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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fantasy Summer

Dear readers, 

I have been remiss in updating you on all my reading adventures the last few months. I have no excuse except the usual distractions. Writing articles, teaching writing, reading, lots of travel, family time (a college graduate!) and house shuffling. I have been steadily reading my way through the summer. The best way to keep up with my book list is through Goodreads. I try to rate and write a very brief review as soon as I finish each book and I post every book I've read under My Books.  So follow me on Goodreads and you'll know every book I read and hear (some books are Audible books). 38 books so far in 2017!

I've read some good ones the last six months, but I've been on sort of a slow burn with Neil Gaiman. I'm soaking up his words and I am in awe of his writing. I've long known of him -- read a few of his essays and had his writing tips posted by my desk, but I'd never read a novel by him.  My brother told me to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I gave it five stars on Goodreads. I enjoyed this tale so much that I wanted to start it again when I finished. A grown man looks back on his childhood through his memories as a seven year old. The book is fantasy tinged with reality in a glorious tale resonating with truth. Big Truth. Ahhh. My favorite type of book (see earlier review).

Then earlier this summer I read American Gods. Everyone is talking about the television series, but I knew I had to read the book first. Shadow, the ex-con protagonist of the book, is enduring and unforgettable.  He learns about the gods that live in the background of the new world, America, and the battle between the old and the new gods. The book has so many layers and constant action as Shadow faces many obstacles, but finally makes peace with the gods and with himself.

This week I just finished The Graveyard Book, Gaiman's Newberry-award winning book for young and old alike.  The world he creates in a graveyard in England ranks up there with Hogwarts for inventiveness and quirky characters.  I loved this book for all the big reasons I love to read -- traveling to different worlds, accessing magic, meeting great characters, escaping from the ordinary and giving me hope for a broken world.  I know this sounds like a lot from a younger age book but it was really amazing. I came to the end just before midnight and it entered my dreams all night. The magic lingered.  
The book is the story of Nobody Owens, called Bod, a regular boy who is raised by the dead inhabitants of a centuries old graveyard. Bod's family is brutally murdered in the first pages of the book when he is only a toddler. Bod, blissfully unaware of the grisly scene, wanders into the graveyard. The ghosts promise his recently deceased mother that they will raise the child and protect him from the murderer that still seeks for Bod. The book is creepy and fun and just plain enchanting. In his Newberry Medal acceptance speech, printed at the end of the book, Gaiman said he wrote a book he would want to read. He said he had the seed of the idea of The Graveyard Book when he was much younger, but "realized it was a better idea than he was a writer." So he waited and he wrote other books and perfected his craft in then in 2006-2008, he wrote this. He said, "I wrote the best I could. That's the only way I know how to write something."

I was lucky enough to hear Gaiman speak here in Houston earlier this month.  The event was called "An Evening with Neil Gaiman" and it was at the Wortham Theatre, a large venue in Houston. I thought maybe it would be in a smaller venue within the building. But when my friend Evelyn (thank you for the ticket!) and I arrived, we were in the large Brown Theatre and there were literally thousands of fans. The place was sold out. It turns out that the Dark Prince of Fantasy, as Gaiman has been called, has a huge, very loyal fan base. His graphic novels in particular are popular with a large segment. A different group of people than myself, but it turns out we have a lot in common. Now I want to read those graphic novels as well. That evening Gaiman read from Norse Mythology, his newest book, and several essays and some experimental writing and in between reading, he answered audience questions which he read from index cards. He was delightful, funny and sincere, just what you want your idol to be. He was honest about the hard work of writing, saying that he loved having written and he loved being about to write, but the actual act of writing was akin to getting a cavity filled without Novocain.  I was already a fan of his books, now I am a fan of the man himself. Read Neil Gaiman and tell me what you think.

See you sooner. I promise.