Strange the Dreamer

Strange the Dreamer is a beautifully written and well thought of book. Its narrative was brilliantly constructed such that I was able to empathise with the characters, both main and secondary, as the story progressed. And, this is the first time where I truly felt that there is no real villain in the story; rather, I see all the competing forces as a result of the past – as if all the characters are victims of monsters and horrors of the past. As tidbits of information slowly unfold in the narrative, actions and mentality of the characters felt more realistic and reasonable. There is so much pain in it (in various forms), it bounces off the pages.

But of course, there was hope. That hope is in the form of Lazlo Strange with the help of Sarai. Lazlo is such a lovable character. I am unsure what superlative to use but suffice to say he is now on my list of favorite male characters in any book I have read. The first few chapters were enough for me to relate to him.

Lazlo owned nothing, not one single thing, but from the first, the stories felt like his own hoard of gold.

He believed in magic, like a child, and in ghosts, like a peasant. His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.

He was like a caged bird waiting for his moment to fly.

These visions of freedom and plenty bewitched him. Certainly, they distracted from spiritual contemplation, but in the same way that the sight of a shooting star distracts from the ache of an empty belly. They marked his first consideration that there might be other ways of living than the one he knew. Better, sweeter ways.

Throughout the book, I could not really help but wish him well… and I was happy and inspired when he really took the initiative to be part of his dreams even if the odds or the situation were against him. The wisdom from his head Librarian spoke volumes and I am glad Lazlo was able to find the courage to really speak up when it mattered.

“Do you want to end your days a half-blind troglodyte hobbling through the bowels of the library?” the old man demanded. “Get out of doors, Strange. Breathe air, see things. A man should have squint lines from looking at the horizon, not just from reading in dim light.”

“Life won’t just happen to you, boy,” he said. “You have to happen to it. Remember: The spirit grows sluggish when you neglect the passions.”

I am trying my best to not include spoilers. So, to put it simply, Lazlo’s growth throughout the book, including the people he meets along the way – Sarai, Erik-Fane, Azareen, etc -, produced a very heartwarming story.

My favorite scene remains Lazlo and Sarai’s dreamworld sequence, which is best read to fully appreciate how beautifully written and magical it was.

Honestly, I am curious how the 2nd book would go. But as it is, this was an amazing read. The words were able to capture the emotions – pain, happiness, sadness, longing – and magic of the various moments and experiences. The setting was also something new, which was a good exercise for the imagination. I would gladly read this again.

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A Boy’s Life

A Boy’s Life is Cory Mackenson’s re-telling of his experiences as a 12-year old boy in Zephyr, his hometown. Zephyr is just like any ordinary town but made rich and magical by its eccentric set of residents and the powerful mind of a boy.

The story follows a murder mystery, a rarity in the quiet town, embellished with snippets of happenings around the town. The murder mystery in itself was a journey throughout, with lots of hidden clues and dead ends. It was also satisfactorily closed at the end of the book.

But, for me, the strength of this book lies on how it was able to discuss and cover a lot of heavy topics like bullying, bribery, death, depression, racial discrimination, animal rights, modernization (e.g., effects of supermarket in small towns), grief, etc. There was just a lot of meat in this book. Sometimes, I put it down just to give me time to digest and process its contents.

The book also draws a lot of power from Cory’s imagination as a boy, wherein admittedly the world is a lot different and contains just a bit of magic.

Personally, I feel like this book is one of the greatest books I have read. Admittedly, I did not know about it but was only intrigued as the cover said that it was a winner of the World Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker Award. After reading it, it deserved the accolades. Definitely a great read.

Thank you Robert McCammon for this wonderful gift to the world.

Favorite quotes:

On growing up –

“They may look grown-up,” she continued, “but it’s a disguise. It’s just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won’t let them. They’d like to shake off every chain the world’s put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They’d like to feel free, and know that there’s a momma and daddy at home who’ll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can’t be hurt.”

“All life isn’t hearts and flowers.” Dad put down his paper. “I wish it was, God knows I do. But life is just as much pain and mess as it is joy and order. Probably a lot more mess than order, too. I guess when you make yourself realize that, you” — he smiled faintly, with his sad eyes, and looked at me — “start growin’ up.”

Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. Hold on to being a boy as long as you can, because once you lose that magic, you’re always begging to find it again.”

On writing or being a storyteller –

THERE IS NOTHING MORE frightening or exciting than a blank piece of paper. Frightening because you’re on your own, leaving dark tracks across that snowy plain, and exciting because no one knows your destination but yourself, and even you can’t say exactly where you’ll end up.

“Seems to me a writer gets to hold a lot of keys,” she said. “Gets to visit a lot of worlds and live in a lot of skins. Seems to me a writer has a chance to live forever, if he’s good and if he’s lucky.

On moving on and finding peace –

“You know, no mistake in the world can’t be fixed. All it takes is wantin’ to fix it. Sometimes it’s hard, though. Sometimes it hurts to fix a mistake, but you have to do it no matter what.”

“I don’t think anybody gives you peace, Dad. I think you have to fight for it, whether you want to or not.

“Readin’. Writin’. Thinkin’. Those are the rungs on the ladder that lead up and out. Not whinin’ and takin’ and bein’ a mind-chained slave.

On death –

I remember hearing this somewhere: when an old man dies, a library burns down. xxx I wondered about this as I walked amid the graves. How many stories were here, buried and forgotten? How many old burned libraries, how many young ones that had been building their volumes year by year? And all those stories, lost.