Thursday, November 10, 2011

Books I'm Grateful for

I just finished Beth Revis' book Across the Universe, and as I usually do when I finish a good book and don't want to let go, I went to her website. Good news: the next book is coming out in January! Also good news: Beth Revis has a terrific blog. She has a contest going that I thought was a great idea (even though the Canadian Thanksgiving is over!): Give Thanks for Good Books.

What books should I give thanks for? Beth already used Narnia, so ditto. I have to mention everything by Madeleine L'Engle, particularly A Ring of Endless Light, for getting me through an awkward adolescence. Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, of course.  Oh, I can't leave out M.M. Kaye's Far Pavilions (I reread it a few years ago, and I have to admit I liked the Far Pavilions in my head better: it was still epic and sweeping and tragic and romantic and exotic, just not quite as much as I remembered it. But I was fourteen when I read it, so that explains a lot.)

But before I go on and on nostalgically, I think I'd like this post to be about books being written now. I'm grateful that people are writing books that are unique, quirky, crazy weird, or just thoughtful. Books that take you out of your head and then put you back in at a slightly different angle. Here are a few I've read recently:

There is No Dog, by Meg Rosoff. This is an author who definitely does her own thing; I dare anyone to try to categorize her books. They're not even like each other, except insofar as they are all brilliantly written and make you laugh and cry and go "huh." (Her titles are all great, too.) This one starts with the intriguing (and potentially blasphemous) premise that God is really a sex-crazed teenaged boy named Bob. If it was only about Bob and his attempts to make it with Lucy, the latest human he's fallen in love with, it might have become tiresome. But it's also about Lucy, the assistant zookeeper who loses a capybara, and about Lucy's mother, and Lucy's mother's priest, and it's about Mr. B, Bob's longsuffering assistant, who tries to keep up with all the prayers and mitigate Bob's various disasters, and Bob's floozy of a mother, who won Earth for him in a poker game, and the last Eck, Bob's pet, who is in danger of getting eaten and is rather sad about it. Normally I don't like novels that jump around between every character's point of view, but I liked all of these characters, with their flaws and needs and worries. I liked the way everything fell apart only to come together in unexpected ways. I loved the whales. (Fairly certain they're a nod to Douglas Adams, whose worthy successor Meg Rosoff could be (except not quite, because she isn't like him either).)This is not a blasphemous book: it's a funny, honest, touching and surreal exploration of what a God might be, and how one might still have faith despite how messed up everything is. This book was dense and sweet and full of flavours both familiar and unusual, rather like the sweet potato cake I made last week.

Vampire High, by Douglas Rees. I picked this book up from the librarian's Recommended shelf and loved the cover art. I assumed it would be a humorous take on the teen vampire thing (just making the protagonist a human guy already turns the stereotypes upside-down). It is, but it is so much more. I would almost go so far as to say it's a fable about outsiders and belonging, but then you might think it's preachy, which it isn't. It could just be a funny story about a kid who really doesn't fit in: Cody doesn't realize at first that almost everyone at his new school is a vampire. These aren't scary vampires, though (well, maybe some of them are, a little); they're just trying to fit into society--and here's where the book becomes brilliant. I loved that the vampires call themselves jenti and non-vampires gadje; I loved the sly pokes at bureaucracy everywhere; I loved Cody's dogged bravery; I loved the ridiculous assignments the teachers give the jenti that they don't expect the gadje to do, and I loved Cody's attempts to complete them; I loved that the divide between jenti and gadje is everyone's and no one's fault and that Cody unintentionally upsets the status quo by doing the right thing. This book is crunchy and salty and fun, like peanut butter and jelly on toast.

A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd. You remember Patrick Ness, from Chaos Walking? I don't really need to say anything more, (and this blog post is getting too long, and I couldn't possibly do it justice anyway). Just go find this book. The illustrations are stunning, the story is strange, funny, powerful, and beautiful. You will cry. It will be cathartic. The concept is unique and yet feels inevitable, like a folk tale. The monster that shows up outside Conor's window is terrifying, but Conor isn't afraid of it because the monster from his nightmares is far more frightening. This is a fantasy book that's so realistic it tears your heart out. I'm going to compare this to the yak steak I had at a fancy restaurant once: beefy and tender with a sauce that hits all the ancient receptors in the brain.

Guess I should give a writing update: day 10, and I've written 9 1/2 pages. Not a whole lot, but I've done a bit every day, so I'm meeting my goal.

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