Thursday, February 14, 2013

Books of Wonder

Certain books are very special to me, not only for the story they tell, but for the feelings they evoke within me. I love otherworldly stories that transport me from the here-and-now into a magical realm where anything is possible. I call them "Books of Wonder," and my rarefied list includes Ysabeau Wilce's Flora Segunda, Jane Langton's The Diamond in the Window, and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I read a lot of books, and I love a lot of books, but not many qualify as Books of Wonder. But I recently read one that definitely made my list--Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. It's fantastic, in every sense of the word--and due to the delightful but unwieldy title, I'll refer to it as The Girl for the rest of this post.

I met Valente years ago at Readercon; she's a smart and articulate speaker. The origins of The Girl fascinate me. Valente first referred to it in an earlier novel called Palimpsest, in which a character mentions having read The Girl as a child. Valente then went on to serialize and crowd-fund The Girl online. It won the Nebula/Andre Norton award in 2009 and was published traditionally by Feiwel & Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) in 2011. 

I've known about this book for quite awhile, but just hadn't gotten around to reading it. I was a little afraid; I'd heard such great things about it, and I liked the author as a person. I didn't want to be disappointed! Far from it, it turns out. The Girl exceeded my expectations in every way. I am thrilled at the sequel, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, has already come out; Valente plans a five-book series, and I'll happily read more of the adventures of her intrepid heroine, September.

My husband and I have a book group with two of our teenagers (our oldest is away at college). Every month, one of us chooses a book and writes out discussion questions about it. The four of us read it and then discuss it over lunch on the last Saturday of the month. This month, it's my turn, and I've chosen The Girl. I can't wait to talk about it with my family!

What about you? Do you have a "Books of Wonder" list?


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  2. A fantastic book of wonder is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende(translated from the German). People always think of the 80s movie, which is now a great piece of nostalgia, but the novel is so much more. There is so much more story, far beyond what the movie shows, and so much more depth and richness and meaning.

    1. I love The Neverending Story! The Girl actually reminded me of it quite a bit.

  3. I really enjoyed reading The Girl...
    I am currently reading The Diamond in the Window with my nine year old in an effort to get him more interested in reading. I think it's working!

  4. Happened to start The Girl yesterday! At the insistence of The Girl who lives in my house. It really feels like reading a new episode of Alice in Wonderland.

    The Books of Wonder that come to mind at the moment are Scott Westerfeld's _Leviathan_ series. Alt-history steampunk WWI in which genetic engineering has reached extremely interesting heights. Favorite supporting character: the perspicacious loris.

  5. Wow---I'll have to check it out!! Thanks.