Inkheart

“What’s your favorite book?”

I always laugh at that question, don’t you? You can’t have a favorite book. Every book is different and wonderful in its own way. Most of us could choose twenty ‘favorite’ books very easily, usually without thinking too hard about it.

Well, I have a confession.

I do have a favorite book.

And I shamelessly tell every single person that asks just what they are missing if they haven’t read it. (Yes, I’ve been forcing myself to wait until I had a few others reviewed on this blog before I pulled this one up. It was hard. But I lasted a few weeks, didn’t I?)

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Inkheart.

How can I explain this book to you? It’s the book I pick up when I’ve overwhelmed and need an escape. It’s the book I read aloud when I need to remember how beautiful words can be. It’s the book I reach for when I need characters that understand me, that think the same way I do.

It’s the book I want to escape into, if I could choose just one to slip into.

I think, of all the books I’ve read, it holds this place in my heart because it is (very obviously) written by someone who loves words and stories as much as I do myself. Cornelia Funke, a German author who doesn’t get nearly enough attention, has captured in its pages exactly what it means to love books, to love stories, and to live in them.

Meggie Folchart is the center of this story, although the characters revolving around her are just as vivid and important to it as she is. A twelve year old girl with a father who has an extraordinary gift—the ability to bring the words on the page to life by reading them aloud. A beautiful—almost enchanting idea, until the reality of what that could mean really becomes clear. Suppose instead of bringing Winnie the Pooh or the Three Blind Mice out of your favorite story, you accidentally open the door for a villain to slip through instead. Who wants to find Professor Moriarty or Long John Silver with his wooden leg and ugly crutch in your bedroom, with no way to get rid of them or send them back where they belong?

And Mo, Meggie’s bookbinding father, finds himself opening the door to a whole slew of unpleasant characters, who quickly steal everything that he loves—including his daughter—away from him.

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Inkheart is an intensely fascinating story, but the love and passion the author put into writing it is what keeps me coming back for more. Her prose hints at mastery, something I wouldn’t accuse many authors of, since we are all apprentices in a craft that no one masters. This book is a treasure for anyone who values good writing, thrilling storylines, and characters who will stay with you long after you finish the last page and shut the book.

If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out on what should—and might be one day—considered a classic.

“The words offered up no riches, none of the treasure chests, pearls, and swords set with precious stones that Mo’s voice conjured up, shining and sparkling, until Capricorn’s men felt as if they could pluck them from the air. Something else slipped out of the pages, though, something breathing, a creature made of flesh and blood.”

Snow

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The storm is on the horizon when I wake up. Low, tumbled clouds loom over the forest, gray as soot in the wind. I go for water at the stream, same as every other morning, but it’s choked with ice, and the branches hanging over the water are furry with hoarfrost.

Winter is coming.

I’ve known it for a long time, watching the leaves stripped from the trees, the birds flying south, the grass drying up, turning red and orange and yellow. Blossoms dried to seed pods, opened and shed their treasures for the next year. The deer I watch over stay close to my cabin now. They know I’ll feed them during the ice storms, the snowy months. The king’s huntsmen are tasked to care for his game in the winter, to hunt down poachers, feed his animals during the starving months so that he can shoot them when the weather is warm. I hate the practice, but I love my forest, my herds. The deer come because they trust me, the squirrels and raccoons because I feed them.

I know winter, nearly as well as I know my forest, and I’m not afraid of it.

The deer hear me splitting wood. They come to the edge of the clearing, watching my little cabin, watching me. Their noses twitch, catching the scent of woodsmoke from my fire, and they know. I’ll be feeding them soon. After this storm, probably. The king sends his own corn for them. They don’t have to know why.

Story Keeper

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A bare bulb hangs from the ceiling. Dust ghosts around it, gold in the weak light it casts. The children are whimpering, although they all know better than to cry out loud. Not here. Not when we’re in so much danger.

My son is sitting in my lap. He’s barely four, but he knows to keep very quiet when we come to the Keeper’s house. He holds his breath, sometimes, then lets it out and whispers, “Is that quiet enough, mum?”

I have to smile.

The concrete floor is cold, and the chill seeps into my bones, my legs. I can’t feel my feet anymore. We have to sit cross-legged, otherwise there isn’t enough room for us. I think there is thirty people here tonight, although don’t dare look close enough to count. I don’t want to see their faces. If I don’t see their faces, I can’t give them away if the soldiers come for me.

We all do the same. It’s the only curtesy we can give each other in this bare little house.

The Keeper comes out, sits down on his stool in the front of the room. He’s a young man, much younger than even the father of my child, who doesn’t know I’m here. Keepers don’t grow old. They last a few years, a few stories, then the soldiers hang them over the gates, along with all those caught listening to them. It’s a horrible risk, coming here, especially with my child.

But I can’t help it. The story he tells, the things he says, they’re too important to miss. I don’t dare ignore them. They mean everything. To me, and to my child.

Witch

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She already knows it’s me when I knock on her door, even before she answers. Only I come here. No one else dares.

No one else is so stupid.

“This is the last time, I promise,” I tell her, already pleading, hoping she’ll let me in. She hasn’t, once or twice. Last time she threatened to bar her door.

But she only looks at me sadly, with her big, owlish eyes and her moony spectacles. “If I believed that, I wouldn’t be so worried about you,” she says at last. But she lets me in, and that’s all that matters. Her owl is perched on the back of her chair, and a mouse squeaks in her pocket, but I have gotten used to the oddities in her home. She’s a witch, the village people say, and they may not be far wrong. She’s odd enough to be a witch.

But I don’t care, because this witch’s cottage is the only place north of the sea that I can find books. The libraries in town have manuscripts of course, more than even she has, but they won’t let a woman pass their doors. They’d burn me first. So I come here.

Scrolls are scattered across her table, parchment and books stacked on the floor, on her chairs, on the desk in the corner. Her lamps are already glowing, as if she knew I was coming today, and she nods sadly at me when I give her a beseeching look. “Go ahead. But remember what you’re risking for those words, small one. It may come back to haunt you.”

But every word in this room is worth the risk I’m taking. I stopped caring about the punishments for reading a long time ago. The words are worth them.

The Book Thief

Time to be a little candid. We’re all readers here, right? We all love books, we all have stayed up much too late one night or another, because we only had a hundred pages left and we couldn’t just give up.

And I would hazard a guess that we all have that one book. The book that left us stunned and shell-shocked and completely destroyed. The book we cried over and loved and read again, and again, and again. The book we have no trouble going up to a stranger for and saying, “This book broke my heart and soul, please, go read it! It will change the way you think.”

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The Book Thief was that book for me.

To be perfectly honest, I did not want to read this book. I saw it many times at thrift stores, in book reviews, in Barnes and Noble, just about everywhere. And I shunned it. Who wants to read a book narrated by Death?

Right?

Wrong.

This book was incredible. The writing was unique and brilliantly thought out, the storyline was engaging and so interesting, and the characters were so vivid that it took my breath away. They were people. Real people. People you would meet in the supermarket, or on the bus, or in a crowded shopping mall. They were real, they were honest, and they broke my poor heart.

The story—narrated by Death, of course—follows Liesal Meminger. Or, the Book Thief. She is a foster child in Nazi Germany, the daughter of a Communist who was taken away by Der Führer. Little Liesal was left behind, and given to another family to raise. A more suitable family.

The Hubbermans.

Death encounters the Book Thief three times. And each time, he is distracted in his work by her. By her strength, her grief, her love. Her story captivated him, and it will captivate you just as strongly, I can promise you that. Her quest for books, her friendship with the boy next door, the secret hiding in her basement that she doesn’t dare share with anyone, for fear of being taken away like her mother, they all combine to create a story that is not like any other I have ever read.

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I still pick up The Book Thief every so often, just to read a few pages, to remind myself how much I loved this book. How real it was. How earth shattering. WWII was one of the most horrendous chapters in world history, and yet, The Book Thief reminds me that—although it isn’t a true story—there were people who were lights among the darkness. People who cared, people who loved. I think it’s always important to remember that, in any story.

Even ours.

***A LAST NOTE FROM YOUR NARRATOR***

I am haunted by humans.

Library

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They close the doors at nine, after the last reader has gone home. The librarian checks the locks and turns out the light, and leaves her desk lamp on. For the stories. They like to be able to see at night, when they come out to play.

She told me that. She tells all of us children the same stories about the books on her shelves, but none of the others believed her.

I do, though. I do, or I wouldn’t be hiding behind the shelves at the back of the library, tucked behind the dictionaries where she can’t see me. I hear her heels click on the floor as she checks the windows, the doors one last time, then the light flicks off and she’s gone.

And I’m still here. Locked inside with all the stories for the rest of the night.

At first it’s very quiet, so quiet that I can hear my own heartbeat, hear my own breath. Nothing happens, and I begin to fear that the others were right, that she was lying to us.

Then the first dragon slips from between the books, gliding across the room to settle on a reading desk. My breath jumps, my heartbeat rising. His scales are gold and green, his eyes fire and soot. A knight appears among the shelves, his armor battle-stained and dented. He takes off his helmet, leans his sword against the wall, and runs his fingers along the books. As if to wake the others still sleeping.

They come out one by one. Headless men, ghosts and ghouls, even a unicorn. A faerie settles on the desk next to me, blinking at me with sleepy eyes as if she thinks I don’t really belong here.

She’s wrong, of course. This is the only place I really do belong.

Owls

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They nest in the spruce trees above my house. I see them sometimes, when I come out for water or to chop wood. They’re as silent as ghosts, gray and still, watching me with huge eyes. They fly away if I stay out too long, but I don’t blame them.

I never liked company either.

Owls are solitary birds. I read that in a book somewhere. I don’t remember where. I’ve been a lot of places in my life. Most of them I didn’t like, but I like it here. I like my one room cabin, my table and chairs, my wood stove, the creek where I draw water. I like the canyons and trees around me, the mountain peaks, the fresh air. The road I can see for miles along. I always know when someone is coming. I’m always careful to watch. Just like the owls.

And I always have a place to run, just like the owls.

I like them too. And I understand them. They like their privacy, their own place. Their soft calls echo among the trees at night, and I’ll watch them go off hunting sometimes. They’re so quiet. As if they don’t want anyone to hear them, anyone to know where they are.

I understand that. These woods are perfect for hiding away, for being alone. That’s why I came here in the first place.

I’ve sometimes wondered who the owls were running from. When they came.