Category Archives: Books

And Then I Read: THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick

MarvelsFCImages © Brian Selznick

As with his first book, and I presume the second (haven’t read it yet), Brian Selznick brings a surprising and wonderful combination of storytelling types and mediums to his third book. About half is text and about half is wordless pencil drawings of considerable skill (almost 400 pages of them), each filling a two-page spread edge to edge like this:

MarvelsPageAnd neither my scan nor the size I can show it here does the work justice. The long art-only section which opens the book is mostly wordless except for a few printed signs and newspaper articles, and details the life and adventures of a boy, Billy Marvel, on a ship at sea in 1766, his shipwreck and eventual return to London where he finds a new life working at the Royal Theatre. We then follow several generations of the Marvel family in that theatre, most actors, until the narrative abruptly ends and the prose story begins.

The prose story, about equally long in this 670-page book, begins in 1990 with another boy, Joseph Jervis, who is running away from his boarding school, where he didn’t fit in, to London in hopes that his uncle Albert Nightingale, who he’s never met, will take him in. Joseph has lots of trouble even finding his uncle, and when he does, that uncle doesn’t want him to stay…at least, not for long. Joseph gradually befriends his uncle after all, and does get to stay, but finds the house they’re in full of mysteries and stories. Those stories include the ones we’ve seen in the drawn story.

Brian Selznick is just as clever and complex a storyteller as he is an artist, and before this very long book is through, many revelations about what is really going on and how the stories and the people in them connect come forth. Some of the plot went in places I would never have expected in a book for younger readers, but that’s not a bad thing, and it’s carefully handled. I can’t say I liked this book as much as Selznick’s first, “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” but it’s still quite excellent and well worth reading. The production values on the hardcover edition I was given for Christmas are also remarkable and impressive. This is one book you want to have a physical copy of, not a digital one.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: RECKLESS by Cornelia Funke

RecklessCover art © Cliff Nielson

Jacob Reckless doesn’t fit in in our world. His father disappeared years ago, his mother has died, and that leaves only he and his younger brother Will. Jacob has another world he can retreat to, though, through a magic mirror in his father’s old study. There all kinds of magical creatures and objects can be found, as well as grave peril. Jacob has learned his way around the magic world, made friends, and even found work as a treasure hunter. But his brother Will keeps drawing him back to our world, and Will finally learns the secret of Jacob’s travels and follows him through the mirror.

This turns out to be a disaster when Will is infected with a curse that will turn him into an evil creature unless Jacob and his ally Fox can manage to break the curse. That’s a nearly impossible task, especially when there’s a war on between two factions of the magic land. Jacob has knowledge and a few magic objects to help him, but it may not be enough, especially with Will’s time running out. And Will makes things more complicated by bringing his girlfriend from our world along.

I’ve enjoyed all the Cornelia Funke books I’ve read so far, and I liked this one pretty well, but it is rather gloomy. We don’t get all that much time to enjoy the magical wonders of the place we’re in because the characters are always struggling toward their goal, and have so many obstacles and evil creatures to overcome. The characters we meet are interesting and engaging, but most of them are schemers or villains of one sort or another. I would have liked a few more breathers from the gloom and tension.

Still, recommended. And I’ll probably try the next book in the series at some point.

And Then I Read: COOL TOOLS by Kevin Kelly

CoolToolsImages © Kevin Kelly

This was a Christmas gift from my friend Tim, and a very Tim sort of present. Tim is a non-fiction reader primarily, and a do-it-yourself person. I thought this book would sit on our coffee table for some time being picked up and read slowly, but in fact I enjoyed it so much I finished it in about a week.

CoolTools2It’s a large trade paperback, 11 by 14 inches, and over 460 pages crammed with information and photos, in a format something like the old Whole Earth Catalog, but with blocks of color for each article to make reading easier. I didn’t read it all, and there were many topics that I skipped, but there were lots I did find full of informative and even entertaining reading. “Tools” is defined very broadly by Kevin Kelly to mean anything one uses to do or make things. It goes far beyond physical tools, including such topics as Self-Reflection, Sleep, Systems Thinking, Career Advice, and on and on. For instance, on the topic of Comics there’s a full-page article on Scott McCloud’s “Making Comics.” This really is a very complete resource and most articles include a QR code for quick online access if you have a QR reader on your phone. I found Kelly’s own articles to be well-written and there are many articles written by others as well, usually either an expert or someone who has researched the topic for their own interests. I might add that this book is entirely self-produced and self-published, not a small feat.

So far I’ve ordered three things found inside that I didn’t know about. One has not worked for me so far, one has worked excellently, and one has yet to be tested. I expect to use this book as a resource many times in the future.

Highly recommended.

Rereading: A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens

ChristmasCarol

Every year at this time I try to reread something relevant to the season. My mother is getting rid of things in preparation for a move, and recently gave me this and some other Christmas books she used to put out on the coffee table in the winter when I was young, and so I decided it was time to reread it.

There are so many adaptations of the Dickens original (my favorite is the Alastair Sim film), that we think we all know the story intimately, but reading what Dickens wrote always offers things to me I’d forgotten, and a new appreciation for his language, humor and storytelling. For instance, everyone knows the the opening line, “Marley was dead: to begin with.” And some may remember the last line of the first paragraph, “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” But the second paragraph is an entertaining aside about the origin of that saying which includes the thought, “I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.”

It’s quite typical of Victorian authors to go off on tangents and elaborate points, and that can be tiresome, but Dickens is still very readable and rarely bores me. More, he paints a detailed picture of the London (and England) of his time, with all its dreary weather, pollution, social injustice and class snobbery that one gets only hints of in, for instance, A. Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories, which I also reread this past year. He puts a human face on all of it, and rarely lectures directly, something I don’t care for, but lets the story and the characters make his points. He did so excellently in this famous story, and I think we all know the points he made. In fact, he may have impacted the way much of the English-speaking world thinks about Christmas as much as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” did for another generation.

This edition is not valuable, and the illustrations aren’t particularly good, but it has memories for me that I treasure, and the story itself is well worth reading.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA by Diana Wynne Jones

Islands-of-Chaldea-US

It’s always a bit melancholy to read the last book of a favorite author. This was uncompleted at Diana Wynne Jones’ death, and finished by her sister. I should say up front that I could not detect any change of voice or tone, and the book read as a complete and well-rounded story.

Chaldea is a group of three islands that used to be four. All the islands have magic and magic users, and the magicians of Logra have cut their island off from the world with magic, creating an invisible wall around it. This has made life difficult for everyone in Chaldea. Trade routes are disrupted, fishing grounds are unreachable, families are divided, and it’s even worse for the few Lograns left behind in Chaldea, like Ogo, even if he is a member of the King’s court on the island of Skarr. Aileen’s Aunt Beck is a Wise Woman with magic ability, the King’s advisor, and she and Aileen are summoned to the King’s castle by Ogo. There are disputes to settle, but later the real reason for the gathering is revealed: a prophecy about how the barrier around Logra can be broken has been discovered. It requires a Wise Woman from Skarr to travel to the other islands collecting a partner from each, and then somehow traveling to Logra. Aunt Beck is reluctantly convinced to undertake this perilous journey, and Aileen must go with her. Ogo will join them, representing Logra, and they will need to find willing partners on the other islands.

The quest format is a familiar one, but Jones makes it fun and fresh through lots of unexpected plot turns, humor, and vivid characters. Even though the goal is clear, reaching it is never predictable, and there are plenty of interesting adventures along the way. When the quest team is finally ready to attempt the journey to Logra, they must do it by hot air balloon, and what they find on Logra is both surprising and frightening.

I enjoyed this thoroughly. Recommended.