What It Means to Be Real: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

cover imageWritten from a clever point of view that it took only about fifteen minutes of listening to Matthew Brown’s reading for me to warm up to, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks is narrated by Budo, the imaginary friend of Max Delaney, a smart eight-year-old boy with a great imagination, an eye for detail, and an unofficial diagnosis of being somewhere on the autism spectrum (although his father believes Max is just a “late bloomer.”) Thanks to Max’s strong imagination, Budo is very well formed for an imaginary friend – some of whom, he explains, are no more than spots on a wall, or are missing body parts, such as ears. Budo also claims that being imaginary, and only visible to Max, doesn’t mean he isn’t real.

Sounds cutesy, I know. At first it did seem just too convenient that Budo was constrained in some ways by the limits of Max’s imagination (who, though precocious, is still a child), yet at the same time, can sound and act very adult, learning things that Max can’t and even getting into friendly arguments with him. Budo speculates early on that when Max as a four-year old first brought Budo into being, he may have imagined him as a teenager, an adult,  or maybe “a boy with a grown-up’s brain.” Budo describes his strange place in the world living in the “spaces between  as straddling the fence. “I’m not exactly a kid, but I’m not exactly an adult either.”

But the author (and the talented audiobook narrator) manage to pull off this tricky adult-child voice, which could easily become grating. The voice of Budo talking about Max – his talents and his limitations – and about Max’s parents – how they argue over what is best for Max and whether he needs more than just patience – allow for insight into how it might feel to be Max, to have constant sensory overload around people, even family, and a high-functioning brain that’s more comfortable in a world of video games and imagined battles than in the real world.

Although he worries a lot about Max and tries to help him navigate the daily life of school and home, Budo also has his own existential concerns. He has seen many imaginary friends go “poof,” and he’s desperate to know what happens after the “poof.” He knows that he only exists as long as Max continues to believe in him. After the plot heats up, Budo’s place in Max’s world gets called into question even more. This would make a good book discussion book for a philosophically minded group. There’s a lot to talk about in the differences between Max and Budo, Max’s world and Budo’s world, and the different disconnects each of them has with the world of Max’s parents (i.e. the real world. Maybe?)

Read an excerpt of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend here to get a sense of how the short sentences and chapters look on the page.

Read other reviews and find the link to a sample of the Macmillan audiobook on these blogs:
Jenn’s Bookshelves

The Literate Housewife

The Reading Frenzy (includes author interview)
Shelf Awareness (includes narrator interview)

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend
Dicks, Matthew (author)
Brown, Matthew (narrator)
Macmillan Audio
August 21, 2012
9781427225887
9 hours on 9 CDs

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this audiobook on CD from Macmillan Audio at Book Expo America.

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Out of Amnesia: Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

In Garment of Shadows, the intrepid Mary Russell is back on serious territory after her unusual (and undesired) foray into the pop culture of the time (1924) with Fflytte Films (detailed in her last book of “memoirs”, Pirate King). This story is twelfth in the series of suspense novels by Laurie R. King (starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice) about an unusual partnership between the retired famous detective Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, a young woman with a classical education from Oxford; well-versed in Judaism and other theologies; sharp-witted; an excellent shot (when she has her glasses on); and very skilled at wielding the sharp knife she keeps hidden in her boot (only when cornered or attacked.)

Garment of Shadows opens with Mary Russell concussed and amnesiac, trying to figure out who she is, where she is, and how she got there. Her life up until that point is a near-blank. Out of a haze of shadowy thoughts and with the help of muscle memory, she escapes this latest dangerous situation, and the latest adventure of this most unusual married couple (separated from each other at the moment) begins. This time, they are in the divided country of Morocco, where the borders of French and Spanish protectorates are being threatened by local tribal factions and where, it appears, civil war is imminent.

The Mary Russell series falls into the genre of historical mystery and suspense, but the author’s writing style gives them a contemporary feel. Russell is a thoroughly modern woman who drives, speaks her mind, and records such thoughts in her memoir as “It was damnably irritating” and “Oh, that was just great.” Neither the 25-year-old Russell nor the 70-something Holmes expect proper behavior from the other – allowing both partners to indulge in eccentricity, frequent disguises, dangerous exploits, and the exercise of their keen, complementary intelligence. Russell and Holmes do show a traditionally gentlemanly reluctance to kill in cold blood, and display good English sportsmanship when playing The Game (i.e. espionage) by only using deadly force when absolutely necessary to save another’s life.

Each of the books in the series can stand alone, but they really are best read in order, to appreciate the organic growth of the relationship of the main characters from mentor and pupil to equal partners in detection and espionage in the service of queen and country. You can read a substantial PDF excerpt from the beginning of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, when Mary Russell is only fifteen, from the author’s Web site.

Read my review of Pirate King here.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Garment of Shadows from Random House through NetGalley.

Garment of Shadows
King, Laurie R.
Random House, Sept. 4, 2012
978-0-553-80799-8
288 pp.
$26.00

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Celtic Gothic – The Night Swimmer by Matthew Bondurant (Audio)

The audiobook edition of The Night Swimmer by Matthew Bondurant, narrated absolutely perfectly by Hillary Huber, will be the first on my list of best audiobooks of 2012 (if I get one posted this year.)
The Night Swimmer opens with excerpts from The Journals of John Cheever referring both to Revolutionary Road (about the dissolution of a marriage) by Richard Yates and to the accidental death of children by poisoning, so a reader will know right away not to expect this story – about a man’s winning a pub in a contest sponsored by an brewery and moving with his wife to start a new life in Ireland – to be a lighthearted story in the style of the TV show Cheers. The cover design of a ruined lighthouse on a rocky outpost on the edge of the Atlantic is another strong hint.
A heavy sense of foreboding hangs over the book from the start. The story is told by Elly, Fred’s wife, who carries The Journals of John Cheever like a talisman, and, like a character from one of John Cheever’s stories, is happiest when in the water. Narrator Hillary Huber captures the mixture of regret and remembered happiness with which Elly remembers life with Fred – the good times they had and the gradual coming apart – and how her deep passion for open-water swimming lures her away from Fred and his pub, The Nightjar, and into the dangerous waters off the island of Cape Clear.
Here are the opening lines:

It began with a dart, a pint, and a poem, three elements that seemed to demonstrate the imprecise nature of fate. When Fred stepped up to the line, the dart held loosely in his hand, you could see in the way he carried his body the assurance of a man who was well prepared. Fred was always lucky, but to say that now, seems to remove something essential from him. In fact, it is Fred who should be telling you this story, for he was the one preparing for this all along. Not me.

Now, listen to them as read by Hillary Huber on Audible.com.
I’m not going to outline the book’s plot because the inexorable unfolding of events (because they’ve already happened to Elly and her husband) contributes so much to the impact of this atmospheric, contemporary gothic. I’ll just say that the Ireland of The Night Swimmer has more in common with the feudal Ireland of the past or the mystical, myth-shrouded Ireland of the early saints than with the quirky Ireland of Ballykissangel, say, or the cozy Ireland of Maeve Binchy’s fiction.
The Night Swimmer would be great for a book group because it could spark spirited discussions of how the author intended the reader to interpret this part of the story or that, and also more lofty talk of chance, fate, predestination, national character, love, family, and human nature.
This was the first book I’ve read by the author of The Third Translation and The Wettest County in the World, but it really impressed me and I would like to read more. Its descriptive language, first-person point of view, and the subtle undercurrents of meaning make The Night Swimmer an ideal audiobook, especially with the right narrator. If you’re wondering whether to listen to it or read it, I recommend listening to it!

The Night Swimmer (audiobook)
Bondurant, Matt
Huber, Hillary (Narrator)
AudioGO, 2012
978-1-60998-746-6
9 hrs., 56 min.
8 CDs

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this audiobook from AudioGO. I would have liked The Night Swimmer just as much if I had bought it or borrowed it from the library, though.
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Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker

When English professor Jack Barnes is turned into a zombie but retains his reason, his ability to write, and his recollection of pop-culture trivia, he feels compelled to gather together and lead a small band of others who are smarter than your average zombie into a New World of zombies co-existing peaceably with humans. Each member of his literally raggedy-ass and decomposing group has a unique talent in addition to a spark of remaining human intelligence. One can run instead of shuffling along with arms out in front in classic zombie style; another can talk while most lose all powers of speech and can only emit zombie-like moans; yet another is handy with a gun.

If you’ve had Max Brook’s critically acclaimed zombie novel, World War Z, on your to-read list but only have time for a shorter book now that holidays are looming, Brains: A Zombie Memoir is a good choice. If you like campy, ironic takes on zombie lore and human pop-culture a la the movie Shaun of the Dead (which, surprisingly, is a movie  Zombie-Professor Jack doesn’t refer to) or if you want to test your own cultural knowledge by seeing how many references and allusions you get in 182 pages packed full of them, Brains: A Zombie Memoir is for you. That is, as long as you can deal with zombies craving human brains and eating them like caviar straight from the skull and then — when the brains are gone — moving on to other body parts and viscera. In author Robin Becker‘s vision of the zombie apocalypse, it’s definitely a zombie-eat-human world.

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