Sunday, August 11, 2013

Perfect book for the perfect place

While off on our canoe camping trip to Georgian Bay in July, I had the perfect book to read.  This has not always been the situation: I have problems in my hum drum daily life when I don't have a worthy book and, even worse, get very anxious about running out of reading material entirely while on a trip. In particular the memory of a camping trip to Isle Royale where I was an 8 hour boat ride away from the main land and any reading material replenishment opportunities haunts me. I read and re-read everything I had with me, including an insipid children's book that I brought for my kids.  When I don't have a story to occupy my mind, even when I'm not actively reading, it's like I can't track where I'm going, like I'm out of balance and even things that have nothing to do with reading are harder to do without the undercurrent of an in-progress story to keep some part of my mind going.

One move I made was to buy a Nook. I'm a big fan of paper and don't really enjoy the feel of reading on the screen, but I do like the security of having a whole lot of books at my fingertips when I am away from home (and all my New Yorker issues are uploaded to it automatically so even after I've recycled them or passed them on to my dad, I still have access!) I went for a basic black and white screen, not one of the color ereaders because battery longevity is a primary concern for me. When you are camping out on an island, hours away from the nearest electrical source, you want that battery to last as long as possible.

I am not the ideal ebook customer because I am a tightwad and what with how much I read, if I had to purchase each book I'd be broke. I am a BIG library supporter so the other clincher in the decision to buy an ereader was that the library now has a way for you to borrow ebooks. The website is tedious to navigate and their classification of lots of trashy romance under "literature" makes searching for titles an exercise in practicing calming breaths, but there are some decent titles buried in there that are available to borrow for 2 or 3 week periods of time, including some books that my kids want to read. My daughter has inherited my book-dependence and gets pretty crabby if she doesn't have something good to read so this ensures a basic level of happiness for her on camping trips, too. The only problem comes when we both want to use the Nook at the same time.

I did make an exception to my tightwad principles to buy the ebook version of Neil Gaiman's latest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Barnes and Noble had a special which made it half off, which helped with the decision, but the book was so good that paying full price for it would be fine.  I'm not a rabid Gaiman fan--I didn't really like American Gods and I'm not a big fan of the Sandman graphic novels that brought him a lot of his early fame and while plenty of people love the tv show Dr Who and his contributions to it, it just hasn't clicked for me. I enjoyed his novel Neverwhere, but it didn't capture me as much as his last two books. It may have something to do with the age of the main character's in both Ocean  and The Graveyard Book. The perspective of a child is a natural fit for books where the prose is elegantly simple while the story is fantastical. I love this combination. Florid prose would detract from the story content and but the "clean" style that Gaiman uses in these stories makes wacky ideas (like a vampire guardian for Nob, or a hole in a boy's foot serving as a doorway to another world) seem completely plausible and even natural. There's a bare minimum of "explaining" any of these things--they just are. And that lends the stories a sense of wistfulness and it feels as though I am remembering something like this from my past, a time when reality was less solid and the world contained more possibilities.

This was the book that I had when we were out on Big McCoy island, a 6 hour paddle from the mainland, a quiet and beautiful place where this book was the perfect companion. I read it once and then, despite all the archived copies of the New Yorker available to me, I went back and read it again. It's magical when book and place line up so well and I'm pretty sure that when I think back on this camping trip, among the islands and water and swimming, I'll remember this story, too.

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