Adventures in Reading

Fiction: Days of Awe by Achy Obejas, 2001

Revolutions happen, I’m convinced, because intuition tells us we’re meant for a greater world. If this one were good enough, we’d settle, happy as hens, and never rise up. But we know better: We feel the urge, ardent and fallible as it may be, for a kind of continual transcendence” (italics from the original text).

Alejandro San Jose was born the day Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and her family, like many others, left the country. And in Achy Obejas’ Days of Awe we experience Alejandro’s struggle to comprehend her family, her past, her culture, and herself as a cubana. The story covers a somewhat vague period of time in Alejandro’s adult life as she travels back and forth from Cuba and in and out of relationships.

The second book for my Lambda Challenge and, well really, just wow. Days of Awe is beautifully written and Obejas Some of my favorite passages were Obejas’ explanations of the Spanish language such as American’s use of the verb love versus the Cuban use of the verbs querer, amar, and gustar. Days of Awe explores a gamut of complexities from imperialism to Cuba’s revolution, Judaism and Catholocism, as well as thematic issues of secrecy. Obejas’s latest book Ruins is due out March of 2009.

Conclusion: Keeper.

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Spiderwick’s The Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black

After running errands, I found myself with an hour or so to kill before I had to be at work. Because of the rain and cold weather, I gave in, went to the store early, and spent some time exploring the fantasy books in the children’s department. Always looking for something fun yet engaging to cool my brain but warm my heart, I picked up the first book in the Spiderwick series The Field Guide by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

This novelette is the story of three children Jared, Simon, and Mallory. They move into the Spiderwick Estate with their mother and after some strange noises and bizarre occurrences, Jared must impress upon his siblings that rather than a squirrel they have a boggart (or brownie gone bad) living in the house. Jared discovers a field guide written by a long lost relative Arthor Spiderwick and after the boggart incident, the children realize that all of the creatures listed in the guide must be real.

I was not expecting Spiderwick to be such a darling story. I jotted down that it was “short” and “sweet,” but it is engaging and remains complex in its simplicity. I was slightly amused to see “crappier” pop up in Mallory’s vocabulary, as I know some parents are so easily riled and I had not previously heard any complaints. The illustrations in the book are superb and range from a handful in color on glossy paper to inked pictures on the book page.

One thing I found particularly interesting is how much children’s fantasy books depend upon a rift, neglect, and/or absence between child and parent. Perhaps it all goes back to Hansel and Gretel and the all too plausible concern of child abandonment and infanticide. Jared, Simon, and Mallory’s father has left them and their mother in the Spiderwick story. Harry Potter’s parents were murdered. In the Sister’s Grimm, the parents are thought of as dead and later discovered to be under a magical sleep. Perhaps the absence is not outrageously important, but something to keep an eye out for.

I am definitely interested in reading more of the Spiderwick series. I admit, I was a bit shocked at the sticker price for such a small volume, but it is such a well-crafted volume you never know.

Bookworms’ Carnival: Vurt by Jeff Noon
“Awake you know that dreams exist. Inside a dream you think the dream is reality. Inside a dream you have no knowledge of the waking world.” From the “Game Cat” in Jeff Noon’s Vurt.

Thanks to a friendly suggestion from Mys Ebrel, I actually utilized the campus library to track down a copy of (what seems to be) the nearly impossible to find Vurt by Jeff Noon. Floating throughout Manchester, England, Vurt is an at times barely legal cyber drug ingested by tickling the back of the throat with one of a range of Vurt feathers. This designer drug delivers an interactive virtual reality or collective dreaming experience that can be a sweet lullaby or a deadly experiment. Devastatingly for Scribble, he loses his beloved sister Desdemona inside of the exquisite and peculiar Vurt Curious Yellow and lives to get her back.

Vurt is a rich novel that finds a unique crevice somewhere between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Blade Runner. Noon has a blunt and punctuated writing style that delivers the murkier sides of the novel perfectly, and he easily oscillates this style into spasms of color and fancy to juxtapose the drug sequences. Scribble’s crowd are fellow Vurt users known as the Stash Riders and Noon provides them with a complex relationships that develop the novel through their interactions and slang filled dialog. And unlike some created slang that can be even debilitating to a story, Noon blends and mixes a language that remains easily read and understood. In retrospect it’s surprising how little physical detail is used in the awake world and how strategically the Stash Riders’ relationships move the plot.

Inserted between many of the chapters are articles from Game Cat magazine written by the Game Cat, a master gamer of the virtual worlds, himself. These short and fulfilling essays allow Noon to succinctly suspend the reader’s disbelief without having to divulge tedious world construction details that would interrupt the plot. These descriptions dip into the world of Vurt but easily expand to explain the “impure” people of Vurt’s world including robo-, shadow- and dog- people.

I hesitate to say that there were too many subplots as Vurt was the first book written in what would later become known as the Vurt Sequence. But there’s a lot to consume in the first book from the incestuous relationship of Scribble and Desdemona, the meta layers of Vurt, the socioeconomics of Vurt’s Manchester, the alien “Thing” that arrives in Desdemona’s place, and particularly the dogpeople (and general idea of pure versus impure people) that become increasingly important in the second half of the novel. The only other irritating aspect of the book was the poor spell check. This is not usually something that bothers me but when an author is creating new words it increases the disruptive quality of the mistake.

Otherwise I swallowed this book whole. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Vurt as much as I did but I had to persuade myself into setting it down half way through to process the 200 pages I had just read. The only really bad thing about this book: it can be tricky to locate a copy but it’s worth it!

Also my review on Jeff Noon’s Pollen.