The Doll’s House, Neil Gaiman

Ooh, this volume is spookier than I remember.  It’s a bit hard to explain the plot, which is intricately linked to other storylines, but in short, it’s about a girl called Rose, who is looking for her little brother.  A number of other people are milling around: G.K. Chesterton, a woman who’s been pregnant for several years, a serial killer with teeth in his eyes, women with enormous spider collections, and that makes it interesting.  Still, essentially it’s all about Rose.  She has multicolored hair and numerous connections to the previous volume.  She is also a vortex, which means that she can break down the walls between everybody’s dreams.  In case this does not sound alarming, Neil Gaiman makes it really, really disturbing.  Like, much more so than the serial killer convention.  (To me – but I’m very attached to my dreams.  I’d be interested to know what other people think.  How disturbing do you find that scene where all of her flatmates’ dreams start melting into each other?  Particularly with Barbie and Ken?)

When I first started writing this review, I was going to say that two of the issues included in this volume don’t really go well with the rest of the book, but then I realized that was nonsense.  They both go very very well, “Tales in the Sand” and “Men of Good Fortune”, because they give you a really vivid sense of Dream’s mercilessness and isolation, and how both of those things can play into what’s going to happen in the rest of this volume.  As well as what’s going to happen at the end of the series, which – hey – is pretty impressive.

Gilbert is such a wonderful part of The Doll’s House.  I love Gilbert.  I think it is so nice of Neil Gaiman to have given his fictional G.K. Chesterton the chance to really actually rescue a damsel in distress, which G.K. Chesterton seems to have greatly wanted to do.  G.K. Chesterton charms me.  I would say that G.K. Chesterton accounts for a higher percentage of the quotations in my commonplace book than any other author – funny how I don’t own a single thing he wrote.  But he’s delightful here.

Still not the best, but Neil Gaiman is clearly finding his voice.  The theme of storytelling that runs through the Sandman continues to be developed here.  Neil Gaiman is always good with that theme.  Hm, and so is Martine Leavitt.  Creating yourself by the story you have about yourself.  That’s a good theme.  When it is handled well in a book, I nearly always like that book.  Maybe always always.  I’ll have to think more about this.

Preludes and Nocturnes, Neil Gaiman

Riot’s blog, Burning Leaves, reminded me yesterday of how much I love the Sandman.  I went into the hallway and gazed admiringly at my very nice Sandman poster.  I just now went to find a small picture of it on the internet, so I could link to it, and I couldn’t find one anywhere.  I couldn’t even find one for sale on eBay.  So I’m glad I have this one, and if I had batteries in my camera I would take a picture of it and post it here.  It reminds me of when my love for Sandman was new.

I actually read The Doll’s House first.  I bought it from Bongs & Noodles, and the check-out guy said, “You read the first one, right?” and I said, “Well, y’all don’t have it.  Do I really need to read the first one first?  I can’t start with this one?” and you could see him trying to decide whether it was more important to him to tell the truth or to sell books.  He eventually said, “Yeah.  You really have to read the first one first.”  I didn’t.  You really have to read the first one first.  Or at least, you have to read the first one before the second one.  In the end I gave up on the whole Sandman for a while, then decided that I was going to damn well read them and I was going to damn well like them, and I bought all ten volumes with my high school graduation money.

Preludes and Nocturnes is not Neil Gaiman’s best work, but it is still pretty good.  I was thinking while I was reading it – damn, Neil Gaiman is good at coming up with incantations.  The spell they say to summon Death, while ineffective, is an excellent spell

I give you a coin I made from a stone. I give you a song I stole from the dirt.  I give you a knife from under the hills, and a stick that I stuck through a dead man’s eye.  I give you a claw I ripped from a rat.  I give you a name, and the name is lost.  I give you blood from out of my vein, and a feather I pulled from an angel’s wing.  I call you with names of my lord, of my lord.  I summon with poison and summon with pain.  I open the way and I open the gates.

How good’s that?  It’s evocative, and it scans.

At this point in the comic’s life, it was still mostly horror.  Particularly “24 Hours”.  Generally when I am reading Preludes and Nocturnes, I start reading “24 Hours”, and I get to the part where the waitress is considering her philosophy of storytelling.  She says that every story ends in death if you keep going long enough; and the trick is to know when to stop.  I usually consider this to be Neil Gaiman’s way of telling me that he doesn’t mind if I skip “24 Hours”, so I do.  This time, I was in a completist mood, and I read it.  It is well unsettling.  Feel free to skip it.  I will tell you what happens: Everybody dies in nasty ways, and at the end Dream shows up in a bad mood.

However, “The Sound of Her Wings” – I say unoriginally – makes up for any flaws in the foregoing seven issues.  Death is a delightful character, of whom we just never see enough.  I like it when she throws bread at him and talks about Mary Poppins.  Thanks to my wonderful sister Anna, I have this in a single issue, which I fetched down from my bookshelf and read.  I love having single issues of the Sandman.  Looking at the ones I have flashes me back to this little used comics & books shop on Portobello Market Road, which I visited almost every day of July 2005.  I was living in Notting Hill that month, so it was close by.  (On Pembridge Gardens, a street that was very easy to get to from the Notting Hill Tube Station, but it took me an hour and a half with two suitcases, because I made a wrong turn and every street within a ten-mile radius was called Pembridge something, and Londoners are crap at giving directions.  All except for this one street-cleaner, and at the time I couldn’t understand anything he was saying, though in retrospect I realize that he was giving me perfect directions.)  I wanted to buy all the issues because of the extreme beauty of Dave McKean’s covers.  I spent so much money at that shop.

If I could draw, I would want to be able to draw like Dave McKean.  I have recently decided to take King of Hearts off of my desert island five movies, and substitute MirrorMask.  Definitely.  If you haven’t seen it, see it.  It’s charming.  Especially the end.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

This weekend I did a lot of things I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, including covering my paperbacks with contact paper.  And in the process of doing this, I got started reading Harriet the Spy, which I haven’t read for ages and ages.  What a good book it is!  Harriet is an eleven-year-old girl who wants to be a spy, and she goes around spying on people and writing down everything she sees, and trying to figure out grown-ups.

I identified so strongly with Harriet when I was a kid.  I once got into huge trouble for writing a mean note to this girl in my class (she was called Jenny also, which may have contributed to my irritation with her), and after my principal fussed at me for an hour and said my note was chilling and made me cry, I got home and my mother said “So what we’ve learned is – never put anything in writing.”  A lesson I took much to heart.  I completely stopped writing my stories down on paper and took to writing everything on the computer, in documents with long complicated passwords; and when I reread Harriet the Spy not long after, I felt superior to Harriet.  Silly, silly Harriet, I remember thinking, putting things in writing when she clearly should not.

One thing Ms. Fitzhugh does terribly well is to convey how confusing adults are.  The adults in this book are completely incomprehensible, which is so true about being a kid, that thing of often not having any idea at all what all the grownups are on about.  And asking questions was so frustrating because they didn’t understand what you were really asking.  That comes through nicely in this book.  If you’ve never read it (which hardly seems possible), you should read it.  It cemented the nothing-in-writing lesson for me, and as well taught me about Dostoevsky at a very young age.  Harriet the Spy.  Check it out.  The Long Secret is also quite good, but I didn’t like the book about Sport.  Whatever it was called.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

I’m very emotional.  I – I – I have so many, so very many, feelings.

This was the only one of the books I waited for but not with my family.  When the sixth book came out, I was doing a month in London, which was amazing and I saw like twelve plays that month, but it also meant that I got my book from a bookshop in Croydon.  Aggravating melodramatic liar Frank Harris is from Croydon.  That’s all I will say.  Also, nobody stayed up with me to read it.  I was with (a different) Jane, and she and I and this other girl read the first three chapters out loud to each other, which was fun – I can vividly remember Hannah’s voice saying “Kreacher won’t, Kreacher won’t, Kreacher won’t!” – but then everyone went to bed except me.  In a way this was good because I could shriek and gasp all I wanted to without annoying anybody, but in another way it was sad because there was no one awake to say “HOLY SHIT SNAPE IS THE DADA TEACHER!”

So let me just take this opportunity to say, “HOLY SHIT!  SNAPE IS THE DADA TEACHER!” because reading this book for the fourth or so time has done nothing to dim the anxiety I feel when Dumbledore makes that particular announcement.

In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, things are getting nastier.  People you’ve heard about are dying suddenly, Death Eaters are all around, and Snape is acting shifty (for a change).  Malfoy’s got some top-secret Evil Project to do, but Harry’s the only one who seems concerned about this.  Dumbledore is giving Harry private lessons in which he shows him memories about Voldemort that he has collected, which is cool.  I don’t really know how to summarize the plot, since the fifth and sixth books are more just rising evil than a self-contained mystery, the way the earlier books are.  Suffice it to say, evil is rising.  The rest is spoilers.

The sixth is my second favorite of the books, just after the third.  Sometimes I think I like it even better than the third.  The adverbs don’t actually get any better, but a lot of fun stuff happens – the scene with Dumbledore at the Dursley house, at the beginning of this book, has gone on my favorite scenes list, for instance.  I love the entire Ron-Lavender plotline, which never fails to make me laugh.  It’s nice to see Harry doing well in Potions for a change – better he have an asshat Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, since he’s already brilliant in that area.  Besides which, this is the first book in which Harry really seems like an adult, and I feel very proud of him.  His instincts are good, and he’s gotten better at reporting weird things to teachers and other adults when he sees them.  (I think Dumbledore should have been straight with him about Malfoy.)  The scene in the middle where he puts Scrimgeour in his place is another favorite.  Sometimes I read it when I am feeling blue.

My family definitely knew Snape was in love with Lily by now.  My mother was certain about it by the time the fifth book came out, and this Lily being brilliant at Potions business just clinched it for us.  Mumsy spent a lot of time coming up with really maudlin scenarios for Snape to confess to Harry that he had loved Lily.  Her favorite one involved Snape giving his life for Harry and then in the throes of death imagining that he was talking to Lily instead of Harry (because of the eyes) and choking out “I did it, Lily – I saved your son – I did what I promised – ” Imagine how pleased she was at Snape’s real death scene in the seventh book.  I knew straight away that Snape was not really evil, and Dumbledore was not pleading for mercy.  I mean almost straight away.  I had a moment of pure and total consuming fury when I first read it, but then I was like, Now, Jenny, if Dumbledore asked him to kill him it doesn’t count as murder, so you cut that out.  I was still really mad at Snape.  I enjoy being mad at vile Snape.

And oh, how sad Dumbledore’s funeral was!  When Hagrid cried and cried – it hurt my heart.  Especially when Harry said the thing to Scrimgeour about Dumbledore’s not really being gone from Hogwarts, and that he was Dumbledore’s man through and through.  It gets me every time.

I am so emotional.  Obama inspirationally won the election, and we came very close to beating Alabama at the game that I ATTENDED, and Dumbledore died.  What a weepy week for Jenny.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

I saw this graph one time on something connected with the Lemony Snicket books, and it showed how as time went on, the number of fortunate events decreased. And that is what I always think of when I read the fifth Harry Potter book. It contains so many depressing things – dementors, Umbridge, writing lines in blood, everyone thinking Harry is crazy, an acknowledgement of Harry’s psychological issues, Cho Chang – and the end makes me feel so very, very sad, for Harry and for Dumbledore. I stayed up until midnight for this book when it came out, at the Bongs & Noodles near my place, which was fun because of the big party they were having. I kept running into people from my high school who tried to pretend they weren’t there for the Harry Potter book but I KNEW BETTER. And the cover was so cool and mysterious! And then once we got our books, me and my big sister and our friend Jane went back to Jane’s house to read it, and they both got cross at me if I made a single noise when I was reading. And Jane’s dogs got really tired because we never turned the lights off, and they kept falling over when they tried to walk. It was good times.

I mean, sort of. If you ignore how sad this book is. In this one, Voldemort’s back, and nobody believes it. Harry and Dumbledore are totally discredited in the wizarding world, and everyone is constantly telling lies, repressing stories about dreadful things happening, and punishing Harry when he tries to tell the truth about Voldemort. There is a new awful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher called Dolores Awful Umbridge, who spends her time turning Hogwarts into a Fascist state. Snape continues being horrible to Harry, and we sort of find out why. Harry’s psychic connection with Voldemort deepens (ugh), and Hagrid makes Harry’s life harder (again) (but I still love him). A few cheerful things happen, but they are few and far between, and they are quickly cancelled out by all the awful things that follow in their wake.

The adverbs in this book hurt me. I tried not to notice them but it was difficult when they were clawing free of the page and burrowing into my eyeballs. My recollection is that the sixth book isn’t as bad about this, but we’ll see. I feel like the adverbs in this book are worse than they’ve been.

My mother doesn’t like it when Harry yells at everybody all through this book. I kind of do. I mean, not the all-caps business, which just shouldn’t be allowed, but I feel that at this point, he’s entitled to a little anger. You know, the kid loses his parents, gets raised by assholes in total ignorance of his heritage, and when he does go off to wizard school and escape from the jerks that didn’t parent him properly, the adults in his life continue to not parent him, not even managing to protect him from Dark wizards trying to kill him (I feel guilty even writing this because I was so sniffly when I was reading the bit about how guilty Dumbledore feels about Harry at the end of this book), and then, when the person who killed his parents returns to start killing more people, everyone he knows quits talking to him for half the summer. Oh, and the wizarding world staunchly denies that his very traumatic experience of watching Voldemort return ever happened. So hey. I’d be mad too.

(Apparently growing up with these books has made me very protective of Harry.)

Now I will have spoilers.

On rereading, I find myself much fonder of Luna Lovegood, who grew on me in the sixth book after I originally completely loathed her (how did I ever loathe her? I’m so weird). I find Umbridge and Snape’s nastiness with Harry actually more upsetting now than I did originally, because I know that Umbridge is never getting her comeuppance, and because I feel like Snape could really have made more of an effort to be nice to Lily’s kid, especially when the kid in question is going through a very hard time with hostility on all sides. That jerk of a Snape. Lily’s looking down from heaven and saying You asshole. I found it incredibly woeful when Lupin told Mrs. Weasley that of course Ron and Ginny would be taken care of if something happened to the Weasley parents. In light of what I know is going to happen to Lupin, that is rather depressing.

On the positive side, I love their top-secret underground Defense Against the Dark Arts Group. I love it when Fred and George take off for good, and everyone in the school works to sabotage Umbridge and her reign of terror (that writing lines in your own blood thing is damn creepy, I must say). I am pleased each time I read the scene where Dumbledore fights off all the Aurors and goes on the run. As much as it pains me, I am interested in the scene from Snape’s memory with James and Sirius – because, I hate him, but it’s about time we found out some extenuating circumstances about Snape. And I am glad about how Hermione confronts Harry about his “saving-people thing”. She’s so clever and perceptive, and if Harry had just damn well listened to her, Sirius wouldn’t have died. So it was nice to have that out there.

I have not yet reconciled myself to the fact that Sirius dies. I cry every time I read that scene. My own father’s so lovely! Imagine having no father and then when you finally acquire a father figure who, okay, has some issues to work out, but nevertheless is devoted to you, HE DIES. It’s so unfair. Poor Sirius. Poor Harry. Actually, the sequence in the Department of Mysteries is a tense and upsetting sequence. Everyone is so brave, and particularly darling Neville is so brave! Oh, when he says that Harry’s not alone, he’s got Neville, and when, oh, Neville, when he tells him not to give them the prophecy, and…

Suffice it to say that – this always happens – I started crying when Neville starts being so brave and wonderful, and I carried right on crying through Sirius’s death, Dumbledore’s fight with Voldemort, and especially all through the part where Dumbledore is explaining everything to Harry. Just don’t even talk about how many tissues had piled up next to me by the time he told him why he didn’t make him a prefect. Oh, right, and at the exact second when I managed to begin drying my eyes, I got to the bit where Harry finds the mirror, and then just when I was feeling proud that I didn’t cry when Harry talks to Nearly Headless Nick, I got to the part where he talks to Luna, and that destroyed me all over again.

…I have a lot of feelings.  The more of these books I read the more emotional I get.  I’m going to have a thing or two to say about Rufus Scrimgeour after I read the sixth book.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

Holy God, this book is scary. I had completely forgotten how terrifying the scene in the graveyard is. Damn.

Goblet of Fire isn’t as unfavoritey to me as I remembered it being. I don’t know why I was so cranky about it. I mean, apart from the Blast-Ended Skrewts, which were a much less important part of the book than I was remembering, and the fact that this book is hard on poor Harry, Goblet of Fire isn’t half bad. I was expecting that I would reread it and decide after all that I liked it even less than Chamber of Secrets, but that hasn’t happened at all. On the contrary, I have felt very fond of it, even though this is the book in which things take a turn for the Very Dark. Goblet of Fire was the first of the books that I actually waited for. It came out when my family was on vacation in Maine, and we went to this lovely little bookshop in a loft in Kennebunkport (the vacation spot also of the senior Bushes, but don’t get me started on the awful stories I’ve heard about that) called Kennebunk Book Port. I miss that bookshop. Anyway, we got there way too late, because they are a small bookshop, and they only had two left to reserve, so my mother and my big sister each reserved a copy. On the day, they brought them back to the house, and we all had to wait and wait and wait and wait to read them until Mum and Anna had finished. There was much staying up late and swiping books from people. Good times.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hogwarts had joined up with two other schools of magic (Bulgaria’s Durmstrang and France’s Beauxbatons) to hold the Triwizard Tournament, in which one student from each school gets to compete in scary tasks and win a shiny cup. Inexplicably, the supposedly impartial Goblet of Fire spits out two names for Hogwarts, and one of them is Harry’s. As he deals with this, there are rumors and whispers about Voldemort, with mysterious Voldemort-related things happening all over the place – disappearances and scary KKK-like Muggle torture.

On reflection, Goblet of Fire is not at all a bad book. Not a bit bad. Reading it again has reminded me of a number of things, like how fond of Mr. Weasley I used to be, back in the day when he still had time to be fascinated by Muggle things. It’s so cute when he comes to the Dursley’s house and says that the fireplace runs off of eckeltricity and that he collects batteries. I would have been sad if J.K. Rowling had gone with her first instinct and killed Mr. Weasley, but on the other hand I think it would have been preferable to the nineteen people she ended up killing to make up for Mr. Weasley. (I’m counting four people, right now, that probably would have survived if she had killed Mr. Weasley, and three of them were on the list I made before the seventh book came out of people who Absolutely Must Not Die. And the other one would have been on that list if it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t have the sense to make a list before JK Rowling killed him off.

I can’t decide how I feel about Hermione’s house-elf mania in this book. On one hand, it’s fun, it’s a very Hermione thing to do, and it sets up house-elves as a major point, which is important for the fifth and seventh books. On the other hand, that’s pretty well set up without Hermione getting all crazy about it, so I’m torn. I do enjoy that the three main characters are starting to grow up – though, hey, Krum’s kind of a perv, asking a fourteen-year-old girl to come visit him in his country – and it’s nice to see Harry really coming into his own as far as Defense Against the Dark Arts are concerned.

I’m reluctant to read the fifth book. I like it a lot, but it’s so sad. I don’t know if I want to read all that sadness.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

Mm, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. My original plan was just to read Prisoner of Azkaban, my most favorite of all the Harry Potter books, but then I decided to read them all, since I knew that would take longer and afford me more lasting satisfaction. In Azkaban, a supporter of Voldemort (and, it more or less goes without saying, murderer) breaks out of the wizard prison Azkaban and is out on the lam, desperate – say the prison guards – to get to Harry and kill him dead. Meanwhile the soul-sucking dementors that generally spend all their time guarding Azkaban are out in force at Hogwarts in case Sirius Black (the aforementioned stone-cold killer) shows up there, and the dementors are so awful that poor Harry has a ‘sode every time they come around. A really unpleasant one in which he hears his parents’ last moments on earth. In other news, Hagrid has become a teacher, the kids have a new and wonderful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, and we find out a number of things we didn’t know before about Harry’s father. Plus, Hermione gets a cat, and Harry learns a cool new spell, which is probably the most useful spell he ever learns.

There’s just nothing about this book that I dislike. I think the reason I like it so much is that all the elements are interesting and cool and handled well; and at the end, they all pull together beautifully: Hermione and her many classes, the hippogriff on trial, Harry’s spell to ward off dementors, his acquisition of the Marauder’s Map, the business with Sirius Black, the back-story on James Potter’s school life, the ongoing quarrel between Hermione’s cat and Ron’s rat. Everything. It’s synergistic. It’s satisfying. Not to mention that this is the book in which we first meet funny Professor Trelawney, whom I love, and Professor Lupin, whom I love even more (until the seventh book, at which point I kinda fell out of love with him because he was being a jerk, which is too bad since I spent books four, five, and six complaining loudly about how totally not enough Lupin there was). The end sequence in the Shrieking Shack is one of my top five favorite scenes in the entire series. (I’ve just pulled the number five out of nowhere. I don’t actually have a list of the five best Harry Potter scenes – though now I want to make one, to see how the Shrieking Shack scene measures up.)

I will say, because I don’t want this to be a total panegyric to the third book even though it’s the best, that-

Yeah, no. Nope. I can’t think of anything bad to say about Prisoner of Azkaban. Every time I read it, I have one of those reading experiences where everything else falls away. It’s always like reading it for the first time. Whenever I (spoilers ahead) get to the bit in the Hogsmeade pub where they’re talking about Sirius Black, and Madam Rosmerta says “Quite the double act, Sirius Black and James Potter!”, I always feel startled, it always makes me gasp (Social Sister will tell you that this was very irritating the first time I read it, lying on my bed in the room we shared and refusing to tell her why I was gasping), and I always worry about Harry, poor dear, with his many psychological issues. I continue to get riled up every time Snape acts like a jerk to Harry about his father, or to Lupin about his werewolfiness – Snape’s such a bully! I’m sorry, I don’t care how tortured and miserable he is, he’s got no call to be such a bullying meanie to a bunch of fourteen-year-old kids. Mean old Snape. The list of things for which I can never forgive him, oh, it is a long list.

As far as post-Deathly Hallows rereading goes – I think the only major change is that I find the scenes where Lupin remembers Harry’s father to be much more upsetting than I did when I was first reading these books. I mean, knowing Lupin’s whole story, how he was so lonely and sad and friendless as a kid, and then he finally made some amazing friends who did amazing things for him, and then they all died or turned out to be evil, and he went right back to being lonely and sad and friendless all through his adult life. Ouch. That hurts my heart. I also feel rather affectionate about Ron and Hermione’s quarrel over Crookshanks and Scabbers. It’s the first of many quarrels they will have on their bumpy road to happy togetherness. Oh, and how good was it when harry got to stay by himself in Diagon Alley before the year began? Staying at the pub and having nice meals and wandering all around by himself? That must have been fun. Since he will never have fun again, ever, I’m glad he got to have that experience.

The Juniper Game, Sherryl Jordan

“What I want to do,” said Juniper, “is an experiment in mental telepathy.”  She hesitated, waiting for his reaction.  There wasn’t one.  “I know I have some telepathic abilities,” she went on more confidently.  “I can go through a pack of cards, face down, and guess about fifteen correctly.  And I often know who it is when the phone rings before I answer it.  But I want to try mental telepathy with someone else.  I want to try giving someone else my thoughts.  Images are easier to receive than words.  They’re more intuitive somehow, not so tied up in logic and reason.  I want to see if I can send images to someone else and whether they can draw what they receive.  I need someone who’s sensitive and a good artist.”

Dylan’s gaze shifted, and his eyes met hers.  “Me, you mean?” he said.

She smiled unexpectedly.  “Who else, Leonardo?  You’re perfect.”

This is one of those books my mum picked up for no special reason for my sisters and me and it turned out to be really good.  Or maybe my sister picked it up for no special reason and it turned out to be really good.  Whatever.

It’s about a boy called Dylan (why Dylan? don’t ask me) who is a bit of a geek and a loser but he’s brilliant at art, that lucky duck, and one day this beautiful popular mysterious girl called Juniper (what a good name!) notices he’s good at art and enlists him for her private psychic image-sending project.  At first they’re just sending images of things she goes and sees, but after a while it turns out that her ultimate goal was to travel mentally through time and send him images from Back In The Day.  The witch-burning day, as it goes.  And things get very intense for everyone.

(I find it tricky to cast a critical eye upon books I’ve been fond of for a while.)

I really, really like this book.  Juniper is a good name, for one thing, and for another thing, I have always wanted to be able to do psychic things.  All my faintly-psychic family members, as well as this book, assure me that this is no desirable thing and in fact can be very annoying for your brain, but still, although I mostly believe them, I am always a teeny bit jealous and wish I were not so completely close-brained.   But I think Ms. Jordan does a good job of integrating the supernatural elements of the plot with Dylan and Juniper’s family lives and the effect of their relationship on everyone else.  And the supernatural elements are most interesting.

It just occurred to me Sherryl Jordan has probably written other books, and – hey!  the library says that indeed, yes she has.  Yay.  There are six books of hers at my university library, and six at the public library, and I forgot to pay attention to the titles, so I don’t know how much overlap we’re looking at, but anyway, there are definitely at least seven of her books that exist and are available to me and I haven’t read them yet.  Oh goody.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Seven.

You roll and watch it coming, realizing completely that this is no regular die.  You claim it to be bad luck, but you’ve known all along that it had to come.  You brought it into the room.  The table could smell it on your breath.  The Jew was sticking out of your pocket from the outset.  He’s smeared to your lapel, and the moment you roll, you know it’s a seven – the one thing that somehow finds a way to hurt you.  It lands.  It stares you in each eye, miraculous and loathsome, and you turn away with it feeding on your chest.

Just bad luck.

That’s what you say.

Of no consequence.

That’s what you make yourself believe – because deep down, you know that this small piece of changing fortune is a signal of things to come.  You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

I saw The Book Thief first when I was in England, staying in London with my family over New Year’s, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it or not (I wish I’d bought it then because it would have been more expensive BUT it had a nice cover and was hardback), so I picked it up and glanced at it, and something the sales person said led me to believe it was in translation.  So since I didn’t really have any spare money for a book that might not be good and was in translation anyway, and since I definitely didn’t have any spare space in my luggage, I didn’t get it.

What with one thing and another I checked it out of the library this past summer and read it almost all in one go, lying on my couch at home.  It made me cry.  So I didn’t read it again, and I didn’t buy it, and by the time I noticed that I was pining for it, it was too late and the Official Christmas Buying Embargo was on, and when I didn’t get it for Christmas (I got many other things though!), I went round to Bongs & Noodles and bought it with my Christmas gift card money.

(Yay!)

Seriously, honestly, this book is as good as you’ve heard.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Markus Zusak, yay for you.  It’s about a little German girl who steals books and has a foster family and hides a Jew in her basement.  And yes, okay, the book is narrated by Death, and I know that might not be a draw for some people, but this book is just gorgeously written, and it’s extremely moving, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

But sad.  So if you have serious objections to bits of story that involve dead children and mums crying about it, and if those objections are serious enough that you actually cannot see past them, then okay, this book might not be for you.  For everyone else in the whole world though.  Yup.  Damn good book.  It made me cry, and although I tear up extremely easily, it is a much better trick to make actual tears actually fall out of my eyes, which is what The Book Thief has done both times I’ve read it.

Although I ordinarily cannot deal with Holocaust books at all, which I know this officially isn’t one of, but it kind of is.  And still I liked The Book Thief a lot.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

I have argued with myself long and hard before giving this a “favored authors” category, because actually I don’t like C.S. Lewis as a person. I do not favor him at all. I think he was a bit of a sexist jerk, and the reason I don’t read the Chronicles of Narnia more often is that I think C.S. Lewis is a jerk and I’m always saying to myself, Well why would I want to read the books of such a jerk? And then, of course, since I’ve been reading the Narnia books since I was three (I mean, I was read to at that point), I do fairly inevitably pick them up again, and then I’m reminded of how much I completely love those books.

I reread Dawn Treader on the way to Atlanta, mainly because I was trying to decide what bits would have to be cut for the film (the slave trade bits, I decided – it’s a good part of the book but you don’t absolutely need it, and it would take up lots of time), and I just loved it. It’s not my favorite (I like The Horse and His Boy), but it is a mighty good book. I have always felt a little sad about Eustace being really a metaphor for St. Paul (I cheer myself up by assuring myself that, redemption being a common theme in literature, Eustace is not so much a retelling of St. Paul so much as an archetype), but still, the book is wonderful. I love best the Dufflepuds and Reepicheep wanting to take on a dragon singlehanded and playing chess as if he were the chess pieces doing bold and valiant things, and the dark island is very cool and haunting.

I suppose if I wanted to be critical, I might say that the episodic nature of the book makes things a little jerky, and it does to some extent, but I don’t think it’s a big deal, and mostly everything works out beautifully. It’s episodic, but the episodes are excellent.

I also have to say here that I reread Matilda at my grandmother’s house, and you know, Matilda says that she loves C.S. Lewis “but he has one failing. There are no funny bits in his books”, which Miss Honey agrees with. I mean – well, I can only conclude that Roald Dahl hadn’t read all of the Chronicles of Narnia, because he could never have said that if he had. Honestly, I don’t see how any living person could fail to think Lazaraleen, for instance, was funny (I can still hear my mother’s voice in my head reading Lazaraleen), and there’s just no way that the Dufflepuds aren’t funny. I was reading this book on the way back from my grandfather’s funeral, and I was so tired I was hardly functional and I kept forgetting words like “impressed”, and still the Dufflepuds made me laugh so hard I cried. Particularly this bit, which contains (I’ve helpfully bolded it) what may be my favorite line in all of literature:

“And we’re extremely regrettable,” said the Chief Monopod, “that we can’t give you the pleasure of seeing us as we were before we were uglified, for you wouldn’t believe the difference, and that’s the truth, for there’s no denying we’re mortal ugly now, so we won’t deceive you.”

“Eh, that we are, Chief, that we are,” echoed the others, bouncing like so many toy balloons. “You’ve said it, you’ve said it.”

“But I don’t think you are at all,” said Lucy, shouting to make herself heard. “I think you look very nice.”

“Hear her, hear her,” said the Monopods. “True for you, Missie. Very nice we look. Couldn’t find a handsomer lot.” They said this without any surprise and did not seem to notice that they had changed their minds.

“She’s a-saying,” remarked the Chief Monopod, “as how we looked very nice before we were uglified.”

“True for you, Chief, true for you,” chanted the others. “That’s what she says. We heard her ourselves.”

“I did not,” bawled Lucy. “I said you’re very nice now.”

“So she did, so she did,” said the Chief Monopod, “said we was very nice then.”

“Hear ’em both, hear ’em both,” said the Monopods. “There’s a pair for you. Always right. They couldn’t have put it better.”

“But we’re saying just the opposite,” said Lucy, stamping her foot with impatience.

“So you are, to be sure, so you are,” said the Monopods. “Nothing like an opposite. Keep it up, both of you.”

“You’re enough to drive anyone mad,” said Lucy, and gave it up.

Hahahahaha. That is comic genius. Matilda is absurd, and so is Miss Honey, even though she has my same name and actually I love her and Matilda both, so I’m going to go ahead and blame this on Roald Dahl instead.

C.S. Lewis and his lovely clear prose. I am appreciating it more and more as I get older and read people like Judith Butler (for God’s sake). Clear prose. That’s what we all need. Nice, clear prose. What are they teaching in these schools anyway?