The Book's Lover

The Book's Lover
Damiano Cali

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Homage to a Library: Naomi

Some people love bookstores.  I like bookstores a lot.  They make me happy.  Almost all of them now have coffee shops attached, which makes them smell yummy, and most of them have comfy chairs where you can sit down and try out a new book before you buy it.  
Bookstores are great.  

I’m a library person.

I LOVE libraries.  I think it’s because when I was a little girl, the library was my happy place.  My Mommy took me to the library every Friday and I was allowed to roam around to my heart’s content.  My childhood library was a beautiful building built in 1907, with a huge dome above the circulation desk, and marble pillars, with the hush and sacred feel of a temple or a church.  As one progressed back into the “working” parts of the library—the general fiction stacks, the periodicals, the nonfiction second floor loge—it became less lovely and more ‘70s utilitarian.  It was still a magical place.  
I had a Mommy-imposed limit of 10 books.  I wasn’t allowed to take any more home than that, because it was hard enough to keep track of ten when the due-date came around.  Even now, years and years later, I feel overburdened if I have more than 10 library books out at a time.  You can’t imagine the daily guilt I lived with in grad school, when I sometimes had to check out 15 or 20 books for one paper.   

Leaving Mom in the dust, I would toddle down the stairs to the basement Children’s Department.  Two of my very favorite people worked there: Sue and Claudine.  Sue was lovely, with waist-length blonde hair and pretty Laura Ashley dresses (it was the 1980s, Gentle Readers.  She was chic.).  And then there was Claudine, who was one of the single most important influences on my life, because she helped me learn to pick out books.  Is there any better way to shape a child?  Sometimes she had a special book hidden behind the circulation desk for me, and regardless of what it was, if she recommended it, I read it.  She helped me work my way through every book in the library on Arthurian myths, answered questions on how to pronounce the names of Greek gods, and taught me that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was just the gateway to Baum’s world.  For years, even after we moved away, our families exchanged Christmas cards.  I promised her that I would dedicate a book to her.  Sadly, she passed away a few years ago, and she didn’t get her book.  Claudine, I owe you.  For so many things.  

  [In a side note, both Sue and Claudine moonlighted (moonlit?) as clowns.  Knowing that the clowns who showed up at craft fairs and school festivals were the nice ladies who gave me books made sure I was immune to fearing clowns, no matter how many times I’ve read “IT.” Thanks, librarians; I have no fear of clowns, and a vast fear of overdue library notices.]  
The library was a safe place, full of dangerous ideas.  I don’t remember my parents restricting my reading at all, believing that if I was old enough to choose the book, I was OK to read it.  I do remember having to fight to move from the Children’s Department downstairs to the Young Adult section upstairs.  Then again, considering that I began a year-long diet of Sweet Valley High books, maybe my folks were right!  (Lila was my favorite.  She, too, loved purple.)  But I could wander the library, pick out my books and then meet Dad in the Westerns, or Mom in Fiction.  I happened upon some great books, all by accident, because I liked the title, or the front cover, or because I randomly pulled it off the shelf.  It was a wonderful playground. 

And it shaped my reading habits more than I ever realized.  It is very rare, even now, that I walk into a bookstore knowing what I want to buy, or into a library knowing what I want to check out.  I have always found the best stuff when I am looking for nothing in particular: Your eye is caught by a photograph.  You like a title.  You recognize a book you’ve read before by the cover art and see if the author has done anything new.  You misread a title and pull it off the shelf.  You accidentally knock a book out of place, and as you replace it, you start reading the blurb. 

One of my problems with e-readers is that it pretty much kills the art of the accidental book.  Yep, that might make me a Luddite, but that’s OK.  You can find me curled up in the fiction section with the rest of the weirdos. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Alternate Archipelago America: Naomi

I have been ill with a non-specific ickiness for almost a week now.  It’s perhaps an outgrowth of my Benign Positional Vertigo, which sounds more fun than it is.  My mother, wonderful being, thinks it may be because I’ve been exercising too much.  Best.  Excuse. Ever!
Essentially, this means that I can’t move much.  You would be AMAZED at the amount of reading I have gotten done.  If I weren’t feeling nonspecifically icky, I would be quite pleased.  As it is, I really, really want to be able to stand up without feeling like I’m falling down. 

But the reading.  O the reading.  Since I can’t move, and reading doesn’t make me dizzy, it’s been a week of me, my bed, and whatever is on my bedside table.  The Dante I’ve been reading, though, has remained untouched this week.  I can’t handle dizziness and the fires of hell: it’s all too much.  The review of the GENIUS translation I’m reading will just have to wait. 
Instead, I give you the review of the GENIUS YA novel I finished.  In a day.  Because I can’t move.   And, you know, it’s really good.

My friend and fellow-blogger, The Serial Bookseller, recommended a new book by Brandon Sanderson, the fantasy wordsmith tapped to finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series.  For me, Sanderson is hit or miss.  Mistborn: Awesome.  The rest of the Mistborn series: Hugely boring.  Elantris: Amazing.  Warbreaker: YAWN.  As for Sanderson’s ability to finish The Wheel of Time series, I stopped reading roundabout Book 7 (A Crown of Swords), when Jordan had been unable to pique my interest since Book 4 (The Shadow Rising).  But I digress.  The Serial Bookseller and I have this argument often.  He adores Sanderson.
In this case, he was right.  Yep.  I said it.  I said it out loud and in print: The Serial Bookseller was right.  (This will never happen again.) 

The Rithmatist is awesome.    It takes place in Alternate Archipelago America (henceforth known as AAA).   We don’t know why it’s an archipelago; there is no backstory; it just, geologically, is.  Each of our states is an independent island in AAA, so there’s a fascinating separatist atmosphere, which fits the vaguely Victorian vibe of the book as a whole.  And no, it’s not steampunk; it’s Victorian AAA fantasy.  To underline this separatist theme, we find out that all of Europe is under the rule of an Asian dynasty, and the Aztek Empire is still going strong.  Our little AAA is understandably shy of banding together, and the separatist politics do a nice job of dovetailing with the larger plot. 
On the central AAA isle of Nebrask exists a pernicious magical threat: wild chalklings, two-dimensional monsters (yep, made of chalk) that eat people alive.  They attack in swarms and munch on eyeballs and skin and things; they’re quite icky.  The can be held off by acid attacks (to dissolve the chalk), but they greatest defense against them is the, you guessed it, Gentle Readers, Rithmatists.  These Rithmatists are geometry-savvy magic-wielders who can draw their own chalklings and imbue them with life.  Then the good chalklings battle the bad ones.  Obviously. 

Rithmatists must be trained.  And Joel, our protagonist, is a scholarship student at an academy that trains Rithmatists, although he himself has no power.  He is, however, fascinated by Rithmancy, as was his father (a chalk-maker) before him.  Joel manages to talk his way into a summer internship with recently-humbled Professor Fitch, where he befriends an untalented Rithmatist named Melody.  The three of them are tasked with solving a string of puzzling disappearances.  Then magic and plot and stuff happens.  Read it yourself.     
Each chapter is preceded by a short lesson on Rithmatics, including why the geometry of certain defenses work, etc.  Now, Gentle Readers, I detest geometry with every fiber of my being, but as soon as it’s magical, somehow it becomes more interesting.  I almost cared about vectors while I was reading this book.  Almost. 

This book is an easy read.  It is not particularly challenging in format, language, or characterization.  It’s also written for 12-year-olds, so I allow some leeway.  It is, however, beautifully grounded.  The organization of the world, the history, and the science of the Rithmatic magic are really impressive.  This is the beginning of a series, and I am looking forward to the sequels. 
There were also more surprises than I expected.  One subplot did not resolve itself at all in the way I expected.  The villain is red-herringed like mad, and even once I thought I had it figured out, I was wrong.  Only in fiction, Gentle Readers, do I enjoy being wrong.  And Sanderson got me good.  *high five* 

I can see this series becoming quite popular if only the word gets out, and people refrain from comparing it to Harry Potter.  Yes, it’s magic; yes it’s a boarding school; yes, there’s a mean teacher who hates our protagonist.  That is where the comparison ends.  Do not pick up this book expecting Harry Potter.  But please do, Gentle Readers, pick up this book.  You’ll be glad you did, and for five minutes, you might even care about geometry. 

And right now you can order it in hardcover for $12.83.  Ye Gods, just buy it!