Because all of life is stories.
Dear Readers Dear Readers it has been FAR too long since I’ve posted. So in order to assuage some guilt and to amuse both myself and all of you, I present you with our first ever guest bloggers! I would like to introduce to you the fabulously talented ladies of schadenfrauleins.blogspot.com/ , Naomi and Hermia to tell you all about book nerd Walter Moers and his wonderful novel, The City of Dreaming Books.
You should read these two.
They are wonderful.
For any bibliophile, Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books is a must-read. At its heart is a whole city dedicated to books—buying, selling, collecting, reading, writing. Even if the plot was horrid, I would have continued reading just for the books. Luckily, Moers is terrifically funny and pokes fun at all aspects of the book business, and—one presumes—himself.
Our hero, Optimus Yarnspinner, is a Lindworm, member of a race of rhinoceros-ish dinosaurs who churn out books like Joyce Carol Oates on speed. When his beloved godfather passes away, Yarnspinner discovers amongst his papers a manuscript. THE manuscript: writing of such beauty and truth that all who read it are changed by it. Once Yarnspinner reads this manuscript, he treks off to find the author, and where would one find a writer but in Bookholm, The City of Dreaming Books?
Bookholm, this mecca of the printed word, is a warren of cafes, writing workshops, agents, critics-for-hire, and bookshops of all types. You can buy new books, old books, valuable books, books by the yard, and/or sealed boxes of books:
“There were adventure stories supplied with cloths for mopping your brow, thrillers containing pressed leaves of soothing valerian to be sniffed when the suspense became too great, and books with stout locks sealed by the Atlantean censorship authorities (“Sale permitted, reading prohibited!”). One shop sold nothing but ‘half’ works that broke off in the middle because their author had died while writing them; another specialised in novels whose protagonists were insects. I also saw a…shop that sold nothing but books on chess and another patronised exclusively by dwarfs with blond beards, all of whom wore eye-shades.”
Underneath the cozy cafes are hidden storerooms where the shopkeepers keep their valuable stock. Underneath that level are even more tunnels, becuase the ground upon which Bookholm is built is honeycombed with unplottable caves, tunnels, and lost hidey-holes where books fight for space with mountebanks and monsters. This being a magical sort of land, these books are not passive collections of pages. O no, Gentle Readers. There are Animatomes, that fly about and occasionally bite, and Toxicotomes, which injure and sometimes kill.
[Let’s take a moment: unmappable underground tunnels full of lost, LIVING books! I may have voiced a squee of delight at the very thought.]
Poor, naïve Yarnspinner is hoodwinked by money- and power-hungry fiends (including, GASP, an agent!), and becomes trapped in the catacombs underneath Bookholm. There, he encounters ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties and things that go ‘bump’ as they try to eat your head. Territorial and murderous Bookhunters prowl the tunnels, searching for literary treasure and killing anyone in their way. And worst of all is the Shadow King, a being of great mystery and power who is said to dine on flesh from above-ground.
The delightfully-named Fearsome Booklings, wee one-eyed bibliophiles, are my favorite underground denizens. Each Bookling is named for a famous author, and memorizes every word that author has written, much like the rebel “Book People” in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. It is under the tutelage of the Booklings that Yarnspinner begins to understand his environs. It’s also my favorite bit of the book, where you can see Moers have way too much fun with words, inventing terms like “fructodism” (the sensation of squeezing an orange until it softens). He also plays with author names and book titles, which is a great game in the midst of an intriguing yarn. Some authors are immediately recognizable: Gramerta Climelth, writer of Gone with the Tornado, mystery writer Doylan Cone, or realist Hornac de Bloaze. Some take a bit more thinking, but once Aliesha Wimperslake was touted as the greatest playwright/poet of the age, I realized that all the author names are anagrams (and “Wimperslake” becomes “Shakespeare”). Perhaps, Gentle Readers, you would have discovered this more readily than I, but it is only my obsession with all things Shakespeare that overcame my deep aversion to anagrams (I just can’t get my brain to work that way).
By the end of the novel, my poor little book-soaked brain was high on the imagined musty smell of old pages, the imagined light of fireside and candlelit readings, and the imagined pitter-patter of Fearsome Booklings’ feet.
This is the first Moers novel I have read, but his adventures in the lost continent of Zamonia now number at least 5. Publisher’s Weekly describes Moers’ writing as a marriage between “Shel Siverstein zaniness and oddball anthropomorphism a la Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld.’” (There is a definitively Pratchett-esque feel to the writing. I kept expecting Rincewind the Wizard to pop his head ‘round the corner.) I think I am firmly entranced with the Zamonian novels, and am looking forward to reading more: The 13 ½ Lives of Captain Bluebear, Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures, The Alchemaster’s Apprentice, and this volume’s not-so-creatively-named sequel, The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. My local bookstore does not have The Labyrinth; nor does my library. I’m not sure if I can wait until it comes out in paperback in October…
I only have irrational fears. An odd thing to be proud of, perhaps, but there you are. When I saw the title and gorgeous cover of City of Dreaming Books, I had to purchase it… But little did I know it was populated by one of my irrational fears: dinosaurs.
That was a bit difficult to get over, reader. But, that’s the beauty of reading! I could imagine Yarnspinner as anything I wished, and I chose a bunny (albeit with scales and talons when they couldn’t be ignored). This is a book for readers, and readers who will enjoy inside jokes that only we get. It’s like a get-away in the most fantastical, dangerous, wonderful library one can imagine. It was good enough that I put aside my extremely irrational fear and fell into it. Read it, enjoy it, laugh at the jokes, and when someone asks you what you are reading, smile and say, “It’s about books and dinosaurs. You wouldn’t get it.”