The Book on Fire by Keith Miller
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
A book thief lands in a fantastical version of the legendary Alexandria to steal from his ultimate library, and falls in love with a librarian working there. I'm not sure if the author loves libraries or librarians more, considering that his previous book, The Book of Flying, was along similar lines, but I have to admit it works for me. I almost feel embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed reading this book, but I can't really explain why. I was already enamored with Alexandria after reading the Durrell quartet, and this made it so much worse!
The writing is very descriptive, and I'm tempted to say overly so, except I don't feel it is. Most of the time if I pick up a book that spends half its time describing smells and food, it reads like filler, but here it serves to place the reader into his vision of Alexandria. I found myself drawn in and living in the world as I read, which doesn't happen often as an adult. (I also ended up hungry!)
There are elements of the writing and of the storytelling that are the same elements I love in Catherynne Valente's writing, and anyone knows me knows that is high praise indeed. After reading a little more about the author himself, I feel like you can see glimpses of his real life experiences tucked into this book, as far from reality as it seems.
"This is the true heart of the city, this street of cubbyholes of stacked paper. The library is of course its soul, but it is hidden."
"That's the difference between heroin and literature... The drugs you take are lonely voyages. I can share your needle but I can't share your trip. Each reading is separate, to be sure, but I can come much closer to another person's experience."
"You fall deeper into a book. The others flip through the pages, their eyes are always floating up, but you drown."
"First readings are like first kisses - you can't remember the taste, the shape of the other's lips, you have only a heady sensation of stained glass shattering."
"To read a cherished book aloud to someone who also knows the book by heart is an experience closer than any other conversation, closer than making love; the same reefs and swells crossed at the same time, the chuckles rising in tandem. You feel you're speaking into her blood."