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I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.  The first of these came as a terrible shock, and like anything that changes you forever, split my life into halves: Before and After.

-Jacob Portman (Ransom Riggs)

Reeling from the mysterious events surrounding his grandfather’s tragic death, 16-year-old Jacob Portman sets off to learn more about of his grandfather’s  life, the strange photographs he kept, and the fanciful stories he told about them. Jacob’s journey takes him to an abandoned orphanage on a remote island where a secret world hides beneath the ruins of the bombed-out wreckage.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high.

–Jacob Portman

As soon as I turned the last page of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children on Sunday afternoon, I ran to the bookstore to buy the next book in the series. This is Ransom Riggs’s first novel and it is  riveting. Riggs has woven a story around the strange and creepy vintage photographs he collected from flea markets over the years, some of which are published in the book as characters and scenes. The pictures alone are worth the book’s cover price.

Though categorized as “young-adult fiction,” consider yourself forewarned, there is a significant amount of dark and violent topics touched on in the pages, including the Holocaust, bomb raids, murder, animal slaughter, animation of the dead, and slightly less scary non-human monsters of the sharp teeth and tentacled sort. In fact, there was a certain point, about mid-way through, when it began giving me nightmares, so maybe it’s not the best bedtime story. But it is a story worth reading.

Yesterday, I planted a hibiscus outside my bedroom door. I pulled some weeds, rearranged a few planters, fully immersed in my happy little zen place. As I was positioning a little garden angel to better rest in the imagined spring violets, I felt a sudden white hot stab of pain in my hand. A moment later an army of wasps rose menacingly out of the little angel. I didn’t stick around to see what would happen next.

I was wearing what I normally wear when I garden, which is basically the equivalent of a space suit. By now I’m familiar with the routine of everything in my garden trying to kill me, so I was shocked that the little bugger managed to stab me clear through my thick rubber gloves. He got me on the right hand, just under the knuckle of my ring finger. Today whenever I try to curl my hand to do things like open the fridge, get the peanut butter jar, turn on the kitchen sink, type, grab my phone, brush my teeth, read my book, or well, anything, there is a bone deep ache in that joint. A preview of coming arthritic attractions, I suppose. How something so small can wreck such huge havoc is quite the mystery, and also possibly the hope for us all.

Meanwhile, the bruised universe on my leg appears to be expanding. The swirl of amethyst is now dotted with peach pinpoints, while the periphery is a nicotine-yellow haze. On the whole, the bruise bears a resemblance to the melting face of a swamp monster – the sort of thing you would see chasing a panicked Scooby Doo.

 

 

 

Everywhere

 

 

 

 

things lie in wait

 

 

 

 

 

ready to fill this void

 

 

 

 

 

 

I won’t let them.

I went through a strange romance novel-horror story phase in early adolescence.  While other girls my age were reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, I inhabited a literary world of heaving bossoms, throbbing members, kitten-killing ex-Nazis and evil clowns. Danielle Steele and Stephen King make strange bedfellows. My mother frequently confiscated this contraband and bought me titles like Exodus: The Story of Moses and Kittens! Look and Learn! to read.  Fortunately, I knew where she hid the banned books, so I read what she wanted me to read when she was looking and read what I wanted to read when she wasn’t. This odd combination of influence in my formative years probably explains a lot about my psyche. 

Eventually I phased out of the romance novel-horror story combination when I realized romance was too fake and horror too real. This was around age 16. I moved on to mystery novels and other genres. 

These days I take a more mystical approach to reading:  I read what finds me.  Though it’s usually random, sometimes themes emerge.  Here are some of the books that found me this summer. 

  I kicked off my summer reading with The Red Diary, a romance novel that a friend had passed on after she’d read it. It has been years since I read the genre.  Things have changed.  Someone should do a study on how the lexicon describing body parts in romance novels has evolved over the last two decades.  I flew through the novel.  It was more modern than I expected. The plot was simple: Rich girl falls for her house painter. It was light and fluffy, yet full of all the sexual tensions you’d expect in the formulaic romance plot. Honestly, it was a nice change from my usual fare.

 

Next came Go Tell It on the Mountain.  This one was recommended by blogger Robert Bruce of 101 Books, who is currently reading and reviewing his way through Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels since 1923.  His review of the book sparked my curiosity, so I checked it out of the library and  read it on my way to the ashram.  I finished the book as the plane’s wheels touched down in Florida. It was a churchy book with a dark, despairing tone that resolved in a sort of redemption-through-surrender ending. The language was lovely.  My favorite line was, “She moved in a silent ferocity of dignity which barely escaped being ludicrous.”

 

Oddly, the spiritual theme continued with strange contrasts and parallels in the book Georgia Bottoms.  I finished reading this one exactly as the plane wheels touched down in Tennessee on my way back from the ashram.  I grabbed this one from the library because I liked the pair of shoes on the cover. Plus the title was cute and there was a review by Stephen King on the dust jacket: “Funniest novel I have read in ten years!”  I didn’t find the book all that funny.  Maybe Stephen King was in on some joke I wasn’t.  Still, it was an enjoyable enough read – very Southern, sassy, and irreverent.

The main characters in Georgia Bottoms and Go Tell It on the Mountain couldn’t have been more different.  Miss Georgia Bottoms is a white, small-town, church-attending prostitue, while John is the illegitimate son of a  black inner-city preacher. Despite the drastic difference in character and tone, both books address hypocracy, faith, redemption, and what it means to be a good person.   Both books were relevant reading for my own physical and metaphysical journey.   They got me thinking about all the weird stuff we do to try to understand this crazy world and to simply deal with being human and all the conflict that entails. All the different language, metaphor, and ritual  — how divisive those things can be!  How we latch on to made-up ideas and refuse to let go. How we go to such great lengths to defend what is largely a figment of the imagination (i.e., language, semantics, concepts, ideals, etc.).  It’s kinda weird. Ok, ok, enough waxing theologic.  Moving on the next book…

There are romance novels and then there are tales of love.  Of Love and Shadows is the latter.  It is about the kind of messy, horrible love that leaves battle scars on the soul.  Isabel Allende is rapidly becoming my favorite author. She is a master story-teller.  Brilliant.

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