Sunday, May 24, 2015

Part 2: Literary Libraries - The Start of a Big Adventure

So everyone knows that libraries contain books. Special people know that some books contain adventures.* So how meta is it when a book begins it's high adventure in the library?

There is something inherently magical about going through the shelves of the library, hunting for The One. You know "The One". The book that transports you to the place you don't know yet, but you already know you want to visit, and if you're exceptionally lucky, a place you want to live 2-4 days every few years FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!

In most libraries it's a pleasant, anticipatory feeling. In the right library it can make you downright giddy. These books are not always found on the Best Seller shelf, or the Fan Favorites shelf. Oh they can be found there, sometimes, maybe, but they are also tracked down, title by title in the stacks, a wordy jungle filled with shy prey, recognizable only by their modest spine and sometimes attractively bright skin of a cover. The treasure might be glimpsed in the tender underbelly of the jacket notes or a peek at the meat of the book.

  *A book doesn't have to BE an adventure book to hold an adventure. All that's required for that is sufficient worthy content to pull you in, wrap you up in the pages and make you reluctant to put it down to go to dinner.

Okay, okay. Enough with the hunting expedition metaphor. But it does sort of lead me to the next two books on my favorite literary library list. First...

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Okay, so the cover doesn't do this book any favors. In the hunting analogy above, had I found this book on the shelf, I would have released it back into the wild. But the title. The title. That intrigued me. And when I started to read...the book begins in a small library in Michigan. And I could see it. I could see the comfortably quiet, bookish folk peacefully inhabiting their small, underfunded home away from home, because I've been there. Not to that specific library of course, but there in that small town library. And I was hooked. And the main character, Isaac Vainio, started off a little...I'm searching for the words here...too snarky might work...for my taste, but I was willing to give it a few more pages.

And then the plot kicked in. I'm not going to say too much. And I'm particularly not going to say that this is the best book I've ever read, because it's not. But the premise is sharp. And the story can hold you. And the magic. As someone who has coveted the magic of books her entire life, I truly covet Isaac Vainio's magic. And that's all I have to say on the matter.

Mr. Monday, first in Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series

Yes. Garth Nix again. And yes, you have to read the entire series. Maybe twice. Maybe more than twice. Go on. I'll wait.

So technically the library itself, set in Arthur Penhaligon's school, has a brief, although vivid, cameo. But, since this is my list, my blog (and my rules) it totally qualifies because this entire series is wrapped in the magic of books, words, pages and ink. They flow, quite literally, into Arthur, transforming him into something other than himself, and throughout the series that change both makes him greater and distances him from his origins. I like to think that the school library scene, which I won't describe in any detail because I hate it when reviewers do that, is Nix's nod to the power of the library on the imagination and the soul.

Although I might be overstating the connection a bit on that last one. I mean, I personally believe that, but Garth may have simply thought it would be fun to wreak havoc on a school. I don't know.

Anyway. That's it. Part 2. Still haven't gotten to the end of my list. So next time...Part 3 - Libraries You Carry With You.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

My Favorite Literary Libraries - Part 1 - Dangerous Libraries

This idea has been rolling around in my head for a while now. I love books and I love libraries. And by "love" I mean that I am enamored, besotted, passionately entranced. I have worked in libraries, and now find myself in a position where my work, although not in a library, focuses on libraries and books. I'm in a sweet spot. None of which has much to do with this post, other than to give you an idea of the level of affection I have for big buildings filled with books.

I have an idea that lots of other writers feel the same way, given the number of books that contain reference to, or even more delightfully feature, libraries as a key element of the story. So, since this is my blog and I am the expert on all things me, here is a list of the best literary libraries I've ever come across.*

*Your experience may vary.

Part 1: Dangerous Libraries

1. Lirael, by Garth Nix

This is one of the best libraries I've ever encountered. Room after magical room, spiraling deep down into a glacier and guarded by the Clayr, an enclave of women united by their gift of seeing the future and their dedication to preserving their orderly society. The lower the level the more dangerous the books.

Librarians wear vests, color coded to show their experience and status and stiffened to protect them against dangerous magical outbursts. Their keys are a encoded into a bracelet with seven stones, as a new stone is activated it offers access to more rooms, because it takes skill and experience to go up against a truly powerful book. Other tools include a magical, mechanical mouse who can run for help, and a whistle, to call if they get into trouble, because Garth understands that although librarians are solitary adventurers, everyone needs help sometimes.

I would happily encase myself in a glacier if I could go to work here every day.

2. The Unseen Academy - Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett

Okay. Let me just say this. Terry Pratchett is, hands down, one of the best writers ever. And I don't mean just in the fantasy genre. I mean EVER. His Tiffany Aching novels (a sub-series within the Discworld series; Wee Free Men, Hatful of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight) are four of the best coming of age novels I've ever read.

That being said, he has also written a fantastic magical library, housed on the campus of the Unseen University (for Wizards) and presided over by an orangutan, who used to be a magician until his unfortunate accident. He may no longer be human, but he's still a damn good librarian.

Pratchett is another writer who understands the dangerous power of many books piled in one place. When the books in his library rub up against each other, magical forces are unleashed. It takes steely nerve and unflinching confidence to wrangle this library. Plus he works for bananas, always a plus in the sometimes skin-flint world of academics.

3. Inkheart - by Cornelia Funke

I know, I know. You thought I was going to say the Hogwarts Library. But no, for me, when it comes to dangerous libraries, it has to be the library that belongs to Mo's wife's Aunt Elinor in Inkheart. First of all, Elinor, who so fiercely guards her precious library. Her's is a true calling. She worships her books and hoards them. She is a woman who has allowed herself to be altered by her love of the written word, which is, in and of itself, a dangerous thing.

And second, Ms. Funke touches on the dangerous nature of the books themselves. What, in fact, could be more dangerous that being sucked into a story as it's being read to you? With the right voice it could happen to any of us. It happens more than you think, but Ms. Funke has taken it from a relatively harmless state of mind to a delightfully dangerous reality. As much as we might wish to live in the world of books, actually doing so could be quite dangerous.

So that's it for part 1. Part 2 - The Library as Adventure.