Here be Monsters

A few posts back I promised to post some short reviews. Although not something new, (but certainly treasured) I’ll start with this little gem.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. I randomly picked up Smoke and Mirrors when I was a teen and instantly fell in love. The man’s way with words is just…*swoon*. I have loved every book written by Gaiman, and I readily admit I’m biased. So if you’re looking for impartiality on this particular book, you won’t find it here.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is childhood bound in words. You cannot read this book without seeing the world again through your own seven-year-old eyes. You’ll remember the wonder, the magic, the fear and hesitation. And you’ll be reminded that for all the whimsy found in your imagination, there were also monsters in the darkness that tried to lure you in. Was it all real or just pretend?

“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren’t.”

This book is short, and packed full of loveliness that will leave you thinking for days. You’ll reminisce and consider. You’ll hurt and you’ll smile. Really, please, just give it a go.

Lost and found and random thoughts

I love old books. Not just for the smell, or the delicate pages, or the heady recognition that many different hands have held this book, some of which are no longer alive. Old books have secrets, and when one happens to share even a hint of its past with me, I suddenly feel like the luckiest reader in the world. When you find one of those treasure troves of old novels or poems, tucked into little crowded bookstores, on the very bottom shelf that has you down on all fours, you just know that something brilliant is about to introduce itself.

Inscriptions are somewhat sacred—a beautifully scrawled dedication to a lover or dear friend, in a manner that has long been forgotten, a persistent declaration of the existence of someone before you. These can offer a beginning, a glimpse of the first hands that held your book. But I look for the tale hidden between the pages and behind the lines. Little mementos of sunny afternoons in a field of wildflowers—purples, cobalt, and corals—one of which has made its way to the beginning of a chapter that says so much more than its words. The postcard from a lonely soldier missing his mother; tear-stained edges worn with wear because the mother kept it near in every book she read, until her baby finally came home. Or a lovely little valentine, with an embossed purple heart against a bed of crimson poppies, declaring ardent love for “My darling Gemma.”

Some of my favorites are simple—receipts detailing purchases of buttons and ribbons, or pretty scraps of paper that brightens the yellowing pages. But my most treasured find from an antique copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, was a photo of a young woman astride a proud mahogany horse, her laughter clear in the genuine smile that’s been captured. I guestimate the photo was taken in the 40s based on the smooth curls around her shoulders and the jaunty dark cap on her head. She’s got that effortless glam look going on and I can’t help but wonder if this book belonged to the person behind the camera, someone who made this beautiful girl laugh. And then I questioned how something like this is lost. But truth is, much to my dismay, I too have lost this treasure in the mix of one too many moves. I like to imagine the next reader who will happen upon this prize, and which of my books will give it up. Will they consider all the possibilities of its origin? These tokens of the past become immortal with every journey, telling a new story to each reader lucky enough to find it. And you realize that these little secrets aren’t yours to keep, but just a glimpse into the life of a book that has chosen to share it with you.

I recently found a fabulous little website called Forgotten Bookmarks, run by a rare bookseller. Pages upon pages of things found in books are photographed and shared, cataloguing the brilliant and unforgettable. I have could spend hours looking at them, searching for that one hint that tells just a bit more than usual. And I consider all the things still out there, tucked between the pages. All those little secrets, just waiting to be found.

Reading From the Other Side of the Tracks

I’ve never been one to suggest reading books that don’t appeal based on genre, subject, or synopsis. But, if you choose not to read certain books just because they fall under one of those genres—sci-fi, fantasy, or romance—then you are an elitist snob, and we don’t want you in our club. Yes, we name call here, and if you can’t handle it you likely wouldn’t enjoy these genres anyways.

To deny yourself the pleasure of these genres based solely on how it makes you ‘look’ is to deprive yourself of some fabulous reading material. Some of my favorite quotes have come from these genres, and some of them are downright brilliant. And of course, the context in which they’re found is sometimes both ironic and hilarious. Case in point: a friend recently asked for everyone’s favorite quotes on love, and I sent her this line,

“Love is rarely flawless…Humans delude themselves by thinking it has to be. It is the imperfection that makes love perfect.”

She adored the quote and asked me what it was from. I told her Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead. My ears might be bleeding from her screeching laughter.

“Are you actually giving me love quotes from a Succubus?”

“Well, yeah…”


But seriously, good portions of those quotes you share on social media are from authors in these genres. Next time you repost a quote from an author you’re unfamiliar with, I dare you to immediately look that person up and then march yourself down to the library for any one of his/her books. If you like the quote, you’ll probably like the rest of the book too. Just sayin’.

Don’t rob yourself of the joy that is American Gods, Solaris, or Practical Magic (This is totally the safe stuff, guys. Message me for the really juicy, campy goods.) If the title or cover art doesn’t do it for you, take another look. I will admit that I’m guilty of judging a book by its cover, I mean who doesn’t like to look at pretty things? And damn, some of those covers are just gorgeous (I’m looking at you, Euphoria.) But sometimes the packaging is deceiving, and it can go both ways. I’ve read some horrendous books that had a fab title and cover art, yet that book on the bottom of my pile, the one with a title that made no sense and a cover that had me sighing in disappointment, turned out to be my favorite of the haul. I often think that the artwork of these genres does a huge disservice to their content. I mean, can we get any more stereotypical with the busty broads, galaxy shots, and broadswords? Don’t answer that. Although the fantasy genre does seem to be making a greater effort lately—Have you seen the cover of The Golem and the Jinni? Total eyegasm.

The point is this, step outside your literary box. Jump the tracks to the not-so-literary side and you might surprise yourself with how many crossover novels you find. Exploration of character isn’t limited to 19th century Russia. Sometimes it’s found in a place outside of time and space, and sometimes it’s found on the moors of Scotland. And if you happen to get lost in another world, is that really so bad?