What I Am: Reading this Week

A little less than mid-way through the month, I have two of my spooky books read, and I’ve started on the third. Not too bad for a mom who works outside the home and had a major infestation of fruit flies (we just have a minor one now) and is still cleaning up from the bug bombing. I also managed to finish Season 1 of Mad Men! (Hey, there’s nothing else to do when you’re folding laundry.)

Of course, I’m a little short on sleep.

A Prayer for the Dying, Stewart O’Nan
This book was heartily suggested by more than one person. It is, true to their words, haunting. I may have to re-read it in short order, because it inspires more questions at the end than it answers, which is perfect for a Lost-phile such as myself. Spoiler alert, kind of: Is he simply a madman? Cursed? A murderer? The last few pages are chilling. I’m sure there are some biblical parallels to be found as well — Job springs immediately to mind. The book ends right in the middle of the Job parallel though, after he’s lost everything, but hasn’t regained anything yet. Faith rewarded or abandoned?

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I love everything I have read by Neil Gaiman (okay, American Gods had way too many endings). This book is the 2009 Newbery Medal Winner. It kind of surprises me that some of Gaiman’s books are called “children” books. They don’t really (IMO) mean children, they mean young adult or middle school-aged children. I read Coraline, the graphic novel anyway, and it’s scary.

The Graveyard Book is delightful. Although the story is fantastical — about a boy named Nobody Owens raised by the inhabitants of a graveyard — the deeper messages of friendship, loyalty, and love are touching. Gaiman’s writing, to me, is always so effortlessly… something. “Witty” is too light a descriptor — Gaiman is in turns whimsical and serious, yet never heavy-handed. His turns of phrases remind me often of Douglas Adams, but Gaiman brings a darker element to his narratives. This book has ghosts, assassins, a werewolf, and a vampire — although Gaiman himself never uses that word. It also has a number of humans in it, and tons of humanity throughout.

Here’s something that recommends Gaiman’s writing to me: It is perfectly non-pretentious. If you are a student of classic literature, or schooled in mythology, or know a bit about pop culture, Gaiman makes allusions to things you will recognize and appreciate. If you are none of those things — if you are a 10-year-old boy or girl, for example — you do not need prior knowledge of mythology or literature to “get” Gaiman’s stories. Your appreciation will probably be deeper for having prior exposure to fairy tales or mythology. As with the “message” of his books, the allusions are as light-handed as can be.

I am part-way through The Prestige by Christopher Priest. It is remarkably different from the movie, such that I am not 100 percent sure where it is going. It’s not creepy and there are not monsters (per se), but it haunts, and it deals with themes of magic, spiritualism, and illusion, so it satisfies the October reading requirement.