A Lifelong Love Affair

I can’t remember the first book I ever read, but I remember sitting in our bunk bed with my sister while my mother read to us from old  hard-backed copies of The Wind in the Willows and Little Women.  I can’t remember falling in love with reading, but I remember devouring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda.  For a long time Roald Dahl was my favorite author.  His protagonists–young children who go on magical adventures–were so easy to identify with and his writing was so honest and imaginative.  Then I found The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Unicorn, and finally, in Junior High, I stayed up all night reading The Lord of the Rings.  Thus, as they say, began a lifelong love affair with reading.

I was the kid reading books under her desk during class. Visits to the library netted me stacks of books so tall they reached to my chin when I carried them out.  My high school Friday nights were spent curled up in bed with my cat and a book.  When we home-schooled for a year during my mom’s sabbatical, I was rewarded for completing my work with books.  I didn’t go to parties, never had a boyfriend, but I had travelled to Middle Earth and Earthsea, to Arrakis and Amber, Discworld and Xanth, and a thousand other worlds by the time I turned sixteen.

I thought the stories in books were infinitely better than real life and longed to find myself transported into a fantastic world.  But there is beauty in the ordinary and the magic in newborn eyes is more powerful than any that can be imagined.  Now I can find joy in sharing my love of stories with my daughter.  Watching her discover the imagination that books can set free in her own mind will be a remarkably exciting adventure.  And although she may not one day remember the first book she ever read, I will always cherish the memory of my husband bouncing her to sleep while reading The Princess and the Goblin.

Review: “The Night Ocean” by Paul La Farge

Warning: This post contains spoilers

When I saw The Night Ocean on a list of suggested summer reading, I was intrigued.  My husband loves HP Lovecraft, but I’d never read any of his books.  I decided to read “The Night Ocean”–the short story written by Barlow and Lovecraft–first to get a taste for his work and get a deeper understanding of the book.

“The Night Ocean” is a beautifully written story about an artist who finds himself at the cusp of uncovering some great mystery, but in the end discovers nothing.  The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge is essentially the same story.  And I felt the same sense of unfulfilled disappointment at the end of each one.

The beginning of the book sets up an intriguing mystery: did the main character’s husband commit suicide, and, if so, why?  We are then treated to three additional narrative threads detailing the lives of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard H. Barlow, and Leo Spinks.  The accounts are all interesting in their own way, but I had trouble connecting with the characters.  The gloomy outlook on life they all three espoused isn’t terribly enjoyable to read about, and the accounts were practically eventless in their ordinariness.  All three men made some incredibly stupid decisions and didn’t seem to have good reasons for doing so. I kept waiting for something exciting to happen or for some mystery to be revealed, but there was nothing.  That the female characters really only existed to be love interests for the male characters was frustrating. The only character that I did enjoy and identify with, Marina, the psychotherapist working to unravel the mystery of her husband’s suicide, was barely in the book and really doesn’t do much more than any of the other characters.  

(Warning: Spoilers follow)

The reveal, that Leo Spinks was a liar, was incredibly obvious and I couldn’t understand why any of the characters believed him to begin with.  And then, to leave the central mystery of Charlie’s suicide unsolved just compounded the sense of disappointment I felt.  The ambiguous ending would have been fine if there had been some other kind of payoff or sense of satisfaction, but there was nothing.

Overall, while I did enjoy reading about some of the history of early science fiction, I would have rather read actual histories.  Those, at least, don’t promise a mystery and fail to deliver.  So while The Night Ocean had some intriguing elements, was well written and enjoyable in parts, it failed to really engage me and left me dissatisfied in the end.  But maybe that was the point?  Either way, my recommendation is to save yourself some time and read “The Night Ocean” by Lovecraft and Barlow.  Some of the writing is so beautiful that you’ll get lost in it and you’ll be left with the same depressing disappointment and sense of futility. 

First Fiction Friday

On Fiction Fridays I will post book reviews, musings on writing, short stories, and any other celebrations of one of my favorite things–fiction.  This will serve as both a motivation for me to make time to pursue reading and writing and also an outlet for something in my life that isn’t being a mom.  The posts will skew towards the science fiction and fantasy genres because I love them, but I will attempt to include romance, mystery, comedy, and anything else that takes my fancy.

For my first Fiction Friday post I had wanted to write a review of The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge.  It’s a novel that concerns H.P. Lovecraft whose work my husband adores. But I had never read an Lovecraft, so I decided to read the short story “The Night Ocean”.  The beautifully written, but dense prose took me longer than I had expected to get through, and so Friday has finished, but I have not finished The Night Ocean.  I will endeavor to produce a review next week.

I will say that the process of reading these two well-written works has been extremely rewarding.  Previous to them, my most recent readings had been accounting textbooks and modern urban, supernatural, and YA fantasy fluff offered for a monthly fee on Kindle Unlimited.  I had forgotten how engaging and inspiring artfully arranged words can be.  A properly placed word can convey more meaning than the dictionary can give.  I’ve loved the written word since I was a little girl and discovered the worlds that other people had made in their minds then transcribed on paper to be given life in mine.  I lose that sometimes in the cacophony of modern life–the conversations with my husband, the cries for attention from my daughter, and the blinding buzzing of electronic devices.  Finding it again restores another piece of me that was being slowly buried under the weight of worries and stress.  Fiction does that; it takes us outside of ourselves, so that when we return we can see our lives from a new perspective.  To sum up, as my favorite childhood show would say, “take a look, it’s in a book.”