Remembering Ray Bradbury

I grew up in a family of readers. Usually it was every person for themselves. When we arrived in a bookstore it was like an explosion, each of us flying off towards the section we like best. Once and a while though, my dad would hand me a book he thought I should read. Maybe I’d enjoy this, he’d say. I began reading Bradbury in 6th grade.

I had soon worked my way through his books, reading some of them a few times over, when we took our yearly outing to the LA Festival of Books. Bradbury often came to sign books and say hello to his fans. His line was long and slow, but worth it. He would talk to people as he signed, take pictures with them, make jokes, ask them how their day was. He wasn’t an author who would just sign a book and move you along. He was friendly, he was a real person.

Ray Bradbury was the first author whose books I had read and then sought out to meet in person. I remember being terrified. To this day, I still have no idea what I said or what he said. I just remember him being incredibly nice, talking with me and laughing. He signed all the books we had with us and waved us on our way. As we walked away I looked back at the table and smiled, seeing a group of people surround him for a photo, where he jokingly posed looking surprised by the sudden mass of fans around him.

As we stuffed our signed books into our bags, my dad cheerfully said that Bradbury’s signed books would never be worth much because he did so many signings every year for his readers. And I’ve always thought that’s how it should be.

A book’s worth isn’t measured by the money you can sell it for. A book’s worth is measured by how it changed you. The memories you made while reading it. The parts of you that grew because of it. The friends you bonded with over your shared love of that quote from your favorite passage. Those few fleeting moments you had with the author when you stood in line for hours just to say hello.

I think Bradbury knew that, or maybe he just loved signing books, but either way, I’ll never stop being thankful. Thankful for his books and for his friendliness to a speechless 13-year-old girl, meeting an author she loves for the very first time.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

  “Continue your quest by taking the test. Yes, but what test? What test was I supposed to take? The Kobayashi Maru? The Pepsi Challenge? Could the clue have been any more vague?

Ready Player One is an 80s geek child’s dream book. If you love Atari, pop culture, 80s movies and music, then you will love the hours of geeking out this book provides. The story opens in the not so distant future where global warming has increased exponentially and the recession has deepened into a depression, making it a bleak and poverty ridden place to exist. Thankfully, there is an alternative, a Virtual Reality world called OASIS created by a very talented game designer named James Halliday. OASIS provides a whole universe where education is free, entertainment abounds, thousands of worlds exist for gamers to explore, quests to beat and even the ability to build and live in homes there. Everyone on earth buys a pair of gloves, a visor and plugs in to this virtual world to ignore the decay and destruction of earth. Halliday, already rich, becomes the richest man on the planet. When Halliday dies, he leaves behind no heirs, so he makes a video which introduces a grand game. The game starts with a riddle, which leads to the first of three keys. Each key will open gates that have challenges the searcher must beat. The entire quest ends in finding an egg which gives the winner Halliday’s entire fortune and control of OASIS.

Since Halliday was an 80s teen and a gamer, all the challenges have to do with 80s music, video games, pop culture or gaming. The world becomes obsessed with that decade and an 80s revival occurs as everyone studies up to find the first key. Years pass, no one find anything, the hunt dies down except for the hardcore egg hunters, ‘gunters’ for short. Here is where our hero comes into the picture. A young man in high school, exceptionally smart (and geeky) living in a trailer park with his abusive aunt in one of the many slums on earth. He has been studying and searching for the first key for five years with the rest of the world, but then, suddenly, he actually finds it. And now, the adventure begins.

I admit, as a 80s baby I have always loved the 80s. It is my belief that all us 80s children miss the 80s and everyone who wasn’t born in the 80s, just wishes they were. The fashionable socks, the ridiculous hair styles, the jammin’ tunes and most of all.. the awesome movie montages. Growing up with The Goblin King, Ferris Buller, Claire Standish, Marty McFly, Peter Venkman, Atreyu, The Three Amigos, Tootsie, The Terminator, E.T., The Dread Pirate Roberts, Indiana Jones, Officer John McClane and so many more made me a hardcore lover of all things 80s. As I got older, my love of 80s movies morphed into an all compassing love of the decade to include original Atari games and 80s jams. My little sister still gives me weird looks when Tears for Fears blasts out of my iPod, but then, she was born in 1987 and never embraced that decade as I felt she rightfully should.

This book, for me, was page after page of just plain fun. Who doesn’t want to experience a world where you can buy and restore a DeLorean? Model your home after those in the classic 80s tv shows? Experience your favorite Atari games from inside the game itself?

Not only is this book brain candy for anyone who is a geek, but the story itself is fast paced and engaging. I was fully invested in the characters, the game, OASIS and every moment of every plot twist. Regardless of whether you are an 80s fanatic wearing high tops, a trench coat and holding your boom box outside of your girlfriends room to play ‘In Your Eyes’, or just someone who loves books, you’ll thoroughly enjoy this adventure.

But I do recommend wearing high tops anyway, they’re just so darn stylish.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of cold. The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of somewhere warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.”

The Night Circus is, in a word, enchanting. I started this book over coffee yesterday morning and throughout my day whenever I had an appointment or a chore, all I could think was “When do I get to go back to reading The Night Circus?”

Le Cirque des Reves is a black and white circus that appears suddenly and leaves just as silently. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. It is filled with circular paths that lead to circular tents, each of which invite you to see an astounding environment, performer or experience. There is the ice garden, a whole crystalline world made of sculpted frozen water, from the petals of the roses to the benches at the fountain. There are the acrobats who twirl and twist in ways no human thought possible, the statues which are real people moving so slowly you can’t actually see it, the fire eaters and the fortune teller. The tents are filled with memories, mazes, magic and dreams. All of which are constantly growing, changing and new tents full of new marvels are always appearing.

The Night Circus could not exist without two people who are central to its life and this story. Celia, the Illusionist, uses her real magical abilities to put on a show as one of the acts in the circus. Marco, the proprietor’s assistant, is another magician who manipulates aspects of the circus from the outside world. Celia and Marco both grew up with rivaling teachers, they learned their magic in different ways, through pain and heartbreak for one, through books and loneliness for the other. Their whole lives they were being prepared to compete with each other in a chosen venue to prove which method was stronger. What we learn quickly is that this chosen venue is The Night Circus and though its entire existence is beautiful and wondrous, it is also a very serious and dangerous game.

What stands out in this book is not so much the characters or the plot, though both are quite engaging, but the circus itself. I could not help but wish with every tent that was visited, every amazing new aspect of this world unveiled, that there would always be more. It is completely mesmerizing.

Everything from the food “Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most delicious cider Bailey had ever tasted.

To each new act we encounter “But the figure on this platform does not move. Bailey almost thinks it is a statue, dressed in a white gown edged in matching fur that cascades beyond the platform to the ground. Her hair and skin, even her eyelashes, are an icy white. But she moves. Very, very slowly. So slowly Bailey cannot pinpoint exact motions, only slight changes. Soft flakes of iridescent snow float to the ground, falling from her like leaves from a tree.

It would be hard to explain this book further, as there are multiple storylines that twist and turn around Marco and Celia, much like the black and white paths around the tents they create. The characters that inhabit their world each add something different, whether it be sadness, magnificence or comfort as soothing as hot chocolate on a dark rainy night.

As I turned the last page of this book, I was delighted and then suddenly, overwhelmed by a deep feeling of melancholy. I realized that though I can visit Le Cirque des Reves in the pages of this book for years to come, I will never actually get to see the mysteries of The Night Circus. And for that, I will always feel a profound regret that such wondrous place doesn’t actually exist.

Top Ten Underrated Books

Top Ten Tuesday was created and is hosted by The Broke And The Bookish. This week’s topic is Top Ten Underrated Books

I’m not sure how underrated these books are in the book community, maybe you’ve all read them and love them. But I feel like I often get the question of “what? who?” when I talk about them. So here goes, my list of possibly underrated books that I’d like others to read so they can exclaim with me over their amazingness.

1.   Sleeping in Flame by Jonathan Carroll

Or really anything he has written. I remember loving these books when I read them and being unable to put them down. Disturbing, beautiful, haunting, twisted. They were always unexpected.

2.   Anything by Barabara Kingsolver that ISN’T The Poisonwood Bible 

So maybe I’ll talk a little bit about overrated books too? I didn’t enjoy The Poisonwood Bible. Not sure why, I just couldn’t get into it. But I did love (love love love!) all her other books. So, I usually try to get people to branch out into her other novels. I swear, they are completely worth it.

3.   Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Anyone who goes to read Murakami always seems to leap for his The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which again, was not my favorite. I’ve read most of Murakami’s books and loved them. Out of all his books, this one has really stuck with me. Maybe because it was my first Murakami, maybe not. Either way, I wish more people had read this one too.

4.   Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

This is an awesome book with amazing reviews. Somehow though, most people I’ve talked too have never heard of it. So here I am doing my part, read this book! Whether you love to run or not, if you love to read, I think you’ll enjoy it.

5.    Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen

When I began to read this book I didn’t have any idea what the Iditarod was or that it even existed. Once I read this book, I knew it would stick with me for the rest of my life. The Iditarod is the world’s largest sled race in Alaska. People endure days of racing over dangerous mountains and valleys, extreme cold, lack of food, frostbite, injuries and sometimes even death to run this race. Paulsen gives his first hand account of training and running it for the first time. He is funny, intelligent and engaging. I loved this book.

6.   84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I know I’ve put this book on lists before but I’m going to say it again. If you are a book lover, you must read this book. You will cherish it.

7.   The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett

An adorable little novella about the Queen of England discovering a love for reading and putting off running the country to read books.

8.   Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

Everyone has read (or heard of) The Five People You’ve Met in Heaven. Well let me gesture wildly as I point out, Albom has other books! This is yet another I-enjoyed-this-book-more-than-the-one-he-is-famous-for book. Have a Little Faith is a smart, touching and well written book. I am not religious in the least and I enjoyed this book immensely. Its all about love, understanding and respecting the belief’s of others.

9.   The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery   

This book is about a concierge in a building in Paris. Though she may come off as cranky and uneducated when interacting with the rich people in her building, secretly she is sophisticated, intelligent and lovely. She begins to interact with a new tenant and show her true self through his kindness and kinship.

10.   Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon from the Cave, Too Far from the Stars by Ray Bradbury

So you’ve read his famous novels, but have you read this collection of personal essays? If you haven’t, you must! Bradbury fans will enjoy this intimate peek into Bradbury’s life and thoughts. I really loved learning more about one of my favorite authors.