THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern…

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which was so good it’s almost painful. I will not be able to properly express how much I loved this book and why. It’s a daunting task, like trying to explain… “What does sunlight feel like when you’re in the shade?” So I will do what most people do when trying to describe an abstraction like love and attempt the delicate process of comparison.

In many ways The Starless Sea reminded me of Galilee (or even The Great & Secret Show or Imajica or Weaveworld) by Clive Barker – full of twisted myths and terribly beautiful otherworlds, immortal heartbreak and observation, the spark of love making everything new again. It’s lighter than Barker’s work, though – filled with young people hunting old legends, like The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Secret libraries like The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. Sly cats keeping secrets and hidden doors and transformative magic, like The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle.

It’s like all my favorite books in one book.

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JUST KIDS by Patti Smith

When I finished Just Kids by Patti Smith, I started crying. For Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS, for Sam, his patron and lover who also died of AIDS. For all the artists and patrons before them, who lived and worked restlessly, many of which walking the same streets, living in the same building, drinking coffees in the same cafes. William S. Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsburg, Jim Carroll, Lou Reed. The misfit icons and legends, their stories mixed in with those who did not become famous – but whose lives were just as bright, just as fleeting. The hazy storm of memory always breaks into bright points of precision – lightning strikes of details – moments burned into your mind.

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Reading of Patti’s Smith youth – of the sharp, wild years of her late teens and early twenties – I felt as if I’d fallen into the past. A world of second hand stores and records, of poverty and purpose, of obsessions and confusion. The struggle to find authenticity against the reflections of others, if I am not this then perhaps I am that. Drastic actions and bold decisions made in an instant, real fear something only known through abstraction. Nothing can really touch you when you have your hands full of everything within reach. And every song and work of art is a special message written just for you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about impermanence lately. The passage of time, of human lives always rising up and ebbing out, over and over. I’ve finally entered into the comfortable stage of life, my once frantic mind now more of a slow but steady churn. Sometimes I feel a deeper understanding and other times I feel as if meaning is too elusive a goal.

I don’t read many autobiographies because, honestly, I prefer the cryptic autobiographies of fiction. By that I mean that all storytellers reveal themselves through the stories they tell, and I prefer the charade of costumes and imagined characters. Dozens of imagined lives stemming from one. Autobiographies always strike me as somewhat arrogant, for who can really remember their lives accurately, let alone the details of others? Still, some people have a gift for it. And some lives are practically theater already, their experiences and situations so far from the norm you can’t help but separate them into a fantasy genre all their own. Artist with a capital A and the like.  Even if you discover Andy Warhol ate the same breakfast cereal you do, you’ll never quite feel connected with him, you know? But now I feel a connection to Patti… and to Robert Mapplethorpe.

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Robert Mapplethorpe & Patti Smith

Patti Smith’s book makes you feel young again. She’s brought the stars down from the sky and blown on them, revealing dusty, pock-marked rocks in her hands. They were beautiful in the blinding light of fame, but she revels in showing the reader how desperately fragile, how flawed and horribly delicate their hearts were.

I read this book and spent hours looking at pictures of the old Chelsea Hotel in its decades of decline and decadence. I listened to Patti Smith songs, now feeling the life behind her wispy voice and the strong spirit behind her thin frame.  I was already familiar with Robert’s work – but now I saw the sensitivity behind the photos, felt the pacing self-inspection of each piece, caught meaning in details that before meant nothing to me – the feathers and beads, the religious iconography, the small smile.  This book has brought these two artists closer to me – made their strange lives more accessible. Small vignettes of other artists, writers, and performers I was already familiar with now got caught in a wider web – the human one – showing how people come and go, sometimes only for a instant, into others lives. A sandwich, a kind word, a bet, a dare, a jealous contempt or sincere admiration. Big pictures became smaller, and small moments became as wide as the sky, the colors changing depending on where you stand.

Highly recommended.

Rating: Five Stars.

Originally published: January 19, 2010
Author: Patti Smith
Title: Just Kids
Page count: 278
Genre: Biography
Awards: National Book Award for Nonfiction
Nominations: Goodreads Choice Awards Best Memoir & Autobiography

THE BOOK OF STRANGE NEW THINGS by Michel Faber

I finished Michel Faber’s novel about a British pastor who leaves his wife behind to spread the gospel on a distant planet, Oasis. Though it is a book about aliens and their reception of The Book of Strange New Things (what they call The Bible), it is ultimately a story about human relationships. About the complexities of human nature, our beliefs and drives, and our delicate bonds with each other. The pastor’s wife Beatrice writes him letters of support – which quickly turn in tone as the world around her drastically changes in his absence.

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Though the plot revolves around this deeply religious couple, it is not slanted towards endorsement of Christian doctrine nor against it… it simply was a part of how these two people experienced the world, deeply wound around their faith, as much a part of their experience in life as their race and culture. It’s a strange, infectious story that defies your expectations of what should happen with the premise of a foreign missionary – using the tension of our expectations to build the action in the plot. It’s hard to explain, honestly, without spoilers – and so I will just leave you to muse on this idea.

Highly recommended for readers looking for an usual story. The actual book was four stars. But the lingering impressions and explorations it invites you to take on your own are five stars.

Rating: 5 stars.

Now… if you’ve read it… or you don’t mind spoilers… follow me…

 

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NIGHT FILM by Marisha Pessl

Every once in a while you stumble on a compulsively readable story. Sometimes it gets you right away, sometimes you don’t notice until you’re a hundred pages in, but you’re hooked – and you can’t stop. You literally can’t stop turning the pages. Exhaustion usually forces you – and you crawl into bed with your head swirling and wake up a few hours later feeling elated, thrilled about the prospect of jumping back into the story. You waste no time – you get yourself a cup of coffee and disappear into the page again.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl was a compulsive read. A heavy book, pages interspersed with journal articles, website screenshots, investigative notes, medical reports, and photographs. The pages were silky smooth, like quality printing paper. I picked it up randomly from my TBR pile last night… and read it until 2AM, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer… then picked it right back up this morning.

I was intrigued. I was haunted. I was picking up pieces of a puzzle, hearing echoes, listening to rumors and letting my imagination run wild. It’s a terrific mystery, in my opinion, changing shape as it gets bigger. Extremely fast paced and moving quickly around the chess board – you’re never sure if you’re the pawn or the queen. I loved it. I loved its rather ambiguous ending – What is true and what is myth?

Ironically, the characters are rather boring and cliche. In a way, this worked very well with the theme – that what we imagine, the stories we tell ourselves and are entertained by, reveal more of our true natures than our daily lives. None of the three main characters were that compelling – but what drove them, what caught them up in the mystery, how they each were pulled in by it and changed – that was fascinating. The people they encountered, the enigmas they attempted to decipher… the secrets, which often revealed themselves to be sour disappoints or shoddy ordinary events, doubled down on this theme – these things were dazzling and full of life. The mystery solved is boring. Answers do not enchant us – what ifs do.

So if you like mystery – and dark turns down darker passages – that don’t rely on descriptions of gore or horror, but rather the implication of such – then this book is for you.

Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect.

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BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap is a quiet and masterful tale of two brothers living in a small town whose lives are changed by the mysterious appearance of a beautiful Polish immigrant. Roza is a friend and beacon of hope to 18 year old Finn, known for his dreamy, absentminded behavior – and a spark in the heart to older brother Sean, who gave up his dreams long ago after their mother abandoned them. Just as suddenly, Roza is gone again – abducted by a stranger Finn can’t describe.

The town of Bone Gap puts its head together and murmurs – was it foul play? Did she abandon them too, fly away as fast and thoughtlessly as their mother? Does Finn know more than he’s letting on?

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