Category Archives: The Bibliophilic Buffalo

But you don’t have to take…well, you know the rest

Antoinette

(or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Erosion of My Moral High Ground)

 

In retrospect, I suppose I should have seen this day coming when Moon Man bought me a computer.

We’d been together for…heck, I dunno, a year and change?…and I was moving out of my beloved hometown into the Awful Subdivision of Awfulness in the Awful Town of Awfulness where he lived (and where we still live to this day. Thanks, inertia!). He’d suggested that I should perhaps consider getting a new computer, because mine was becoming obsolete, but as I’d pointed out to him numerous times my computer was perfectly serviceable, thankyouverymuch, and there was simply no need to go running out to buy a newer-faster-shinier simply because it was newer-faster-shinier. And sure, mine had one of those tremendous monitors that required buttressing the table it sat on; and yes, the computer was a hand-me-down from a Czech linguist who was moving back to Prague, so the default language on it was Czech which I could not technically read so error messages were a fun puzzle; but Moon Man had installed a handy IM program for me so we could chat, and I knew how to access that thar interweb thingie, and I could create documents and type things and as long as I remembered more or less where various commands were in the English version of the dropdowns, I could do something like formatting it. I could italicize, y’all, thanks to the magic of keyboard shortcuts. What more did I need?

So I showed up at his house slightly before moving day–y’know, to get a sense of which of his decorations would simply have to go–and discovered that all unbeknownst to me, he’d slipped off and bought me a shiny new computer. Well, new-to-me, anyway, and it was in English, and had a flat monitor. And it was zippy! So very, very zippy. I was sold, and thanked him effusively, and relegated my old computer to the garage on move-in day and I’m reasonably sure it’s down there still. Maybe someday I’ll make it into art.

The problem, of course, is that this set a dangerous precedent. Without meaning to, I’d managed to teach Moon Man that yes, I would resist technological advancement (or as I call it, “yet another dang way to try to separate people from their money by setting up manufactured status markers”), but if he kept at it, sooner or later I’d cave, and probably end up admitting begrudgingly that he was right.

So a few years later, when smartphones were becoming allllll the rage, we ran ’round the racetrack again. He was 100% in favor of getting us smartphones, because our contract was up for renewal so it was Free Replacement Phone o’clock, and for a small charge we could upgrade to smartphones and just look how fancy they are! I pointed out that a phone is for making and receiving calls, and that is all I would like my phone to do, though the ability to send text messages was certainly a bonus. He countered by pointing out that smartphones could play games; I stared meaningfully at the closet full of board games until he caught my drift. He noted that smartphones could receive email and access the internet, and I reminded him of the computer he’d bought me against my wishes, by the way, and he eventually sighed and got himself a smartphone and I just replaced my old phone with a newer version of the exact same model I’d had before.

And because we were traveling a lot at the time for his old job, we spent a lot of time in the car with an outdated GPS and a shiny new smartphone with Google Maps right on it, and I realized that ok, maybe they weren’t completely a ploy of Satan to destroy us all, but I certainly didn’t feel any obligation to spend hundreds of dollars on what was effectively a road atlas wedged into a telephone.

And then he found one of those limited-time-only, We’re About to Roll Out the Next Generation of This Product So Please Help Us Get Rid of Our Surplus Stock, sales…where the smartphones which we both now have were going for a penny. One penny. One one-hundredth of a dollar. Even I couldn’t argue with that. So I caved again, and we got the phones, and now mine follows me around the house more dutifully than our dang dogs, who are supposed to follow me from room to room. I love that I can communicate with people using whatever media they like best. I love that I can read (and disregard, but still) my email from anywhere with coverage.

God help me, I love Temple Run.

So a little while later, he started extolling the virtues of the Kindle his parents had gotten him for…his birthday? Christmas? one of those gift-giving occasions. But this time I was not-I-repeat-NOT going to be swayed. Books are made of paper. They have a cover. They are bulky and awkward and if you read as much as I do, you get weird hand cramps from holding them and you have to be careful with them around water and…

…you see where this is headed, don’t you.

I blame Joe Hill, frankly. I had started following him on The Twitters, and he kept talking about this new novella he was releasing–and how it was only going to be available as an e-book. And I had recently read his NOS4A2 and loved it, and I wanted to read his new book, and I hate reading long documents on my computer screen in my office, and…well, I guess it was inevitable. So I happened to be thinking about e-readers, and without even realizing what I was doing I let slip to Moon Man that I was thinking about e-readers…

…and then it was my birthday…

…and that’s how Antoinette, my sexy little Kindle with the spiffy purple case, came into my life (yeah, I name inanimate objects). She’s only slightly larger than my wallet, but already has hundreds and hundreds of pages of books loaded into her. I can read her at the grocery store while I’m waiting in line. I can read her in the car when traffic gets scary and I need to look away while Moon Man plays Death Race with the other drivers.

Ain't she purty?

Ain’t she purty?

I can hold her in my right hand and read her, y’all. Pick up a book like you’re gonna read it. Notice how it’s probably automatically in your left hand, because you turn pages from right to left and it’s more convenient to hold it on your left side? When you’re reading an average of two to four hours a day, that hand gets tired. Especially when you read a lot of big thick books. But Antoinette? She’s perfectly happy in my right hand. Or lying flat on the table, which is just a joke if you’re reading a thick printed novel, unless you have a book bar or a clip or a cat who’s willing to nap at the top of the page and doesn’t mind being interrupted for a page turn every minute or so.

Shown here, lying flat and open roughly halfway through Hugh Howey's 500+ page "Wool" omnibus.

Shown here, lying flat and open roughly halfway through Hugh Howey’s 500+ page “Wool” omnibus. Look, Ma, no hands!

Now, before you panic, allow me to assure you that I am absolutely not even a little bit interested in considering the possibility of thinking about pondering the option of maybe under some rare circumstance getting rid of my paper books. BOOKS ARE MADE OF PAPER. If you ask someone to draw you a book, they don’t draw a thing that looks like an oversized smartphone, they draw a book. I love the feel of books, the smell of books, the texture of their paper, the option of having strong opinions about their fonts.

But I’m willing, because I am a strong and amazing human being, to admit that maybe–just maybe–Moon Man was right. Maybe I can also love e-readers.

‘Cause lord knows I do love Antoinette.

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That’s How We Roll

Ahh, Kansas. One of these days we’ll stop doing the little things that make us look bad to all the neighbors, and I’ll be so shocked I’ll have to sit down for a spell.

But that day is not today. Well, not a week or so ago, anyway; because it was about a week ago when the story came out that Leawood, one of the towns in the Kansas City metro area, was making a resident take down their Little Free Library. For the record, the little free Leawood librarian is nine years old.

/sigh

A little free library, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, is basically the “have a penny, leave a penny, need a penny, take a penny” of books–they’re boxes, built to withstand weather, usually shaped like adorable wee houses, and inside are free books. Want one? Come get it. Got some books you’re not reading anymore? Leave ’em inside, and the magical library fairies will pick them up and add them to the rotation. There’s a certain amount of work and upkeep involved–culling books that nobody ever takes home, keeping new and interesting titles coming out fairly regularly so people don’t give up on ever finding anything they want there, making sure the box itself stays sound, etc–so it’s a labor of love for folks who want to run one, but the word on the street is that it’s a hoot and a half, because you end up getting to connect people with free books and have wonderful book chats with your neighbors.

There are plans out there for building your own, but you can also buy premade Little Free Libraries through the organization's site. How adorable is this one?

There are plans out there for building your own, but you can also buy premade Little Free Libraries through the organization’s site. How adorable is this one?

Leawood’s argument against the kiddo who’s trying to run one is that these charming little boxes are prohibited by city regulation, as they’re free-standing structures unattached to the house–and those are banned, because they’re eyesores that bring down property values.

Please scroll back up, look again at the picture of the adorable blue bookhouse, and tell me how that’s an eyesore that brings down property values. /eyeroll

So you had to know that all of this was going to kick my Damn-the-Man/Hulk-Smash/Ain’t-Nobody-Got-Time-For-That self into overdrive. I mean, c’mon. It’s books.

So I looked into the bylaws of our own Homeowners Association (I have strong thoughts about even having an HOA, let alone what their bylaws say, but that’s a topic for another time), thinking that perhaps I should set up a nice solidarity Little Free Library in my own yard, and lo and behold–we also are prohibited from having any free-standing structures. Especially storage structures–they make a huge point out of that bit–so I’m guessing this won’t fly here either.

So, y’know, I did a bit of table-flipping and tantrum-throwing and generally making myself a nuisance to our critters, who were just trying to nap. And over the weekend we went to visit my BFF, and I vented about the whole ridiculous thing to her for a bit.

And as I was talking with her–about how perhaps I could still set up a Little Free Library and just, y’know, move it every day, bring it inside at night, put it in a different spot on the lawn every afternoon, etc–I stumbled upon what I’m reasonably sure is one of the smartest ideas I’ve ever had.

Are you ready for this? Hold onto your hat.

We talked a couple years ago about how Moon Man and I had started going to a nearby beach (by which I mean “lake”–we don’t so much have “beaches” here in the middle of the continent). This quickly became our Official Sunday Afternoon Activity, and as you probably know, these sorts of outings tend to come with a pretty good pile of accessories, towels and blankets and coolers and books and sunscreen and such. And since the parking area for our favorite beach is a good quarter-mile away from the beach itself, we soon grew weary of hauling everything via straps and handles and backpacks and things. I mean, c’mon, this is supposed to be relaxing.

So we went and got ourselves a wagon.

This wagon.

This wagon.

I bet you see where this is headed.

It occurred to me, as I was talking with BFF, that free-standing unattached storage structures are prohibited in our subdivision…but ain’t nobody got any problems with wagons. Besides, if I’m ever going to go on a dogsledding adventure (more on that another time–it’s been a while since we talked, so we’ll have some catching-up to do), I really do need to start getting into shape. Training for it, if you will. By, oh, I dunno, walking.

Around the neighborhood.

With, say, a wagon.

Full of books.

/grin

So there we have it: the birth of the idea of the Little Free Bookmobile. I still need to go through my bookshelves and pick out the first round of inventory, and I should really see if anyone I know can make me a nifty sign for it (I feel like a hand-lettered posterboard sign simply will not do for this endeavor); but once that’s done, Operation Circumvent Your Ridiculous Bylaws can commence.

I mean, really, I reckon somebody has to do something to balance out Kansas’s shenanigans, and this time it may as well be me. Watch for me, then come on out and borrow a book–or bring some of yours to drop off! If I’m on the big hill at the end of the neighborhood, the break will be especially welcome.

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Filed under General Musings and Meanderings, Share the Toys, The Bibliophilic Buffalo

The Book Reviews Have Moved!

Guess what, gang!

The Buffalo Book Reviews are getting a new home.

I’m a bibliophile. There’s no way around that bit of truth. So in the interest of not having my (really kinda ridiculous number of) book reviews jammin’ up the chi of the folks who are here for the Buffalo Tracts (and vice versa), I’ve started another site over at BuffaloBookReviews.com. All the old reviews will stay active here, at least for now–call them a teaser, if you will–but any new reviews will live on BBR and BBR alone.

So if you want to come talk books with me–and really, please do come discuss with me, ’cause it’s just boring blabbing into the void, especially about books–that’s the place to do it. I’ll look forward to seeing y’all there!

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BBR: I Was Told There’d Be Cake, by Sloane Crosley

Wellp, it was bound to happen sooner or later: we have found a book that I didn’t particularly like.

I’m usually pretty lucky with books–I’m quite picky, but I’ve learned to read all the back cover/front flap/back flap/summary/copyright page/etc stuff plus a few random sample paragraphs while I’m still at the bookstore, deciding whether or not to buy a particular title. This weeds out a lot of books before we even get started. The few that slip through are usually there on recommendation, or because I found the title in an online list or roundup or some such and decided to take a risk.

That latter bit is exactly what happened with Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake.

A pity, because the cover is weirdly charming.

A pity, because the cover is weirdly charming.

I’m pretty sure I ran across this title in an “if you liked X, then you’ll like Y” list somewhere. So I hunted it down online, learned that it’s a collection of humorous memoirs, and read a few sample pages of the first story, “The Pony Problem”…and she hooked me.

“The Pony Problem” talks about how Crosley’s offhand, jokey response to everything is “ponies”…as in, “What would you like to do this weekend?” / “Go pony riding!”. Or “What do you want for your birthday?” / “A pony!”. I found this extra-hilarious because I do exactly the same thing (I totally thought I was the only one). It’s been my running schtick for ages now. So it cracked me up to hear that someone else did the same thing, and I ordered the book immediately.

And then it arrived, and I sat down and read “The Pony Problem”, and chuckled my way through it; but then as the essays kept coming and I kept reading, I found myself being less and less…well, interested.

It’s like–ok, imagine your first day at a new job. You’ve come in, you’ve met the people, and now it’s your first lunch break. So one of the gals invites you to sit with her, and you get to chatting, and discover some superficial similarities–same college major, an overlapping idiosyncrasy or two–and by the end of lunch you’re feeling pretty groovy, thinking you’ve made a nifty new work friend.

But as time progresses and you get to know your other coworkers, you realize there are actually other folks with whom you have a lot more in common than you do with First Day Lunch Pal. It never reaches the point of shunning First Day Pal altogether–I mean, you’re not a horrible person, and she really is pretty nice, and maybe you still have lunch together every now and again–but she has her Close Work Friends and you develop your Close Work Friends and you and she pretty much just stay in the Nice Enough People But They’re Not Getting Invited to My Wedding sphere.

And that’s ok. You don’t have to be BFF with everyone you meet. And someday, when that job is a blip in the rearview mirror of your life, you realize that there are a few folks with whom you are still Facebook friends and whom you still invite to your parties, while First Day Pal’s last name has mostly slipped your mind (though you’re pretty sure it started with an M, or possibly an N? Or a P?).

That’s a really roundabout way to describe it, but it’s pretty much exactly how I felt about Crosley: she’s pretty much my literary First Day Pal. Her essays are amusing, sure; but we come from radically different planets, without enough overlap for me to really be able to identify with her. We share some superficial similarities (“hey, I like books too! Wouldja lookit that.”), but not enough to sustain more than basic small talk if we showed up at the same party. And we’re moved by different things–she’s got that New York ambition thing going, and I’ve got the laid-back Kansas approach to the world.

All of which meant that reading her memoirs felt…well, anthropological, I guess. I spent a lot of time trying to wrap my brain around her, and just plain failing; and eventually I decided that since I was reading this for fun and not for a class–and since I’m a grownup with an English degree which means I’ve read quite enough books of other people’s choosing, thankyouverymuch, and now I get to pick my own–I was allowed to set it down and walk away. I made it about halfway through, and that was enough for me, in the same way that having lunch with First Day Pal every couple of weeks is plenty, and there’ll be no need to invite her over for a crafting afternoon.

So I’m not saying this is a terrible book–it’s funny in places, and some folks will really get a kick out of Crosley’s misadventures and her writing style. It just wasn’t for me. Y’know, like blue cheese, or Seinfeld.

TL;DR: Humorous and quirky, I Was Told There’d Be Cake is a series of memoir essays by Sloane Crosley–who I’m sure is a delightful gal, but I found that we didn’t really have enough in common for me to go out of my way to finish reading the book. I’m sure others will get a huge kick out of it; it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Rating: 6.5/10 Muddy Hoofprints, but again, don’t let that scare you off. You should really, really give her a try–she might end up being your new favorite author. She just didn’t move me, and so I have to give her a rating that reflects my “meh” response. It ain’t personal. Mama BW still loves all the children of the choir.

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BBR: The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

First things first: I did not just stumble across The Rosie Project. Rather, it was reviewed by the perpetually delightful Lauren Henderson over at Great Minds Read Alike, and what I stumbled across was her review. Well, her roundup of her top 5 books of 2013. Which is a sort of review. But I digress.

Thanks to the magic of the internet and the specific magic of Great Minds Read Alike, I had heard rumors that this book was a good one, so I picked up a copy when Moon Man foolishly mentioned that he’d like to look for a guitar fake book and perhaps we should stop by the bookstore to see if they had one. They did not have any suitable guitar books, but the nice man behind the Customer Service desk found me a copy of Rosie in the storeroom in the back (apparently it had recently been in the Staff Recommendations section, and so was in transit back to its regular home on the shelves). So I added it to my pile of selections–I’ve told you I cannot be trusted in a bookstore–and brought them home and added them to the To Read shelf in the bedroom.

The careful observer will notice that I said we made this field trip on Saturday. To be precise, we made this field trip on Saturday evening. Today is Tuesday. It has been three days since this shopping excursion, two of which have been workdays.

I finished The Rosie Project yesterday over lunch.

Rosie Project

Now, before you think there’s something seriously wrong with me, or that I’m some sort of bizarre speed-reader or something, I should note that Rosie is only about 300 pages long. With moderately large type. And Moon Man practices guitar on Sunday afternoons, so I’ve got a couple of hours in there where whatever song he’s working on plays in a loop in the background and I can just relax and read in the sunshine (this week it was “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, for the curious). And I read before bed.

…And besides, this book was really, really good, y’all. Really good.

It’s the story of Don, an Australian geneticist who is undiagnosed but exhibits a not-insignificant number of symptoms of being on the Autism Spectrum. More specifically, he probably has Aspergers; if this isn’t a topic you’ve spent much time with, then another way to describe him would be “Sheldon, from The Big Bang Theory, but in genetics instead of physics”. If neither of those descriptions is meaningful to you, just read the book and we’ll all start describing things as being “like Don, from The Rosie Project“.

Don has decided to search for a suitable mate, a task which he is calling “The Wife Project” and at which he is having less than no success. This itself is entertaining enough, but then we add Rosie to the mix–a damaged, passionate, alternative, feisty barmaid who is equally at home slinging witty repartee as she is slinging drinks. Rosie is clearly unacceptable for the Wife Project, but she has a project of her own: she wants to find out who her biological father is, and Don quickly comes aboard (he is a geneticist, after all) on the Father Project.

…And hijinks ensue. There’s not much more I can tell you without wandering over into spoiler territory, but in the interest of keeping your interest piqued, I’ll note that this book includes a Jacket Incident, an encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails and mixed drinks, rehearsing sex positions with the assistance of a skeleton borrowed from the Biology department, and more suppressed chortling (at least from this reader) than I’ve experienced in a while.

In other words, this book is an absolute delight.

Now here’s the thing: some folks are flipping out about this book because they feel it’s reliant on stereotypes. Others are flipping out because if our protagonist has ASD, is it really fair to laugh when he transgresses against social norms? And I hear both arguments, and I’ll admit to having that same sort of twinge myself…

…which is why I’m waiting until the next time I see my dear friend, who is himself an adult who was never formally diagnosed with what is almost definitely Aspergers, so I can hand it to him and see what he thinks of it. If he comes back hating it or being profoundly offended, I reserve the right to issue a public apology here and retract my review.

But really, I have a suspicion that he’s more likely to be amused by it, and possibly slightly relieved to have a protagonist who processes the world the same clinical, rational way that he does.

And in the meantime, I’m going to continue recommending this book to anyone who will listen, because it is just. so. compulsively. enjoyable. Man was that a fun 300 pages. Makes me wish I hadn’t read it, so I’d still have it to look forward to.

Instead, I’m going to make Moon Man read it, and watch his face while he does so I can laugh again when he gets to the funny bits. That’s not creepy, right?

TL;DR: The Rosie Project is the story of an Australian geneticist named Don, who is almost definitely an undiagnosed Aspie, and his great scientific endeavor to find a suitable mate. It is also the story of Rosie, a feisty barmaid who is most decidedly not a good candidate for wife-hood, and what happens when an unstoppable force meets a seemingly immovable object. Also, it is hysterical.

Rating: 9/10 Muddy Hoofprints. Seriously, y’all, this book was a hoot and a half. The bit with the speech about Aspergers? Comedy gold. The Jacket Incident? The moment when the lights go out at the potential father’s house? Or the bit where he climbs out of the–! …It’s one of those books where you read it, and then your friend reads it, and then you sit together in side-splitting hysterics for a while, gasping out things like “Oh, god, the LOBSTER! HAHAHAHAHAHA”. So go pick up a copy–and then start deciding now who needs to read this with you, because trust me, you’ll want someone with whom to share the Rosie experience.

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BBR: Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Dear Ms. Rowell,

I am writing to you today about Fangirl.

Perhaps you are familiar with it, as it is your novel.

Perhaps you are familiar with it, as it is your novel.

More precisely, I am writing to you to suggest that perhaps you would like to send me a check for the cover price of $18.99, as I am not satisfied with your novel and feel that you should–as a matter of conscience–send a full refund.

No, I do not wish to send the book to you. I need to keep that, as it is mineminemine and you may have it when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Instead, I think you need to send me $18.99 so that I can use that money to buy another book (TBD) to keep me company while you finish writing the rest of this one and overnight it to me.

Now, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to attempt to argue that the story you meant to tell is complete–that we have followed Cath to college, met her quirky roommate, watched her fumble through her first year of classes, learned about her challenges dealing with her father, seen her stand up for herself, sympathized with her fears, pitied her abrupt and not entirely voluntary detachment from her twin sister, empathized with her embarrassment about being a writer of fanfic (because really, who doesn’t have that one ultra-nerdy thing they do and don’t exactly want to brag about despite really, really loving it?), and blessed her fuzzy heart as she floundered through relationships with all the grace of a dying…well, flounder.

You will suggest that the end of Cath’s freshman year is a logical end-point for a book like this one, and that she has had her epiphanies and learned some important lessons. You will say that she has had plenty of experiences for one year, what with the moving away and learning the rules of a new place and having her integrity called into question and being used and figuring out what to do when you’ve been used. You will argue that the various story arcs have run their course, and landed where they are meant to land.

And besides, you will say, the book has already considered–in a lighthearted, not flippant but not ponderous and weighty either, sort of way–all sorts of issues: about identity, who we are and who we think we are and who other people think we are; and about art, what is “real” art and what is “lesser” art and who it is that gets to judge what counts as “successful” art; and about relationships, how we decide what sort of relationships are worth having and worth keeping and worth exploring and how we don’t decide any of these things in a vacuum. And that, you will say, is probably plenty for one novel. Especially one that’s meant to stay more-or-less generally playful.

But you know what, Ms. Rowell? You are wrong.

You are not finished with this story, because Cath is not dead–Cath is not even close to dead–so you’ve got like 80 more years to tell. Heck, Cath hasn’t even finished college yet. What happens during her sophomore year, Ms. Rowell? Or her junior year? What does she do for her graduation celebration?

And don’t think I don’t see that it’s a little bit on the meta side, what you’ve done there: you’ve told the story of the first year of a person’s education, and drawn some tidy parallels to other stories about people’s first years in new schools–the sort of other stories that inspired movies and fan clubs and online fan fiction and midnight release parties and the like–and then you’ve stopped, because these sorts of books always end at the end of the school year. So I’m willing to forgive you for that.

But at the time of the writing of this blog, I do not currently have any indication that you are planning to make this into a series, and therefore this is all we get of this story.

If you are wondering whether I agree with that plan…well, then you’ve not been reading very closely, I suppose. Which is unfortunate. But to be very clear: no, no I do not agree with it.

Therefore, please send me $18.99 so that I may purchase some other book to read to keep myself occupied while you dash off another 400 pages or so on this one. I will look forward to your prompt reply.

Yours most sincerely,

Mama BW

TL;DR: Rainbow Rowell has managed to write yet another delightful, quirky, and utterly charming book, this one centering around Cath, a college freshman who also happens to be one of the most popular writers of fan fiction about Simon Snow (a character not entirely unlike Harry Potter). While I did not at any point cry during this novel, I did laugh out loud a couple of times and I spent….lordy, easily a full quarter to third of it in full swoon. Buffaloes do not swoon. So I admit: she got me good with this one. Sheesh.

Rating: 8/10 Muddy Hoofprints. This book is unlikely to revolutionize your life. If it gives you pause to think about some questions about identity, art, etc, or a chance to reminisce and feel a little nostalgic about your college days, then good on you–but really, it’s mostly just a delicious, utterly enjoyable way to pass some time. Also, I think one of the characters is ultra-hawt (no spoilers for you! You go ‘way. Besides, it’s easier to think dreamy thoughts about him if you’re not intruding).

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BBR: NOS4A2, by Joe Hill

A couple of weeks ago, Moon Man and I went to the bookstore. From a budgetary perspective, this is almost always a mistake, but we do it anyway because we’re reckless like that and we like to live dangerously. I had a few titles in mind that I wanted to pick up, but Moon Man is more of a “browse and select as you go” sort of person; so I nabbed the books I was after, then hunted him down and found him holding a copy of NOS4A2 and debating whether to get it.

nos4a2

 

He held onto it for a moment, then set it down, then picked it back up and looked at it some more, then set it back down, and finally I said “Ok, look. I have heard of that book and am interested in that book, and while that book is not on my shopping list for today, if you don’t buy it, I totally will. Because I want to read that book, whether it was next on my list or not”.

And so we got the book.

And then we got home, and I finished the book I was working on at the moment and wandered into the bedroom to survey the stack of new books and decide which one to read next, and in what I’m officially calling “generosity” (y’know, because I read more than Moon Man does so I’d finish it sooner and he could take his time with it) but which was probably more like juvenile envy (“I didn’t want pizza until my friend said they’re having pizza, and now all I want in the world is pizza”) I picked it up and decided to give it a test-drive.

…And then I blinked, and it was 700 pages later, and I wondered vaguely what day it was.

Let me get this out of the way right now: NOS4A2 is not a fun book. It is not a delightful book, or a highly enjoyable book. It is the story of Charles Manx, who kidnaps (he’d say “rescues”) children and takes them off to Christmasland where they never get old, never feel hungry, never feel lonely, can have all the hot cocoa they want, and play all day long–super-fun games like “Scissors for the Drifter” and “Bite the Smallest”, that latter being particularly “fun” because of the extra rows of fishhook teeth they tend to grow. Whee, Christmasland!

It is also the story of Victoria McQueen, who discovers as a child that if she holds certain thoughts in her mind as she rides her bicycle, she can summon the “Shorter Way” bridge, across which is…well, whatever she needs it to be. A lost bracelet. A missing cat. Or on the day she sets out to find some sort of trouble to get into, Charles Manx.

Everything I can tell you from there on out is a spoiler, so I’ll just leave it to you to go find a copy and give it a read (with the lights on, preferably nowhere near Christmastime. Pro tip.). But for the curious, here’s my two cents on the thing:

Penny #1: Man was that good. I devoured the book, emerging only for things like eating and sleeping and not completely ignoring my husband for days at a stretch (though he’s a very nice man, and would totally have understood). I carried it around with me, snuck in 5-minute reading breaks between meetings, and was generally utterly consumed by it. It’s a good, good book.

Centavo #2: However, it really could’ve stood a little tightening up. Generally speaking it was fine–decent pace, good story arc, etc–but there were several moments when I found myself making the “c’mon, c’mon, get a move on” motion in my mind. Mostly these were in places where several characters were acting simultaneously but independently, and the narrative was tracking them all; while I officially appreciate a “when in doubt, spend more time on character-building” approach, there’s a certain finesse you have to use with it. So for instance, if there is a child in your scene being menaced by the boogieman and he is trying to call for help, and you establish all those facts through the POV of  a second character, when you switch back to focusing on the POV of the child it’s probably ok to assume the audience has sorted out that he’s feeling afraid. It’s not entirely necessary to spend three pages establishing that yes, the kid is right where the other scene said he was, and yes, the kid has the phone you already know he has, and yes, the kid is feeling just as afraid as his reactions to the other character would imply. We got it. Kid’s spooked. Forge ahead.

But really, that’s the only complaint I’ve got–that sometimes it felt like Hill could’ve spent a little less time making sure we were completely submerged in the moment. Which is absolutely not the worst sin a writer can commit, not by a long shot.

Well, ok, I also felt that the climax was a little shaky. But there again, it would just be a matter of tightening up a few nuts and bolts–no major overhaul or anything, just a little bit of…well, trimming. Or sprucing. Or tightening. Or any other Christmas, blade, or cycle-related verb you want to use. (Yeesh.)

One other note before I start the wrap-up: Joe Hill is clever, and I loved him for it. You’ll find yourself periodically wearing a wry little grin as you spot a reference to other novels, bits of poetry, etc; for instance, at one point he’s describing a burnt-out church and notes that “Nothing beside remained. A sun-faded parking lot, boundless and bare, stretched away, lone and level, as far as she could see”, and I spent a few seconds hoping beyond hope that someone–anyone–would arrive to demand that you “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”. (Spoiler alert: no one does. Ptoo.). So while it can be a real risk to overload your work with obscure references and literary in-jokes, I think Hill actually does a great job of sprinkling in just enough to make you feel triumphant when you spot them–but not so many, or so blatantly, as to make you feel left out if you haven’t read everything he has.

TL;DR: NOS4A2 is the delightfully creepy sort of novel that makes you trust your fellow man just a little bit less. It will also leave you slightly PTSD about Christmas, so I recommend steering clear of it from, oh, say, November 1 through January 31. Otherwise, settle in with it for a satisfyingly hefty, unsettling trip through what is real, what is imagined, and what exists in the shadow lands outside our experience.

Rating: 7.75/10 Muddy Hoofprints. This book was good, don’t get me wrong, and I absolutely enjoyed it. But it wasn’t terribly revolutionary, and really wanted someone to come through with a pair of scissors and say “I love you and respect your work, but you don’t get to have all of these pages. Some of them have to go. Sorry, man”. So come for the hinks and the chance to find “Jingle Bells” unsettling, stay for the creepiness and the fun of playing spot-the-reference, but don’t pin all your hopes and dreams on this being the Greatest Piece of Horror Ever Written. (But give Hill some time–I like the way this guy thinks, and am optimistic to see what happens to his style as he ages.)

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