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Keith Miller – The Book of Flying

February 20, 2008

22. The Book of Flying by Keith Miller (2004)

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale

Started: 18 February 2008
Finished: 20 February 2008

Summary: Pico is a poet and librarian in the city by the sea, and Pico is in love with a winged girl. In order to be with her, however, he needs wings of his own, so he sets off eastward towards the morning town where waits The Book of Flying and his wings. On his way, he encounters the queen of the thieves, a minotaur, a naturalist rabbit, a seller of dreams, two sad but beautiful whores, a cannibal, and an immortal girl in search of the kingdom of Death, and each of them he teaches, and from each of them he learns about the power of love, of life, and of stories.

Review: This book is written like a fable, containing within it a collection of fables, as each of the characters tells Pico their story. The language is beautiful and rare, reading with the tone and rhythm of poetry rather than prose. This is the sort of book that deserves to be dealt with slowly, taking the time to savor each turn of phrase, to let them absorb and gestate without worrying about the forward progress of the plot, and to not overdose on the imagery. However, I just wasn’t in the mood this time around. It’s clear there’s a beautiful book in there, but I didn’t connect with it – not with the characters nor with the story – and beautiful though the language was, I wanted something more than a wash of well-turned words. It felt too distant and remote, so enamored of teaching lessons about the heart that it forgot to tap some spark of spirit. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Lyrically beautiful but it left me strangely unmoved. It may be that it was just the wrong book for the wrong mood – if you’ve got some time to devote to it, you may have better luck.

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First Line: I am dreaming. I’m dreaming of a city, a white city in the sun by the sea, a city of bells and birdcages, botswains and ballyhoo, where heart-faced wenches lean bare-breasted from balconies to dry their hair among geraniums and the air is salt and soft and in the harbor sailors swagger from ships that bear cargoes of spices.

Vocab:

  • p. 28: “Adevi presided from a green canvas pavilion open to the rest of the camp and there she rutted in the day with her companion of the moment, on a soiled divan, two daggers sunk in the cladding of its arm, her shouts barging through the wood.” – metal bonded to an inner core of another metal.
    .
  • p. 30: “He practiced picking a selection of locks, prying with a bent wire till the tumblers clicked and the tongue snapped back. And he acquired some of the robbers’ argot.” – a specialized idiomatic vocabulary peculiar to a particular class or group of people, esp. that of an underworld group, devised for private communication and identification
    .
  • p. 43: “As the edges of the novelty were chamfered away Pico realized that his ache was a wound, always he tasted blood and knew it was his own.” – To cut off the edge or corner of; bevel.
    .
  • p. 64: “‘Stop,’ cried the minotaur, leaping to the foot of the bridge, but she drew her falchion and lunged at him and he was compelled to snatch his own weapon from its scabbard and parry the blow.” – a broad, short sword having a convex edge curving sharply to the point.
    .
  • p. 66: “The afternoon was well advanced by the time he’d finished his preparations but he knew he could not stay another night in this sough of memories, so he shouldered his pack and without a backward glance walked across the bridge and into the forest beyond.” – a swampy or marshy area.
    .
  • p. 72: “Around the walls cases and shelves contained heaps and rows of objects, birds’ nests and blown eggs, pressed leaves, pinned beetles and butterflies, the fluted houses of wasps, sheaves of dried grasses, jars filled with colored earths, rocks on kapok in chambered boxes, each object tagged with a strip of paper on which was scribbled a name and number.” – the silky down that invests the seeds of a silk-cotton tree.
    .
  • p. 91: “He shrugged and rucked the fur of his cat’s neck and finally they left.” – to make a fold in; crease
    .
  • p. 175: “But keep characters in propinquity long enough and a story will always develop a plot.” – proximity; nearness.
    .
  • p. 202: “High on the stone, almost lost in the frugal light, hung blackjacks and battle-axes, sabers and maces, bastinades and shillelaghs and pikes.” – a stick or cudgel.
    .
  • p. 208: “The forms grew etiolated, while the drip and occasional tinkle as a lock of hair or a finger fell to the ground filled the courtyard with a spring music.” – to cause to become weakened or sickly; drain of color or vigor.
    .
  • p. 215: “The citizens would help me dismantle the palace and build a castle in this col where we now sit, a mansion for a single soul.” – a pass or depression in a mountain range or ridge.
    .
  • p. 235: “It was bruited he was mad but his flowers were the finest, the freshest, so his quirks were tolerated.” – repeated; rumored.
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