The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

ImageI started this book a few months ago, but stopped because I had to read some school books and for some reason never went back to it. I really didn’t know what I was missing. It’s my first Gaiman book (even though I own Stardust, Good Omens, a novelization of Sandman and some of his short stories) and I went in with high expectations, it did not disappoint. Although it did leave some unanswered questions.

It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

The graveyard Book tells the story of a boy named Nobody Owens, who, quite literally, grew up in a graveyard. When he was a baby a man killed his parents and his sister, but could not kill him, which sounds very Harry Potter-ish. Trust me when I say it’s not. Bod crawled his way to the graveyard at the top of the hill and there he was adopted by two ghosts, the Owens. He’s given the freedom of the graveyard, which allows him to do things that ghosts do while he’s perfectly alive. The killer, the man Jack, is still out there though.

I like the way Gaiman makes each character’s voice completely different and the ghosts all speak the way they would at the time they died, which made it seem more real. There are also all sorts of things in the graveyard (and out of it), like ghouls, Hounds of God (werewolves), witches and night-gaunts (sort of a bird thing), but there are some things that are not really explained. Silas (Bod’s guardian), for example, we never find out what he really is, all we know is that he’s neither dead nor alive.

And that is only one of the unanswered questions. Where does Silas come from? What sort of creature were the man Jack and the other Jacks? What did their organization really do? Why could Scarlett dreamwalk? What does the Honor Guard? I’d really like to know. But, again, as a John Green fan, I’m familiar with unexplained endings and Gaiman’s was not even that bad. It’s just that the story moved somewhat slowly for most of the book and only picked up in the end, which (to me) was somewhat rushed. I think those are the only things that bothered me a bit, but ultimately didn’t stop me from liking the book.

From the things that I loved, one of them was the first chapter. The man Jack’s point of view was really creepy and shilling, I could almost taste the dampness of the air and the darkness that engulfed him. There’s just something magical about the way Gaiman writes.

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade fiercer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been but, not at immediately.
(…)
The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.

Another thing I loved were the ghouls, they were really funny, with their too big names and manners. There was the Duke of Westminster, the Honorable Archibald Fitzhugh, the Emperor of China and the 33rd President of the United States. Seriously, reading those names made me laugh every single time, I kept imagining some little, dirty things with such big pompous names and such a bad smell.

The Graveyard Book is also richly illustrated, all the shades of grey. I loved the ghosty feel they have and the way the things take shape as if forming out of mist. It definitely added to the general atmosphere of the book.

I really want to pick up another of Gaiman’s novels this summer, even though I’m afraid to read Good Omens because it had such a big hype around it. I’ll probably try another one before, and get more familiar with his style. Probably Stardust, since I loved the movie. But now that I’m back into full studying rhythm it’s going to take longer to finish a book, since up until now I was doing basically a book a day. Not to mention I’ve got to finish Jane Eyre.

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Through the Bookshelves or How I Spend My Money (1)

ImageI have a problem, which I’m sure every book lover shares. I can’t see a bookstore that I have to go in, and I never get out empty handed. Never. Recently I’ve been relocating some of my books to my mum’s room, to try and make more space in mine. Not that space problems stop me from buying more, but it makes my mum crazy. I think she’s the only book lover I know that doesn’t have this problem, how I wish she had taught me that one.

Here’s what I bought:

1)      The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje

This book first caught my attention because of its colourful cover, then the year its set in (1950s) and finally that it happens in a ship! I love ships, even though I’ve never actually been in one, because my grandfather was a ship Captain and I loved when he told me stories of his sailing days.

2)      1984 by George Orwell

I’ve wanted to read this book for ages, but something else always came up and I’d leave it behind. But no more! And now I’ve got no excuse not to read it. Not that I’d need one, since I’m pretty excited to start.

3)      The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells

I love sci-fi, books and movies, so this was something I definitively wanted to read. I’ve never read anything by Wells, but watched a movie once from The Invisible Man and I remember liking it a lot, so I decided to give him a try. Not to mention he’s one of the fathers of the genre.

I’m making progress in the two books I’m reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Is it weird that I’m liking Jane Eyre more? Not that Gaiman’s book is bad, but for some reason I find myself wanting to go back to the walls of Thornfield Hall, to Jane and Mr Rochester. Perhaps those weren’t the best books to be read together, huh?

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

ImageI bought this book at my city’s book fair last year, in a tiny little tent that sold used books in English. Its pages are yellowish and it has that wonderful old book smell, the perfect combination for the fairytale inside it. I had never read anything by Burnett before, only heard of The Secret Garden, but now I think I should try some of her other stories and see if they are as wonderfully written as this one.

It tells the story of Sara Crewe, the daughter of a rich Captain stationed in India, and her times at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, where she made friends and foes. Throughout the book she seen as a queer child, with the adult way she spoke and her incredible ability to tell stories. Quickly, half of the seminary is in awe of her while the rest is bitterly jealous of the beautiful things her father sends her. Miss Minchin herself doesn’t like her at all, but spoils her in fear of losing her ‘show pupil’ and Captain Crewe’s money.

When suddenly her father dies (I’m not spoiling anything since this is written on the back cover), leaving her homeless and penniless. Miss Minchin now has to take care of her and begrudgingly lets her live there while making her work all hours of the day. This little description doesn’t come close to making Burnett’s wonderful prose justice, everything she writes feel ethereal and magical. The way she describes Sara’s own little pretend world reinforced that I was reading a fairytale, also warmed me to know that no matter how bad things seemed for her, there would be a happy ending. Like when Lottie, a young child who adores Sara, first comes up to her new servant room on the attic:

Sara lifted her up and the stood on the old table together and leaned on the edge of the flat window in the roof, and looked out.

Any one who has not done this does not know what a different world they saw. The slates spread out on either side of them and slanted down into the rain gutter-pipes. The sparrows, being at home there, twittered and hopped about quite without fear. Two of them perched on the chimney-top nearest and quarrelled with each other fiercely until one pecked the other and drove him away. The garret window next to theirs was shut because the house next door was empty.

“I wished someone lived there,” Sara said. “It is so close that if there was a little girl in the attic, we could talk to each other through the windows and climb over to see each other, if we were not afraid of falling.”

Sara is an interesting character, yes, young and imaginative, kind and understating, willing to put others before herself, but I was also very interested in Miss Minchin. She comes across as a horrible woman, with little patience with children and a greedy spirit; she treats Sara, and the other servant, a girl called Becky, like objects to do her biding or to starve whenever she thinks they deserve it. Despite all that, we are shown throughout the book that she does sometimes realize how unfounded her hatred of Sara really is. Many times she gets angry because Sara does not scream and cry as the other children do, even though she hates when they do it, and so does not know where her annoyance comes from.

I have to admit Miss Minchin puzzled me even in the end, when she saw herself rid of the girl she hated so much and still attempted to have her back in the seminary, though she knew the situation to be hopeless. She made me react, made me angry and I believe that to be what good characters do to readers, and through Sara, I even pitied her a bit for her lack of imagination.

The character’s themselves are not overly layered and things are often seen as either black or white in the book. The bad guys don’t have many redeeming qualities and neither do the good guys have any bad ones, only Sara has any growth in the novel. She becomes much more self-aware, also aware of the difficulties of those who ‘go hungry’, as she knows what it feels like.

In the end, A Little Princess is very much like Cinderella, because it has basically the same premise. If we change Miss Minchin with the horrible stepmother, Lavine, a pupil who is jealous of Sara, with the two stepsisters and the Indian gentleman with the Prince, everything fits together. It’s a simple tale with a rich language and two big twists in the heroine’s luck. Very much not for people who dislike happy endings.

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

ImageAnyone who loves Sherlock Holmes will agree that Conan Doyle is a master of his art; he can craft whole incredible tales of out some ordinary detail and still make them very believable. The Lost World is no different. It was published in 1912 and has since then set the pace for the other fantasy tales that followed. This was exactly what Conan Doyle wished to achieve when he wrote this book, as Michael Crichton tells us at the introduction:

Contemplating a new character and a new novel, The Lost World, to introduce him, Conan Doyle informed his editor, “My ambition is to do for the boy’s book what Sherlock Holmes did for the detective tale. I don’t suppose I could bring off two such coups. And yet I hope it may.”

And it did. The new character was Professor Challenger, a comical man, quick to anger and with a big ego. The narrator, a journalist called E. D. Malone, was tasked with trying to interview the man and after some fighting (yes fighting! With black eyes and everything) told Malone about his infamous expedition to South America. I won’t go into details about what Challenger told Malone, don’t want to spoil it for anyone, suffice to say he thoroughly convinces Malone (and us) that somewhere in the Amazon forest there is a plateau where to this day dinosaurs still live.

Needless to say, the Professor’s scant evidence is mocked by the scientific community and especially by Professor Summerlee, who bickers with Challenger from beginning to end. And so the real adventure makes itself known to us, when a team is assembled to travel to Brazil and verify Challenger’s claims; it consists of Malone, Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.

The two first things that drew me to this book were the author and the setting. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this book and wonder about far off lands, of paradise lost in the middle of a great forest. For me it hits close to home, it’s having someone tell me that Jurassic animals still live in my country, and I suppose, that’s a bit harder to imagine. But Conan Doyle convinced me to try, and while he doesn’t focus much on the natives, he does mention the Indians’ superstitions of malevolent spirits inhabiting the Amazon quite a lot.

I had a lot of fun reading this, and by ‘fun’ I mean the laughing kind, it even made me startle some people sitting close to me today. The characters are comical, even the somber Summerlee when together with Challenger makes for an entertaining ride. Lord John is also great, with his various adventures in South America and his unwavering courage. I have to admit I didn’t like Malone much at first, the opening scene with Gladys left me with bad impression, but he grew on me through the story and turned out to be a practical person, always reminding the others that sometimes the simple explanations are the best ones.

One of my favorite scenes was the lecture in the Zoological Institutes’ Hall, where the idea of the team comes up and its components are chosen. It was simply brilliant, with Challenger’s megalomaniac nature making itself known and the first amusing discussions between Summerlee and Challenger.

“Question!” boomed a voice from the platform.
Mr. Waldron was a strict disciplinarian with a gift of acid humor, as exemplified upon the gentleman with the red tie, which made it perilous to interrupt him. But this interjection appeared to him so absurd that he was at a loss how to deal with it. So looks the Shakespearean who is confronted by a rancid Baconian, or the astronomer who is assailed by a flat-earth frantic. He paused for a moment, and then, raising his voice, repeated slowly the words: “Which were extinct before the coming of man.”
“Question!” boomed the voice once more.

There are, of course, some things that must be taken with a grain of salt, like the idea of the Europeans as superior beings, which comes up every so often during the narrative. Considering when it was written it’s not unusual, as it was the belief at the time, so it doesn’t make too much of an interruption. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that I didn’t like; I actually loved every second of it. I’m usually a very fast reader, but this book I savored as if it was my favorite candy. It’s definitively in my favorites list and left me wanting to read Jurassic Park, which I think I’ll do soon, after I finish A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

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I’ll start by saying that this book left me feeling odd, a good odd, but still not quite normal. And I think that is a good thing, because it is more or less the way Charlie feels throughout the story. I had wanted to read this book for some time now, but between studying and my other readings I didn’t have the time. Now that the movie is out I made it my goal the read it before watching, which is something I always like to do.

The book I bought was the only one available in my favorite bookstore, the edition was different from what I’m familiar with but I took it anyway. I got home and started flipping through the pages when something pink caught my eye and, needless to say, it made my day to find a pink slip of paper with the same quote I wrote above in it. It made me really happy to think that someone cared enough about a book to leave something for new readers to find.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower has four parts and an epilogue and is composed of letters that the main character, Charlie, writes to an unnamed person, who, weirdly enough, he doesn’t know. According to him, he heard some of his classmates talking about this person and decided he or she sounded nice. He also defines this ‘nice’ by saying this person could have slept with someone at a party, but didn’t. Already in this first letter you start getting the sense of how out of the ordinary Charlie is.

So, he wrote to this person because he thought he/she would understand, also because the next day is his first day of high school. Not long before this, his best friend committed suicide, which left Charlie feeling sad and friendless. To me, he didn’t come across as lonely, more like isolated, as if there was no one he could relate to even though he loved his family. A couple of letters latter and he meets two seniors called Sam and Patrick, who are siblings, and they quickly become best friends. Patrick and Sam were both very accepting of his odd quirks, and while it didn’t feel exactly forced, the lack of mention until almost the end of the book bugged me a bit.

It’s a pretty mild factor to be bugged about, considering the polemic nature of some of the subjects of the book: drugs, underage drinking, mental problems, sexuality, and homophobia, among other things. I won’t mention the exact way homophobia appears, because it’s too spoilery, but I liked the way Charlie was, not only accepting, but he also gave the impression that there was nothing to accept because it wasn’t abnormal. Personal opinions aside, I thought it was very in character, since he spends the whole book putting his friends’ happiness before his own.

One of the things that threw me a bit was that Charlie sounded younger than he was actually supposed to be, although maybe it’s because of whatever mental instability he had or it was just the way Chbosky chose to write him. I was also a bit bothered by the lack of definitive ending, but having read all of John Green’s books I’m kind of used to it. Overall, I liked the book and can certainly relate to wanting to be a writer. Or writing essays about the books you read. Also: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, those who read will understand.

Summer Reading Project of Awesome

I haven’t done anything with this blog for far too long, so I’m revisiting my idea of a reading blog (which school got on the way of this year). And I know how I operate, if I don’t challenge myself nothing gets done long term. I know it didn’t work with the classics challenge I had joined, but alas, hopefully this will.

Finally, this is my last official day of school, I’m done with my finals and the only things in the horizon are two universities entrance examinations (the one I really want is in January). Now, what’s a bookworm to do? Read. So, I’ve come up with my Summer Reading Project of Awesome (SRPOA for short), which consists basically of me reading whatever book I can get my hands on and writing about them.

Three points worth mentioning of SRPOA:

1)      I live in Brazil, so yes our summer is staring now and goes until roughly April next year (when I’ll hopefully already be enrolled in uni so fingers crossed for me).

2)      I love reading and I read all the time, but recently I’ve started wondering if maybe I shouldn’t consider them more in depth and critically. Best way to do that? Writing. Which means critics are welcome (as long as they are constructive, thanks).

3)      I’ve already said I read a lot, but I am not a vary eclectic reader (in part because I’ve got limited access to English books here)  and I mostly stick with ‘safe’ options (books I know I’ll like). I’d like to widen my horizons a bit.

The only specific thing I’m going to do is try and read more classics, I’ve got so many sitting prettily on my selves and half of them are utter virgins, so to speak. I’m not setting a number or a time limit (apart from not stopping until it’s cold, then staring all over again). I’m here to have fun, which is a given with books, and making the most of my favorite thing: stories.