The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

 

An impulse buy that took me completely by surprise, Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books has kind of crashed into the top levels of my favourite books ever and left me blinking, dazed and astonished, in its wake.

Moers is a German author predominantly of childrens’ books whose works are only relatively recently being translated. His main trope is a fantasy world called Zamonia which is populated by a near-infinite variety of weird and wonderful lifeforms and is a world of endless, well, weirdness.

Quoting from Amazon.com via Publisher’s Weekly here, the plot in a very strained nutshell:

German author and cartoonist Moers returns to the mythical lost continent of Zamonia in his uproarious third fantasy adventure to be translated into English (after 2006’s Rumo), a delightfully imaginative mélange of Shel Silverstein zaniness and oddball anthropomorphism à la Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Optimus Yarnspinner, a young saurian novelist, embarks on a quest to track down the anonymous author of the most magnificent piece of writing in the whole of Zamonian literature. Traveling to Bookholm, the legendary City of Dreaming Books, the naïve Yarnspinner falls victim to Pfistomel Smyke, a maggotlike literary scholar who poisons Yarnspinner and abandons him in the treacherous catacombs miles below the city’s surface. Stranded in an underworld steeped in terror-inducing myth and home to more than a few bizarre inhabitants, Yarnspinner undertakes a long and perilous journey back to the world above. Enchanting illustrations by the author compliment a wonderfully whimsical story that will appeal to readers of all ages. (Sept.)
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This is really only scratching the surface. What this book is, is a love letter to literature and books in general, and anyone who loves books, reading, dusty old tomes, libraries and bookshops (hmmm: me) will be transported upon delving in. Amidst these pages you will find cities and buildings composed entirely of books, Booklings that spend their lives memorising the works of authors and speaking only via their words, living books, poisonous and killer books, monstrously armoured BookHunters, Rube Goldbergian steampunk book machines… it goes on and on and on, with every page a mad new idea. Profusely illustrated, too, which is very useful given some of the wildly bizarre denizens Moers has thought up to people his incredible world.

Although it’s technically childrens’ literature, anyone can read it. There are some elements that are quite violent, à la the Brothers Grimm, and it’s a doorstopper of a book (which was marvellous, because I didn’t want to leave the world). Conceptually and linguistically (aside: the translation seems brilliant), there are some elements that small children wouldn’t follow either — which just means more for the rest of us. Do not ignore Bookholm because you might think it’s just for kids: it is so, so not.

Loved it so much I gave away my first paperback copy to another booklover and tracked down a hardback for myself. This is the sort of book that deserves to be a dusty, much-loved old book on an ancient wooden shelf — in the nicest possible way.

Can’t recommend this one enough, and the moment I laid my ink-smudged fingers on it and cracked the first chapter, I immediately began BookHunting the rest of Moers’ translated ouevre — which arrived yesterday. 😀  (Can’t wait… and you shouldn’t either)

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I’m in childrens’ books territory at the moment, and loving it.

Philip Reeve’s Larklight — and its sequels Starcross and Mothstorm — are a chaotic and wonderful mishmash of genre that collectively add up to wonderful entertainment. Part steampunk, part boys-own-adventure, part science-fiction/fantasy and part-WTF, this is the story of 12-year-old Art Mumby and his very strange family, who live in the floating Victoriana-goth household of Larklight which, thanks to its aether engines and some unusual, ancient enhancements, floats serenely through the asteroid belt (where Art’s father, a distinguished Victorian gentleman, is endlessly cataloguing asteroid ‘fish’ for his mindnumbingly dull treatises for the Royal Xenological Institute).

It’s all set in a retro-future solar system wherein, as per the best tenets of steampunk, the British Empire never decayed but flourished and conquered the stars by means of brass engines, clockwork, steam power and Good Old British Pluck (Huzzah!). In this brilliantly realised world, aliens and humans alike wear top hats and conform to strict British etiquette, Queen Victoria never died, monstrous bowler-hatted carnivorous intelligent spiders inhabit the rings of Saturn, you can talk to the sentient storm of Jupiter, wooden sailing ships sail the (thinly breathable) heavens on winged engines whilst the asteroids are linked by railway lines and dastardly plots hatch and abound everywhere.

Almost every page is richly illustrated by Reeve’s collaborator David Wyatt in a rich, luscious Victorian style, rendering such gems as the Pudding Worm, battleship-sized interstellar moths (obvious enemies of the gnome-like Threls, whose civilization is currently engaged in the Brobdingnagian task of knitting a tea cosy to cover their entire world), translucent and highly carnivorous sun dogs and rampaging glass buildings to perfection, greatly enhancing the astonishing mental feats that the author constantly bombards us with. There’s a new and splendid idea on every page (yep, the Britishisms are catching [huzzah!]) and the adventure is both endless and often hilarious.

I love these to death, and am both saddened by the fact that it is obviously a trilogy (with a little scope for continuation) and heartened by its perfection as such. Buy the hardcovers if you can: they’re beautiful little books with glorious endpapers in the Victorian style, full of advertisements for patent zero gravity moustache waxes, brass exoskeleta (for those intrepid explorers) and suchlike.  But whichever version you get, I guarantee you’ll fall in love… or you’ve got brass cogs for a heart and a Moob for a brain. 🙂