Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Book Review: "The City of Dreaming Books"

What would happen if you put Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, and Nicholas Basbanes in a room and told them to write a book together? Something that resembled Walter Moers' The City of Dreaming Books (Overlook, 2007), perhaps. Moers' book is a mildly creepy, utterly bizarre trek through an alternate universe where books are a way of life (or, for at least one race of the strange beings, the source of life itself).

Our narrator, Optimus Yarnspinner (a dinosaur and aspiring author) travels to Bookholm (the city of books) to seek out the author of a manuscript in his possession. The descriptions of this city are enough to make any good bibliophile drool a little, but dark things lurk beneath the narrow and dangerous streets of Bookholm (and above them, too, as he finds out when mind-control music sends him and hundreds of others into the mad scrum known as "book rage") . Optimus soon finds himself the victim of the nefarious megalomaniac Pfistomel Smyke, who lures him into the endless catacombs beneath the city and maroons him there.

The remainder of the book is given over to Yarnspinner's long stay in the tunnels, where he encounters various dangerous critters, the one-eyed memorization machines known as Booklings (for whom reading is the only source of nourishment), his greatest hero, and a great many fascinating books (including a few sentient ones, some that kill, and a great many of immense value).

Filled with literary allusions, puns, footnotes, and all the devices that fans of books about books will love (plus some exquisite illustrations, also by Moers), it's also something of a biting satire toward all things literary: authors, publishers, booksellers, reviewers and others of their ilk all come in for a little bit of good-natured poking here and there.

While I thought there were a few plot holes, and a few of the characters didn't really do much for me, I enjoyed jumping this romp through Moers' universe. It's awfully nice to suspend belief for a while and descend into the catacombs of a good book.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

This looks like it would be a really fun read. I'll have to put it on my wish list - wouldn't want to run out of Christmas gift ideas, after all!