Monday, April 27, 2015

The Quintessential Author Wardrobe

Authors as a whole are a notoriously quirky group of people. After all, most of us spend an undue amount of time living in our own heads. The more successful writers even get to do it as a profession! A number of fashion tropes have been either adopted by or imposed upon the writing community, and some of the best of these have been compiled into "The Illustrated A - Z Guide to Author Wardrobe Staples." Some featured articles of clothing, like the doublet, hearken back to a time where a satirical play could get you killed. Others, like overalls, are directed toward a very specific demographic. For my personal writer's wardrobe, "B" would be for "Bandana, red with skulls and crossbones, and worn to aid in the thinking process."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman

I don't particularly think that the world needs another Neil Gaiman book review. Anyone who's ever browsed the SpecFic section of a bookstore or poked around at all on fantasy forums online has heard the multitudes extol his literary and creative virtues. I'm unashamed to admit that I'm one of those multitudes. If you glance at the recommendations at the bookstore where I work or take a peek at my personal bookshelf you can plainly see that. Reviewers much more prestigious and well-connected than me have declared to all and sundry the glory of Gaiman's writing. So why should I add yet another review to the immense pile? Because his latest collection, "Trigger Warning," is a bestseller and, quite frankly, I wanted to revisit one of my old favorites.

"Neverwhere" was originally published in September of 1996. It's been reprinted since then in many formats, but my favorite version is the one I've included as the image in this post. In the story Richard Mayhew lives an ordinary, boring but admittedly not unhappy life. He works a normal job, has a normal apartment, and wears normal clothes; he met a normal woman, they dated normally, and do normal things like visit museums (which Richard finds boring but not entirely disagreeable). In the normal progression of things they get engaged and are planning the normal festivities associated with a wedding and starting a life together.

But normal can only take you so far in life. And sometimes, when a person isn't prepared to venture forth and find that catalyzing something that will transform their life into an adventure, that thing has a way of finding you. And so it was for Richard Mayhew. One night he saved a bloody homeless girl who he found on the sidewalk, taking her home against his fiancee's wishes and letting her rest and clean up before being escorted away by a mysterious man. Having come into such close contact with Door, a young woman from the mysterious and magic-filled world of London Below, Richard too starts to disappear from the "real" London familiar to the rest of us. He becomes one of the people who "fell through the cracks" of the world, who become part of the strange, ugly, wonderful, harsh but beautiful of London Below. Desperate to reverse what's happened to him, and knowing nobody but Door in this confusing new world, Richard decides to track her down and find out how to return to London Above.

As is often the case with these things, Richard's quest becomes tied to Door's search for answers regarding the brutal murder of her family. Pursued by a pair of delightfully evil assassins controlled by a shadowy figure in the background, Door and Richard have only the unreliable Marquis de Carabas and Hunter, a bodyguard with ulterior motives, to back them up. But they find other help in the forms of small kindnesses from gleefully unique characters like a girl who talks to rats, an earl who holds court in a dilapidated subway car, an order of monks called the Blackfriars, a man who lives on rooftops and hunts pigeons, and a singular being that might possibly be a fallen angel.

Only Gaiman could assemble and choreograph such a beautifully absurd cast of characters. He possesses a proprietary blend of absurdist humor and darkness that just *works* in the kind of fantasy that he writes. Plays on words with places like Knightsbridge (a bridge that Richard must cross through a "night" of darkness and nightmares) and Blackfriars (actually run by an order of monks) provide unique and lovely (but again, very dark) new ways of looking at and interpreting what plays on words could mean. It's almost reminiscent of Piers Anthony's Xanth books, with bad puns and double entendres from cover to cover.

I think that what's particularly special about this book in the library of Gaiman's work is the way that he takes the seedy underbelly of a city, the sewers and transient people and trash and darkness, and uses what's already there to create his world of London Below. He doesn't transform it into some magical place of rainbows and goodness; its just as dark (and arguably darker) than London Above but the reality of it is just shifted. Instead of unicorns or owls, rats and pigeons are the sidekicks, messengers and helpers of the story. Flares and flashlights illuminate spaces instead of glowing orbs of magic. But the wonder, the mystery of this enchanting world remain intact.

Gaiman is a true treasure of an author. Check out any of his work from Chu and "Coraline" to "Neverwhere" and "Trigger Warning" for a spectacularly creative literary treat. Reading his works has inspired countless story drafts and ideas on my part, so whether you're looking to be inspired or just entertained, Neil Gaiman's work will be able to provide you with something incredible. Check out your favorite local, independent bookstore for a selection of his wide-ranging work.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book Girls

A girl reclines on a park bench, reading a book.

There's been a lot of debate over the past few years in the book world about the presence of diversity, in both authors and protagonists, in modern literature. Some organizations and conferences, like We Need Diverse Books and Sirens, are committed almost entirely to exploring the presence of representations of a wide variety of people in books. About a year ago NPR came out with an article about the next generation of readers who will conquer the world as we know it: the Book Girls. Read this sweet, encouraging, interesting article about them here!