If I have a hobby of any kind, besides reading of course, it would doubtless be the wide-eyed collection of inspirational cover art. Thanks to Pinterest (the browsing of which would be a hobby if it didn’t take up so much valuable work time), I have been developing a coherent collection in a manageable forum. Feel free to browse the growing collection here, and let me know which covers are your favorite – or which are notably missing from the board.
Generally speaking, when an online article is followed by thirteen pages of reader comments, you DON’T want to read them. We all know those comment threads that are full of poorly constructed, emotionally charged polemic on one side of an argument or another. There’s little that embodies the sad state of social dialogue as well as an angry comment thread.
Well, here’s one you’ll want to read. Lisa Belkin’s New York Times article on ‘creepy’ children’s books resulted in pages and pages of commentary from parents on the creepiness or non-creepiness of such classics as The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, and I Love You Forever. Never mind that the mother in Muncsh’s beautiful story embodies the heart of motherhood; her regular visits to her son’s sleep are considered ‘stalking’. Never mind that Silverstein’s generous tree is never suggested as a model of parental behavior; her irrational giving of limb and leaf is an unhealthy suggestion to new mothers. There’s so much I could say about these books – and these comments – but with so many other readers dropping their opinions on this article, I think I’ll hold my peace.
According to a New Yorker book blog, a Seattle news source reported that two coffee shops in Long Beach are installing poetry boxes outside their facilities to boost business and, I would assume, to promote the reading and writing of poetry. Considering that I’m from Long Beach, it’s a little amusing to me that I’m hearing about such a fun project in such a circuitous way. Ah well. At least I know.
I’d like to post a few titles every now and then of books that never really made it. I remember them because I happened upon them unawares, read them, became certain that they were culturally, genrely iconic (yes, I just made up a word), and sat them on my shelves for the future.
But the rest of the world disagreed.
We’ll start with Salamander, by Thomas Wharton.
This is a book for bibliophiles. It recounts the obsessive hunt of a bookmaker for the perfect ingredients for an infinite book. Nicholas Flood, the protagonist, is a printer of novelty books in eighteenth-century London. Commissioned by an eccentric nobleman to create the infinite book, the story follows his journey as he locates the ideal ink, the impossible pages, and the perfect binding for this ceaseless tome. Magic realism at its most magical and slightly less real, Thomas Wharton takes you on a delectable journey of pages and ink, mazes and romance, intrigue, impatience, and wonder.
When I first discovered Steampunk a few years ago, I thought, ‘This looks awfully familiar. Didn’t I see something like this in Salamander?’ Steampunk aficionados may disagree, but there are foreshadowings of the phenomenon locked in these pages. The count’s mysterious castle that opens and closes like a great puzzle box, the odd congruence of 18th century imagery with contemporary sensibility. Steampunk fiction is few and far between, so if you’re looking for something to tide you over till the next Scott Westerfield or Nick Valentino, look no further. Not that this quite fits in the canon, but you’ll appreciate it nonetheless.
I first found the book on a display table of paperbacks, back in the day when I would browse bookstores and actually buy books. I bought it for the front cover, which reminded me of two things: an Escher painting and The Phantom Tollbooth. The first is rather inexplicable, since the image – though mysterious and architectural – is by no means an optical illusion. It makes much more sense as a reminder of Norton Juster’s classic book for children, because the image of a castle in the sky features prominently in both. Come to think of it, both stories share several things in common, besides the imagery of floating edifices: a journey of learning and fantastical experiences, a reconciliation between the essential and the absurd, and… well, that might just be it.
I have a feeling I would get much more out of Salamander now than I did when I read it, some eight years ago. Perhaps that is because I am in the business of making books. More likely, though, it is because the appreciation of a book as an object grows more acute with the passing of time – at least, for an avid reader. And this novel is an homage to the book as an object. All the more pitiable should it be forgotten, add this to that reading list you have growing by the bedside. You will thank me.
Stretch your mind, if you will, back about two years ago. You didn’t know what you were missing in those days. You were ignorant, benign, free as a bird. Then you found Hunger Games in a desolate pile of advanced reader books in the back of your small bookstore. It just happened to have a better cover than all the other galleys, and you recognized the author’s name from that Gregor series you’d also never read. You read the blurb on the back, and it was odd. You were skeptical. After all, this sort of genre really wasn’t your thing.
The next day the book was done, and you were desperate for the next one in the series to come out. No other book – teen, adult, series, stand-alone, romance, vampire, mystery… NOTHING would satisfy but Catching Fire. You waited another year, full of angst, for the sequel.
Which was also done within a day. Oh, Suzanne Collins! How do you do whatever it is that you do?! And why, oh why could I not have discovered these books on August 25th, the day after Mockingjay‘s release?