Posts Tagged ‘Neil Gaiman’

Before I launch into my usual monthly report, I want to apologize for flooding your Google readers last weekend. What happened was this: on Saturday I updated the tags on several old posts. For some reason Google interpreted these updates to mean that the posts were new. When I logged into my Google reader and saw that The Alcove had 44 unread posts I nearly choked. I don’t know why it did that so I can’t promise that it won’t happen again, but I am really, really sorry.

In July I read . . .

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (reread)

She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel (reread)

Perla by Carolina De Robertis

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

There is No Dog by Meg Rosoff

Holes by Louis Sachar (reread)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman (reread)

Miscellaneous stats:

  • reread four books (whoa)
  • read three based on the recommendations of book bloggers (Perla, Please Ignore Vera Dietz x 2, There is No Dog x 2)
  • read one based on the recommendation of an author (Going Postal)
  • read three for workish related reasons (James and the Giant Peach, Holes, Coraline)
  • five were library books and three I already owned
  • all paper books; no ebooks

Random July Awards:

The I May Have Checked the Floor For a Disembodied Hand Award: Coraline. I know Coraline is a creepy book. I’ve read it several times before. But somehow I had forgotten just how deliciously creepy it is . . . until last month when I was reading it late at night. When I got out of bed, I may have first checked the floor for disembodied hands. No, I haven’t pissed off any button-eyed other mothers lately, but you can’t be too careful about these things.

The Caps Lock Award: Going Postal. Usually Excessive Use of Capital Letters Drives Me Crazy. When Used In Titles Or To Drive Home A Point, I Don’t Mind It. Used All The Time, However – Yeesh. No Thanks. But When I Met Mr. Pump, A Character In Going Postal, I Changed My Mind. He Talks Like This And It Just Suited Him So Perfectly I Couldn’t Get Annoyed. I Don’t Think Pratchett Could Have Portrayed His Slow, Deep, And Rumbling Voice Any Other Way. He Was, Hands Down, My Favorite Character In The Book.

The Best Bookish Quote Award: Perla. Here it is: “There’s that feeling that comes when you read something and the lines speak directly to you, and to you only, even though the person who wrote them died long before you were born, or, even if alive, has no idea you exist. The words seep right into your mind. They pour into your secret hollows and take their shape, a perfect fit, like water. And you are slightly less alone in the universe, because you have been witnessed, because you have been filled, because someone once found words for things within you that you couldn’t yourself name – something gesturing not only toward what you are, but what you could become. In that sense, books raise you, in a way your parents can’t. They emancipate you.” (36) Love it. (I had forgotten that nomadreader used the same quote in her Perla review. Hey, great minds do think alike!)

How was your July? No disembodied hands creeping around your house, I hope?

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This final Neverwhere Read Along post is coming to you many, many weeks late, but alas, such is life. The library is always crazy busy in the summer and my personal life was a bit nutty for awhile there, too, so my blogging has suffered. I really wanted to get this post up, though, if only just to say what a fantastic experience the read along was and how much I enjoyed Neverwhere.

Since I finished the book weeks ago, any brilliant thoughts I had have long since fled my brain, which means that all I have left are rambling thoughts. So. Some ramblings:

When I found out who Croup and Vandemar were working for, I gasped out loud. Once I resumed breathing, and thus supplying much-needed oxygen to my brain, the obviousness of it hit me like an anvil. It made perfect sense. Who else could it be? This is London Below, where darkness and the creatures and people we expect to be evil are not. Why wouldn’t the opposite be true as well? Then I found myself trying to recall everything everyone else participating in this group read had said about all the characters in the book. Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, (and there’s a very good chance that I am, since I read a lot of posts in a short period of time), the people who were rereading Neverwhere had been decidedly silent about this particular character. In hindsight, I should have paid closer attention to who said what about each character because I probably could have figured this out a lot sooner if I had.

I wasn’t surprised by the ending, but that didn’t bother me very much since half the fun of reading Gaiman’s work is the journey he takes you on, not the destination. That being said, I did expect Richard to change his mind about returning to London sooner than he did. It was fitting, though, that he went through another “ordeal” before he could return. He still needed to figure out exactly who he was and what he wanted from life, and in fielding the real Gary’s doubts about his sanity he realized the truth about himself. I love that he created his own door, and that the marquis was the one to greet him (in typical marquis fashion, of course).

And that’s about all my brain has to offer at the moment! I enjoyed this book immensely and the read along was a barrel of fun. Thanks to Carl for being such a superb host, and thanks to the bloggers who stopped by and commented here. You all rock.

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Here’s the second round of questions for the Neverwhere Read Along!  I’m so glad I signed up for this.  I’m enjoying myself immensely.

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”.  How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I don’t really blame Richard for wishing he was home since he now has, as he put it, “the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly” (89). In fact, I think that’s the reaction many protagonists have when they find themselves on unexpected adventures. Didn’t Alice and Dorothy just want to go home, too? Before he can go home (if he ever does), however, I think Richard needs to learn how to be a more active, and less passive, participant in his own life.

2.  The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading.  What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

I decided a while ago that I would stop trying to pin the Marquis down. I’m still puzzled by his actions, am unclear as to what motivates him to behave the way he does, and don’t entirely trust him. I’m just going to ride the story out and wait to see what – if anything – Gaiman reveals about this character. It will be an entertaining ride, I’m sure, because even though I feel like I have to keep an eye on the Marquis at all times, he has some of the best lines in the book. (My current favorite: “What a refreshing mind you have, young man. There really is nothing quite like total ignorance, is there?” [94])

3.  How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

At first I was a little confused about what was going on, and then it just made me terribly sad. All those people driven to end their own lives . . .

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments.  Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

Those moments are one of the reasons I love reading Gaiman’s work. Some of them are so fleeting, like this one:

“There are no shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush. I’ve been there. It’s just houses and stores and roads and the BBC. That’s all,” pointed out Richard, flatly.

“There are shepherds,” said Hunter, from the darkness just next to Richard’s ear. “Pray you never meet them.” (90)

And just like that, Gaiman has me wondering, slightly nervously, about the shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush. In just a few short lines, with seemingly little effort, he’s added yet another dimension to this world he’s created. He gives us just enough information to get our imaginations racing, which I think is far more effective writing technique than if he had described in detail just why we wouldn’t want to meet these shepherds.

5.  Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

I loved this:

Old Bailey was not, intrinsically, one of those people put in the world to tell jokes. Despite this handicap, he persisted in trying. He loved to tell shaggy-dog stories of inordinate length, which would end in a sad pun although, often as not, Old Bailey would be unable to remember it by the time he got there. The only public for Old Bailey’s jokes consisted of a small captive audience of birds, who, particularly the rooks, viewed his jokes as deep and philosophical parables containing profound and penetrating insights into what it meant to be human, and who would actually ask him, from time to time, to tell them another of his amusing stories. (147-148)

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It’s time for the Neverwhere Read Along, (part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge), which is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  For Part I we read the Prologue and the first five chapters.  (I had a very, very hard time putting the book down at the end of Chapter Five.  I’m not good at this whole reading patiently thing.)

Here are my answers to the first batch of questions:

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar?

Neil Gaiman has a knack for creating shadowy, intelligent villains with lightning reflexes who seem to anticipate your every move and appear and disappear without warning . . . like Croup and Vandemar. I admit it’s an impressive knack, but they completely creep me out.

2.  Thus far we’ve had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it.  What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the “real world” occupies?

I feel a little in the dark about London Below. When Richard first encounters the rat-speakers, Lord Rat-speaker accuses him of being a spy from the “Upworld.” But how on earth could he be a spy if no one back in London can see him anymore? The man who brought him to the rat-speakers could see him, however, so there must be people who can reside in both worlds. At this point, I have more questions than thoughts about London Below.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?

The perils of kindness is a theme that jumps out at me. Normally kindness saves your butt in fairy tales, but in saving Door’s life, Richard loses his own (mostly metaphorically, but also nearly literally). There’s still time for things to turn out the way they “should,” though. (Although perhaps they already have. The Hunter does save his life three times in Chapter Five.)

4.  We’ve met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?

This will probably sound odd, but one of the many secondary characters who has grabbed my attention is the rat, Master Longtail. Even though we never hear what he says (just what other people say he’s saying), his personality shines through anyway. The fact that he steps in and orders Lord Rat-speaker to spare Richard’s life and take him to the market makes me wonder what, if any, greater role Master Longtail plays in the story.

5.  As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?

I know the market is not literally floating, but I can’t seem to shake that image from my head. Other than that, I imagine it to be like some of the markets I went to when I was in Ecuador: a cacophony of vendors and food and people and animals. What would I be looking for at the Market? Ha, something tells me I probably would not have made it to the market. Knightsbridge . . . *shudder*

6.  If you haven’t already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?

So far I’m really enjoying Neverwhere. I had a very hard time putting it down at the end of Chapter Five. As I read, I marveled – once again – at what a masterful storyteller Gaiman is. Rather than describe his characters, he reveals their personalities through their own words and actions and those of the characters around them. His references range from overt to subtle (I got the Bob Marley reference in the middle of Chapter Five, but nearly missed the Alice in Wonderland reference 11 pages later). And above all, he’s entertaining. While I don’t think Neverwhere will end up on my All-Time Favorite Neil Gaiman Novel list, it’s still a great read.

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To my amazing students,

A year ago this day seemed so far away. And yet here it is. And here I am, seeing you off with a heart so full of pride it aches. Here’s one final set of instructions before you go.  Heed them well.

Instructions
by Neil Gaiman


Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw
          before,
Say “please” before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the
          green-painted front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat nothing.
However,
if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

From the back garden you will be able to see the wild
          wood.
The deep well you walk past leads down to Winter’s
          realm;
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

Once through the garden you will be in the wood.
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the undergrowth.
Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman.
          She may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle. Inside it
are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.
In the clearing beyond the castle the
          twelve months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December’s frost.

Trust the wolves, but do not tell them
          where you are going.
The river can be crossed by the ferry.
          The ferryman will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he
          will be free to leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)

If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.
Do not be jealous of your sister:
know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble
          from one’s lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

Remember your name.
Do not lose hope – what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have
          helped to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.

When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall)
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown)
Ride the gray wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

There is a worm at the heart of the tower;
          that is why it will not stand.

When you reach the little house, the
          place your journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem
          much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden
          gate you never saw before but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.

Or rest.

Trust your heart, and trust your story.

All my love,
Ms. Emily

*“Instructions” by Neil Gaiman is a widely published poem. I took this from M is for Magic (HarperCollins Publishers, 2007). There is also a recently published picture book version of the poem illustrated by Charles Vess. As much as I love picture books, I think I prefer this unillustrated. I like the images that pop up in my head better.

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