April 13, 2010

This week we'll be featuring an in depth review of Melina Marchetta's highly anticipated new fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock. First, however, I want to encourage everyone not to miss the literary memorial to Alice Bloom tonight at The Farmington Public Library! It's at 7:00. Alice was a wonderful writer and a great friend. Many people will share their favorite passages from Alice's life and letters. Some years ago Alice and I, along with one other mysterious party, produced three issues of a book review spoof called Printed Maine People, using a variety of pseudonyms to review non existent books. I'm going to read a piece she wrote for that tonight.

Reasons for reading Fantasy novels are intrinsically bound to the actions they depict, escape from tyranny, the restoration of good through effort, the comfort of obscure fatalism, the transmutation of the ordinary to the profound. To succeed Fantasy novels must provide the reader what their characters lack, and that is freedom. As J.R.R. Tolkien observed so well, "But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author." For this cause Fantasy novels necessarily afford us a source of either escape or irony.

There are two primary sources of freedom in a work of Fantasy. Tolkien's observation establishes the first. The second involves the solidity of the fantasy world itself. The ability of the reader to suspend disbelief is in direct proportion to the strength of the imagined world. If we become critical observers, rather than fellow travelers, our freedom to enjoy and explore the book is greatly restricted.

Finnikin of the Rock represents the first Fantasy Novel by acclaimed Young Adult author Melina Marchetta. The world of Finnikin is essentially an island continent unto itself, called Skuldenore, containing 12 Kingdoms. The action follows the exiles of a small Kingdom, Lumatere, whose Royal family was assassinated from without, and who turned in on itself in the aftermath, resulting in a curse which has sealed it off from the outside world. Many Lumaterans fled in the days following "the unspeakable," and the story picks up ten yeas afterward. It follows the efforts of a group of exiles to reenter and reclaim Lumatere.

Acclaimed for her depth of characterization in realistic fiction, one might have expected that Marchetta would have excelled at providing the first of our freedoms, and struggled with the second, however I came to feel, ever more steadily, that the reverse was true. Skuldenore is well realized, the distinct characters of its principalities are convincing, and the author has followed wisdom in taking a simple construct and strengthening it. No attempt has been made to provide a sense of history beyond what the characters had need for and were likely to be mindful of. The fantasy is ably established through interaction rather than foolishly undercut by dubious references to ancient epic poems, and 2,000 year old battles that people still obsess about.

As the story progressed, however I came to feel that Marchetta's strength was becoming the story's weakness. Allegory is not the only manner in which ''the domination of the author" can be conveyed into the text. The emotional reality of the lead characters increasingly becomes the center of the narrative, the direct object of dialogue, the fulcrum of its action and the motive force of events. Increasingly the reader's ability to impute and apply feelings to the characters is stripped away until the reader is wholly subject to them. Speaking critically of William Hazlitt, Virginia Woolf observed that "He tells us exactly what he thinks, and he tells us - the confidence is less seductive - exactly what he feels." This is the root of the problem. To be truly moved and engaged with a character, and with her story, the reader must stand at a slight remove from her, must have the freedom to interpret and apply one's own experiences. The emotions of Finnikin of the Rock's lead characters are not only too explicit, but they take the form of overt value judgments which the reader is compelled to agree with. I personally felt that the values they represented were good, but that is not the point. Anita Bryant may have wanted a glass of orange juice every morning, but the Fantasy reader cannot do without " varied applicability to their thought and experience."

Here they are! Our weekly picks for the two best: two hardcover, two paperback, and two children's books. The very best new arrivals to leap out of the box and onto our shelves this week. Call or email us if you want more information on any of these titles, or to have us hold you a copy. Or stop in and check them out in person. We'd love to see you. Thanks as always for sharing your reading with us!

 

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
By McKibben, Bill
2010-04 - Times Books
9780805090567 - Hardcover   See Other Formats
List Price $24.00 - Your Price: $19.20


Availability:
Available To Order

McKibben's important new book eaarth is out today. He argues that our planet has physically changed dramatically in the last decades, and that we need to adapt to what is literally a different world. The upside? There are now more voweels in eaach woord. (kidding, let's try that again.) The upside? According to Rebecca Solnit, "McKibben doesn't stop with the bad news. He tours the best responses that are also already here, and these visions of a practical scientific solution are also sketches of a better richer, more democratic society and everyday life." ...More

Damaged Goods

Damaged Goods
By Boyle, Gerry
2010-05 - Down East Books
9780892727964 - Hardcover
List Price $24.95 - Your Price: $19.96


Availability:
Available To Order

Speaking of good news and bad news, the good news here is that the first new Jack McMorrow book in many years, by beloved Maine crime writer Gerry Boyle, is out today. The bad news, what's with that cover? ...More

Chef

Chef
By Singh, Jaspreet
2010-04 - Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
9781608190850 - Paperback   See Other Formats
List Price $14.00 - Your Price: $11.20


Availability:
Available To Order

Speaking of good covers and bad covers, after looking at the cover of Damaged Goods you deserve to see one of the nicest cover designs of the season, that which adorns Chef by Jaspreet Singh. Is this award winning novel set in India more than just a wonderful cover?..... ...More

The Beats: A Graphic History

The Beats: A Graphic History
By Pekar, Harvey
2010-04 - Hill & Wang
9780809016495 - Paperback
List Price $14.95 - Your Price: $11.96


Availability:
Available To Order

If any group was ever destined to be the subject of a graphic novel it is The Beats. To capture the beats a group of acclaimed graphic novelists such as Harvey Pekar, Trina Robbins, Ed Piskor, and Anne Timmons worked together to produce what is the perfect marriage of medium and message. ...More

Cloud Tea Monkeys



Cloud Tea Monkeys
By Peet, Mal
2010-02 - Candlewick Press (MA)
9780763644536 - Hardcover
List Price $15.99 - Your Price: $12.79


Availability:
Available To Order

We've all had the experience of picking up a picture book, flipping a page open, and being captivated by a drawing. We then turn through the pages just taking in the artwork. Taking a deep breath we head back to the front of the book, hoping the text will match the quality of the artwork. No one captivated by the lovely, evocative drawings of Juan Winjgaard will be disappointed by a return journey in the company of the lovely tale penned by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. Each drawing seems a perfect reflection of the action of the story, making this an ideal read aloud for 4-6 year olds. ...More

Little Brother

Little Brother
By Doctorow, Cory
2010-04 - Tor Books
9780765323118 - Paperback   See Other Formats
List Price $9.99 - Your Price: $7.99


Availability:
Available To Order

 


Well yes, it is a bit hard to leave out a terrific book like Binky The Space Cat or the new board book release of Nancy Tillman's wonderful On The Night You Were Born, but the paperback release of Cory Doctorow's brilliant exploration of police state electronic surveillance and a teenage hackers' rebellion is just too important not to get top billing! ...More

Home  Weekly Top 2   Services  Contact Info  Book Reviews and Features  Parodies  
Online Ordering Center
 Employment Opportunities Downtown Map Events