Thursday, 26 September 2013


It's good to pick up a book now and again...

 “We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get it the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God's sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they'd allowed to wither in themselves.”
Robert McCammon, Boys Life

Boy’s Life isn’t just one of the ten books I’d chose to be stuck on a desert Island with, it’s probably THE book. 
It can be rather tiresome when even our closest friends fly at us, fired up with evangelical zeal and extolling the virtues of a book they’ve just read like a fire and brimstone Preacher, urging, nay insisting, we read it.  Now. 
But I also completely understand. If I could I’d give Boy’s Life to everyone I know for Christmas, I would.  And it’s understandable how this “gorgeous book”, as Peter Straub has called it, could have this effect on you.  Imagine It’s a wonderful Life crossed with the most engrossing murder mystery you’ve ever read, then liberally spiced with the supernatural and fantastic.  Every year, I pick this book up and rejoin an adventure told through a 12-year-old’s eyes which features an ancient river monster, ghosts, a dinosaur and equally astonishing and unimaginable to young Cory Matheson: even a naked girl. And it’s all wrapped up into a moving, funny, tragic, suspenseful and joyous coming of age story set in a town and time which makes me wish I could climb through the pages and visit.
The spirit of Ray Bradbury courses through the pages of Boy’s Life, a fact which author Robert McCammon makes no bones about acknowledging in his wonderful afterword. I wouldn’t say the student has surpassed the master, but this distillation of Bradbury, then set to a tempo all of McCammon’s own, makes for an irresistible combination. In this story time is measured by school terms and seasons (remember what that was like – when a year seemed like an impossibly long time?), and, as the quote I started with suggests, magic is still very much alive for our young heroes. Not the wand-waving sorcery of a certain endless film franchise, but the unselfconscious way of seeing and interacting with the world which we all used to have.
The list of acknowledgements at the end of Boy’s Life reads like a mission statement for this blog, although written by someone a little older, and more American than I am.  In summing up his own intention with this book McCammon writes:
“This is part of what Boy's Life is about: the rediscovery of magic, of wonders that lie drowning and half-forgotten in our souls. Boy's Life is about the dreams and terrors in the life of a Southern boy in 1964, but I hope it is more than that, too; I hope it is a universal key to yesterday, and by the opening of that door for a backward look we may all see today tomorrow in a much clearer, brighter light.”
How do you follow a précis by a real writer? Well, you quote him again.  Here’s the poem which begins Boy’s Life.  But first, just one final urging from me - as Newsweek says on the cover: “devour this beautiful book”
 “We ran like young wild furies,
where angels feared to tread.
The woods were dark and deep.
Before us demons fled.
We checked Coke bottle bottoms
to see how far was far.
Our worlds of magic wonder
were never reached by car.
We loved our dogs like brothers,
our bikes like rocket ships.
We were going to the stars,
to Mars we'd make round trips.
We swung on vines like Tarzan,
and flashed Zorro's keen blade.
We were James Bond in his Aston,
we were Hercules unchained.
We looked upon the future
and we saw a distant land,
where our folks were always ageless,
and time was shifting sand.
We filled up life with living,
with grins, scabbed knees, and noise.
In glass I see an older man,
but this book's for the boys.”
Robert R. McCammon

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