1 Jun

Books to Live In

Total immersion and fascination with a fictional world is phenomenon that is one of fiction’s greatest gifts. The pace of the plot and the depth of description just gives you so much more to build on than what movies are able to present to you in two hours. In addition, you don’t have the bias of the actor’s or director’s interpretation, allowing you to build your own world from scratch. I love that the Hogwarts that I imagined looks completely different than anyone else’s version. Reading a book can be like building with Legos. You are handed the pieces, but you have to build it yourself. These are all books where the worlds just beg to be built and reveled in; The kind of books that curl up in your dreams, and you can’t wait to get back into in the morning.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Ok well to begin, we’re in Paris, so I don’t really feel like I have to sell you on that. Unless you are soulless, in which case this world isn’t for you.  Not only are we in Paris, but we live in the train station and attend to the many clocks (we are orphaned and that is sad but let’s move on). There is a bookseller and a baker, and as far as I’m concerned that spells dreamworld. The bookstore smells of “old paper, dust, and cinnamon”, um yes please. I love the idea of living in a world behind a world; a world of ladders and stairs and perches and places to sit and look down upon the world without the world knowing, but having the option of going into that world when you need to, by way of tunnels and corridors only you know how to access. Secret spots are THE BEST.

Very Fond of Food by Sophie Dahl

Lets just start with a quote from the book, shall we? “The summer has sloped into its routine and everyone has, by then, either found their feet, or lost their shoes. It is a time for brief, heady love. If you’re a teenager, perhaps with a person whose language escapes you, but whose eyes say it all. If you are older, but maybe not wiser, its a place, a meal, a time, which swoops you up and makes you giddy, cradling you in the transient cup of infatuation. Everything feels possible in the summer.” Dude. Yeah, this is a cookbook. Besides for this being the exact way I feel about summer, this cookbook is filled with a million gorgeous recipes and photos. And lots of other sexy prose, which is just what you would expect from Roald Dahl’s granddaughter. (Insert fangirl squeal here)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

This is one of the most beloved sci-fi books of all time. There is even a holiday, Towel Day, on May 25th to celebrate how awesome this book is. I would love to travel around the galaxy with just my towel and my guidebook. Here’s the thing about the galaxy: It is very big and it has lots of stuff in it. Reading this book makes you think about how small the Earth is, and how it doesn’t really have very much stuff in it. It certainly doesn’t have Babel Fish, Vogon poetry, or Infinite-Probability drives. This book makes you feel like you are missing out on so much by being stuck here on Earth, and Earth is not such a good place to be in this book. It tends to get entirely blown up in the first 30 pages, which is fine because the galaxy is very big and it has lots of stuff in it.

The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett

This book is special to me. Every time I garden, which is pretty often(!), I think of Mary, and the magic and mystery that shaped her life. So many things I adore, can be traced back to here, gardening (natch), love of English culture, love of woodland creatures (squirrels not included. Any gardener would say the same), believing in happy endings, and the power of friendship to shape lives in a positive way. I stole this next line from an editorial review, but to me it says it all.  “For anyone who has ever felt afraid to live and love, The Secret Garden’s portrayal of reawakening spirits will thrill and rejuvenate.”

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman has called this The Jungle Book in a graveyard, and its a pretty good comparison. This is the story of Nobody Owens, a boy who was raised by the residents of a graveyard. He has adventures with vampires, werewolves, hanged witches, ancient pagan demons, and all sorts of ghosts and ghouls. He develops the powers of the graveyard, like haunting, dreamwalking, and turning invisible. The ghosts of this graveyard don’t want to scare you, or spook you, or give you “the willies”, they just want to be left alone to tend to their frontages and gossip. It’s pretty much the cutest, coziest graveyard of all time and I want to live there so badly that I spend all my time hanging out in the middle of the road and at smallpox laboratories.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

A fleet of ships made of salt water during a naval battle fools one side into thinking they are outnumbered and the battle is won. Statues inside a cathedral come alive to tell the tales of what they’ve seen. Roads that lead in and out of mirrors, kingdoms that appear and disappear with the flip of the tongue. This is magic that wins wars; England’s army has its own magician, and I WANT TO BE HIS FRIEND. Mr. Norrell and his protege Jonathan Strange spend hours upon delicious cozy hours in Mr. Norrell’s endless library where they do research by candlelight on the history of magic and discuss how to bring magic back to England. I loved the place that this book took me; I would slip into a different history rich with unbelievable detail and full of mysterious prophecies so deeply that I sometimes had to remind myself that it wasn’t actual history. Clarke has created a world where magic really seems possible, practical, and scholarly, but of course this landscape becomes complicated by the existence of the eerie land of Fairie, a place not meant for humans.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Everybody wants to receive a letter on their 11th birthday that tells them they are a witch or a wizard and they are going to Hogwarts. If that isn’t your life’s ambition then I pity you. These books are well-suited to re-reading, not only because the story is too good to read just once, but details you passed over the first time became more important as the entire series was released. It is the details that bring this book to life, like the descriptions of the shops in Diagon Alley, the paintings on the walls of Hogwarts, or the many hilarious, semi-useful spells they learn. Chamber of Secrets is so good because Harry is still bewildered by the world or wizards and witches, and all these details stand out so much more when they are new, both for the characters and the reader.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Ok. Picture this. Metaphors and turns of phrase come to life in the land beyond the tollbooth; you’ve got the Island of Conclusions and to get there you jump, but that’s if you can get beyond Expectations. If you make it to Dictionopolis you can go to the Word Market where you can buy fresh picked ifs, and or buts, or you could nibble on the letter A which is “quite sweet and delicious” as opposed to the “dry and sawdusty” Z, or try a crispy, crunchy C! Ok. Let’s get serious. Chapter 10: A Colorful Symphony. Sit and watch thousands of musicians conduct the sunset in silence, watch the color fade as the orchestra grows quieter and quieter until it’s night. Then visit Digitopolis where the Mathemagician mines and polishes numbers, using broken ones for fractions. This world is so playful and there is a surprise around every corner, you just have to realize you’re already in it!

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