Books of January

Beings that my goal is to read three books a month, I acknowledge that I only got through two books in my first month of the year, but they were both MONSTERS and I promise you I spent a lot of my free time reading.

Wildwood – by Collin Meloy. I picked this one up because I noticed a lot of my student had been ripping through it this year, and plus it’s set in Portland. It is the first of a trilogy, and it’s comforting to know that in the land of popular (yet poorly written) young adult fiction, there are jewels like this one that can be full of adventure and gracefully written at the same time. Basically, a young (and feisty) girl, Prue, witnesses her infant baby brother kidnapped by crows and taken into Forest Park (a real park located in Portland that is literally 6 times bigger than Central Park)…however in the book, no one goes there…it’s full of mystery and danger. But Prue must save her brother so she goes in (with classmate, Curtis, in tow) and the forest comes alive with the people and talking animals who live there. But don’t think this is a soft and fluffy animal world – right from the beginning they are blowing each other to bits in multitude of political battles. The writing is very fluid and I felt like I could see each scene unfolding in a movie scene (and I’ve read a film adaptation is in the works). At one point I remember putting the book down, looking at Thor and saying, “This book is Star Wars meets Portland.” And I mean that as a compliment.

S – by JJ Abrams and Doug Durst. OMG how do I even attempt to explain this book, except to say it’s by JJ Abrams so you know you’re going to get mind-fucked along the way. Basically there are multiple stories going at once; and this book is INTERACTIVE, in a way. Pretend you’re cruising around an old library, and you find an old book that someone has written in and it is stuffed with additional items like postcards and photographs. There is the actual book’s story, Ship of Theseus, that you read; and then all the notes in the margin tell a completely different but related story. I’m not gonna lie – it’s overwhelming, but in a good way. I loved the narrative of Ship of Theseus. I can’t wait to go back and read it simply on it’s own. The story starts out with a guy who wakes up and has no idea where he is or who he is, but he’s all wet like he washed up on shore. There are twists and turns (as you can expect) as he continues to search for who he is – a pirate? a political rebel? an international spy? contracted hit man?

Then you’re also reading notes in the margin. The story is that the “author” of the book (VM Straka) was a mystery never solved. He himself was rumored to be all those things above and the margin notes are that of two people trying to decode the book for clues. Are you confused yet? Cause I’m not done. THEN there are the footnotes. Supposedly Straka was so secretive that he only sent his manuscripts to his editor and they never met in person. They were finally supposed to meet to pass off the manuscript for Ship of Theseus but he was thrown from the hotel balcony right before she got there (by who is also a mystery) and she scooped up the manuscript and published it, knowing it’s importance. Her footnotes include secret messages and clues. Then you’ve got all the notes, postcards, pictures, and so on stuffed INTO the book (put there by the margin note couple). Part of it relates to their search for Straka’s identity, and the other part is the characters opening up to each other about a lot of personal stuff.

There is no way you can read this book once and call it good. And frankly I can’t recommend it for a lot of people because it requires work to comprehend what’s going on (but for those who are willing to take the plunge, I think you will be satisfied). It’s a novel for those of us who really appreciate a story that goes beyond well written – it’s totally inventive and evolves the experience of reading.

On top of that, I discovered more pieces of Straka the puzzle online: that make it appear the story is true. It gets in your head. Last week, I went to a contentious school board meeting, and I was so tempted to scrawl an “S” somewhere secretive, while looking over my shoulder for a man in a duster.

Well played, JJ Abrams, well played.

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