I’ve been trying to write a review of this book since I finished it almost a month ago, but haven’t been able to find the words. Instead of a review, you’re going to get a series of thoughts. I can’t guarantee I’ll make sense, but I hope at the end at least one of you will feel encouraged to pick it up.
The City of Dreaming Books is the fourth book in Walter Moers’ Zamonia series, but first in the Dreaming Books series. I know, it’s a little confusing, but I figured it was a good place to start (because there’s something cool coming up in a few months, but I’ll talk about that another time [sorry for being so sneaky, hee!]), even though I haven’t read anything by this author before.
This book…I knew within the first 15-20 pages that this book would be going on my favourites shelf. I’d been reading a bunch of crap that I didn’t particularly care for, starting and setting aside for a later date things that I thought maybe I COULD like, but that I wasn’t in the mood for. AND it was towards the end of the Tolkien group read, so I was a bit burnt out on reading in general by that point.
I know, I know. Weird, right?
Anyway, The City of Dreaming Books immediately had that coming home feeling (that I’ve talked about previously, regarding the work of Philip K Dick) for me. Like it was a book that could have been written just for me. If I were King of the World and had ALL THE AUTHORS working just for me and I could say “Nonono, I want this! And this! And this! No! I don’t CARE IF THAT MAKES NO SENSE, YOU WILL MAKE IT WORK!” this is the book that would have been written…and then I’d abdicate my throne and spend the rest of my life reading this book and all the others that were written especially for me.
Okay, so this book takes place on the fictional continent of Zamonia. Zamonia is/was situated between North America and Europe, and is populated by fantastical creatures of every description.
This story follows the adventure of Optimus Yarnspinner (whose name in the original German text was Hildegunst von Mythenmetz), a Lindworm (read: intelligent dinosaur) from Lindworm Castle. All Lindworms are assigned an Authorial Godfather, and their godfathers teach them to read and write, as well as educate them on Zamonian Literature. As Optimus’ godfather (Dancelot Wordwright) is on his deathbed, he tells Optimus of a manuscript he once received from a young writer. A manuscript of such unbelievable beauty and honesty that he gave up his own dreams of writing forever, because he knew there was no way he could ever come close to achieving such literary perfection.
(Did I fail to mention that books are revered in Zamonia? Nearly everyone is an author or avid reader. Literature is prized above all else, and the greatest authors are said to have been full of Orm, a mystical force that fills the authors in moments of almost divine inspiration.)
After reading the story his Authorial Godfather has left him, Optimus sets out for Bookholm (The City of Dreaming Books) to find the author of this masterpiece.
This all takes place in the very beginning of the story, I’m really not going to spoil anything for you. I want you to read it, not just read what I have to say about it!
Besides, I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job of putting my thoughts down.
If you pick this up and glance through it, you might see the whimsical illustrations the author has added and be tempted to dismiss it as children’s literature. Please don’t. While it READS like children’s literature, it’s more a book written for adults that still love reading the books they read as they were growing up. I could read it to my kids, but they’d have so many questions “Well, what does THAT word mean? What is THAT? Wait, read that again?” that it would just go too far over their heads.
As an example, nearly every author’s name in this book is an anagram of one of OUR famous authors. I’m terrible at anagrams, but had a DELIGHTFUL time attempting to figure them out.
Is it perfect? Probably not. There were a few instances where I noticed strange word choices, but that could be due to the translation. Is it something I’ll read again? Absolutely. And again, and again, and again. I finished and wanted to shout “WHY HAS NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT THIS BOOK BEFORE NOW?!” Yeah, it’s been translated into English since 2007 and I only JUST discovered it. I feel like I’ve been missing out.
So, now I’ve done my duty (heh) and passed it on. I hope those of you that give it a chance love it as much as I did.
[...] our burning desire to open a book becomes allied with the hankering for a cup of hot chocolate flavoured with cinnamon and a slice of pound cake warm from the oven. Faster! Faster!