, which was too bad for my hosts. I provided them with near constant updates about why their city was one of the greenest on Earth. It got a little obnoxious. (Sorry, yall!)
Owen sets it up like this:
…We decided to make out first home in a Utopian community in New York state. For seven years we lived quite contentedly in circumstances that would strike most Americans as austere in the extreme: our living space measured just seven hundred square feet, and we didn’t have a lawn, a clothes dryer, or a car. We did our grocery shopping on foot and when we needed to travel longer distances we used public transportation. Because space at home was scarce, we seldom acquired new possessions of significant size. Our electric bill worked out to about a dollar a day. The Utopian community was Manhattan.
The reasons that New York is greener are varied. New Yorkers use less gasoline than the rest of us – way less (9 gallons per person per year). It’s possible to live in New York City and never get a driver’s license. Walking is a viable daily means of transportation. Public transportation is excellent. New Yorker’s activities take up remarkably less space and are accordingly more efficient. (The author gives the example of his workplace, the Conde Naste building. If built like a suburban office park, it would take up over 150 acres. And everyone would have to drive to get there.) Living spaces that share walls cut down on energy costs. New Yorkers live longer than the rest of us and are able to remain independent longer, too (all that walking is good for you). And so on.
In the second chapter, Owen lays out how the case of our oil dependency in this country and how well and truly screwed we all are as a result. It is impossible, Owen argues, to continue living anything close to the way that we have been. That’s a sobering assessment. We are going to have to change how we live dramatically whether we want to or not. The model that Owen puts forth as a solution is that of our largest cities. We need to live closer to one another in densely developed areas. We need to live in smaller spaces. Our cities need to be walkable and have excellent public transportation. Most difficult of all, we need to stop driving.
Along the way, Owen examines some of the “green” activities that may make us feel better, but are largely window dressing (or just plain wrong-headed) in the context of our oil addiction:
- Anything that eases traffic in urban areas (makes driving more appealing) is bad
- LEED “green” architecture is not so great (standards are difficult to document; does a poor job of putting buildings in context – i.e., a green office building that requires all of its workers to drive to/from work and out and back at lunch is not so green)
- Large Victorian-style parks (think Olmsted parks like Central Park, Prospect Park, Piedmont Park in Atlanta) that break up urban walking routes are utilized less than smaller neighborhood parks
- Locovorism is not a sustainable way for all of us to get all of our food
- Vertical farming in cities is lunacy
- Recycling may make you feel warm and fuzzy but is probably almost completely undone by your driving
- Anything involving two people living in a 5000 square foot house (no matter what kind of earth friendly flooring they choose) is bad
If you live in a suburban or rural area, this make is going to make you feel, depending on your attitude about such things, somewhere between a little bit and a lotta bit crummy. Don’t worry though, the author is right there with you. Owen lives in rural Connecticut and is trying to work through the same issues as the rest of us.
While I was reading the book, Owen penned a full page article in the Wall Street Journal provocatively titled, How Traffic Jams Help the Environment. It’s a good primer to Owen’s general philosophy. There was some negative reaction to the piece like this response at WorldChanging. Interestingly, the same organization, which bills itself as “bright green” has also championed Owen’s central premise – New York City is a model of green living. (WorldChanging also reports on European models for car free cities – worth a look.)
In short, Green Metropolis is well deserving of all of the early review praise that I read. I’ll add my own: Green Metropolis is a lucid, well-argued book that will force you to change the way you view our world. It is a must read if our environmental future is something that concerns you. Read it already.
This review is already much longer than most that we run here on BGB, and I feel like I could write about this thought-provoking book all day long. Still, I’m not really doing the book justice because I am scrambling to get this post out so that I can let you know this: David Owen will be participating in a lecture/reading/interview with WABE’s Valerie Jackson at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library tomorrow night (11/12) at 7PM. Free.
Baby Book Club @toothpastefordinner.com
Moby Lives stumbles across the most out of touch post about making money blogging about books – EVER. Or maybe I just don’t want the competition. You decide!
Paste lists the Top 20 Books of the Decade. Your mileage may vary.
Cory Doctorow argues for bringing the sexy back to teen lit.
Wired’s Geek Dad presents a 2009 Book Gift Guide, AND he loves pal of the blog Laurel Snyder’s latest book.
Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has been billed as “Harry Potter for grown-ups.” However, this is not “Harry Potter and the All-Weekend Kegger Where Things Got a Little Weird.” No. The Magicians provides serious social commentary. It is capital “L” Literature. It just happens to involve a school where young adults learn magic and a mysterious Narnia-like parallel world full of wonder and intrigue. If those ideas seem mutually exclusive to you, this is not the book for you.
Quentin Coldwater is a high-school senior. He’s not a loser per se, after all he’s academically among the elites in New York City:
The school systems in Brooklyn sorted out the gifted ones and shoved them together, then separated the ridiculously brilliant ones from the merely gifted ones and shoved them together, and as a result they’d been bumping into each other in the same speaking contests and regional Latin exams and tiny, specially convened ultra-advanced math classes since elementary school. The nerdiest of the nerds.
Where do kids like that end up? One place that they could end up is at an Ivy League university. Quentin is, in fact, leaving an interview with a Princeton alum (that goes awry) when he stumbles through a Brooklyn alley and onto the campus of the Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. It turns out to be harder to get into than even Princeton.
Magic college sounds infinitely more interesting than the other, more uncertain, future that lay before Quentin, so he decides to stay. Although more difficult than he would have imagined, college agrees with Quentin. He begins to find himself, becomes more self-confident, and maybe even finds where he belongs:
After his little curved tower-top room, how could he go back to his dingy bedroom in Brooklyn with its crumbly white paint and its iron bars on the window and its view of a tiny walled-in dirt patch…He had nothing to say to his well-meaning, politely curious parents…His world had become complicated and interesting and magical.
If you didn’t know this book was about a school of magic, Quentin’s first visit home from college would sound like that of almost any other college kid. What’s wonderful and subversive about this novel is that Grossman could be talking about time spent in any well-respected college. If you went away for college (from home and your best friends), then a lot of this novel will ring absolutely true. And you probably didn’t go to a school of magical pedagogy.
I don’t want it so seem like the novel is a pedantic grind, because it’s not. The novel totally works on the kid-goes-to-magic-school-and-has-adventures level. Beneath that though, The Magicians explores the transition from adolescence through college and into the job market, especially among “elite” students. (Quentin’s time in the working world is an especially savage commentary.)
The themes that emerge throughout the book are subtle and raise questions that are worth considering: Is it really healthy to isolate “gifted” kids throughout their educations? Is college where childhood dreams go to die? Does privilege and power necessarily lead to evil? What’s the deal with that guy in the corner office who doesn’t seem to do anything all day long?
Clearly, I thought The Magicians was brilliant. If any of the above sounds interesting to you (Hey! I hardly even mentioned the magic school/Narnia world plot!), be sure to check it out.
Lev Grossman had the audacity to write a piece for the Wall Street Journal recently titled “Good Novels Don’t Have to Be Hard.” Naturally he was burned at the proverbial stake in various quarters for various sins, heresies, and heterodoxies against Literature. I don’t think the essay says that “hard” novels aren’t good, just that novels don’t have to be difficult in order to be Literary. Check out the article. I think it explains what he was trying to do here, and I’m on board.
I’ve been checking out old issues of Life magazine on Google Books. They are like these crazy oddball missives from bizzarro land. Check these out:
- In Nov of 1936 the mag gives a favorable mention of paintings by…wait for it…….Hitler. Yes. That Hitler.
- Feb 1945: “Meat makes it fun to get the protein you need…the right kind of protein for children to grow up on…”
- Jan 1955: Time for some nudity – don’t worry it’s a Pacific Islander, so it’s not real nudity
- In June of 1966, one year before the summer of love, young musicians were all honor roll students playing at hip venues like the Women’s National Republican Club in NYC, attended Ivy league schools, and had crappy band names.
- Dec 1972: Check out the year in pictures. Ida Amin in a Speedo; the little Vietnamese girl famous for the picture where she is running naked from her bombed village is all better.
In other news -
Obama names Alan Moore to be official White House biographer.
Carolyn Kellogg reports that Jane Austen and Steve Hockensmith are hard at work on a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
The Washington Post’s Paper Cuts blog reports on the new Going Rouge Sarah Palin coloring book:
Frank Portman is the author of the novels King Dork and Andromeda Klein. He is also Dr. Frank, leader of the Bay Area punk band The Mr. T Experience (MTX) that is now playing into its third decade. Since we love, Love, LOVE the intersection of books and music, Frank Portman is officially “our kind of guy.” Accordingly, I was thrilled when he agreed to field some questions from the likes of us.
Baby Got Books interview with Frank Portman, author of Andromeda Klein and King Dork
Baby Got Books: I was a college DJ way back when the MTX album Night Shift at the Thrill Factory first came out. Looking back on it, a song like “The History of the Concept of the Soul” may have hinted at a bookish future. When did you first begin to write prose (as opposed to songs)? And at what pint did you first begin to think seriously about writing a novel?
Frank Portman: Before doing King Dork, the only kinds of writing I’d done other than songs were essays and papers for school (and a blog that I started up in 2001.) That song was actually a song version of a paper I did for a class on Greek and Roman religion when I was in college. At the time, it just seemed like it would be funny to put footnotes in a punk rock song, and I guess it kind of was.
I started writing the first book in 2004, at the suggestion of an agent who believed the sensibility and characters in some of my songs might make for a pretty good YA novel. Turns out he was right, but I don’t think I really took it all that seriously till it was well into the revision process. Then it hit me that it was really happening.
BGB: Neither of us is a young adult exactly, but here we are talking about books that are ostensibly “for” young adults? Did you set out to right for a particular age group? How do you feel about the “YA” label that has been assigned to your books?
FP: I love the YA tradition, and I have for practically all my reading life. I’m proud to be part of it. That said, I don’t believe in “reader profiling” and I think trying to tailor a novel to match the supposed expectations and tastes and attention span, etc. of a particular narrowly-defined demographic group is a recipe for dull, inauthentic books.
There is a debate, not likely to be resolved, about “what is YA?” (similar to the “what is punk?” debate in some ways.) I think the marketing answer (e.g. they are books marketed to or “aimed at” young readers as opposed to the general reading public) is the least interesting or fruitful one; it’s certainly not an approach I’d recommend as guide to how to write a worthwhile novel. For me, the thing that makes YA YA is something more essential and profound: it is the attempt to depict a teenaged character from the inside rather than as a figure observed from without. The high school years are crucial years for everyone in our culture, and the sting and occasional joys of that experience stays with you, forever. So it is a great “frame” within which to examine some universal things about human experience. (Of course, you can read it as nostalgia as well. I’m not saying that’s not there for older readers — I’m just saying it’s not all that’s there.) Anyway, there is a reason why the fascination with high school so evident in our popular culture never seems to die out, among all age groups, and I think that’s it.
As for the marketing label, it’s a blessing and a curse like most things. The downside is that a lot people in the literary establishing tend to take you less seriously as a writer. And people in general will often tend to assume that your books are simplistic or dumbed down and not worth their time. (This is summed up pretty well in the question that every YA author hears over and over again: “so do you plan to write a real novel one day?”) On the plus side though: it is a happening, hip place to be these days. We’re like the “cool kids” of publishing all of a sudden. And it is a growing market, which is not something you can say about many things in this day and age. Also, I believe that YA publishers are a lot more open to new things and are prepared to take more risks than “adult publishers.” So I think it is a good fit for me. It certainly has worked out well so far.
BGB: Your new novel “Andromeda Klein” features a high school girl who has a strong interest/obsession with the occult, a subject that always seems to be at the top of the list along with “Satanism” as a rationale for challenging books at libraries. Was the possibility of challenges/banning a concern for you or publisher? Has it happened yet?
FP: While I was writing, that honestly didn’t occur to me. I was just so absorbed in Andromeda’s world that I wasn’t really looking at it from the outside, perhaps. And that’s ironic in a way (and maybe says something unflattering about me) because that it is sub-theme in the book itself. It wasn’t till we were at the publishing point-of-no-return phase when people started saying “you know, this book is going to get banned” that the thought first entered my head. I was shocked by that. And then I was even shocked-er when a school visit was actually cancelled. So far, that’s the only incident I know of. We’ll see what happens.
BGB: It’s clear from the book that a great deal of research into the arcana of the occult was involved. Has the occult always been an interest of yours or did you dive into the subject as you began to write Andromeda Klein?
FP: It was an interest of mine as a kid, sure, but I really did have to do my homework to get up to speed with Andromeda. The model for Andromeda’s obsession with and approach to the occult, to the degree that there was one, was not my own obsession with the occult as a kid but rather my obsession with rock and roll. I think the two areas of interest have a lot in common, especially inasmuch as the “record nerd” and and the “occult nerd” can be equivalent types. Moreover, in both cases it is a side of things that fairly common, but not often recognized or depicted. So there’s a similarity between the two books, and the two characters, if you like, despite the fact that they are very very different in almost every other way.
BGB: One of the things (among many) that I learned from Andromeda Klein is that Ozzy Osbourne mispronounced Alistair Crowley’s name in the song Mr. Crowley. The book presents several examples of musicians who botch the meaning of occult symbols/beliefs (e.g., they are Satanic). Do you think this is due to a general misunderstanding based on the esoteric nature of occult texts? Or is it just lazy appropriation? Both?
FP: The big mistake people tend to make in general regarding esoterica is to assume that because it is of an earlier age and off the radar of conventional contemporary rational discourse that it is simplistic, or naive, or that it can be discussed meaningfully without much knowledge about or engagement with the material. In fact, it might well be nonsense, like anything, but it is a rich, extremely complex chunk of nonsense with its own rules, conventions, traditions, etc.,; and moreover, it relates to various unquestioned aspects of our own conventional rational discourse in often surprising ways.
Rock stars are no less immune to these habits than anyone. And of course there’s nothing wrong with appropriating iconography and symbolism for effect, “coolness,” what have you. It is done all the time, to great effect. I don’t know that the song “Mr. Crowley” would have been a better song if it had truly attempted to depict “Crowley the man and his thought,” but I kind of doubt it, really. I think the mispronunciation, though, is a kind of symbol of the general situation, and thus is rather precious as a reminder never to assume you already know everything about everything.
BGB: Andromeda Klein differs markedly from your first novel King Dork. A notable example for me is that Andromeda is largely clueless regarding modern music where King Dork‘s Sam Hellerman and Tom Henderson discuss music constantly. Did you make a conscious effort to limit the musical references in the book or did the pop culture obliviousness of Andromeda Klein limit the opportunities?
FP: There were lots of reasons to make Andromeda oblivious to contemporary music and pop culture. It underscores the degree to which her occultism obscures everything but itself in her world, and it makes her eventual discovery of Led Zeppelin “mean more” in the end. Mostly though, it had its own logic. Not to belabor the point, I hope, but occultism plays much the same role in Andromeda’s life as rock and roll plays in Tom’s and Sam’s life.
BGB: A character in Andromeda Klein is an HP Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu-rock band? Is there really such a thing? What does/would Cthulhu-rock sound like?
FP: There isn’t such a thing as Cthulhu Rock, per se, as far as I know. I imagine it as a kind of techno-metal geekery, maybe the least hip music conceivable. So of course, I bet I’d be pretty into it were it to exist.
BGB: The covers for both King Dork and Andromeda Klein are made to appear as though they have been defaced. Should we read anything into that? Is it becoming the Frank Portman signature look?
FP: I think that is more a function of how “booky” both books are. Books as artifacts play a big role in both. That said, I do like defacing things, on principle, and I suppose you could say that that’s part of what I enjoy about writing novels, as with just about anything else.
BGB: A character from King Dork makes a surprise cameo in Andromeda Klein. Can we expect to hear more from Sam Hellerman and/or Tom Henderson in your future novels?
FP: My next book will be a sequel to King Dork called King Dork Approximately, so there’s wall-to-wall Tom and Sam in that.
BGB: I am a HUGE fan of your novel King Dork. I hear that the book is being made into a movie by the Adam McKay/Will Ferrell production team (true?). What’s the latest word on the movie and to what extent have you been involved in the process?
FP: Thanks a lot. Glad to hear you like it. The film is in “development” currently. That term can mean anything from “we forgot we bought the rights to it” to “we’re definitely for sure gonna make it.” You never know. But yes, the producers are Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and the studio is Sony Pictures. A lot has been happening recently, and the project seems very much alive at the moment. We’ll see what happens.
BGB: NPR recently aired an interview with Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America, that claimed that Jay-Z may be “a master of occult wisdom.” Are The Mr. T Experience secret masters of the occult?
FP: I guess all I can say to that is: them as knows don’t tell, and them as tells don’t know.
Don’t forget to enter our Andromeda Klein giveaway over here.
Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley (Andromeda says the first syllable should be pronounced ”crow” like the bird)
Frank Portman penned one of my favorite books of 2006, the immediate personal classic King Dork. I’ve been waiting for Portman’s follow-up ever since. King Dork took a fearless look at the challenging world of high school and the music obsession that made it bearable for one student. For me, the novel was Instantly Relatable.
Portman’s new book, Andromeda Klein, is here at long last (well, it came out in August, but still). The author once again mines the universal experience of high school angst. Though he hits on some of the same almost universal themes of teen age alienation and dread, Portman has created a wholly original character in the tormented Andromeda Klein.
Andromeda Klein is a skinny high school student . Her mother and father are each hopeless in their own way. Her best friend has died of leukemia. Their relationship was often rocky and unbalanced, and that doesn’t help Andromeda deal with the loss. Andromeda is also cursed with a hearing disorder that makes it difficult to properly hear what others are saying. She’s just a weird kid. Even with all of that, it’s difficult at first to decide if Andromeda’s problems at school are real or imagined:
The period immediately after school let out was perilous. It was impossible to know for certain which after-school clusters of students would be overtly hostile, but it was wise to avoid them all, just in case….They could throw rocks at you or even thrust a stick through your spokes to knock you off your bike, and then…well, it had never happened to her but she’s seen it happen to others, and she didn’t want to find out what they would do next. A few kids yelled at her unintelligibly as she zipped past, or at least, she was pretty she was the one they were yelling at.
Either way, Andromeda’s problems are real to her. Her anxieties send her inward, deeper into her shell. Andromeda develops an obsession with the occult in an attempt to attach some external meaning and order to the world around her. She is believer in tarot, and spends much of her time reading her cards to parse the hidden clues about her experiences and her future (the cover shows her tarot deck stashed inside a carved out book). Andromeda also dabbles in larger and more complicated rituals that she gleans from her readings of occult/mystical literature by Alistair Crowley, Henry Cornelius Agrippa, A.E. Waite and others on banned book lists everywhere.
However unique she may be (and she definitely is), Andromeda’s problems are the real problems that face teens everywhere. Her responses to those challenges are at turns hilarious and deeply disturbing. As you might suspect, a quiet, moody loner dressed in black obsessed with the occult might attract unwanted attention from school authorities in a post-Columbine world. And speaking of unwanted attention from school authorities, forget Harry Potter, Andromeda Klein has real teenagers engaging in carefully described occult activities – magic(k) – with references – it is SO going to be banned.
Portman’s two novels to date are both marketed at the “young adult” crowd. Don’t be turned off by what is basically a marketing designation. He doesn’t dumb down his view of real high school issues – but don’t mistake these for After School Special-style message books either. They are top notch novels that should appeal to people who like good books, whatever their age. I’m already waiting for the next Portman novel.
Stay Tuned: Come back tomorrow to check out my interview with Frank Portman.
Sharing the love: I have an extra copy of Andromeda Klein to give away. If you’d like a free copy on us, leave a comment by 10 PM (EST) Friday. We’ll pick and notify a winner shortly thereafter.
Frank Portman has written a theme song for the book. I, for one, would love to see more of this kind of thing.
Somehow I managed to read 3 completely different books included in very different genres that had major turning points in relation to the same crazy spring/summer ritual called Beltane. It revolves around May Day, or May first, for all you non-Wiccan out there. I read these books so long ago, that I’ll be brief.
The first book I got a hold of was a gift I would have never come across but fit in well with my love of weirdo fantasy. The Age of Misrule:World’s End by Mark Chadburn is described as a “Pedal to the floor, high octane fantasy thriller that pitches magic and wonder into a pop culture mash-up of the modern world…One part Lord of the Rings, one part illuminatus!, one part Arthurian romance, one part Harry Potter – 100% original!” I think that description is pretty accurate, but I can’t say I enjoyed the book as much as whoever made that statement.
World’s End is the first part of a trilogy that follows 5 unlikely heroes throughout England as they are chased by all kinds of crazy creatures bent on their destruction before they can find a handful of age-old mystic objects used to hopefully save, you guessed it, man-kind (as we know it, which isn’t so great if you ask any of the heroes) by Beltane.
Not knowing much about Celtic mythology, I should have at least guessed there would be connections made between all the new-agey energy vortex points of today, the Fiery Network of Earth Magic that travels through ancient lands and crosses various points including the greater Stone Henge area, Loch Ness, and a couple famous Arthurian castles and legendary villages, and the battle between some really inhuman gods that can’t be completely qualified as good or evil but are fighting over the right to wander our lands which they lost oh-so-long-ago. Or maybe I couldn’t have guessed that. Anyway, it was a fun vacation book with some mediocre dialogue, a couple of interesting drug trips, some random sex stuff, and a mostly unpredictable ending.
I decided to leave the fantasy arena to head down young adult lane for my next book. The Splendor Falls, by Rosemary Clement-Moore, seemed like just the thing. Sylvie, a 17 year old prima ballerina, is injured beyond ever being able to dance again and finds herself lost from her Manhattan based world of travel and sophistication and catapulted to, of all places, Alabama.
Her deceased father is from an old family there and still has a cousin restoring the family manse with the hope of turning it into a bed and breakfast. I figured there would be a love triangle between Sylvie and a couple good ole country boys, some back-stabbing-by-a-new-best-friend drama, and a large dose of critical soul searching, but guess what! Somewhere in Alabama exists a line of the aforementioned Fiery Network of Earth Magic! And there is a circle of teenagers who meet secretly and do secret things! And the Beltane is approaching! And our ballerina is seeing ghosts, reading the diary of the young girl who died mysteriously long ago, and finding some exceptional powers of her own! There is a love triangle, but a Handsome Scotsman is involved. He is a geologist and is studying the rock formations which may be the same as those rocks used to build STONE HENGE!
I couldn’t resist all the above exclamation points, but I really did like this book. I had no idea where it was going and then was very curious to see how things would be resolved once it got there. Sylvie progresses from being a “poor me” victim with a sharp tongue to a stronger, more internally confident individual. Some characters were much better developed than others, and there was a little eye-rolling at how things wrapped themselves up in the end, but I think the link to that Fiery Network made this book a lot more enjoyable than a typical teenage romance novel.
The third book on my magical mystical tour is one I put off as long as I could. I can hardly believe I’m admitting it, but I finally jumped into the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldan. Yes, there are now 7 thousand paged books in this unfinished series, and yes, it does qualify as a romance novel – I wish I could find the exact quote that includes a phrase something like “You will make me your master…” thrust, thrust, but, well, it was kind of fun, in a sugar addiction sort of way.
In self defense, I argue that this book falls in the historical fiction category, as I have learned much about 17th century Scottish clan life as well as a little bit about Scottish/English clashes surrounding the False King (True King – I don’t know, maybe I can’t really tell much about that part). It also touches on my beloved fantasy genre since the main character, Claire, travels back in time after scurrying around some Stone Henge-esque rocks on top of a grassy hill DURING BELTANE!
I won’t say much more about Outlander, other than that I had to force myself to read other sugar books so I could suppress my urge to run out and buy the next in the series. Now that time has passed, I can smile at the memory, and I know I’m capable of steering clear of book 2 until life demands nothing more or me than sitting in my jammies for hours on end with absolutely no interruptions.
So, interested in that Fiery Network? You pick the genre, there it is. Have at it.
Having had some knowledge of Nick Cave, an Australian-born singer/songwriter/actor/performer who now resides in England, but not having had enough specific knowledge to consider myself either a fan or an anti-fan, I figured reading his second novel, The Death of Bunny Monro, might give me the information I needed to get off the fence. Suffice it to say that I have fallen with a full-on face-splat onto Cave’s side of the fence (I may have actually jumped, on purpose, but my head is spinning too much for me to make sense of it).
Quick side note: a while back, I decided to introduce myself to John Updike’s infamous character Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom by reading Updike’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Rabbit is Rich. That was the third in a four-part series about Rabbit, and after reading it, I wished I’d started with the first book instead so that I could have read them in series. At the time of Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit is a middle-aged family man who constantly battles his inner demons and desires, including his lusty thoughts toward women in his circle of friends and acquaintances.
I don’t know if Nick Cave named his main character in this book “Bunny” as some sort of tribute to Rabbit Angstrom, but it’s impossible to deny the similarities. In fact, while one might think of a “bunny” as a smaller “rabbit”, Cave’s character has many of Rabbit’s habits and tendencies, but on an exponentially larger scale. Bunny is everything that Rabbit might have been had Rabbit not had the sense to self-govern.
Bunny is a traveling salesman who peddles beauty products around the south of England, and he is a slick, handsome, womanizing alcoholic. He spends much of his time with a bottle in hand, visiting specific potential “customers” that have been pegged by his co-workers as potential targets for mid-day adulterous escapades, and fantasizing about Avril Lavigne’s body parts (seriously).
He seems to be having success in his endeavors until returning home from a sales trip to find that his wife has committed suicide, and he is forced to figure out how to piece his life back together while having to actually care for his son nine year-old son, Bunny Jr.
The book is divided into three parts: Cocksman, Salesman, and Deadman. The Cocksman part of the book introduces you to Bunny and takes you through the circumstances surrounding his wife’s suicide and its immediate impact on Bunny. Salesman takes you through Bunny’s escapades as he decides the best way to power through this tragedy is to pack his son up in their little Fiat and drive around the south of England with a list of “targets” that Bunny will try to “hit” (while making Bunny Jr. wait in the car at each stop). This is where Bunny starts to unravel, and it is both terribly saddening and frighteningly hilarious at the same time.
Deadman tells of what seems to be Bunny’s complete and utter meltdown. And it might also tell of Bunny’s death, but I won’t spoil that part of it for you. Let me just say that the way Cave has written this part of the book is just breathtaking, heart wrenching, and sadly beautiful.
I’m not going to say that this book is for everyone. There are certainly those among you who will be disgusted by Bunny and by his story. But in my mind, there is no denying that I have stumbled upon a genius in Nick Cave. I will absolutely be on the lookout for his first novel (written twenty years ago).
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Do You Love Me