I am going to be upfront and straightforward in stating what might not have already been inferred by the title of this particular work: I am about to review a children’s book, the kind with big pictures and short, simple sentences. This might seem an odd choice for someone like me, who would supposedly tend to prefer wordier and weightier fare, but I am absolutely in love with this book and utterly compelled to share my wonderful discovery of it with those whose eyes will happen to fall upon this page.
I owe this extremely pleasant bit of happenstance to my local Barnes & Noble, which invited (as I now know) local author/illustrator Bob Logan to read and sign The Sea of Bath. In anticipation of this event, they had a few copies propped around the store with placards announcing its details. The cover illustration of a sea captain aboard a small sail boat immediately caught my eye, and I had to pick up a copy to investigate further.
The book’s short but fanciful plot involves the captain of the S.S. Rubb A. Dubb venturing through the strange waters of a child’s bathtub. However, our hero is unaware of the true nature of his bizarre ocean, and perhaps always will be. Yet, this does not deter his journey one bit as he marvels at the weird creatures he encounters.
I tumbled madly into love with this book as I turned its thick pages. Logan’s artwork is alluring in its simple beauty and positively eye-catching from cover to stern, and the story was one pulled straight from my childhood. Having a lifelong obsession with the sea from a young age inevitably led to many bathtub adventures involving stormy waters and brave captains with strong ships and stronger wills. And here, through Logan’s work, I saw those same grand stories come back to life, rushing and bubbling up from deepest memory, a creature from the truest core of my heart, wrapping its tentacles once more around my imagination.
This is the book I want to read to my future children, to their children, and to their children. I want to buy another copy and read it to my beautiful niece and bouncy nephew, to give them even just a little bit of that sense of wonder which captivated me as a young boy.
Perhaps this seems a bit much praise for a children’s book, but Logan has struck a harmonious chord in me by putting forth into the world a simple work that speaks to that growing seed in a child’s mind that there are grand and exciting and endless adventures that await us, even if those journeys begin (for the moment, anyway) only in our bathtubs and imaginations. The Sea of Bath is the grain of sand around which the pearl of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea forms. Our paths all begin somewhere. And, thanks to Bob Logan, our children have a wonderful place to start.
It was a great disappointment that I was not able to make the reading/signing event whose promotions brought this book into my life, but Logan graciously left a few copies behind, the title pages signed and scrawled with doodles. I purchased one of these, and I shall cherish it always. I do hope that the future holds a day where I might get to meet the man behind the work, but for now I will have to settle for the beautiful footprint he has left behind. I look forward to the next footprint, and the one after that, and so on, down a path that will surely be a joy to follow.
It has been some time since I’ve read a book and been compelled to formalize my thoughts on it in the form of a review. Renda Dodge‘s Inked arrived at my doorstep a few months ago and waited patiently in the reading queue stacked on my bedside table. Slowly, it rose to the top, unassuming and quiet. When its time finally came, I held few expectations or assumptions, save what was printed on the novel’s back cover:
Tori Liddell has struggled through her twenties suffering from undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder. She documents her radical lifestyle changes and shifting identity through the colorful tattoos covering her body. After years spent disconnecting from family and widening the rift created by her absence, Tori returns to small-town Oregon to help facilitate the care of her mother, recently diagnosed with AIDS. At her homecoming, she faces her own mortality, the inevitable loss of her mother and the interests of an enigmatic neighbor. Tori also confronts the realization that things and people are not always the way she remembers as she searches for the meaning of home in the rubble of her past.
Inked is a window into the life of a woman trying to overcome herself, her choices and a psychological affliction etched under her skin.
This, retrospectively, defined the book’s basic parameters well, but did little to truly prepare me for what I was about to endure: a mind-screw. I don’t mean this in the sense of some magical or shocking plot-twist but rather in terms of my own mental journey. Not since Brave New World have I come away from a novel so unsure of myself, so full of self-questioning. This is not a bad thing.
Dodge has done an amazing job of grafting her character’s narrative onto my brain in some form of reverse literary bio-feedback. I, on the surface, share very little in common with this tattooed protagonist, and yet I continually found myself in familiar spaces inside her head. These situations may be different from those I have experienced, but each mapped to the appropriate place, keeping me inside of the story.
Tori’s perception of past and present is chief among Inked‘s poignant life observations and the most widely-relatable aspect of the novel. Through this, Dodge expertly weaves a tale of mental distortion, of fuzzy edges and false assumptions. Just as Brave New World befuddled my sense of morality in regards to the function of society, Inked has brought into question my own believed control over the world that has passed by me and through the filters whose accuracy I have never before scrutinized.
Although dealing largely with personal realities and perception, this is not Fight Club. You will find no imaginary alter egos in Inked‘s pages, but rather another version of yourself, seen through a secret window in the back of a woman’s mind. You will find your own perceptions challenged through her eyes and through her trials, coming back changed by the process.
Dodge has crafted something truly incredible by her pen, and I’m going to have this story on my brain for some time to come. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book, and that you keep an eye toward its author’s future. I think we are going to see much, much more wonderful work from her.
As I wrote before, yesterday I finished the revised draft of my book Of Sirens and Sand and sent it off to author Marcus Alexander Hart. While a small handful of individuals have read early versions of the stories in various orders, he was the first to receive a polished manuscript with no real prior knowledge of the details contained within.
Tonight he responded with an email that pointed out a few typos; informed me of the historical battle between that and who; gave a good, solid suggestion for one story; and put tears of joy in my eyes. (More on that later.) What follows is an excerpt, and what I can honestly say is my very first review.
I read your book today. I have to admit, for the first few pages I was a little worried. I thought your prose was overwrought and your dialogue unnatural and arch. After all of the work you put into it, I was afraid to have to tell you what I thought of it.
Then I realized, it’s not you. It’s me.
You don’t write like I do. You don’t hammer words together to satisfy the textbook mechanics of storytelling while sometimes managing to be clever. You use a lyrical kind of prose so baroque that it becomes poetry. This is not a collection of stories. This is a painting of the sea rendered in words. You don’t write like an author. You write like an artist.
Once I stopped trying to shoehorn your artwork into my template the whole thing became strikingly beautiful in its execution. The characters and the stories don’t stack up like bricks into a wall of story. They flow together like trickles of rainwater pouring through tendrils of fog, emerging and mixing and falling away into a sort of lucid dream that lets you know secrets as you need to know them. You’ve managed to deftly paint beauty through the Captain’s longing and horror through the old man’s fear—opposite ends of the spectrum rendered with equal skill and passion.
You have done a wonderful thing here, John Walsh. This is going to be a fantastic book. I’ve already read it twice.
You should be proud of yourself. I’m proud of you.
Without my having breathed a word about the intentions behind the book, he understood them, perfectly. Each and every endeavor I set out to accomplish met with unqualified success. That alone was reason to rejoice, but I had another.
First, a little back story.
Early in his published career, Ray Bradbury met with Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) at the latter’s behest. After they sat down, Huxley leaned forward and asked, “Mr. Bradbury, do you know what you are?” Bradbury replied that he did not. “You’re a poet.”
Up to that point, Bradbury had attempted writing poetry since high school, but had (by his own admission) failed miserably. So he wrote short stories instead. And yet, here was a famous, well-renowned author telling him that he had succeeded at publishing poetry, when he didn’t even think that he had ever tried.
Thus went the day that Ray Bradbury discovered he was unknowingly a poet. Because of that meeting, he came to recognize his preferred style as prose poetry, and has since shared that realization with a great many people, myself included.
This is relevant to the subject at hand because the impetus for Of Sirens and Sand was the maddening frustration of my own artistic shortcomings. I grew up with the sea somehow in my blood, but believed myself, merely a writer, incapable of capturing it the way an artist could with a brush.
Yet, now, here is one of my favorite writers, telling me that I am an artist. To borrow Bradbury’s response to Huxley, “I didn’t know that.”
So I, armed with this freshly-acquired revelation, began to weep tears of joy. Ray Bradbury has been guiding me for seventeen years, be it through his work, words, or personal advice. The man has shown me the path, promised that great things lie ahead.
He was right.
Thank you, Marcus, for your exceedingly kind words. I shall cherish them always.
Since September of 2008, I have lived with a swirling maelstrom of ideas occupying the better part of my brain. It has led me to incredible places, introduced me to amazing friends. My life has changed drastically in that span of time. I cannot comprehend how to explain everything to that younger version of myself who is blissfully unaware, writing in his notebook, enjoying his grandparents’ company nineteen months ago, standing at the precipice of it all, not knowing that he is about to take a diving leap off a cliff and build his wings on the way down.
I have been laid off, moved, dislocated a kneecap, been in a wheelchair, and narrowly avoided surgery in this span of time. I’ve been broke at certain points, barely able to make ends meet. And yet, here I stand. The constant through it all has been this book, this small collection of short writings, which has guided me through life to someplace grand and wondrous. Perhaps I didn’t bring forth the next great American novel, or even a novel at all, but I still did something I’ve always dreamt of doing: writing.
I built an entire universe within the confines of my head, and then proceeded to pour its contents onto the page. I don’t need a publisher’s permission to do that. Hell, I don’t need anyone’s permission. I refuse to judge the success of my life on the grounds of what other people did, or might expect me to do. I wrote for myself; the rest of the world is inconsequential.
But, as fate would have it, someone else saw and believed in the same world I did. He now forges in lead that which I founded in laid ink, the Mugnaini to my Bradbury. This book gave me Martin Abel, and there is no truer a friend for which I could have asked. And, having done such, there is no possibility of failure, for success is already mine. The criteria by which I scrutinize myself having thus been met, I can look forward to and enjoy whatever the future holds for that which I’ve decided to create.
Currently, the revised (second) draft of Of Sirens and Sand rests in the hands (read: email inbox) of one of my favorite authors, Marcus Alexander Hart. I’ve the good fortune of calling the man a friend, but that does not mitigate the fact that I hold him and his writing in extremely high regard. Though he asked kindly to read the first (rough) draft of the book, I had to refuse. I wanted so desperately to call the project good and done, but part of me could not deny that there was still some growing to do. So, I spent several more months working, writing, and delving deeper into the world through whose window I had but glanced.
What developed was a stronger, more mature story, one of which I could be insanely proud. Though there would undoubtedly be many edits in its future, the body was strong, and it begged of me to let it cross over into this universe. And so the draft was saved, compiled, and sent out into the world. I’m simultaneously nervous and excited. I’ve wondered what this day would feel like for a very long time, and I still don’t entirely comprehend it.
I suppose that someday I’ll have to look back at my past self, sitting here in front of the computer writing this blog entry, and explain it as best I can. Perhaps I’ll hand myself a beautiful, illustrated book with my name printed across the front and a hand-written message inside: This is all because of you. Thank you for dreaming it possible.