Friday, April 1, 2011

The City of Dreaming Books

A year or so ago I was browsing in a bookstore and came across Walter Moers' 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear which I bought for Caroline.  To be honest, I don't remember what it was about that book that made me think she'd like it, but it did look like her sort of thing (maybe it was the description of it as "a zany, fun-for-all ages odyssey" with a rough comparison to Harry Potter.  And if there's anything Caroline likes, it's zany.  She lapped it right up and asked if the author had written any more books.  I found and ordered a few more of his books, and The City of Dreaming Books was one of them.

Caroline read that when it came, and of course I was attracted to it myself -- a cover full of books, a title about a CITY of books, and a back cover that started like this:

Optimus Yarnspinner has inherited from his godfather an unpublished manuscript by an unknown writer.  He sets off to track down the mysterious author, who disappeared into Bookholm -- the so-called "City of Dreaming Books."  Yarnspinner falls under the spell of this book-obsessed metropolis, where an avid reader and budding author can find any number of charming attractions ... 

And yes, it was described as "another zany adventure" -- so recently when I'd exhausted my pile of library books, I picked it up.  And oh, was I delighted.
It's hard to describe this book.  It's so witty, with endless jokes and satirical references to the world of books and publishing and writing.  But it's a rip-roaring adventure, too, with a trip into the book-filled catacombs beneath the city where book-related monsters of all sizes and types lurk.  

I found myself reading this book slowly, savoring the clever and enjoyable prose.  I loved, for example, the description of the smell of  Bookholm:

You can smell the place from a long way off.  It reeks of old books.  It's as if you've opened the door of a gigantic second-hand bookshop -- as if you've stirred up a cloud of unadulterated book dust and blown the detritus from millions of mouldering volumes straight into your face.  There are folks who dislike that smell and turn on their heel as soon as it assails their nostrils.  It isn't an agreeable odour, granted.  Hopelessly antiquated, it is eloquent of decay and dissolution, mildew and mortality.  But it also has other associations:  a hint of acidity reminiscent of lemon trees in flower; the stimulating scent of old leather; the acrid, intelligent pang of printer's ink; and, overlying all else, a reassuring aroma of wood.  ... Ah yes, my intellectually inquisitive friends, you too can smell it now, the odor of forgotten knowledge and age-old traditions of craftsmanship.

See?  There is prose to linger over, word play to love, and a story that makes you want to race forward to see what happens next.  
I just loved this. 

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