The Sandman Vol 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Dream CountryI wonder how many Sandman I should read before I “get” it. I liked Dream Country a tiny bit more than the first two, but still not as much as I would’ve liked. People say the series gets better from the third series and above, that’s why I continued reading. In this third volume, the stories have all the consistent elements: dream-like, freaky, a bit sick, and um… bad coloring.

But there are really something about these stories that make you want to read more. (Otherwise how do I get to the third book?) They are weird and hypnotic, they pique my curiosity. What’s going to happen next? How many weird stories can Neil Gaiman pull off? How many tricks does he have up his sleeve?

Dream Country has 4 stand-alone short stories. In Calliope a writer who’s desperate for ideas makes a dirty deal to get Calliope, one of the Muses in Greek mythology. He keeps her like a pet, raping her body and mind for inspiration for his later successful novels. (Told you it was sick)

In A Dream of a Thousand Cats, one cat goes on a journey to find answers to life. There are lots of miserable cats here. Too bad I’m not a cat-person, so I don’t relate much to their misery.

Third story is A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Shakespeare and his group of actors perform in front of The Dream King and his fantastical friends. The short won The World Fantasy award for short fiction in 1991, apparently the first time for a comic book to win this category. I know A Midsummer Night’s Dream from various sources (never read the original), but I still found the flow kinda confusing. It was hard to know which one was real and which one was not. I imagine it would be mighty difficult for someone who has not known the play to follow the story.

The last story Façade is my favorite, though it’s not less disturbing. It follows the life of a forgotten DC super hero: Element Girl, a girl whose superpower is transforming her body to any natural elements, but as a trade she looks absolutely freaky, almost like her whole body is burnt. Unwillingly retired, she is incredibly lonely and unable to end her life because of her body condition. Like a lot of other Sandman stories in the previous volumes, I needed to wiki my way to find out the background story to get the full picture.

The real highlight of Dream Country for me though is this quote I found in the book:

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.”

A treasure.

3.5 stars
1991, 112 pp

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #8), Once Upon a Time IV (book #6)

Short Saturday: Gaiman, Jackson, and Gilman

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is held by Truman Capote and Haruki Murakami. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I haven’t posted Short Saturday for a few weeks, what with the holiday and catching up. Lucky me, Michelle has been continuing and it encouraged me to continue too. We’ve been posting about short stories on Saturday for a couple of months now (not always continuously) and it’s great to have a bloggy friend to do it together!

Talking about bloggy friends, I have been recommended many short stories since my first Short Saturday was up and it’s been so much fun to try so many stories that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. For this week, I was intrigued by Claire‘s favorite short stories that are listed on her sidebar and I picked three to read.

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman confused me. One day he wrote The Graveyard Book and Coraline, another day The Sandman. Is he a YA writer or a twisted adult writer? Maybe both and he can change skin anytime he likes. Now Snow, Glass, Apples is more in the vein of The Sandman rather than his YA books, and I… LOVED it! (Though 10 paragraphs in there’s a blood sucking scene and I groaned “Not another blood sucker!” because I’m not a fan of anything vampiric.)

As you can probably guess from the title, the story is a retelling of Snow White. Twisted fairytale retelling is really my thing so I just fell for it. It’s a little bit disturbing at times, but really, after reading The Sandman, nothing can surprise me out of Neil Gaiman. Do not expect the story to be anywhere near kiddy or fluffy!

Did I just find my third 5-star short story? I did!

Read the story online

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

I first heard of The Lottery when tanabata made a brief comparison of it to Battle Royale. As the latter is one of my favorite books, she piqued my interest straight away. When I saw the short story made appearance on Claire’s list, I just knew I had to read it.

The Lottery started with the whole village gathering at the square for a yearly lottery that has become a custom since a long time ago, nobody knows since when. We don’t know what the lottery is about, so the build-up to it is just amazing, the anticipation gripped me like few else. Of course, I wouldn’t tell you what it is, but the ending shocked me. I just didn’t see it coming. I got chills down my spine and goosebumps for minutes. Felt a little angry even. “I don’t get it”, repeated myself in my head.

The Lottery was first published in 1948 issue of The New Yorker. To the surprise of Jackson and the magazine, they got a high number of negative responses and angry mails from the readers. I must say I kinda understand why. The ending was morbid. However, I’m impressed with Shirley Jackson’s skill to bring such strong reaction from people. Her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle has been on my radar for a while and I would love to read it some time soon.

4.5 stars

Read the story online

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I first heard of Charlotte Perkins Gilman from Rebecca, when she reviewed Herland (which I’d love to read but not sure when). So when I saw her name on Claire’s list, I picked the short story.

The main character is a woman who is rather ill and advised to stay in her room resting and doing very little. However the wallpaper on the wall disturbs and distracts her restlessly.

I don’t know if it’s only the copy that I read, but I felt the writing a bit choppy. There’s often only one sentence in one paragraph, so it changes paragraph all the time. Also, I’m never fond of mad-man story, because it always gets too abstract and loose at the end, and not to mention confusing. I read a bit on the background of the story and it apparently was a backlash from Gilman after she was advised by her doctor for a rest cure (and followed the advise leading to her depression).

4 stars

Read the story online

This story is included in the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 list)

I had a good short story week! How about you? As always, I welcome any recommendation!


Did you recognize the picture above? In case you’ve been living under a stone, Carl has opened up his Once Upon a Time IV challenge, running from 21 March to 20 June! Isn’t the picture very fitting with Snow, Glass, Apples? Which is by the way, is a perfect story for the challenge! I’m joining for The Journey, because I don’t want to be over-committed that way, and of course, Short Story Weekends.

I have a very short list to share. I’m going to (try to) read Tender Morsels with Claire’s gang (no, the other Claire, and no, her other gang) and The Colour of Magic for Terry Pratchett challenge. I might continue with Fables series too. We’ll see.

Are you joining too?

Short Stories Read

  1. The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change by Kij Johnson (4/5)

Books Read

  1. The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan (4/5)
  2. Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon (5/5)
  3. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (4/5) — contains 10 short stories
  4. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (4/5)
  5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (5/5)
  6. The Sandman Vol 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)

The Sandman Vol 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman vol 2: The Doll's House by Neil GaimanGory. Gruesome. Eerie. Made me sick to my stomach.

I know now why Neil Gaiman no longer writes such sick stories. Because it’s going to scare his kids to death. (If they can first sneak in to get the book and understand the perversity.)

Having said that, I kept reading. Perhaps I do like sick stories once in a while.

Sick bastard keeps a little kid like an animal in the basement and a convention of ‘collectors’ (and by collectors, they mean serial killers. Guess what they collect.) are a couple of examples of what you should expect.

The ones I especially enjoyed was Part One: Tales in the Sand, in which it tells the story of a woman that Morpheus falls in love with; and Part Four: Men of Good Fortune, in which it tells the story of Morpheus’s possibly only friend, a man that was made immortal who he meets every 100 years. But looks like both stories don’t really relate to the mainline story of the series. Mmh.

I’m not a fan of the illustrations. Or the coloring of to be exact. It looks very old style with the bright pink, blue, purple, and yellow colors. If Morpheus wasn’t drawn based on Neil Gaiman himself, I’d eat my hat. They look freakin’ similar.

s7
1989-1990, 256 pp

Also reviewed by

The Wertzone (nice summary) | casual dread

My review of The Sandman Vol 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book

‘Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken’
~ p306

Having read raving reviews from various bloggers and known that The Graveyard Book had won this year’s Newbery award, I couldn’t help but pick it up. Also I needed to read more Neil Gaiman’s because people can’t seem to stop talking about him.

The Graveyard Book tells the story of Bod (short for Nobody Owens) who was adopted by the graveyard folks soon after his family got killed when he was a baby. That’s the gist of it. I didn’t realize until the end, when I read Gaiman’s acknowledgments that the book could very well be a riff of The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.

The book started out very strong, then it felt a bit like a collection of short stories for a while, then picked up the pace again near the end. The parts where it was like a bunch of short stories were nice, but I felt like I didn’t get the point. But luckily the characters appeared again at the end, justifying the short stories’ existence at the least. So there goes my criticism. Now on to the good parts.

I thought the storyline wasn’t very strong, in a sense that it’s sort of predictable and characters are neatly divided between good and evil. But that’s probably what you’d expect out of a YA book, I’m not sure. (Or is it children book?) I haven’t read a lot of YAs. Having said that, I love the characters. I care about Bod, his parents, the graveyard folks, and Silas (Bod’s guardian). Now Silas is cool. I wish there could be more stories about him, how he came to be (especially when there’s that hint at the end of the book), what he does outside of the graveyard, and so on. A spin-off about Silas would be great :)

The ending is great too. I almost teared a bit. Nice closure. It’s a unique book in terms of setting and atmosphere. So yes I’d recommend it for people who are looking for an enjoyable book that is safe with just the right amount of adventure, mystery, fantasy, and cuteness.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (I’m kinda torn between 4 and 4.5. Some parts of the book I rated 4 and some 4.5.)
Pages: 307
Publication year: 2008

Award
2009 Newbery Medal

First line
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Last line
But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.

Quotes

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you’re dead, it’s gone. Over. You’ve made what you’ve made, dreamed your dream, written yor name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.” ~ Silas, p179

[‘Do you know what you’re going to do now?’ she asked.]
‘See the world,’ said Bod. ‘Get into trouble. Get out of trouble again. Visit jungles and volcanoes and deserts and islands. And people. I want to meet an awful lot of people.’ ~ p306

Also reviewed by

The raving reviews: The Hidden Side of Leaf | Becky’s Book Reviews | Stainless Steel Droppings | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | The Written World | Melody’s Reading Corner | Nothing of Importance | Bold. Blue. Adventure. | Things Mean A Lot | Rhinoa’s Ramblings | Books and Other Thoughts | A High and Hidden Place | Geekgirl Unveiled | Hello, My Name is Alice | Tip of the Iceberg | The Novel World | Fashionista Piranha | You Can Never Have Too Many Books | Bart’s Bookshelf | Flying the Stone Kite | Rob Around Books | 1morechapter | Lesa’s Book Critiques | Em’s Bookshelf | Renay | Books and Movies | Devourer of Books | Book Nut | A Life in Books | Ticket to Anywhere | It’s All About Books | Kelly Vision | Stitches by the Sea | From My Bookshelf | Lazy’s Library | Bibliophile Stalker | Flying Teapot | BiblioAddict | In Spring it is the Dawn

The less-than-excellent reviews (the book not the reviews): The Bluestocking Society (probably the closest to my own thoughts) | Fyrefly’s Book Blog | Worducopia (this one’s so funny!) | Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review | Maw Books Blog | The Fickle Hand of Fate | Bookshelves of Doom | Ready When You Are, C.B.

You know, I’m sure there are many more reviews out there for this book. But I need to sleep. And find a job, whatever. Meanwhile, Fyrefly has this really cool book blogs search engine, which is great if you’d like to search people’s reviews and link theirs to yours. I did that for the Graveyard Book and realized my linking task was far from end. Yes yes it’s a popular book. If you have a book blog and hasn’t been listed there, please leave her a message so she can include your blog too.

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

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Finally, a Neil Gaiman’s! Been wanting to read one of his books, but never got a chance to, then I read his graphic novel. Fine, I’m happy enough for now. I was lucky and got this from the library. For some (obvious?) reason, the first volume of every series is always the hardest to find.

I can’t say it’s been a breeze for me. I struggled for the first couple of chapters. I felt that the story jumped from one to another and frankly, I just didn’t get it. It was all just a bit… messy. But towards the end, it got better. Later I found out that I was not familiar with some of the characters as they’re taken from other comics, like John Constantine, Scott Free, and Doctor Destiny. Browsed Wiki quickly to get some ideas of these characters. I guess it shouldn’t be such a big deal. You could still understand the stories without knowing their background (or can’t you?), but it just felt weird when some people just came out of nowhere and I felt like I was supposed to know them but wasn’t. Like you’re the only stranger in a party full of people that know each other.

Anyway, I got over that. Moving on. In this first volume, we got to know the Sandman, the King of Dream, Morpheus (they’re all the same person). He got captured for 70 years by some humans (how did they do it?), before finally escaping, back to his abandoned kingdom with none of his 3 tools with him. So a few chapters show how he tries to retrieve back his stolen possessions. In the final chapter, we meet Death, the Dream’s sister. The most glorified character in graphic novel from the few reviews I read. Not to spoil it for you, I’d just say she’s interesting, NOT the typical personification of Death with skeletal figure carrying a large scythe wearing black hooded cloak. But I think I’d have to read more of the Sandman series to fully appreciate her.

The chapter that gave me the creeps the most was “24 Hours”. That was just plain disturbing. It’s about how Dr Destiny waited for Dream at a cafe, and during the 24 hours he was waiting, he was psychologically (which also leads to physically) torturing the people. The last chapter “The Sound of Her Wings”, in which Dream meets Death, is indeed the best one of all. Or is it just because the art is so clean for that part? The one where he goes to Hell is pretty cool too.

“What power would HELL have if those here imprisoned were NOT able to DREAM of HEAVEN?” ~ Dream, p128

Nice.

I really want to continue to the next volumes, as people say they get more interesting in the later volumes. Neil Gaiman himself has said that he felt that he just only found his own voice in the last chapter of Preludes & Nocturnes onwards. So hopefully I can get my hands on the second volume soon.

gaiman3

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Pages: 240
Publication year: 1988-1989

Also reviewed by

Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | Rhinoa’s Ramblings | Bold. Blue. Adventure. | The Hidden Side of Leaf | A Striped Armchair | Nothing of Importance | Tripping Toward Lucidity | Book Bug | The Wertzone

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