"I was not scared of anything, when I read my book."
GROWING UP (INCLUDING HIGH SCHOOL and college in the growing up process because I realize, being old, that the process goes beyond childhood), everything was books. I read every night in bed until my dad came to my room at 2am to yell at me to turn off my light, I was an avid re-reader, I brought dogeared paperbacks to parties (upon arrival, my cousins would ask, "Where's your book?"), and each month my mom would take my brother, sisters and me to the mall and I would spend my few dollars on the next installment of whatever series I was engulfed in at the moment-- read: Babysitters Club! Even now, I've got a short story anthology, collection of essays, or novel always at the ready in my tote.
My life right now is very much dictated by work; so most of the reading-- regrettably-- has to do with grading composition essays and quiz papers. Consequently, I don't have the time I wish I did to really read. (The grading process is terribly disheartening, making it harder for me to want to read anything even when time permits.) Thankfully, I recently started an Instagram book club with three amazing ladies, Kristyn of Laite Jewelry, Emma, and Kaity. I encourage everyone to join! We've got some great picks lined up for the coming month already; and if you're interested in what sorts of literature we're choosing, read on for my review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
As mentioned, I've been swamped with tedium so I wasn't able to read the novel (beyond the prologue) until yesterday. I also blame J because we were planning on reading it together, but we had trouble aligning our schedules. He is probably the bigger Gaiman fan of the two of us; he's all into the insanely epic Sandman comics right now. We like to read books together out loud, but he's a teacher as well, so free time is a luxury.for the both of us. In any case, reading it yesterday had some benefits, because it's all fresh in my mind; I'm still in that place I get when I come out of a movie at the theater and it's turned dark outside and you're still immersed in made up truths.
First off, the novel is an easy read in the best possible sense. I was able to read it in a short amount of time, but still at a pace where I could savor-- yes, this is definitely the right word, "savor"-- the language, especially when Gaiman slowed things down in the Hempstock's kitchen. The food definitely was a highlight: porridge with butter and homemade blackberry jam, fresh milk, shepherd's pie. Every time our main character sat down to eat with them, it was all comfort and simpleness. Gaiman's command of language and sensory imagery is amazing.
"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in the small things, even as greater things crumbled."
Above all, I identified so much with the unnamed protagonist. His love of books, the necessity of feeling rain on his face, his revelations about the stark difference-- and similarities-- between children and adults: The truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world." This is truer and truer every day, and something that I find myself thinking about more often. Belief and memory, sadly, are things that change drastically from the transition between adolescence and adulthood, and this is something that Gaiman drives home deftly.
The Hempstocks were wonderful embodiments of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone-- the perfect illustrations of the evolution of thought and experience, but on a higher plane obviously. I was completely envious of Lettie's bravery, a little afraid of her mother's matter-of-factness, and in awe of Old Mrs. Hempstock. Gaiman writes women so well, even in terms of the wicked Ursula Monkton, who was only giving everyone what they "needed." The themes of memory and change were really resonant for me, too. Gaiman takes these talked-to-death-over themes and brings new light to them, while still relatable: "Nothing's ever the same," she said. "Be it a second later or a hundred years. It's always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans."
And since I couldn't pick just one favorite, here are some lines that really stuck with me (The first two are for the workshopping creative writing instructor in me)::
- A story only matters, I suspect, to the extent that the people in the story change.
- I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all.
- Perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.
- Perhaps there is just a secret to breathing water, something simple that everyone could do, if only they knew.
- I do not remember asking adults about anything, except as a last resort.
- "I want to remember," I said. "Because it happened to me. And I'm still me."