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So - another March Break is over, and teachers and kids and principals and vice-principals are back at it. If you're a teacher, education worker, or administrator, or kid or parent, I hope you had the March Break you wanted.
Some of you, I know, travelled to warmer climes and relaxed beach side or pool side - recharging your batteries for the next three months of the school year. Some of you used my book to help you along. Thank you and you're welcome!
In my last blog post, I mentioned that I would be reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The City of Mist and I'd be offering up a review for you.
It's a short little book of eleven short stories at 162 pages. It was intended to be published after Zafon's death, so much of it was written by a Zafon who knew that he was dying, and wanted to tie up some loose strings created by the world of The Shadow of the Wind, the first (and best) in a series of books called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
It was a bittersweet read, in the way that any last book by a favourite author would be. The stories are uneven, some far too brief, and maybe, if Zafon had recovered from the cancer that killed him, would have been fleshed out into other novels that we'll never have the chance to read, which made reading them even more bittersweet. But "Rose of Fire" offers up an origin fable for the Cemetery of Forgotten Books itself, and it is wonderful, although suspension of disbelief is essential to its appreciation: a story of dragons and roses told by an inmate in prison to his fellow inmates. It's followed by "The Prince of Parnassus," which creates a myth about Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, and perhaps, the inventor of the novel. This myth connects Cervantes and his books to the characters and books of Zafon and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It, too, is a wonderful read - but - I almost hate writing this - in order to appreciate this story and, really, all the other stories in this little book, I think you have to have read The Shadow of the Wind, which will make you want to read The Angel's Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits, before picking it up.
If you're the first person to comment on this review, you live in Windsor, and you haven't read Shadow, I'm happy to loan it to you. In advance, "You're welcome."
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Your twitter feed and Facebook news feed are individual to you, I know, but if they're anything like mine you're often asked for book recommendations. "What's your favourite classic?" "What's your favourite book written this century?" That kind of thing.
People who know me, know that for most of my life, almost any book was the best gift you could get me. That's still true today. I love pretty much all books. But if I'm asked for an all time favourite, after a few seconds of hemming and hawing, the answer will almost always be, The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
First off, in spite of the fact that it is the best selling Spanish novel after Cervantes' Don Quixote, most English readers don't seem to have heard of it, so I get to introduce it to them (You're welcome). And secondly, it's just a remarkable novel that creates the character of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. You'll have to read the book to understand why this place is actually a character in this novel, and why it's such a compelling idea.
I'm going to be careful and not tell you anything about this book beyond that. Well, that and the fact that Zafon died a bit less than two years ago, and in spite of that, whenever I go into any book store, I walk to the "Z" section in fiction to see if they've got anything by him. I've bought at least ten copies of Shadow in used book stores, against the time someone visits and asks me to recommend a book. I have three right now on my shelves.
Today I went to Chapters Lakeshore, to drop off copies of my book to them, and instead of walking to the shelves, I went to one of their computer stations and typed in Zafon's name. Of course, Shadow was there, along with several other books, all of which I've read, but imagine my surprise when I saw The City of Mist. A book I'd never even heard of and the computer said there was a copy in that very store!
As I write this, I know no more about this book than this: It's a collection of short stories, it's by Zafon, and it was published after his death.
For the last week or so, I've been telling my Facebook friends and twitter followers that if they felt they needed a good book to read over the March Break, they could pick up Dave Garlick's The Principal Chronicles. And that is still true. But I've read that one. And I've read it more than twenty or thirty times over the last year or so. If you haven't read it, it's a good little book, a worthy 'in the cottage by the fireplace' read. Or 'by the beach' read. March Break was always a time for me to catch up on fun reading, no matter if I went away or stayed home. I think The Principal Chronicles, or TPC as my wife's taken to calling it, is excellent for that.
But this March Break, even though I no longer have to, or get to take a break from school, I get to curl up with The City of Mist.
I'll make you a deal. If you tell me, after this March Break, what you thought of TPC, I'll tell you what I thought of The City of Mist.
Have a nice March Break everyone!