I had a nice relaxing weekend full of reading. I finished John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. I thoroughly enjoyed both of these books, but they couldn't be more different. The only other experience I've had with Connolly is his book of short stories that have remained in my "Current Reading" for quite a while now. I've read probably three or four of the short stories but haven't written about them, yet. I'm trying to complete the Short Story Reading Challenge, but I'm not sure if I'll do it or not. I like the stories that I've read, but for whatever reason, I just don't pick it up very often. I guess I'm pretty much a monogamous reader -- it's one at a time for me.
The Book of Lost Things tells the story of 12-year old David who loses his mother to illness. David is absolutely lost when she dies, and he only finds solace in his books -- the books that he and his mother had shared. Things become worse for David when after a short period his father announces that his new girlfriend is pregnant and they'll soon marry. Oh, and if that's not enough, they must move from London to his new stepmother's house in the country. This is during the worst years of WWII, and the Germans have begun to drop bombs on the city. On the same night that a German plane crash lands in David's backyard, he finds his way into another world in a desperate attempt to find his mother. He thinks that he hears her voice calling to him for help. David encounters a world that defies description. He meets a few inhabitants that try to help him along on his search -- the Woodsman and Roland, but he meets many more inhabitants of this strange world who wish him harm -- the trolls, the harpies, and the loups (part wolf, part man).
Connolly uses familiar fairy tales with his own special twist to tell David's story of loss and fear. The fairy tales in David's new world are a little darker and in some cases a great deal darker than the ones we remember as children. But, David becomes stronger and better able to adjust to his new situation through each challenge.
In the back of the paperback edition that I read is an interview with John Connolly and "Some Notes on The Book of Lost Things." Connolly gives some background information on each of the fairy tales that's represented in the book. He begins each section with a quote from the book referencing the fairy tale and then gives information on the origin of the fairy tales, as well as the sometimes many different versions of the tales. Then, he reprints the best-known (usually Grimm's) version in its entirety. I found myself enjoying this part of the book almost as much as the novel.
I read The Haunted Bookshop in a couple sittings over the course of Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. It was written in 1918 by Christopher Morley and is set in Brooklyn, New York just after the end of WWI. The book is about Roger Mifflin, a secondhand bookstore owner, who has lofty ideals regarding the book trade. In fact, he believes that it's not a profession, but rather a calling. He also adheres to the school of thought in which it's believed that booksellers and librarians have a responsibility to put only the best literature into the hands of the people. This is a debate that was prevalent in the country during the early part of the century when the book was written. Today, of course, most librarians and booksellers simply attempt to give people what they want to read. But, I'm sure there are still some out there who would like to prescribe the appropriate reading material for the unknowing public. The shop described in this book is old and dusty -- full of stacks of books and tobacco smoke. Roger doesn't have a cash register and is happy when people come in to browse the shelves and end up reading for hours even if they don't ever purchase anything. The important thing is that they're reading 'good' books. Like most people who aren't familiar with this book, I assumed by the title that the bookshop was haunted. However, the title refers to the fact that the shop is
"haunted by the ghosts of the books I [Roger] haven't read. Poor uneasy spirits, they walk and walk around me. There's only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it."
The book is full of literary references -- authors, book titles, and quotes abound. There is however a mystery to be solved in the story, which includes a German pharmacist (remember WWI just ended). However, in the end the book is meant to be read and enjoyed as a book about books. For me, the book is even better because of where I found this particular edition. There's a small bookshop in my area that more than resembles the bookshop of the novel, except for the fact that it's run by a woman named Lillian instead of a man named Roger. The shop is old and messy. The books aren't arranged the way they'd be in a library. There are stacks on the floor as high as five feet in some places. She doesn't sell books online. In fact, she doesn't even keep regular hours. You do well to call her at home before you stop by the shop. Yes, she gives out her home number. She doesn't do it for the money, obviously. She does it because she truly loves books and wants to share them and talk about them with others. I think somehow that Roger would approve of Lillian.