Must Read Monday
(Yes, I know it's Tuesday. I'm a little behind.)
Welcome to Zamonia, land where reading isn't simply an adventure of the mind and senses but an actual adventure, one that can end with you dead, dismembered, or at least drowned in books. Walter Moers' The City of Dreaming Books is the memoir of one Optimus Yarnspinner of Lindwood Castle who leaves his home for the great city of Bookholm to carry out his uncle Dancelot's dying wish: find the author of a manuscript, a manuscript written by a genius, a manuscript that upon first reading, will make its reader laugh, cry, and eventually lie on the ground, in the middle of the street staring at the sky.
However, the book isn't just about that. For everything that happens to Yarnspinner gives rise to (sometimes pages-long) tangents involving all things Zamonian: reading, writing, music, nightlife, history, assassinations, books, vegetables, adventures, biology. This is a thick, thick book - reminiscent of the layering of a Queen song at their most operatic. So if you are looking for a quick read, avoid Walter Moers - we have three of his books here at the LPL and they are each at least 400+ pages long.
But if you are looking for a satisfying read that feels more like pealing back the layers of an artichoke (or a chocolate croissant) or the cleaning of grime off a great painting, then come to Bookholm and the Catacombs that lie beneath it. Like the manuscript that leads Yarnspinner to Bookholm, The City of Dreaming Books will make you laugh, cry, gasp, and just possibly have you lying in the middle of the street staring at the skies.
All my memories of him are pleasant, discounting the three months that followed one of Lindworm Castle's numerous sieges, during which a stone launched by a trebuchet struck him on the head and left him convinced that he was a cupboard full of dirty spectacles. (15)
The next page resembled a string of pearls, a series of associations so fresh, so relentlessly original and profound that I felt ashamed of the banality of every sentence I myself had written until then. They transfixed and illumined my brain like shafts of sunlight...I still remember kissing every word of every sentence that particularly pleased me. (28)
At last I paused at an intersection. Turning on the spot, I counted the bookshops in the streest running off it: there were no less than sixty-one of them. My heart beat wildly. Here, life and literature seemed to be identical: everything centred on the printed word. This was my city, my new home. (41)
Many shadows exist in the gloom of the catacombs. Shadows of living creatures, of dead things, of vermin that creep, crawl, and fly, of Bookhunters, of stalagmites and stalactites. A multifarious race of silhouettes dancing restlessly over the tunnel roofs and book-lined walls, they strike terror into many intruders or drive them insane. One day in the not too distant past, so legend had it, these incorporeal beings grew tired of their anarchic living conditions and elected a leader. They superimposed one shadow, one silhouette, one shade of darkness on another until all these became amalgamated into a demicreature. Half alive and half dead, half solid and half insubstantial, half visible and half invisible, he became their ruler and spiritural executor. In other words, the Shadow King. (66-7)
"In my profession it isn't a question of telling good literature from bad. Really good literature is seldom appreciated in its own day. The best authors die poor, the bad ones make money - it's always been like that. What do I, an agent, get out of a literary genious who won't be discovered for another hundred years? I'll be dead myself by then. Successful incompetents are what I need." (75)
I felt I was sailing across a dark sea in which countless lighthouses stood on little islands. The lighthouses were writers beaming their lonely messages across the centuries - I was sailing from island to island, guided by those literary beacons. They were the thread that would lead me out of the labyrinth. (171)
In the end, because you become inured to anything you meet in vast numbers, I grew accustomed to the sight of these innumerable skeletons. I ceased to flinch whenever I rounded a bend in a tunnel and was confronted by a skeletal figure with its arm raised in salutation. There was even something comforting about this world of the dead, because the absence of life betokened the absence of danger. All that is evil stems from the living; the dead are a peaceable bunch. (185)
"There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written, that's all." (237)
I was hoping that some of Moer's drawings would be online, and that I could illustrate this entry with them; however, I've found only images of his books and one image scanned from a book. His books are full of his drawings though very few of them are online.