Sunday, July 23, 2006

 

Reading; Just Not Blogging.

A huge editing job has been keeping me busy for a month, so that I could read, but had no time (or inclination—too much time already being spent at a keyboard) to blog. I can't remember what I read when so I'll just pick something from the pile.

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer (Scholastic Inc., 2006). Thanks, you know who you are, for sending me this excellent little book translated from Dutch. As I am working my way through a research compilation on the Dutch immigrant experience in Canada, I am learning that Holland and its people, at least its country people, were, up until WWII, still in the 19th century, socially and religiously. WWII had a huge impact. The Book of Everything is a reflection of that impact, but small; it's an earthquake in a bottle. A diorama.

The framework is a story within a story, which is what gives it that diorama feel. (It's good, though.) The child reader knows right from the start that there is happiness at the end—the author comes right out and asks his character if he got what he wanted—to become happy—and the character says, "Yes." Given that promise, the author can get right into the misery: Dad is an abusive husband and father, and believes his authority to be so comes from God. (The two most poisonous kinds of parental abuse: sexual and religious. Both rob a child of two things: not just parental love, but joy in sex and delight in God.) The time is the fifties, right after the war, when collaborators were being dragged from their homes and convicted, and everyone was tired and poor.

Our hero has something special, though. Like the main character in Millions, he's connected to eternity; in Thomas's case, Jesus comes around regularly for a chat. This gift helps Thomas separate what his father does and is from what God does and is (to a certain extent); it means that Thomas can see past his fear enough to take the hands that reach out to him and his family.
Religion is important in the world of this book, to everyone, not just the terrified fanatical Father. The author plays with this and works with this in a way I deeply recognize. The neighbour and the aunt who come to Thomas's mother's aid aren't feminists so much as "witches." Literature is the path away from the tyranny of Scriptures. By the way, one ofthe books the neighbour gives Thomas to read is called, in the story, "Alone in the World." I know this book; it's a translation of a French book which in English was published as "Nobody's Boy." I only know that because I have Dutch relatives who speak of "Allene Op de Vereld." For the sake of English readers, it would have been nice to see it given that book in this English translation, though the title is significant to the story.

All this aside, the story is simple, the language clear, the characters complex and interesting. What a good book.

Another BookExpo title: Mythspring (Czerneda and Kierans, eds; Red Deer Press, 2006). This is a collection of stories inspired by Canadian myth and song. There are some satisfying stories, here, and the inspiration is an interesting one. No Faerie, here (thank goodness), but a range of supernatural consideration, from the Windigo to the Universal Soldier, with some sexy werewolves and magic workers with cat familiars inbetween.

Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down (Penguin, 2005) wasn't particulary delightful, though how could it be, when it was about four would-be suicides who meet on New Year's eve and fall into a pact to keep one another going for ninety days? The constant swearing wearied me, that's the truth; it created a sort of greasy pall over the characters so that it was hard to want to get close to. But the swearing was only part of the static of joylessness that, this book has made me think, might just be a feature of Nick Hornby's makeup. "Like The Breakfast Club rewritten by Beckett" said one of the reviewers; gee, how true . . . and, well, the club was artificially constructed, and Beckett has always made me want to scream with impatience.

Despite warning myself off bargain-bin books, I bought The Mermaid of Paris by Cary Fagan (Key Porter, 2003) for $1.99 and enjoyed it tremendously. It's set in Canada and France in Edwardian times, and the main character and narrating voice is a not-very-successful young to middle-aged man who is looking for the new magic (flight; a perfect gadget) and doesn't see the old variety right beside him. I liked this man a lot; I liked his wife, struggling with her burden; even though she isn't very much present in the story, she's the driving force of it, and the author constructed this very beautifully.

Another BookExpo title (okay, I was shameless!): Dead Cold by Louse Penny (proof copy; Headline, 2006). Wow, it's something to have Anne Perry blurb your book. Anne must have a keener wit than mine, because I couldn't keep track of the characters. I couldn't even remember who was the lead detective and who was the assisting one. Maybe I could have if I had read the book this one keeps referring to; but I think it's a fault if you need the first book to follow the second. The murder is pretty well constructed, though, so more tolerant fans of the genre than I will probably enjoy it.

I realized with horror that my DWJ collections was missing Hexwood. So I bought a copy, so conveniently reissued on the coattails of Harry. I was shocked to discover that it was published in 1993; I was sure I was rereading it when I last read it, but that's impossible, because I would have first read it in the 80s, and it wasn't written then. (How very DWJ that is, really!) Hexwood is extremely good.

Monday, July 03, 2006

 

The Egg Connection

The Chrestomanci household trip to the South of France occurred, of course, right after Cat and Tonino's adventure with Nicholas Spiderman in Mixed Magics . . . and I was amused, fresh off rereading The Lives of Christopher Chant, to find it was "Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream" that made me feel I'd read the name Oneir before.

This weekend I read Cupid by Julius Lester (advance reader's copy; Harcourt, Jan 2007). What a very good book this is. It retells the story of Cupid and Psyche, and along the way asks questions about males, females and love. Required reading, I'd say, for every 13-year-old boy. It is amusing, deceptively simple, thoughtful and deep. Lester is right in asking in his author's notes why we don't teach children about love (i.e., the heart and soul and eros), but abandon them entirely to popular culture in this area. Except for religious communities, but then we just teach them norms, not realities, which is hardly helpful. Hm.

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