Sometimes, because it's simply how my brain works, I start wondering about why I like the books I like. And I long ago reached a conclusion about a certain set of books: those wonderfully marvelous books about books. The meta-books, all full of literary-self-referential goodness. (Sorry, did that sound a bit pretentious?) But this is the thing: as someone who has always loved books, I have an exceedingly hard time not to be tickled pink by books about books. An EXCEEDINGLY hard time.
John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things has the air of the Grimm's fairy tales, with a little bit of political humor mixed in. Our protagonist is a young lad, David, whose mother dies early in the novel. Because his mother always spoke so lovingly about the books she read--and the books David read to her as she was ill--he unsurprisingly consoles himself when she dies by reading and reading and reading. The books are his comfort--the objects that most remind him of her as she was before she became ill.
Except that the books start becoming alive. David can hear them speak. His father remarries, his stepmother gives birth to his half-brother. And David...isn't very nice to any of them. They move to the country, and David runs away (simultaneously far and not far--just to a hollow that's essentially in their yard, and then into a fairy tale land).
The fairy tales are a mix of the heartily amusing (Snow White is fat, loud, and pretty much horrible...the dwarves are Marxists who refuse to let their greedy tenant know how well their mine does) and the somewhat more eerily Grimmike (the woman in the forest who finds a way to splice together children and then animals so she can hunt them down).
As David moves this fairy tale land, he learns important lessons: how to be clever, how to rely on himself, how much he misses his family. But none of the lessons seems trite or inevitable. Connolly writes what starts as wonderfully lyric appreciation of stories and what they can do, while subtlely weaving in a story about becoming a better, kinder, more grown up person.
It's not wholly moralistic and it's not wholly pretty, but I found the composite engaging. (Also? It's worth reading for the one scene alone where David imagines he hears old books talking: they're hilarious, they're egocentric, and they're entertaining. Seriously.)