Got Milk?

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I was planning to see old friends in California and attend the annual Literary Conference to meet authors and pick up ideas.  My airline ticket is still outstanding and I won’t be using it because the conference will be virtual this year.  I do plan to log on but it will not be the same.

Reading is not the same.  When I can muster the motivation to open a book, it’s more likely a sequel to the  Bridgerton saga or the wonderful fable by Jane Smiley – Perestroika in Paris – recommended by my good friend.  And I read much more slowly, but perhaps the story of the horse, the dog, the raven, the rat, and a couple of ducks in Paris – and the map inside the cover – was one I was reluctant to see end.  How else could I vicariously be in Paris, and will I ever be there in person again?

The newsletter announcing the virtual literary conference had a few recommendations for books, and one title inspired me to look for it in Libby.  Neil Gaiman, author of so many of my favorites – The Good Omen, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – delivered another gem in 2013 I missed – Fortunately, the Milk.

The story is simple: Dad goes out to get some milk for his kids, taking a long time,  but eventually returning with a carton. When asked why he took so long, he tells them a fantastical tale involving a spaceship of green globby aliens.   But it was the first paragraph that grabbed me – possibly because buying cartons of milk has become the bane of my existence these days when I fully expect to meet virus laden aliens in the grocery store.  It could be my story.

“There was only orange juice in the fridge.  Nothing else that you could put on cereal, unless you think that ketchup or mayonnaise or pickle juice would be nice on your Toasties, which I do not, and neither did my little sister, although she has eaten some pretty weird things in her day, like mushrooms in chocolate…”

Maybe I’ll read a little Gaiman today and pretend it’s green globby aliens who’ve taken over the world.  Oh wait, they have.

Listening to The Sleeper and the Spindle and The Color of Lightning


61sse7fwwcl-1-_sl300_ The Sleeper and the Spindle

Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle is a twist on famous fairy tales Snow White and Sleeping Beauty combining the two with a fervor against evil, and a clever ending proclaiming strength in choosing one’s own fate.  No handsome prince needed to save the day here.

I found the story on my library’s free overdrive audible offerings, listening for about an hour while I walked my cares away.  The cast of voices, narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt in beautiful British intonation, offers beautifully rendered dialogue accompanied by mysterious music reminiscent of a Tim Burton production.  The sleeping minions guarding the castle turn into whispering zombies, while magic twirls through spider webs and crooked walking canes.

A fun and easy way to while away an hour, with a few well meaning morals and a new  adjustment to “happily ever after.”

9780061690457_p0_v2_s192x300   The Color of Lightning

Looking for Paulette Giles’ National Book Award Finalist, News of the World, led me to her earlier book  – The Color of Lightning – available on the library’s audio offerings.  Never having read this author, I downloaded the book and am already hypnotized by her poetic descriptions of Texas landscape and her sweet atmospheric notes – {a dawn} “of fading stars like night watchmen walking the periphery of darkness and calling out that all is well.”  Soon, however, the somnolent tone is gone, replaced by the horror and misery of the Indian raid, with descriptions of murder and rape, and continuing with their tortured capture.

The main character is based on a historical figure, Britt Johnson, a freed slave who journeys into the Texas Panhandle to rescue his wife and children — abducted not by slave traders but by the Plains Indians.  In her review for the Washington Post, Carolyn See noted “He’s a remarkable man, caught between hostile Indians on one side and racist whites on the other. But the larger story is about the utter failure of the two cultures to understand each other.”

The book is fast-paced and gripping, keeping me alert as I listen for the next – escape? retribution? freedom?    Have you read the book?


The Ocean at the End of the Lane

9780062255655_p0_v4_s260x420Although Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, is best known as a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy, his new book – The Ocean at the End of the Lane – is for adult readers. Some scenes may be too scary for adults, but the story has that same weird other worldly flavor that Gaiman fans expect.

When a middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral, he detours to the site of the old farm where he grew up – now a suburban housing development – and finds the old Hempstock house with the duck pond (the ocean) still there. As he stares into the “ocean,” his thoughts fade back into an amazing incident that he experienced when he was seven years old, and the duck pond had the same life energizing force as the swimming pool in “Cocoon.” The Hempstocks are a cross between the Tuck family in Natalie Babbitt’s classic and the good witches of Oz; eleven year old Lettie, with her mother and grandmother, seem to have been around forever and can save the world from “varmints” and “fleas.”

In the flashback, when the seven-year old narrator drops Lettie’s hand, as they are battling a Monster, the Monster places a worm in the arch of his foot that later takes on the form of his new beautiful blond nanny who seduces his father and tortures the boy. Only the Hempstocks can help. After excising the monster worm from the boy’s foot, Lettie discovers that a small but important part has been left behind in the boy’s heart. The ensuing battle involves an array of fantastic skirmishes with strange birds who plan to destroy the boy to get that small piece of worm. The resolution is both sad and hopeful.

Although some of the illusions are strange, and the analogies to childhood fears and adult realities are hard to miss, Gaiman mixes his tale with imaginative magic and Roald Dahl darkness, holding the reader as captive as the narrator in his fairy ring. When the story returns to the present, the narrator finds he has been watched over the years to see if his life had been worth saving.

“I’m going to tell you something important. Outside, {grown-ups are} big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have… The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

The Ocean at the End of the Lane reveals the terrors and wonders that perhaps only the child within can see.

9780060530945_p0_v1_s260x420I am now reading Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Award winning The Graveyard Book – the tale of a toddler who escapes a villain who slaughters the rest of his family in the middle of the night, and is raised by ghosts in a graveyard. Since this book is targeted for a younger audience, the horror is not described, and the story quickly shifts to suspense and adventure. The graveyard has an array of ghosts – a village – to raise the little boy they name Nobody – Bod for short. He connects with older residents who teach him to read and explain their history to him (some dating back to the Celts); younger ghosts offer companionship and play. He has already made a friend who is alive, and I have just met the ghouls – one is the 33rd President of the United States (look it up) – and Liza Hempstock, the ghost of a witch. I wonder if she’s related to Lettie.

The Graveyard Book is more fun than The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but then I tend to favor the scary fantasies that are for children. Have you read it?

The Sorcerer’s House

When Neil Gaiman, the author of the children’s book Coralinemaybe you’ve seen the film version – shared his reading habits with the New York Times Book Review editors in Neil Gaiman, By the Book, I discovered a new list of books I want to read:

  • The Spirit by Will Eisner
  • ALEC: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell
  • Lud-in-the Mist by Hope Mirrlees
  • Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
  • Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by May M. Talbot

But I decided to start with Gaiman’s favorite – The Sorcerer’s House. Gaiman noted…

“The Sorcerer’s House,” by Gene Wolfe, amazed me. It was such a cunning book, and it went so deep. A foxy fantasy about a house that grows, with chapters that are the Greater Trumps of a tarot deck.

Gene Wolfe’s fantasy story is an epistolary novel – a series of letters, mostly written by the main character, Bax, the holder of two Ph.D.’s, and just out of prison, who mysteriously has inherited a Gothic house. I’ve just started reading this dark tale – this one is not for children – but the strange occurrences already have my attention.

Related Article: Gaiman’s graduation address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia – Cat Exploded? Make Good Art