Wednesday, July 29, 2009

After "The End"

When reading an electronic book instead of a bound paper version, I often let the end slip up on me. The page count appears at the bottom (310 of 415 with one flick of the finger becomes 427 of 568 or 646 of 864, depending on the size font I select), but because there are often epilogues, acknowledgments, and author's notes, the actual narrative ends suddenly. I can't as easily flip ahead to see how much remains.

Early this morning, I finished reading Neil Gaiman's Newbery Award-winning The Graveyard Book, a fascinating tale that reminds me of some of my favorites by Ray Bradbury (Dandelion Wine or From the Dust Returned). The book, like another I loved, The Book Thief, is marketed for young people--probably because the main character of each is a child and because there is no sex or profanity--but appeals to adult readers as well--or at least to this one in particular.

The story opens as a hit man inside a house kills three family members as the baby, also a target, somehow escapes into the graveyard across the street where he is taken in and protected by the spirits that reside there. Although I don't lean toward fantasy in my book selection, if the author can make the supernatural characters seem real to me, I can cooperate with "the willing suspension of disbelief."

Sure enough, Gaiman tells a tale well and provides a satisfying end, but in the pages that followed, I learned about the sources of his inspirations. He pointed to Kipling's Jungle Book, recommending it to anyone who only knows the Disney movie. He also named family members and friends, and even Audrey Niffenegger, whom I knew as the author of The Time Traveller's Wife but who, he reveals, is also a graveyard guide. Who knew?

I'll admit that I often skip the prologue to a book--or at least postpone reading until after I finish the book itself. Some shed light on the work, but others just muddy the waters. More and more, though, I am finding wonderful tidbits in the final words, especially the words of thanks from the author, that appear after The End.

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