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A ripping romp by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. What have you read that's worth sharing? Tell us!

A ripping romp by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. What have you read that’s worth sharing? Tell us!

This is a first-world problem, but here goes.

Moving to Ottawa put me a good distance away from my parents.

I try to visit them at least once a year. Depending on the stop-overs, that involves spending between 14-18 hours in airports and planes.

For my taste, that’s a excellent opportunity to polish off a good book. But first you have to find the right one(s) to bring along.

Of course, the modern traveler has this problem solved by way of an e-reader loaded to the gills. Someday that may be me. But I’m still old-school, and cheap. My modus operandi is to buy something off some “Friends of the Library” shelf.

Coming from frugal stock with environmentalist leanings, that’s my idea of win-win-win. An existing book is re-cycled. The money goes to the library. And when I’m done, I have no qualms about passing the book along to someone else (1st choice) or even tossing it out if a new home cannot be found.

I bought three trade paperbacks for my most recent trip. How’d that go? Well, I’d rate them as one stinker, one “meh” and a winner. The stinker stunk. It was some medieval who-dunnit that started out well enough to get put in my backpack. (I do skim them first!) But it petered out pretty quickly. I gave up and read the in-flight magazine. Then I went back and finished the sucker, because book #2 was out-of reach and #3 was in my checked bag. Note to self: pick better next time.

I dug out book #2 in time for the next leg of the journey: The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s been around, seemed to be well-regarded and was even made into a movie (2008). Obviously it holds appeal to some, but I spent the whole book (yes, the whole book) wondering when it was going to get good. The writing is OK, which is why I give it a “meh”. But I just never cared about the characters or found the cliché-laden plot all that compelling.

When I got to my destination I offered that book to my Mom. She said she’d already read it — and had not liked it. (Yes! Validated!) That one was sent off to my Mom’s local Friends of the Library shelf.

And what of book three? A winner! My return journey was broken into two stages so I had less time to consume it. In fact, I’m only half-done. I can’t wait to finish my weekend posts so I can see what happens next.

This would be The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This Spanish novel was first published in 2001 and became a translated best-seller in many countries. (More details here, but know that the article contains spoilers.)

It’s both beautifully-written and a page-turner, often described as gothic in plot and setting. Gothic has connotations that may be off-putting, but this book is plain old fun.

Here’s a blurb by no less than Stephen King:

If you thought the true gothic novel died with the nineteenth century, this will change your mind. [The Shadow of the Wind] is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots…This is one gorgeous read.

This reviewer also waxes rhapsodic:

The enthusiastic praise and adulation which critics have accorded the english publication of Carlo Ruiz Zafon’s first novel, “The Shadow of the Wind”, may trouble the reader who begins the book, worried that little might match his expectations. After all, reviewers who compare a writer’s work to a combination of Umberto Eco, or Jorge Luis Borges, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or other literary giants, compel the reader to expect to be transported when they open the book.
Not to worry.
Once started, the single downside for the reader will be knowing that the experience must end. The plot is quite complex, the jacket cover’s synopsis will give the reader all he needs to know. The important thing is to read it slowly and carefully.
A mystery story, a fairy tale, a love story (actually several love stories), a passion for literature, a treatise on politics, a bawdy tale, with love, hate, courage, intrigue, loss of innocence, humor, cowardice, villainy, cruelty, compassion, regret, murder, incest, redemption, and more. Add to this delicious mixture characters who come alive, and whose thoughts and feelings you will feel deeply.
What a great pleasure to discover; an extraordinary first work, one which towers over the endless and repetative volumes which inhabit today’s “Best Seller” lists. Read it, and become hypnotized.
Edward Jawer
Wyncote, Pa.

I only batted about .333 on my last plane trip. But I like the home run by Zafón.

If you want pointers for more winning reads, check out the suggestions already being complied for this coming Wednesday’s Winter Reading Book List call in. That’s happening live, Dec 17, 10-noon, with Ellen Rocco, John Ernst and Chris Robinson.

NCPR’s gang of usual suspects talk about what’s worth reading and why, with listeners sharing their own best suggestions. It’s a fun time that goes by fast. Don’t miss it if you can tune in.

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