Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is an amazing book. I read it on my 2500-mile journey at the end of the summer, and while it gave me one bad moment (I was up reading about zombies in the wee hours, in Savannah, and S came creeping into the room to see if I'd fallen asleep with the light on - scared me silly!), the book had me enthralled from the first page to the last. Despite having been published in 1934, the book is still remarkably up to date, according to a Haitian student of mine whose grandmother practices Vodou.
Vodou aside, Tell My Horse is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of people in 1930s Jamaica and Haiti. Hurston was many things, but most of all she was a phenomenal storyteller with a terrific sense of humor. In a sense, Jamaica, Haiti and Vodou are only ancillary to the book - the real interest lies in the individual people and the way their lives were shaped by their beliefs. I learned a great deal from Hurston's book, and I enjoyed it tremendously.
The next book I read was Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant. This is my first Patchett - I ordered several of her novels from paperbackswap after hearing her interviewed about her most recent novel, Run, on NPR. (I am rich with pbs credits right now, having not ordered much in a while.) The Magician's Assistant opens with the death of the magician, and it unfolds like one of those magic boxes that turns out to have more hidden chambers than seem physically possible. I did anticipate the very end, but was surprised by every single plot twist before it; by the time I finished the book, I was emotionally exhausted and felt I'd been on a long journey with the protagonist. It is, as the title suggests, a magical book, and particularly well suited for anyone who likes stage magic or magicians.
There have been several books in between that weren't all that notable, but I have to talk about The Graveyard Book, the latest from my favorite living author, Neil Gaiman. For a couple of years now, Gaiman has been blogging about writing it, and those of us who have followed his blog have been waiting anxiously to hold the finished product in our hands. (I am asking for the audio version for the holidays, as there is nothing to compare with Gaiman reading his own work.) I started out reading it together with R and N, but then I sneaked ahead and read the rest on my own - though I am still reading it aloud with them - and the best word I can think of to describe it is: "beautiful."
The Graveyard Book is about Bod, a living boy raised by the inhabitants of a graveyard - I won't ruin it by telling you how this comes about, as that is part of the story. The border between living and dead; those who are not quite either; the question of just what earns the label "monster" - these are themes Gaiman has dealt with before, and masterfully. What makes this book different, more wonderful than his other wonderful books, is that it really is for almost all ages. I don't think it would hold the attention of most 3-year-olds; but my 8-year-old loves it, and finds it creepy and scary and yet just right for her age; I've sent it to my 14-year-old niece, who I am sure will find it perfectly suited to her age; I know my 18-year-old daughter will want to read it when she gets home from college in December; and I think my mother will enjoy it thoroughly as well.
Not too many books you can say that about - not truthfully.