A Writer’s Toolbox: Ghost Story with a Wrench vs. Light for the Underworld

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ~Stephen King

I take the above quote to heart because it rings so true, in fact it resonates. Inasmuch, I should probably start getting more bang for my buck by embellishing my existing reading habit. Therefore, I’ll start doing two things:

1) I’ll come up with a reading list for myself from now till August

2) I’ll provide some commentary and reviews for those works as I go through them.

Because 1) seems so daunting, I’ll jump right into 2) for the moment.

We’ll start easy. I drive a lot, and instead of music for company, I often opt for audio productions of young adult fiction. This is a habit developed from  adolescence. All family road trips were accompanied by audio-books  It sets the tone, infuses the trip with amusing character references, and keeps the driver awake. I’ve discovered that if you try to listen to audio performances of novels, the innate maturity and temporal development cadences lull the driver to sleep. Also, it destroys the rapport at roadside meals because everyone is contemplative instead of enterprising.

I just finished listening to the audio recording of two works that I think have wonderful capacities for the compare/contrast breed of review.

A] The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau; narrated by Wendy Dillon


B] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; narrated by the author


City of Ember is a work of children’s fiction. The setting is futuristic-in an underground city meant to preserve humanity from some assumed end. The city is running out of supplies and it’s experiencing increasingly alarming blackouts. Its people, generations beyond the first settlers, do not know that they live beneath the ground–in fact only the mayors were entrusted with that secret and even they were obliged to pass it down in a time-sealed box, not privy to the information they protected. The protagonist is a plucky young girl, however, the story is really propelled along by the influence of her radical best friend.

In contrast, The Graveyard Book is set, as one might expect, in a graveyard. The main character is named Nobody Owens, “Bod” for short. I love that name because Bod is orphaned in the first chapter and his name sounds like “Nobody Owns”. Bod is fostered by the ghosts of the graveyard’s tenants, and protected by its sanctions. The plot is propelled by his learning process about the differences in life and death via the mystery of his parents’ murder.

Both works are coming of age stories, but I would rank Graveyard as quite a bit more mature. I do admit a bias here, because Neil Gaiman is not only one of my favorite authors, but he’s an extraordinary and prolific one–a modern classic.

Both works are community-centered, and in both, the protagonists are motivated to mobilize away from their home. The plots illustrate the decision process for the main characters. They are not epic sagas with one great travel followed by the next. Instead, the plots demonstrate the internal process influenced by one’s community, and the inevitable, immutable propulsion into adulthood.

Graveyard was an especial treat because it was narrated by the author, therefore privy to more warmth and innate connection to the characters and prose than one finds in the production of Ember. My favorite  aspect of Graveyard was the development of Bod from an infant to a young man. Gaiman articulately illustrates the naiveté and energy of youth, the flustered brooding of adolescence, the grappling for independence of the teen years, and finally the conscious step into adulthood after one has bravely chosen to live boldly, though conscious of grave dangers

My favorite aspect of Ember was the author’s keen description of that heady rush one feels as a buyer–that moment you realize you are besotted with something you merely had a fancy for before–and the rush that comes when you’ve completed the transaction. The author completes the cycle later in the story, with the inevitable shame and question of worth, especially if the buyer was unfortunate enough to purchase beyond their means.

Unknown to me until JUST THIS SECOND, The City of Ember was made into a movie back in 2008. Even more exciting, The Graveyard Book is in the making, to be directed by Ron Howard! Definitely something to look forward to.

2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Toolbox: Ghost Story with a Wrench vs. Light for the Underworld

  1. Andrej Dukalev

    I looked up both of the books and had the opportunity to watch the trailer for city of ember. What do you mean by coming of age? What does that mean to you? It seems that it is clear in The Graveyard Book as the reader can see the character grow up, but not so much in city of ember.


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