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“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman – AND Mr. Gaiman comes to Chicago’s Music Box Theater

oceanlaneNeil Gaiman’s hand hurts.

After 27 days on the road/in the air on a book tour that has so far caused him to lose his luggage and get stuck at the San Francisco airport after the crash of flight 214, he’s tired too.

The English-born, now-Massacusetts-residing author came to Chicago’s beloved Music Box Theater last night to read from his new book – “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” – to a sold out crowd of 800 fans.

Happily, I was one of them.

The doors opened at 6pm, and by then the line of Gaiman devotees stretched three city blocks down Chicago’s Southport corridor.  As I traveled via CTA, I squeezed into the theater at 6:50 and literally walked right in and found a good seat a few rows from the back of the house. (If you’ve been to the Music Box, you know there really isn’t a BAD seat in the whole house.)

The event started a little late – Around 7:15 Mr. Gaiman took the stage to rapturous applause, and kicked off by clearing up that though this is, indeed, his last signing tour, he’s not going to vanish.  He’ll still do readings and things, but he’s just done with signing.  Two nights prior to Chicago, he’d signed 1,700 people’s items in Ann Arbor, which lasted until 3am. (I had two friends who were there.  Fortunately, one of my friends is muy pregnant, which got her to the front of the line fast.)

He read to us from “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” his newest novel.  The man has a perfect timbre for public reading.  He could have read the whole book, and no one would have stopped him.  Then he answered questions from the audience.  No, he’s not taking over as the head writer of Doctor Who – though they’ve teased him that if he comes back to write another episode he can create his own monster.  Also, he will not be taking over for Matt Smith as the next Doctor. (“I think you need an actor for that.”) Yes, he’s still friends with Tori Amos.  He’s currently reading the latest Stephen King book.  He’s not going anywhere after the show for drinks because he’s getting on a tour bus and going to bed – only to wake up in Nashville for another reading/signing.  He spoke about sex and writer’s block and his son getting kittens.

To conclude, he read us a section from his upcoming children’s book – “Fortunately, the Milk.”  The book sounds like a complete joy, and I’ll absolutely be picking it up for my husband and son to bond over once it’s released in September. It involves breakfast cereal, pirates, dinosaurs, vampires, and aliens. I’m there.

Mr. Gaiman concluded around 8:40, and took a short break.  At 9:15, the signing began – and the organizers announced that the event would begin with people with disabilities, pregnant folks, and then they would go row by row starting from the front of the theater to the back.

Which meant, for me, that I was probably 650th in line – of 800 people.  Clearly, I was going to be there a while.  Fortunately, upon admission we’d each been given a copy of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane,” and  cracked it open, thinking I’d read a while and see how fast the line was going.

Please note that I am an incredibly fast reader.  I finished the entire book by 10:40, which is when the organizers took to the mic to let us know it would probably be 3 more hours before the last few rows would get their things signed.

I love Neil Gaiman – but not enough to stick around until 1:30am to get in line, and then to try and take the bus home.  So, I packed up my stuff and swapped my book out for a pre-signed copy, and headed out.

It was a lovely evening, and well worth the $30 ticket. (The book came with the ticket, and as it’s opening retail cost is $25.99, I think it was actually a steal.)  Also, we got a 20% off coupon from Unabridged Bookstore, who hosted the event.  Book coupons are always good.

Re: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

Guys, this is a simply beautiful book.  The story of a man who recalls mysterious events from the summer he was seven years old, it’s 165 pages of ethereal beauty and absolute wonderment,and it goes by like a dream.  There are magical people and evil monsters and the child narrator is absolutely believable.  It reminded me of Gaiman’s “Coraline,” in which a regular kid realizes that the things around them aren’t normal.  Gaiman said that this book was written by accident while he was missing his wife, and there’s a sense of missing someone, a longing, that pervades the book.  There’s very little I can say about the book without spoiling something grand for those of you about to take this journey, so I’ll keep it brief.  Every word is gold.

And I got to read the entire thing in the Music Box Theater, which is an experience I will never forget – and likely never be able to repeat.



A free Neil Gaiman audiobook for “All Hallow’s Read.”

The amazing Neil Gaiman is even more amazing than I thought.

Have you heard of All Hallow’s Read?

Yeah, I hadn’t either.  Basically, it’s a movement, triggered by Mr. Gaiman, that instead of candy on Halloween, people give out scary books.   Which is just about the best idea I’ve ever heard.

This year, Neil has written and recorded a a short story – “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” – that you can download for free from in honor of All Hallow’s Read, and (AND!) there’ll be a donation to charity made simply for your downloading. Right? Win-win!

From —

“Two years ago, author, narrator, and screenwriter Neil Gaiman proposed that, every year for Halloween, people give each other scary books. We couldn’t agree more. So this year, we’re putting our money where our mouth is. Scare yourself or someone you love with the never-before-seen (or heard) short story Click-Clack the Rattlebag, written and narrated by Neil himself, and Audible will donate $1 for every download through Halloween up to $100,000 to the education charity”

Download “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” free from now! (You do have to sign up, but if you have an Amazon account, you can use that!)

“Delirium’s Party” by Jill Thompson

Now, I would never dare to say that Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” series is for kids.  Anyone who’s ventured into the world of The Endless – siblings Death, Dream, Desire, Delirium, Despair, Destruction, and Destiny – knows that all kinds of complicated adult stuff happens in the legendary and award-winning graphic novels.

At some point, though, The Endless spun off into a pseudo-series called The Little Endless, which imagines the seven world-controlling brothers and sisters as children.  Artist/Writer Jill Thompson (who worked on some of the original “The Sandman” novels) apparently took the inspiration from a passage in one of the books which talks about Death and Dream as children.

“Delirium’s Party,” one of the books involving The Little Endless, is adorable.

In this book, Delirium (my personal fave of The Endless) is at the whirling, swirling center of events as she (assisted by her faithful dog Barnabus) throws a party for her siblings with cake and presents and a princess crown all in the hopes of getting her sister Despair to smile.

The story is sweet and the (largely watercolor) artwork is gorgeous.  As a character, the constantly-shifting Delirium has to be an artists dream.  From hair made of balloons to a green suit not unlike that of Max from “Where the Wild Things Are,” Thompson had free reign in the design of Delirium, and the joy of the project shouts from the pages.

Many of these images I would literally hang on my wall.

It’s a beautifully illustrated picture book I truly enjoyed reading myself, and look forward to reading to my soon-to-be child.

Underground Journey – “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” has locked itself onto my top ten favorite books of all time list.

How’s that for a recommendation?

Nice guy Richard Mayhew finds himself sucked into London’s literal underworld when he rescues a woman bleeding on the sidewalk.  Next thing he knows, he’s being pursued by two evil dudes, and following the bleeding woman (Door) and her companions (a sleazy Marquis and a ferocious female bodyguard) though the tubes and trails of London Below as they hunt for the secret behind Door’s murdered family.  Along the way, they encounter floating markets, people who speak to rats, an angel, and a group of underworld friars.  There are also doors you can’t see, and darkness that envelopes people so they never re-appear.  Oh, and there’s also a beast that must be destroyed.

Awesome, right?

Neil Gaiman crafts stories like no other writer, and “Neverwhere” is among his masterworks – though with a body of work that contains “Coraline,” “The Sandman,” “Good Omens,” and “American Gods,” who’s to say what the masterpiece really is?  “Neverwhere” can be read either as just a great fantasy story, or as a social commentary on “the people who fall through the cracks” of society – namely, the homeless.  Richard is a good enough person to look down and see the bleeding Door on the ground, where his fiancee steps right over her without even noticing.  The residents of London Below literally live below the city, camping in abandoned tube stations and invading places (like Big Ben) for their annual market.  They go unseen and unheard by the residents of London Above when they do venture into the upper world.

The action is swift, the characters are so vivid they almost leap from the pages, and the story has enough twists and turns to out-mystery any episode of “Law and Order.”

“Neverwhere” is the Spring 2011 “One Book, One Chicago” selection for a reason – everyone should read it.

“Elegant Little Things” – Neil Gaiman & Audrey Niffenegger @ ChicagoPublicLibrary

Apparently, I hadn’t thought about Neil Gaiman’s immense popularity when I left work at 5pm last night thinking I’d surely be able to get a seat for this 6pm event.

Make no mistake.  Mr. Gaiman draws himself a crowd.

To celebrate his novel, “Neverwhere,” being selected as the One Book, One Chicago Spring 2011 selection, Neil Gaiman sat down for a conversation about the book, London, Chicago, creativity, and a bunch more topics with the also talented and accomplished Audrey Niffenegger.  (If her name doesn’t sound familiar, maybe “The Time Traveler’s Wife” does.  Yep, she wrote that, as well as one of my favorite books – “Her Fearful Symmetry.”)

By the time I arrived, the line was out the door and they were already into overflow seating.  Fortunately, I was in the front of the overflow line which began to wind around the hall of the Harold Washington Library Center and through the lobby.  Also fortunately, the library staff had it all figured out and wristbands and posters were distributed in no time at all.

My husband had left work earlier and therefore managed to get a seat in the actual auditorium. (The photo above is his.) I, however, was taken downstairs into a smaller lecture hall where a video feed was set up.  I sat by a lovely man who was reading Christopher Moore’s “Bite Me,” and we struck up a conversation while waiting for the event to begin.

It started late – due to getting the 600 plus people who’d turned out seated – but around 6:20 the library commissioner and the Allstate lady were done with their spiels and the real attraction could begin.

Gaiman, in all black, and Niffenegger, in a brown-ish dress, sat center stage and chatted like the friends they are.  Most of the conversation revolved around the book at hand – “Neverwhere” – and the audience was treated to the story of the book.  Gaiman had become fixated on the idea of stories where a city becomes a character, and was approached to write a series for television, which is where “Neverwhere” began.  (The novelization came a little later.) While working on the series, he was able to go to abandoned London Tube stops and into the sewers, and he talked about how he was surprised by the sewers and the “elegant little things in the brick.” Who would make something beautiful down where no one would hardly ever see it?  As to why “Neverwhere” begins with a map of London Tube stops, Mr. Gaiman explained that “Good fantasy novels always begin with a map!”

Delving into some of the characters in “Neverwhere,” he stated that he didn’t want to write a hero when he created Richard Mayhew, and that he thought about two ideas – that, in stories, those who give are sometimes protected (like in fairy tales, where generosity saves you) but also that “No good deed goes unpunished.”  By rescuing the bloodied girl on the sidewalk at the beginning of “Neverwhere,” Richard begins his coming of age story.  Gaiman also spoke about the character of Anesthesia, an d how she’s one of his favorite characters because “bad things happen to good people.”
He went on to say that she’s one of those characters that, if there ever is a sequel to “Neverwhere,” may or may not appear.  (Incidentally, he’s working on a short story about the Marquis character.)

After all this fascinating discourse (and much, much more) it was time for questions from the audience. Some highlights –

  • What did Gaiman think of “American Gods” being taught in an American Lit class? He felt surprised – “You should have been safely dead a long time before they teach you in University.” He also went on to speak about how “American Gods” is the only book he’s written that people either love or hate – with no middle ground.  Most other books he’s written, people either really like or are “meh” about, but “American Gods” has “haters.”
  • How is Terry Pratchett doing? Pratchett, Gaiman’s co-writer on “Good Omens,” is doing well despite having Alzheimers.  He’s still dictating novels. (Also! There’s a TV series based on “Good Omens” in the works! Fans rejoice!)
  • What are the two authors reading? Gaiman is currently reading Wendy Cope’s new poetry collection, as well as Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” which he listens to as an audiobook while working out. His wife, Amanda Palmer, apparently can not understand how he can work out without music.   Niffenegger just read a wonderful book thats coming out in September called “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern.
  • What inspired “Coraline?” A Typo.  Mr. Gaiman was writing a letter to someone named “Caroline,” and immediately saw the error he’d made, but it stuck with him. He thought it sounded like a great name.  His daughter, who was four at the time, would crawl on his lap and tell him stories and he would write them down for her – and they were always full of monsters and witches.  When he went to the bookstore to get some “really scary books for small children,” he was surprised to find there weren’t any.  So “Coraline” was written as a book his daughter would love.
  • How long before the end of “The Sandman” series did Gaiman know the ending? Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice over the monitor in the overflow room.  My lucky husband – in the auditorium – got his question answered!  Gaiman responded that he always knew how it would end, but not how long it would take to get there.  What he originally thought would be thirty issues turned out to be seventy five.

All in all, overflow seating aside, it was a fascinating and terrifically entertaining evening and I’m so glad I went.  If you don’t, follow @neilhimself on twitter. He’s a blast. And has really cute dogs.

Oh, and support your local libraries. Seriously.

(Photos courtesy of my genius husband and his fancy auditorium seat.)

“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman is the new One Book, One Chicago!

The Chicago Public Library runs an awesome city-wide program called “One Book, One Chicago,” which focuses attention across my beloved City of Wind on a great piece of literature.

In the past, they’ve picked really fantastic books, but this time around they’ve simply outdone themselves.

Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” is the new selection, and CPL has lined up a bunch of great events for spring 2011.

The full list of events is available here, but I thought I’d call out a couple particularly exciting ones.

(Stolen with all the love in the world from Chicago Public Library’s website.)

Monday, April 11, 6:00 p.m. – 8:15 p.m.

Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium
400 S. State Street
Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre dedicates itself to literary adaptation and was lauded by critics, fans and Neil Gaiman himself last spring when they brought Neverwhere to their stage. Join the original cast for a full reading of the play, which was adapted for the stage by Robert Kauzlaric. The reading will be followed by a brief talk-back with Kauzlaric and his fellow actors, director Paul S. Holmquist and Lifeline Artistic Director Dorothy Milne.

Tuesday, April 12, 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.*

Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium
400 S. State Street
Gaiman is joined by visual artist and writer Audrey Niffenegger (Her Fearful Symmetry, The Time Traveler’s Wife) for a conversation about imagination and creativity.

Wednesday, April 13, 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.*

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, University of Chicago
5850 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Join us to hear from @neilhimself (as his over 1.5 million Twitter followers know him) about writing, life, art and what became of Richard Mayhew.
Presented in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

Being one who reads Mr. Gaiman, follows him on the twitters, and has a near-obsession with “Coraline” I’m over the moon about this selection and the awesome line-up of events. More to come!

Just as Chicago inspired Neverwhere, it has always embraced Neverwhere, and I am grateful. It was in Chicago that Neverwhere first became a theatrical performance (a show that has now begun to travel the world), and now it is Chicago that is the first city to make Neverwhere its One Book.  I like the idea of One Book. Books are unique experiences, reader to reader, after all. Each of us builds a different world out of the words we have been given by the author. But with all those differences, it is still the same book, still a perfect place to begin a conversation with a stranger, still a shared experience.  This is my fantasy: that everyone in Chicago reads Neverwhere. Everyone. All the people in Chicago Above, and even (because we know they are there) the shadowy figures of Chicago Below, who have stepped out of legend long enough to read about Richard Mayhew, and to learn, as Richard does, that it all starts with doors.” – Neil Gaiman.

“The Sandman: The Wake” by Neil Gaiman

[“The Wake,” the final – and tenth – installment of Sandman, was illustrated by illustrated by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth and Charles Vess.]

Simply put, “The Wake” is a beautiful ending to a fascinating, lovely, dark, and intelligent series. Morpheus, our DreamLord, our Sandman, has died, and the whole world he has created and encountered has come out for the funeral. Countless figures we’ve encountered thus far – from Jed to Lady Bast – arrive in the DreamWorld to pay their respects to Morpheus.  If you look, you’ll even some of the rest of the DC Universe paying farewell – including, most obviously, Batman.

This includes all the rest of The Endless – even Destruction,who introduces himself to Daniel (The new DreamLord) then sneaks away before anyone else can see him.  Destiny, Desire, Despair, Delirium, and even Death speak at the funeral.  Matthew debates whether he wants to serve a new DreamLord.  Daniel, now the DreamLord, recreates many of the characters who were destroyed in “The Kindly Ones.”

In subsequent stories, Hob Gadling – now in modern times, dating a woman who works at RenFaire – is visited by Death.  Given the option to die after centuries of life, Hob still refuses.  The world is still worth it. Shakespeare also gets an epilogue – Not only did he write “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Morpheus’ request, but “The Tempest” was also a commissioned piece.

Ends are tied up as best they can be.  A whole new series could be created following the new adventures of Daniel in his role as DreamLord, but maybe it’s best to leave the series when it’s at it’s peak.

“The Wake” is a quiet ending to a rambunctious story, and a fitting tribute to a King of Dreams.    Even the artwork seems to be more muted in tone and drawn less like a comic than a series of paintings. There are some stunning images of these characters contained in these pages.

I began reading this series not knowing what I was getting in to.  I conclude it with images and characters forever burned onto my brain, and an even deeper appreciation of the genius of Neil Gaiman (as well as his spectacular team of illustrators.)

Highly recommended. HIGHLY.

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep..” – Shakespeare, The Tempest.

“The Sandman: The Kindly Ones” by Neil Gaiman

[“The Kindly Ones” is installment 9 – of 10! – of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.  This one is illustrated by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, D’Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston, and Kevin Nowlan.]

This installment is where s$#t gets real.

In what I would probably call the grand finale of the whole Sandman series (though I haven’t yet read #10, I can’t imagine a climax bigger than the event at the end of “The Kindly Ones”) characters re-surface, characters die, and things change – big time.

It all begins with those three sisters from the first volume, and soon we’re brought to where Lyta Hall, now mother to Morpheus’ baby Daniel, is off on a date/job interview.  While she’s gone, Daniel is taken – and no one knows where.  Furious, hell-bent on revenge, and having a breakdown, Lyta goes in search of Morpheus.

From here on out, there’s going to be spoilers.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

In essence, this volume is about the end of days.  The three sisters/furies/The Kindly Ones, triggered by Lyta, make their way to the DreamWorld.

Lots of familiar faces re-appear; The Corinthian is re-made, and Loki, Rose, Thessaly, Hal, Zelda, and the two sisters from “The Doll’s House” show up – some for moments, some for the duration.  (Rose, by the end, is pregnant.  And Desire has revealed to Rose that she is her Grandfather.  That’s probably important.)

Delirium has already lost Barnabus (the dog she was gifted in volume #7.)  She wanders around looking for the dog, encountering Lucifer, who now plays piano in a fancy restaurant. Random, right?

Nuala’s faerie brother comes back for her and Morpheus lets her return to her people, where she is restored to her former beauty – and is promptly miserable.  She calls on Morpheus and asks him to tell her he loves her.  Unbeknownst to Nuala, Morpheus’ leaving the DreamWorld to come to her is the catalyst for his destruction.

The roster of people who die in this volume is large, and sad.  Gilbert/Fiddler’s Green, Abel, Mervyn, Gryphon, and finally even Morpheus himself.  Morpheus’ death is incredibly touching, as it’s a throwback to the sequence in the first volume where he and Death sit side by side and feed birds.  Immediately after Death takes Morpheus’ hand and he vanishes, baby Daniel (who’s back in the DreamCastle) transforms into an all-white version of Morpheus.

(Goldie is fine at the end. Thank Goodness.  And Lucien was once a Raven. Who knew?)

I loved it – all of it – despite the obvious sadness over having to say goodbye to characters I’ve become irrevocably attached to over the past few weeks.  I’m excited to see ends get tied up in the final volume of the series, “The Wake.”  Though I’m really expecting some questions to just never get answered.  I doubt Mr. Gaiman is just going to show up and explain it all. That doesn’t seem like his way.

“The Sandman: World’s End” by Neil Gaiman

[Sandman installment #8 was illustrated by Michael Allred, Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha, Vince Locke, Shea Anton Pensa, Alec Stevens, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss and Michael Zulli.)

“World’s End” gives the central characters of this series a deserved break.

Brant and Charlene (co-workers who barely know each other) are driving home from a business trip in June when it starts to snow.  After being involved in an accident, they wind up seeking shelter in an inn called “World’s End.” Also waiting at the inn until the storm clears are a wide variety of characters – from centaurs to faeries.  While the hours tick away, they kill some time by sharing their stories.

The stories are all diverse and interesting, but my favorite was “Hob’s Leviathan,” which continues the story of never-dying Hob Gadling (who’s made a few appearances at this point in the series.) In this story, a young boy sneaks away from home to become a sailor and winds up serving as Hob’s steward during a journey across the sea in which a stowaway is discovered and a giant sea dragon rears its head.  (The boy at the center of the story also happens to be revealed as a girl, which is also something I love.)

“World’s End” was a nice interlude/collection in the middle of what is becoming a deep and dark master storyline.   It’s not that it was at all boring – I read it eagerly and enjoyed it a lot.

However, now that I’m sucked into this whole thing, I’m looking forward to getting back to The Endless in the next collection – “The Kindly Ones.”

“The Sandman: Brief Lives” by Neil Gaiman

[“Brief Lives” is Sandman collection #7, and illustrated by Jill Thompson and Vince Locke.]

Having read the first six collections of “Sandman,” I’ve met almost all the Endless family – minus the missing brother, Destruction.  Death and Dream have been the most fleshed-out so far, but Desire and Despair’s characters have been established, and Destiny has appeared a time or two. The littlest sister, Delirium (formerly Delight) has, up to this point, remained a mystery – a babbling, colorful, constantly-evolving character who remained amusingly pitiable.

In “Brief Lives,” it’s Delirium’s time to shine.

Most of this volume centers around Delirium realizing she misses her absent brother, and her quest to find him.  Of course, being Delirium, she knows she’ll need another of the family to accompany her – and Morpheus/Dream, having just broken up with a paramour, volunteers purely as an excuse to take a walk in the waking world where his former lady love might be.

Dream and Delirium’s journey leads to a number of dead people – as those who assist them on their way are offed by one.  When Morpheus realizes something may be after them, attempting to stop them from reaching Destruction, he and Delirium head to Destiny, who tells them there is a family member who can serve as an Oracle.  However, that person is Orpheus (or at least his still-alive head, now being guarded in a hilltop temple in Greece) and Morpheus vowed never to speak to his son long ago.  But, he puts his pride aside and goes to his son – granting him a boon and ending Orpheus’ too-long life as merely a head.

Finally, Dream and Delirium reach Destruction, who is hiding out from the world in a cabin where – assisted by a snarky talking dog named Barnabus – he writes poetry and cooks.  He’s basically a nature guy, more interested in creation than destruction, which is why he turned his back on his responsibilities as Destruction. He resists his family’s pleadings with him to come back and instead walks out into the stars, gone forever.  (He does, however, gift Barnabus to Delirium, and a new friendship is born.)

Delirium heads back to her realm, now with Barnabus in tow.  Morpheus returns to the DreamWorld to mourn for his lost son and his lost brother.  Orders are given to Lucien to track down a number of beings to tell them it’s safe to return to the DreamWorld, and to reward some people who helped Dream and Delirium on their way. The very last images of the collection are of the Greek man and guards who guarded Orpheus all these years burying the head.

“Brief Lives” is a remarkably insightful volume of a remarkable story.

Now that Delirium has been more fleshed out, I’d be hard-pressed to choose a character in the series I like more. (Maybe Lucien, but that’s just because I really want his job.)  She’s spazzy and a tortured delight and I think she’s just grand.   So thanks, Neil Gaiman, for creating a fictional character who is highly likely to join the ranks of fictional characters I remember, hold dear, and take with me wherever I go – like Jane Eyre, Matilda, Marianne Dashwood, Abby Normal, et. al before her.

Also, reading this volume made me realize how sad I’m going to be when it comes time for the series to end.

Le sigh. That’s the wonder of a good book, right there.