Category Archives: Reading

NEVERWHERE A book report

On the jacket, at the bottom, is the AUTHOR’S PREFERRED TEXT. Underneath that is WITH A SPECIAL INTRODUCTION BY THE AUTHOR AND A NEW NEVERWHERE STORY.

We, i.e., the reading public, is informed NEVERWHERE was first published in 1992,  a breakout novel for Mr. Gaiman. In the introduction Mr. Gaiman writes this is NOT the NEVERWHERE you read before, if you read Neverwhere before. It’s not the second NEVERWHERE either. And that it started as a TV series. But in his head it was always a book. And, this version, THE AUTHOR’S PREFERRED TEXT, is sorted from bits and pieces–drafts and the original UK text–and that redundancies have been removed. This is a definitive version.

Well.

This is the story of Richard Mayhew who is an okay looking guy, of undetermined age, dating a woman he feels is a step or two up from his social level and he is damn happy to be dating her. But he’s not really. She demands, she criticizes, she improves. All of which make Richard wonder why they are dating. Not that he’s not happy. But he’s not really.

A simple act of kindness–that of helping a young woman who is bleeding on the sidewalk–turns into a look at what life is like in Neverwhere. Neverwhere is not a nine to five job. It is not a steady paycheck. It is not finding a nice girl, settling down and having children who are only going to repeat the cycle. Neverwhere is some parts magic, some parts adventure, some parts psychotic. And it is not what life looked like for Richard just before his act of kindness–it is not dull.

There is a lot of running to and fro under London. Matter of fact, Richard learns there is a London Above and a London Below. There may just be the ability to move back and forth in time, but you don’t really know that–you do think it is possible. There are memorable characters,  places where death may be imminent, angels, rat-speakers, sword fights, escapes, cults, and some truly disgusting antagonists.

Yes, I liked it. Especially when Mr. Gaiman channeled Terry Pratchett: Richard looked at the key. The key looked back. Ah, good times with Twoflower and the pearwood Luggage. For me it was reminiscent of Katherine Marsh’s THE NIGHT TOURIST, [2007] without all the Latin and the searching for his mother, the Orpheus-Eurydice Myth recast according to readers on GoodReads. Sorry, Mr. Gaiman, I read Ms. Marsh’s book first otherwise I might just say that differently.

If you’ve read other Gaiman books—Coraline, The Graveyard Book–the writing, the voice, the tone, the sentiment, the descriptions, the hovering over the dark and mysterious will be familiar. I found the ending too easy to predict. Sigh. Once, just once…well, never mind. Read it, if you like endings tied up neatly.

Access

newspapersnewspapersI read a lot. And most of my friends/acquaintances do as well.  But for me it is not just books. My mother, a lifelong reader and wordsmith, loved the newspaper. And it wasn’t just the news she read, although she did keep herself updated. She read magazines, recipes, magzinesbooks, labels, graphs, advertisements–anything and everything that used words. I read two newspapers a day plus online coverage.

Me? Yes, I love books. Although I am not a re-reader. I read it once, then I’m bored with trying to read it again. I know what happens. I don’t care to memorize lines, I think that’s too easy. And I don’t want that initial picture that forms in my brain, that first love type of picture, the one where I know–just know–what the character looks like, how he walks, talks, smiles, laughs, to go away. Not any of it.

But I don’t want a stack of books. I don’t want a huge library. I don’t want to dust it, catalog it, file and refile it. Nope, I don’t want to maintain it.stack of books Besides, somehow I feel I would be limited by the fact that all those things were in my library.  What I want is ACCESS! Yes! I want to be able to get any book now–as in RIGHT NOW–and read it. 

Oh, so yes, I would need the time to do that.  Hmmm…need to think that through a bit more.

And there it is. The problem. Slight, but not!  Damn, as if there wasn’t writingalways…It’s time. If I’m doing all that reading, when am I doing all this writing. And it is the story. Always the story. It is the story that draws me back into my own writing. So reading? Yes. Writing? double Yes.

Spies In WWII

My senior year in high school I participated in an experimental class. Twenty five of us were chosen. Bishop Alemany was a leveled school, grouped in homogeneous classes: college prep, comprehensive and duh! I have no idea what they called the last group. I had tested into the college prep group. And almost from Day One the nuns and I went round and round about what I was supposed to be learning. For me school meant being able to have a library in the same place I was required to be each and every day, and, bonus, no limit on the number of books you could take out, unlike the Burbank Public Library on Glen Oaks Boulevard with it’s only seven books at a time requirement.

So, understand, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet and I had different goals as to what was my education and what wasn’t. By my senior year, someone said, ‘okay, let’s try her in this class.’ I have no idea who to thank for this bit of grace. It was a history class. Since I was in third grade, I had said I would be a historian. My actual learning process, despite my parents amazing and continuing commitment, resembled more of a child being raised by educated librarian wolves of the great tundra, so, in truth, there was little chance I would fulfill my goal. But history, the past of just about anything, I considered my exclusive territory clear through my bachelor’s degree in college.

For most of high school, I was, to say a fan seems almost cruel, but I was, a fan of anything and everything surreptitious World War II. I focused especially Allied spies, members of the Resistance, POWs, mostly the RAF Spitfire pilots and small cadres of individuals who risked life and limb to defeat the Nazis and their war machine. Perhaps it was due to my library access the first eight years of my schooling, at Villa Cabrini Academy, the plethora of stories on the lives of the saints, saints who too had risked life and limb in the name of Christ. So, the uncertainty of spying and defeating what was true evil in the world by people who were not that much older me was maybe a continuation of my childhood reading. And so, in this independent study class, I wrote a thesis on spies.

Before spies were hi-tech, before they had gadgets, before they wore tuxedos, played baccarat inhabiting the world of James Bond, they lived difficult, grimy, horrendously scary lives, lives without fanfare, lives without rest or respite, lives of danger and terror. And, after the war, when they had a chance to come to terms with what they had won and what they had lost, they wrote their stories, histories. The stories were gritty. There was little glory, only the end of the war or death. And yet, they did this, volunteered, said yes, despite the fear. Because of these resistors, both homegrown and foreign nationals, the Allied forces triumphed. Much was lost so that there could be a win.

Elizabeth Wein‘s CODE NAME VERITY takes up that tradition of the dread of fighting covertly behind enemy lines. It is not a pretty story. It’s not a happy one. It is a story played out slowly, laboriously, and elegantly, letting us know how excruciating it was to fight a war from the inside out, and how many people were willing to risk, to say everything is so cliché, but all. No matter how many died in battles, assaults,  landings, and no question, we needed them, we praise them, we call them our Greatest Generation, we also needed those who were willing to risk their lives and save their souls on a narrow battlefield in one on one mental combat, a not-photographed battlefield, not trumpeted or on the front page of the Times, one that was shrouded in secrecy, unknown.

Ms. Wein says this is about women and their participation in the war. And yes, this book is. But there is so much more, because defeating evil knows no gender, no age, no nationality. And it is perhaps the most unlikeliest of us who raises her hand, almost casually, and says ‘I’ll go.”  CODE NAME VERITY is an excellent reminder of that ideal.

Magic

I’m not sure I believe in magic. I know! What a thing to say! A lifetime reader of fantasy, science fiction, a long time watcher of every scifi/fantasy movie or TV show, it’s a wowzer of a statement.

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic lately, there are so many children’s books that are big sellers with a touch or a basis in the weirdly paranormal, the wildly fantastical and the amazingly scientific. Magic, duh! I know I shouldn’t say it. But, still! Sigh. I read everything as a kid, from John Carter on Mars, to the Brothers Karamazov, to the Tales of Ivanhoe, followed up by Nancy Drew. It was the human story that amazed me, that people could be there, in that place, living that life. It wasn’t the magic.

In the late 60’s we had a family friend, John Hallford. My first southern gentleman, a courtly man, much like my dad, but with a flair–he was a member of the International Society of Magicians, the headquarters were the Magic Castle in the Hollywood Hills, below the big sign and Yamashiro Sky Room. John and Bernice, his second wife, would call me up and we’d go to the Castle for dinner or just for drinks and a show. In those days, you had to be a member to get in.

Parking was behind the castle, you walked to a massive wooden door that would creak, a little like Inner Sanctum, and inside would be a library, a librarian desk and no door. You would offer your name and reservation and wait until a sufficient number of people moved into the library and then the outer door would slowly close and you would be invited through a hidden door as the bookshelf would move off to the side. Inside was a dim, warm inviting bar. At one end of the bar was a stool that, for the uninitiated, slowly dropped until your chin was even with the bar top. A piano played solo, as in all by itself. There were small rooms, alcoves, niches; private, concealing, hideouts really, where small tricks and magic was practiced and discussed. Up stairs, in the dining room was a groaning board, twelve feet long, full of salads, fruits, vegetables, meats and all forms of desert. There were never crowds, especially as we usually went on a week night. Magicians from all over the world came to the Castle, to perform, to chat, to be seen by peers. The theaters, mostly in the basement, where the performances took place, were small, intimate, velvet curtains covering a tiny stage with footlights that separated the magician from the audience of maybe twenty, twenty five people. One night a young man from Budapest performed, it was astounding, he was from behind the Iron Curtain, a novelty in itself. And he was quite dashing. A mop of curly black hair, a bleach white dress shirt and tie, and a Mary’s Mantle blue tuxedo. He performed with sliver balls, his pale long fingered hands moving over, under and around, making the shiny orbs disappear and then reappear. I sat, mesmerized, just five feet from where he performed. It never occurred to me to figure out how he did it.

Although my sisters mocked my acceptance of his trick without wondering how, I was quite happy to give him his due. He did the performance so well it was riveting, besides, did I mention he was handsome, adorable, wow? The fact is, magic may exist–– who am I to say? We could use more of our brains than what we now use. And that old saw “magic is just science we don’t understand yet” is probably more than true.

I’ve read there are really only ten true stories from the depth of our ancient primal myths, surely they have all been written more than once. The magic is that people continue to write, to make variations on the same stories, and create a pantheon of remarkable literary characters [or not so literary–––maybe imaginary characters is a better word]. Magic is the ability to make a reader suspend disbelief, to care about the plight of the main character, to feel with that character the solution to the problem and then to be in wonder at the end.

wonder |ˈwəndər| noun; a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. Yep, that is magic!

Dear Mr. Peck

Even though I now know about the local idiom in southern Illinois, “going to Anna’ meaning committed to a mental hospital, and we have chatted over drinks at a party, calling you Richard, here, now, in this, will just not do. I’m about to go all fan girl on you so you can’t be anything but Mr. Peck, actually I should probably say, “Mr. Peck, Sir.”

I sat next to you in the common core presentation at SCBWI LA just to get the title of this book. The one you talked about at a post SCBWI LA wrap-up party a while back, the voice you lived with for a while, who kept pestering you, the one who walked onto the stage and demanded to be heard. The voice that became Three Quarters Dead. 

It’s been a while since I sat down with one of your books. My only and very lame excuse, that I just couldn’t get there from here. I was busy, with stuff, good reads, yes, some even wonderful, and with life, of course, that takes a good bit. There are those voices inside my own brain, teasing, taunting, chiding, begging. All those rationalizations thin, weak, useless, I really should have done this sooner.

So, a five hour plane ride, and yes, it started with an early rise, four A.M., so natch, I was awake at two-thirty, because getting to the airport on time and getting properly home was more important than sleep. And the trip to LAX and waiting and finally boarding. Meanwhile,Three Quarters Dead hung on my shoulder, lighter than you might think, because I was anticipating, not too different from Christmas Eve when it’s only a bit until, but there is still the hope and the thrill of something unopened, something new, not yet imagined on Christmas morning.

The most wonderful thing about a book and a plane, well, these days, anyhoo, is no one, not a soul, can tell me to put it away. So I began with the before, Last Fall. The set-up, the lead-up to Kerry’s story, or, at that point in time her non-life––illusive, ephemeral, lacking-in-substance sophomore life. And I read. Airplane travel can be a wonderful gift, it is sound, a white noise room stripping everything from your surroundings, letting you be whenever, wherever, whomever you choose. I chose this trip to be in Pondfield High School, a half a bench away from Tanya.

When I first started reading I thought Kerry rather brave. I don’t think I would have ever sat that close to someone who seemed to glow the golden aura that was Tanya. But Kerry said she wasn’t brave and I decided to believe her, to walk the halls of Pondfield High, sit near but not with Tanya, Natalie and MacKensie, to be close to, but not in the shimmering circle which was the ‘cool girls.’

And, as Kerry moved from outside the circle to inside the circle, but, not to the inner circle, I watched. It was worth it. So attached did I become to the story that I had to put down the book to breathe, to remind myself that Kerry would survive, well, to hope that she would, that good would come from this journey familiar to so many kids, that on the other side of Tanya, Natalie and MacKensie, Kerry would be, well, Kerry, smarter, stronger and more Kerry.

I stopped too, because I saw. Of course, I saw. And I was afraid. Not just for Kerry, but for every single solitary human being that feels that reflected light was [is] the only kind by which they would be seen. Kerry reminded me why these books are written, are important, and why they are read. And, I reminded me of why I didn’t read them as a kid and for the most part, don’t today. Somehow, inside my kid brain, deep inside, I knew that I could create my own shimmer, my own reflection, that my light could refract and be interesting, it might be small, weak even, but it would always be mine. And, so, unfortunately [at times], would be the consequences, hard, unyielding. But yes. They were mine! That was essential, I could live with that. Not always well, not always happily, but live, yes I could. And I watched Kerry learn that, and know that she will shimmer, and create something to reflect. And that kids will read this and know what is possible, what is real and that the golden auras of the ‘cool girls’ are really only gild––flimsy, gossamer.

Thank you, Mr. Peck. Sir.