Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Report: Book Worlds Colliding

After spending yesterday avoiding going out, I got up early this morning and have already been to the scary place on the other side of the front door to do all my errands -- office supplies (and wow, but they just totally remodeled the Office Depot so that it's even more of a toy store for writers), a Target run, renewed my car registration and got groceries. I am so very together today.

I haven't been reading as much while I've been writing (it took me two weeks to read one book), but I do have a slight book report for this week, focusing on middle-grade fantasy.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago watching the movie Inkheart, and now I've read the book, by Cornelia Funke. I think they actually did a pretty good job of adapting the book, as far as script and casting went, though I still think there was something rather low-rent about the rest of the production. There's certainly more depth to the book, and the ending of the movie came about as kind of rushed, trying to tie up loose ends that seem to take place later in the series. In brief, the story is about a man who can bring people and things from a book into our world when he reads out loud. He wasn't aware of doing this, and he therefore also didn't know that bringing something in means sending something from our world into the world of the book. As a result, about nine years ago he inadvertently brought several of the villains and another character from a book into our world, and sent his wife into the story. The villains rather like it here and want more stuff from their world brought here, while the other character wants to go home, and this guy doesn't think he can do that. Most of the book is from the perspective of the daughter, who doesn't know what happened to her mother or why her father won't read out loud to her and who starts to learn her father's secrets when the book characters show up in their lives again.

While I really liked the book and plan to read the rest of the series, I still kind of think this would have been more interesting as an adult fantasy novel. The real heart of the story is the man's search for his lost wife, the character Dustfinger's quest to get home to the book world, and the book's author's realization that having created such perfectly nasty villains isn't necessarily a good thing when he has to come face-to-face with them. There's a lot of interesting thematic stuff to work with in there, like what's in the psyche of the author and having to face openly the darkest parts of his own brain. The role of the girl is more to just have someone to discover all the secrets as the story unfolds. But hey, it's all about bringing storybook elements into the real world, so I'm all over it, no matter which audience it was written for.

Then I read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, and it certainly deserves all the awards it received. It's a truly lovely book. Basically, it's The Jungle Book but with ghosts. One night, a man kills the father, mother and child living in a particular house, but misses one member of the family, a toddler who earlier that evening figured out a way to climb out of his crib and go exploring. The child ends up in a nearby graveyard, where the spirits of his murdered parents beg the resident ghosts to look after their son. The ghosts hide him from the killer, then a couple who never had children in life adopts him, while someone who lives in the graveyard but who isn't dead (he's not really alive, either) takes on a guardian role and procures supplies. The child grows up in the graveyard, raised by ghosts, learning his letters from the tombstones, learning history from people who were there, and generally learning a lot of other skills that come in handy when he's older and the killer comes to complete the job. I had started reading this the night before and made the mistake of picking it up to read a bit last night during a snack break between finishing my medical writing and getting back to my book. The earlier parts were more episodic (one of the chapters was published originally as a short story), so I thought I could just read one "story" and then get back to work. Of course, that ended up being the point where it all started coming together, and an hour later I couldn't bear to face my own pitiful attempts at writing. One thing I love about Gaiman is that he knows how to end a book perfectly. I don't mean the way the story ends and everything wraps up. I mean the specific words that close out the book. There's something about his closing passages that makes them linger, so they seem to hang there, glowing in space like some kind of Cheshire cat, for a few seconds after you close the book with a sigh and the knowledge that there's no other way it could have ended and it's just perfect.

And then last night I had a freaky dream in which Terry Pratchett was my spirit guide, walking me through the world of my book and suggesting what I should do. Unfortunately, I don't remember what Sir Terry told me to do, but I seem to recall that even in the dream I thought his advice was a bit out there.

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