House of Many Ways

Do you know what I love?

Books . . . about books.

More specifically, I love books about readers, because it isn’t hard for me to slip right into the pages and feel as though I am living the story myself. In addition, books about books almost always feature an amazing, incredible library. The sort of library every single one of us readers would like to own ourselves, complete with floor to ceiling shelving and old desks, dusty ink pots and lovely old manuscripts with crumbling pages.

Someday, I’ll have a library like that. And no one will ever see me again.

Ever.

But until then, I’ll have to be content with the little library in my bedroom and enjoy reading about fantastic, overblown libraries instead of owning one. One of my favorite books featuring this sort of library is House of Many Ways.

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House of Many Ways is the sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, a book I reviewed a few months ago. This series is one of my all time favorites, simply because of the whimsical, fairytale-like way it’s written, and the wonderful characters that have stayed with me from the moment I first picked the book up.

But House of Many Ways holds a special place in my heart, because this story is about Charmain, and Charmain is a reader.

Unfortunately for Charmain, she has grown up in a home where her reading is encouraged and everything else is—handled for her. Her mother spoils her and her father keeps out of the way and lets her mother raise her the way she likes. So when Charmain is asked to take care of her Great-Uncle William’s home while he is away, she finds herself in the decidedly uncomfortable position of having to learn to manage a very magical home on her own. Even in a magical home dishes won’t wash themselves, laundry piles up, and the plumbing doesn’t always work properly.

And so, Charmain is forced to pull her nose out of her books and learn to manage all sorts of problems, including a terrified little dog, a wizard’s apprentice who never seems to manage a spell properly, and a host of rioting little kobolds who are supposed to take care of the housekeeping and chores, but instead delight in snipping all the pink blossoms off the hydrangea bushes and magicking the water taps right out of the kitchen sink.

Several libraries make an appearance in this book. Charmain’s mother conveniently forgets to pack her any books, but her Great-Uncle William’s study has a great many books on wizardry and other things. Later on, Charmain is also invited, through a little finagling of her own, to come and help organize things in the Royal Library, which, to her pleasure and her housemate Peter’s disgust, gets her out of the many chores that seem to keep piling up in the house.

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But things in the Royal Library are mixed up and confused too, and Charmain finds herself—once quite literally—in hot water wherever she goes. Wizards and kindly witches pop up wherever she turns, and it isn’t long before her own attempts at magic yield some rather interesting results.

House of Many Ways holds to the wonderfully brilliant style of Howl’s Moving Castle. It is charming, simple, and all in all one of my favorite reads. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good fairytale or needs a book to make the world seem brighter. If you’ve read it, let me know! I would love to hear your thoughts.

She thought irritably that not one of the many books she had read had so much as mentioned washing dishes, let alone explained how you did it.

Strawberries

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I take her down to the strawberry patch the moment the sun peaks out of the clouds. It’s still drizzling, just a little bit, but her mother will be here in a few minutes, and she’ll cry all the way home if she doesn’t get a few of ‘Grandma’s strawberries’.

It’s her favorite part of these visits. And my favorite too.

The big patch takes up half my garden now. The leaves have spread out, runners and new plants extending the borders until I barely have room for my flowers anymore. But I don’t mind. The strawberries have always been my favorite anyway.

She runs down the rows, her little feet already muddy to her ankles. She leaves footprints in the muck, but I don’t mind. I like to see them when I come out here in the evenings to water. It reminds me that this old garden still has a use.

It’s getting harder to plant everything now, especially since Harold passed. He used to do all of the digging and heavy work. Now I hire a neighbor boy to do it, and manage the rest myself. My daughter tells me I should let it grow over, she says it’s too much work for one person, especially a woman my age, but I won’t do it.

I need the strawberries.

Kindi crouches down, searching under the leaves for the bright red treasures she likes so much. Her feet are muddy and her fingers are already red and sticky with juice. I’ll have to clean her up a bit before her mother comes for her. But I don’t mind.

She offers me one, but I shake my head. I don’t like strawberries, really. Not at all. They’re only here for her. So that she’ll always remember Grandma’s strawberries.

Follow My Leader

When I was younger, I almost never read a book just once. I had more time, less work, and less selection. So, I read my favorite books over and over again, and I enjoyed them the tenth time as much as I did the first.

One of the books that I read, almost to the point of wearing the cover right off the book, was Follow My Leader.

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Follow My Leader is the story of Jimmy, a teenage boy who was injured in an accident with a firecracker. The accident left him blind, and, to his way of thinking, helpless. For several months after the accident, he is reluctant to even try to learn to live with his frustrating new limits. Suddenly, everything he does is a battle, from eating to simply trying to walk across the room. Before the accident, he was a thriving student, a baseball player, and a popular kid on his block.

After it, he struggles to get out of bed.

That is, until he meets Leader, his German Shepherd guide dog.

As a child, this book opened my eyes to the struggles and frustrations of being blind, and to the amazing triumphs people without sight accomplish every day. The book’s author, James B. Garfield, also lost his sight as an adult. Jimmy’s experiences of adapting and overcoming his blindness mirror Garfield’s own, first in learning braille and in relearning how to feed and dress himself, then in bonding with his new guide dog. Leader gives Jimmy a new sense of freedom and independence, something he lost when the accident took his sight.

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The challenges that Jimmy works through—and ultimately overcomes—have a deep effect on his character, even to the point of his eventual reconciliation with the boy who caused his accident. This book was an incredibly moving story about overcoming obstacles and finding hope in a hopeless situation. The way Jimmy adapts to his new life—and thrives in it—inspired me so much when I was younger, and it continues to be one of my favorites today.

“When I met you at the bus you asked me if I had your dog,” Mr Weeks reminded him. “Now you’ve got it.”

Waiting

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It’s raining again. The roof is leaking, and I can hear the plink, plunk of water dripping into the bucket I left in the corner of the living room. This drafty old house has never had a roof that did its job. Even when I was little it leaked. The house was full then, and there were people in all the rooms, running down the stairs, working in the kitchen. I didn’t mind the leaks then.

Now I’m alone, the only one left, and the leaks are louder.

The ducks are enjoying all this rain. The fields are sodden, the grass spongy with puddles and little streams. I can hear them quaking from where I sit on the front windowsill. Their wings flap as they splash about, making a ruckus. It’s nice to hear something other than the leak in the roof, the incessant, drip, drip.

I don’t know why I stayed after everyone else left. Or why I kept the farm. I tell the people in town that I’m waiting for something, but I don’t remember what that is anymore.

The rain to stop.

The sun to come out.

This old house to fall down around me.

Something.

I’ve been waiting a long time. Years. I don’t know why I stay anymore, unless it’s to watch the rain, listen to the ducks in the barnyard, and hope someday, something will change. Someone will come to fix the roof, maybe.

Or it will fall in, and I’ll have to go somewhere else. That’s as likely as anything else.