I took advantage of the recent reissue of Jeff VanderMeer’s Veniss Underground (originally published in 2003) to fill in a lamentable gap in my reading. What worked best for me in this novel were the creatures VanderMeer conjures—segmented worms turning into flying maps, ray-like creatures in a subterranean sea and the unforgettable Gollux.
In the afterword, there’s a writing fragment, which illuminates the novel, and a great background story about York Minster providing the inspiration for the writing process. These insights were unexpected and fascinating.
I recommended this book if you like phantasmagorical imagery and dark humour.
I finished Bewilderment at the end of October. There is much to like here, the retelling of Flowers for Algernon, the invented planets shared by the father and son at bedtime, the barely concealed references to real public personalities, all worked into a compelling and moving narrative. What I enjoyed most about this book though was the character of the mother, powerfully present in her absence. Her personality sometimes felt like one of the imaginary planets described by the narrator, pieced together from memories and the perceptions of others, particularly her son, the way one might ascertain the composition of a distant celestial object through the scattering of light.
I started reading Powers back in the early 1990s with The Gold Bug Variations on a transatlantic flight to England. Since then, I’ve read him periodically and long the way I bought most of his novels faithfully on publication. Reading Bewilderment made me want to go back and fill the gaps.
The last drops of the thundershower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road.
Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
On a certain day in June, 19—, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.
Little, Big, John Crowley
I began this post to comment on my love of the Bard Books/ Avon imprint. These books, once ubiquitous, are now are seen most frequently in used book shops. Charles Williams made me think of C. S. Lewis, of course, and the opening paragraph of Out of the Silent Planet made me think of the opening of Little, Big, and this is how works of literature speak together through us. It’s also why I will never thin out my library. There is no greater joy than following a trail of breadcrumbs through your collection of books.
For fun, here is a piece of art I did back in 2003, inspired by John Crowley’s Little, Big.
I finished re-reading Dune recently. When I first read it the first time, I was a teenager. Setting out now, I realized that most of what I thought I remembered came not from the book but the film directed by David Lynch—no monstrous Guild Navigator in a Baroque fishtank, or festering Baron Harkonnen here. Some great scenes in this one, and the story moves at a good pace, if a bit abruptly in places. I love this retro cover designed and illustrated by Jim Tierney.