Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Best Book of the Year So Far: Randy Ham

We asked librarian  Randy Ham to give us a short blurb about his favorite book of 2013 so far. Like many book industry people Randy was unable to pick just one book--totally understandable and only a few folks were able to choose just one book. Randy however, wins the award for longest and most passionate blurb. You won, Randy, you won! 

Here's Randy's pick:

I’m addicted to Neil Gaiman. There, I said it. I love his comics, I love his children’s books, I love his screenplays, I love his restraining orders. That being said, The Ocean at the End of the Lane gave me fits of rage as the publication date loomed. First of all, I was so confident I would be able to get an advanced copy, so I could read it ahead of the general public. When I found out there were none left for me, I was beside myself. I would have to wait, just like everyone else, until publication date. I’m not good with waiting. At all.

I badgered other booksellers I knew who had copies, trying to get them to loan me their copy. That didn’t go over too well (and to be honest, if the tables had been turned, I would have had a hard time saying ‘yes’ to some guy on Facebook accosting me for my Can’t Get It Anywhere Else copy of the book).

Publication date arrives, and I finally get the book I’ve been salivating over. It’s 181 pages. ‘That’s Not A Novel!!!’ I scream inside my head, ‘Where’s my next American Gods? Where’s the next Neverwhere???’ I curse Neil Gaiman.

Then I read the book anyway.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, tells the story of an unnamed narrator, all of eight years old. His family becomes out of sorts due to the death of a boarder in the home. To compound the problem, there may or may not be forces outside this realm working against the boy. The only ally he has is another young girl named Lettie Hempstock, and her family.

On the surface, the book reminds us what it is really like to be 8 years old. It’s not all just playgrounds, Happy Meals, and toys. Childhood is dangerous and scary. We’re unable to see, understand or even imagine things that happen to our parents when we aren’t around, and traumatic events like death tend to have little consequence in daily lives, while little things like a new governess have far reaching effects. Things that have absolutely nothing to do with us are still somehow out fault in our little minds. One day, for no reason, we believe that our parents don’t love us. Other days, we believe we are the favorite of the clan.

When you read deeper into the text, Gaiman’s love of mythology comes through. He gives us mystical, powerful women, terribly scary monsters, but most of all he gives us another trait eight year-olds master above adults: Imagination. We may scoff at monsters, oracles, and magical oceans, but they are the tools that help 8 year-olds cope with the real world. I could tell you so much more, and dissect it for a proper review, but I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading it for you.

I walk away from the book impressed that Gaiman can do all of that in only 181 pages. It quickly rockets to my #2 favorite Gaiman book (American Gods will always be #1). If you have never read Gaiman, this is the perfect jumping on point. I recommend reading it late at night, in your closet with your dog (who’s afraid of the thunder outside).

Two other picks: 

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards - Kristopher Jansma (Gianna, she of the Short Story Brigade should be reading this). What is it like to fabricate every single aspect of your life, and have everyone believe it? Told in a series of vignettes, our unnamed protagonist weaves a story of deception, betrayal and love. From page to page, you never know what parts are real and what parts are fabricated. Fascinating.

The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate
Based on the true story of Ivan, a gorilla at a roadside attraction, this Newbery winning young adult  novel was more entertaining and moving than I expected. It makes me very happy to know that the quality of YA literature is magnified every year, and that kids are being exposed to and reading such great work. In the end it just makes them readers for life.

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