When I was twelve years old I attended my very first “Word on the Street” literary festival in Toronto. I was thrilled to be there, but the volume of books was overwhelming. I asked a booth seller for a recommendation and he handed me Coyote Blue. Anyone who has read Mr. Moore’s novels knows that twelve is a little young, but I read it anyway. Though I didn’t get all the jokes (I was a very sheltered twelve year old) I did recognize that it was original. And that’s the thing about his books – they’re all really funny and really original.
Which is why I was a little surprised to read his latest book about vampires. It seems a little too pop culture for Christopher Moore. To spice things up a bit, this book is told from the perspective of an Emo-Goth character named Abby Normal (not her day-slave name) who narrates the entire novel with a valley-girl accent. Kayso, like, WTF?
Aside from Coyote Blue, I’ve read Practical Demonkeeping andFool. All were entertaining, but my favourite by far was Fool. I listened to the excellent audio book version of this book on my interminable drive to work. I forget who did the voices, but the man should get an Oscar. Fool is a comic retelling of King Learfrom the perspective of the court jester. Comedy being the twin of tragedy, it works really well. So well in fact that I was heartbroken when it ended and promptly borrowed another Christopher Moore book from the library. Twenty minutes into that I realized something – I can only take so much of Moore-ish prose. He is fantastic at satire, great at ribald jokes and at constructing memorable characters. The problem is that too much Moore gets boring. The characters start to annoy and the jokes seem too forced. Like many authors, Moore’s books are good in small doses.
Bite me is no different. It was very amusing for the first one hundred pages but afterwards my interest fizzled. I have a suspicion he wrote this to make fun of all the vampire-crazed teens and tweens currently influencing fiction. At first the book was hilarious – it was a bang-on adult take on annoying teenage behaviour (the eye rolling, the forced rebellion, the stupid mistakes) and that’s where it misses the mark – the reading audience of his books (parents of teenagers) wouldn’t read this book. They have to live with the real thing, why spend their off hours in the company of another irritating teenager? I don’t live with teens, but I do spend my working hours with them; maybe that’s why this book didn’t appeal for long.
A confession – I didn’t finish it. Maybe I’ll go back to it later, when I need a touch of Christopher Moore’s particular seasoning – bitter juvenalian satire with a heavy dollop of cynicism. Until then, back to the library it goes.
I know this is not a novel. Stop saying that. I know it’s a picture book for, like, three year olds. And I don’t care. I’m writing about it anyway.
I don’t read picture books. I’m not one of those people who look back with fondness on that favourite book they were read nightly by their devoted parents – my devoted parents read me books, sometimes, but mostly I read them to myself. Like, voraciously. Stacks and stacks from the library (the coolest place to be) back when I had nothing but time on my hands.
Then my own kiddies came along, and since I want to be a GOOD PARENT who makes sure my offspring SUCCEED IN THE FUTURE I bought some picture books and began reading nightly, and sometimes daily, and sometimes when I’m tired of running around playing Batman and Lightning McQueen fight the evil Transformer Decepticon stuffed rabbit. I read these books with energy, and sometimes I even do the voices. But here’s the thing – most of them aren’t very good. Except for a very few, and these ones I read over and over again until my children beg me to read the crappy ones, just for a change.
So back to Grumpy Bird. Back in March I was looking for a birthday present for my nephew. I don’t believe in adding to the world’s garbage by buying expensive, plastic, I- don’t-give-a-damn-about-the-environment-so-long-as-this-will-keep-my-kid-quiet-for-five-minutes toys. Books are forever, and just in case they’re not, most are made from biodegradable paper. Yah, I’m that aunt, aren’t you glad I’m not yours? The title caught my eye, and I started reading. I believe in reading the book before buying, and Jeremy Tankard had me at the first line:
“Bird woke up and he was grumpy.”
Soooo perfect. Simple, lyrical, completely fun. I bought it immediately, then I went back and bought one for myself…I mean for the kiddies. It is currently No.1 on the “books being read nightly” list.
(Spoiler alert!) By the end of the book, Bird has been prodded out of his grumpy mood by his animal friends, Raccoon, Beaver, Fox, Rabbit, etc.
(Side note: why do little kids’ books always have animals featured in the singular? Like these particular animals are the only ones left in the world, all the other rabbits have disappeared and only this Rabbit is left and therefore can dispense with the formalities of a name and identity. Just call me Rabbit, kid.)
They don’t actually do anything to help Grumpy Bird. There’s no Animal Intervention in the book. (Though that would be an AWESOME idea for a book!) All they do is follow him along, refuse to respond to his sarcastic comments (the sarcasm is for the entertainment of the adults. Sarcasm is lost on two year olds, take it from me) and keep him company by walking around the forest. The lesson is simple and subtle, yet recognizable even to a toddler – friends make a difference, and good company can scare the grumpies away.
This book actually has a lot in common with Michael Redhill’sConsolation, which I’m almost done reading, I swear! Review of that to follow…when I finish it…which will happen soon…I think…
I never thought I would be the type of person to start a blog. Not that there is a “type” of person that blogs, I’m sure bloggers are very nice people, some of my best friends are bloggers…please don’t flame me….(nervous laughter)…
Anywho, since I don’t know anything about blogging, but I do know lots and lots about reading books, I’m going to focus on that. I know, totally original eh? I bet nobody has ever written a blog about reading books!
I recently finished Stephen King’s semi-autobiography, semi-writing manual On Writing. I got it from the library and devoured it in a week. It took that long because I had to come up for air to feed my children and make nice with the spouse.
(On a side note: Go to the library people! Your tax dollars pay for it, and you would be surprised what a FREE library card will get you these days: bestsellers, audio books, some libraries even let you borrow PS3 and XBox 360 games along with new release Blu Ray DVDs. Do you need another reason?)
I’ve read a few of his novels. I liked The Stand. I loved The Eyes of the Dragon. I figured someone who’s written fifty-odd books could teach me a thing or twenty about writing. So I read it. I have to admit, I skimmed the first little bit about his early years. I slowed down when he started talking about the boozing – I know, I know, pathetic – and then I read the last paragraph of the autobiography section and I just stopped dead, and started crying.
In my defense, I cry very easily. It happens after you have children. The world suddenly seems more fragile, or maybe you become aware of how much you have to lose.
So anyways, I started crying. When I calmed down, I read the paragraph again and then showed it to the spouse, who said, “Interesting. I don’t get it.” I explain and he gets it, but doesn’t cry. (He’s got thicker skin than I do. One of us has to keep it together when those sad commercials come on T.V.)
Here is the paragraph for those of you too lazy to go the library, and too cheap to go to the bookstore:
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” (King, 101)
I know, right? Gives you goosebumps. I never thought Stephen King was really ‘literary’ but I was wrong. Because he nailed it, in one sentence. That’s what writing is all about – live your life first, that’s the most important bit, and the writing will flow from there.
The rest of the book had lots of good tips ranging from grammatical hints, tips on character and dialogue, even an example of the writing process. After I finished reading it, I felt like I had taken the equivalent of a writing course. It’s the sort of book you read if you are interested in improving your writing, but you already have a pretty good grasp of the subject. There was a lot of, “For the love of God, don’t do that…” which was highly instructive (she said cheerfully.) Parts of it felt like he was ranting about the dumb mistakes writers make, but in a good way. Papa King, lighting the way to publishing success, or at least offering the lowly, hopeful writer a match to light his/her own candle.
For that one paragraph though, it was worth it. I’m going to buy a copy as soon as I get a chance. It’s worth having in anyone’s library.
Next up: Consolation by Michael Redhill