The last book I bought at Borders (the Penn Station location, right by work) is Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.
I’d wandered into the sad store, plastered with ‘GOING OUT OF BUSINESS’ signs, with empty shelves already raided for the good stuff. People swarming everywhere, arms full of things they didn’t need. Of course all the Nick Hornbys and F. Scott Fitzgeralds were gone by the time I got there. I don’t know what I was looking for. Actually, I don’t think I was looking for anything — I just wanted to take it all in one last time, because Borders had been a good friend to me, especially during college. I’d pored over children’s books there, pretended to study for classes there, drank too much Seattle’s Best Coffee there, ran into a cute boy I worked with at the newspaper in the poetry section there (I’d bought a collection of Keats, but hardly ever read it… I should dig it up…). This all happened in Los Angeles, but there are plenty of New York Borders memories, as well. Times of escape, comfort, and inspiration.
I went upstairs to the children’s section, where I always like to make a stop in any bookstore. While ambling past the young adult section, this caught my eye, and I knew it was time to buy it. I’d never read any John Boyne before, but I’d made mental notes to pick it up after learning that Oliver Jeffers had illustrated it. And any tale of a boy running away is a natural must-read (last year’s was The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, by Reif Larsen, a beautiful book worth perusing even just for the drawings).
Holding it in my hand, my heart began to race. I knew this would be the book that would help me remember all those memories. And considering my recent trip to Ireland (Boyne is a Dubliner) and my extreme fan status for Oliver Jeffers, it couldn’t be more perfect. But I instinctively knew that it would be much more. This year I’ve been reading a lot of children’s and young adult literature — Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, The Hunger Games (the first of which was too hyped up for me, but I’m really enjoying the second installment right now… we’ll see how the rest goes). I think my choice of reading material is telling me something.
I’m a slow reader, and have only seemed to have gotten slower in the past few years. For some reason, I insist on reading every single word — literally; no skimming or speed reading for me. So I took a few days to read this fairy tale, and as I’ve decided not to give any spoilers, I will just say that even though Boyne plants plenty of hints as to what’s really going on (would I have picked up on them if I weren’t an odious ‘grown-up?’ Or is he tugging at my sense of knowing to influence the story?), I cried and I delighted in the joke. It was unexpected. It was surprising and new… yet familiar…
The night I finished reading it, my friend and co-worker had been a bit melancholy, which was a bit alarming for me, since I wasn’t used to seeing him so. And even though the night had ended well, when I reached the last page, I thought that it was the perfect cure for anyone feeling a bit off, for whatever reason. So the next day I brought it to work for him, and am hoping that whatever that inexplicable thing is that it made me feel, will inexplicably nudge him, too.
I do have a gripe, once again, about U.S. covers versus U.K. covers. Look how lovely the U.K. hardcover is, with the title nestled in the tree:
And even in the paperback, though the title is scrawled across the cover like in the U.S. version, they’ve cleaned the lettering up nicely and don’t have the messy glow business going on in the American cover. I understand why title and author name are blown up so much, but it just seems a shame to do such things to Oliver’s carefully quiet and poignant cover. Alas…
Well, forgetting that I’m supposed to be a designer, whichever cover I read it out of, the book moved me. I think it’ll be one to revisit over the years.