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2011 Book #38: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I'm not sure I should count this one. The size of The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a bit daunting until you look inside. It's 533 thick (as in good-quality) pages. I was expecting it to take a while. But no. Near the end of the book, the author, Brian Selznik, mentions that it's only around 26,000 words, which is roughly half the length of The Great Gatsby, which is about the shortest a novel can be and still be called a novel. Below 50k, it's a novella. So The Invention of Hugo Cabret is, word-wise, a short novella.

But the words are only part of it. It's filled with beautiful pencil drawings - and even some photographs. It's a beautiful mix of the traditional and graphic novel, and I loved every minute of it, though I wish it was a lot longer.

 

 

 

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is about a young boy, Hugo, who lives in a train station in Paris. His father died, so he moved there with his uncle, but his uncle disappeared. Hugo is left all alone to perform his uncle's job of keeping all the clocks in the station wound and running correctly. Before his father, who was also a clock-maker, died, he had been working to repair an automaton he'd found, the origin of which no one seemed to know.

Hugo is determined to fix the automaton because he thinks it has a message for him: it's sitting at a desk, pen in hand, ready to start writing. He gets the parts for it by stealing from the toymaker in a stall nearby. Eventually, he gets caught, and things get interesting.

I really enjoyed this book. It's different. Martin Scorsese is directing a movie based on the novel, which I'd imagine would work out very well.

 

2011 Book #39: The Hero and the Crown

The Hero and the Crown is Palmer's favorite kid-book, which is why I read it. I read The Blue Sword first because there was some confusion which of the two is actually his favorite. Here's why: both were written by Robin McKinley, whowrote The Blue Sword first, but The Hero and the Crown is its prequel. I'm glad, though, that I (kind of) read them in the wrong order because The Hero and the Crown is so much better. I really, really enjoyed it.

This one's about Aerin, daughter of the king of Damar. She's a bit of an outsider because her mother was a commoner from the (evilish) North, and lots of the citizens consider her mother, now dead, a "witchwoman," and think some sort of evil rubbed off on Aerin. Tor, a cousin, is slated to become king, and he is in love with Aerin, who keeps getting into trouble. She befriends and rehabilitates her father's lame warhorse and investigates an ancient ointment that protects the wearer from fire, then runs off to fight dragons (which are about the size of dogs but much more dangerous). Her father is having problems with the Northerners, and while he goes off to battle, she kills the last of the giant dragons, Maur, and is seriously injured. As she lays in bed dying, she dreams about a silver lake and a blond-haired man who says he can help her. She musters her strength and makes it to the lake, where she meets Luthe, who saves her but also makes her "not quite mortal," and once she is well, she travels to fight her uncle in a tall black tower. Then more stuff happens.

It appears that McKinley has taken care of some of her style issues that made The Blue Sword seem sooooo long. The Hero and the Crown flew by, and I found myself wishing there was more. There's a scene about three-quarters through the book in which Aerin is climbing up an amazingly long flight of stairs, but we only find out later that it's taken her thousands of years. McKinley made it seem like a couple hours. But there was less awkward language, and it was an easier, more pleasant read. I wish she'd write more in this series.
 

2011 Book #40: The Devil All the Time

I really need to be better about posting quickly after I finish a novel. Unless it falls into the Best Novel Ever category, I forget what I wanted to say before I write anything down. Once I hit this year's quota, I might take a break from the writing part. Or not. We'll see.

I decided to read The Devil All the Time because it sounded similar to stories and novels by Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, at least in substance. I'm generally pretty bad at reading pop fiction, a category into which this novel definitely fits, though I didn't have a hard time getting through this one. I think it's a story that could easily have come from either O'Connor or McCarthy - and it's certainly as gruesome.

The Devil All the Time is about various damaged people in terrible situations trying to survive. One is a young boy whose mother is dying of cancer. His father wants his mother to live so badly that he builds an alter in the woods behind his house and sacrifices animals (and one person), hanging them onto homemade crosses. Then there's the couple who drives across the country picking up young male hitchhikers, raping and killing them. The storylines eventually converge.

I enjoyed this novel more than I thought I would. It's better-written than I'd expect it to be, though I'd never heard of Donald Ray Pollock before, so I guess I didn't know what to expect. The plot is well thought-out, and the style is good. Pollock wrote another novel that, I think, is somehow related to this one, called Knockemstiff (the name of a town that reminds me of a certain author who wrote a series of novels set in another town with a stupid name, though Knockemstiff really exists), and I think I might be interested enough to read it. We shall see.
 

2011 Book #41: The Book of Sand

Several years ago, I dated a guy whose mother so often said that Kevin Costner was originally cast in Patrick Swayze's role in Ghost, that her sons came up with a gesture to express it more succinctly: they would simply touch their index fingers to their foreheads. I need to come up with similar gesture for my usual excuse of waiting too long after I've read a book to write about it. Or I could just abide by my general rule of posting about the book I've just read before I begin the next, though that idea doesn't seem to be working for me too well. So maybe I'll raise my hands above my head and cough.

Anyway. About a week ago, I finished The Book of Sand, my second Borges collection. This time it was all fiction, which was a plus, though, in general, I enjoyed Labyrinths much more. I felt challenged and entranced throughout the short stories in Labyrinths, but I found myself a bit bored with The Book of Sand.

The only story I really like in this collection is "The Book of Sand," which is about an infinite book. A bible salesman appears at the protagonist's door, offering to sell him a book with no beginning or end. As you turn to the back of the book, more and more pages appear, and the same thing happens when you try to find the front. Pages also continually change in the middle.  The protagonist (who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges) buys the book, becomes obsessed with it, and realizes that it's a curse, so he does his best to get rid of it.

There are a couple more good stories, like "The Mirror and the Mask" and "The Disk," but I didn't see any comparable to one like "The Library of Babel" in Labyrinths, which just might be one of my favorite stories ever.

I still love Borges, of course, but I hope that most of his work (that I haven't read) is more like Labyrinths than The Book of Sand, though I guess they're both the same type of thing. One of the blurbs on the back of the book compared it to Labyrinths, but it's certainly not as good.
 

2011 Book #42: The Castle

I had forgotten that Kafka died before finishing The Castle , or I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Few things annoy me more than not knowing how a novel is supposed to end, though, I guess, good ol' Wikipedia gives us a clue, but that's only a bit of a consolation because, of course, it is Wikipedia. The Castle has been on my reading list for a few years. I started reading it a long time ago, but I didn't get very far. I don't remember why. I think it might have put me to sleep. This time, though, it held my attention throughout, and I really enjoyed it - until it cut off at the end with absolutely no resolution.

Here's the general plot: A man named K. wanders into a village governed by officials in a castle not far away. He checks into an inn, goes to sleep, and is awakened by the innkeeper and one of those officials, who says he doesn't have permission to stay in the village and that he must leave immediately. K. claims to be a land-surveyor summoned by the castle (we never really learn whether he is or not, but I assume he's lying), and after some phone calls, he is allowed to stay. So he sleeps. The next morning, he tries to contact various officials, but he finds it impossible. He thinks he has a chance at talking to an official who knows an official, etc, etc, etc, but, of course, he doesn't. It's the same general idea as The Trial , though they're certainly two different novels. And then it breaks off. The end.

It doesn't sound like it, but I really do like Kafka. I read The Metamorphosis when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Trial when I was in college and, for a while, thought it was the best novel I'd ever read. The Castle was okay. Next time, I'll read one Kafka finished writing.
 


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