Posts Tagged ‘book’
Every library has a display promoting banned books. It must be ordained by that secret librarian cult we keep hearing about — if not, I suppose it’s just one of those fads giggle-voiced librarians read about in Teen Booklist and simply must try out. I see these displays everywhere, and have for the last decade.
How wildly convoluted these displays have grown in the years since I left off to college from my hometown library. Once, it was simply used books on a shelf, the area simply labeled by way of tacky but non-obtrusive WordArt taped onto yellow construction paper.
Now, there are tissue-paper bonfires, fueled by grocery-bag logs. There are multiple layers of construction paper behind a legend that describes what each particular book. At one library, some enterprising intern must have suggested duct taping a mesh net over their banned books bookcase, cementing the point by drawing prison bars over the word, “Books.”
It’s become such a trend that the first thing I choose to notice in a given public library is its banned books display, and there’s a good reason — the accessibility of books in the banned books display is inversely proportional to the amount good humor that exists among library staff.
It almost makes sense that a library with an open-air banned book display has relatively friendly librarians, that the meanest librarians come from a library whose display sits behind locked glass panels on the other side of the front desk. Almost.
I miss my library, and its simple, uncontrived banned books collection. Less because I read a lot of banned books; more because we didn’t have any mean librarians.
Fantasy kinda sucks. As a longtime fan of the genre, I’ve somewhat earned some right to say that.
While “Harry Potter” is fun to read — excepting the fifth book — its colorful characters and whimsical settings are bogged down by weak writing.
“His Dark Materials” has similar strengths and flaws, and was worsened even further by the author’s tendency to proselytize.
The worst of all of them is that “Eragon” series; it reads like it was written by a 19-year-old homeschooler from Montana. In part because it was.
Whatever Neil Gaiman writes, he tends to exhibit the same self-indulgent fascination with multi-pantheon crossovers, leaving Terry Brooks alone among living fantasists for being above reproach. After all, Brooks is the only one who doesn’t take his fantasy settings seriously.
It’s become a rule, therefore, that fantasy as a whole is a thin, shallow genre of fiction with especially egregious pretensions that it has meaningful depth and that it’s romanticism profound rather than transparent. Science fiction, unfortunately, is much of the same.
Fortunately, because the overall crappiness of fantastic literature is a rule, there are going to be exceptions. I just spent the better part of two days — almost spilling over into three — reading one of the most important and, dare I say, literary exceptions in recent memory.
“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” had interested me ever since I first saw it on the discount bookshelves and bestseller lists, but I decided against bothering with it. I didn’t have the money to buy it, and it was too contemporary to be in the school library, besides. Having recently graduated to the local library, I saw it Thursday last and, on a whim, checked it out.
Though buying this book in its native Britain would set me back a good 7 pounds, I’d call it an even trade: the hardcover weighs almost that much. There are nearly 800 pages in the hardcover version I spent a weekend reading — that makes it roughly the size of a King James Bible after a begat-ectomy.
Despite that it reads like Jane Austen and the humanity of its title characters are straight out of Dickens — if you’re sure I exaggerate, you’ll appreciate this book more than I did — I enjoyed every moment.
I shouldn’t make my admiration seem so unlikely — I was bound to like “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” from the very start. It has the flair of a finely researched history, and more footnotes per page than “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” a history in which the author, for whatever reason, apologizes for including as many footnotes as he does.
It’s no criticism of the novel to say that these footnotes were my favorite part of the 7-pound blunt object that is “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” and I suppose quite a few readers came to the same conclusion. Indeed, the footnotes were enjoyable enough, and added so much to the world of the novel, that when the author decided to make her second book an anthology of stories, at least a few of these stores were inspired by her first novel’s footnotes.
There’s a lot of story in the book, and it would be difficult to summarize it without unbecoming spoilers and lengthy exposition, but, given fantasy these days, that depth is one of the great charms of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.” Suffice it to say that the whole of it focuses on the careers of two British magicians of the Regency period, and is full of charmingly fleshed-out characters.
The early 19th century is the such a refreshing setting for fantasy. Rather than a world where dwarves and elves and orcs are the face of the fantastic, one of the great squabbles between the two title characters is over the status and usefulness of fairies, creatures that had once encompassed the whole of British fantasy before Tolkien injected high fantasy with his mish-mash blending of Old Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon epic. However well-written “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” is, and however well it stands on its own merits, that it ignores the 50-year-old precedent of swords and sorcery, a subgenre that might as well be mimeographed from the worst parts of “The Lord of the Rings,” is one of the greatest strengths that author Susanna Clarke chose for her world of British magic.
After reading so much of dwarves and elves and orcs, a reprieve was due; we needed a reprieve into densely imagined real literature from dense-minded pulp literature, even if that it lasts only a weekend.
But what a weekend.
Imagine that’s the weekend. I’m writing this post during the weekend, so it’s probably a lot easier for me to imagine this than for you.
This particular Saturday evening comes after three enjoyable, one passable and what might as well have been nine horrid weekdays worth of unshaven, unwashed and sometimes disinterested high school sophomores.
Imagine that this week has just passed you, belligerence and all while still imagining that it’s the weekend. Please try to do imagine with your eyes open. I don’t suppose you’d be able to continue reading if you closed them.
Stressed, you need to get away from, with or to everything. What do you do? I’m just 21, myself, and I haven’t yet cemented my favorite pastimes or prejudices. So far, I simply know what I don’t do.
I don’t go to bars because I don’t drink. I don’t go to clubs because I’m cheap. I don’t go to friends’ houses because I’m paralyzed by a fear of intruding.
I rarely go to movies in part because I’m not so sociable that I feel I must and in part because most movies sustain only my disinterest. At least, until Rotten Tomatoes tells me otherwise. I do go to all Tim Burton films, and all second sequels at a midnight showing. Both types are few and far between.
Instead, and just recently, I go to bookstores.
My town has the glory accorded to it by not one but two major nationally franchised bookstores. If you’ve ever been able to hock one across a six-lane boulevard and its median, they’re also within spitting distance of each other. I choose which store I attend by whim, or to mix things up.
I find that our Barnes and Noble’s bright lighting is fine for looking for though not reading books, and that it usually has better prices and a better selection of my favored genres. Not to be outdone, Borders’ sitting-and-reading-books-but-not-paying-for-them area is far superior, with dimmer lighting and far more comfortable armchairs.
I’ll spend a whole morning into an afternoon into an evening at exactly one seat in one bookstore. Usually, I’m leafing through something with pictures and word balloons. Heavier reading — don’t get me wrong, as some comic books are pretty heavy — is right out. Wherever I sit at either bookstore, not-Muzak’s faux flamenco and synthesized trumpets seem to blare above me.
I have Barnes and Noble’s playlist memorized from hearing it so often, so Borders again has the advantage once I return with my literary conquests.
When the intercom stops trickling out its vocal arrangement of Holst’s Jupiter to announce not the new Starbucks honey-mocha-blend Frappuccino™ but that the store will close in 15 minutes, I beat the rush and simply wobble up onto my legs.
My eyes have trouble adapting to focusing beyond 10 inches once again, but once the fuzzy people get sharper, the routine out is easy.
I make my way out to my car. I drive back to my dorm. I wait seven days. Again, I get away from it all.
Out of the house, what do you do for fun and leisure?