This month I decided to take part in Andrew Thornton's Inspired By Reading Book Club. This is a virtual book club composed mainly of artists, who take inspiration from the book to create artwork. The group is predominantly jewelry makers, including my wife Sarajo of Sj Designs.
The book this month is Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane, published in 2013. We had a signed hardcover of this one already and I had been meaning to read it, so I jumped on board with this challenge! I've been reading Gaiman's stuff since the 1990's when he was known for writing the Sandman comic series. He was a true groundbreaker when it came to adding levels of complexity, myth, and characterization that was nearly unheard of in the predominantly costumed superhero comics industry. I continued to read as he wrote a wonderful series called The Books of Magic in which a young bespectacled English boy named Tim Hunter discovers that he is a wizard and must learn to use his magic against those who seek to control or destroy him. Sound familiar Harry Potter fans? Yup this was written in 1993!
I continued to read Gaiman's books, especially when he moved to novels, with Neverwhere, and American Gods. If you haven't read those...do so now! Sj and I even got to have sushi with him and a group of musicians from the Twin Cities once, a very cool evening for us. So that is a quick background of my history with this great author...now on to the book itself!
I've noticed that Gaiman's recent works have mostly focused on children's books and those aimed at young adults. Trust me, he doesn't dumb things down for the younger crowd, but keeps things complex and intriguing. I would have killed for his smart kind of YA novel when I was younger, but there were limited options back in the 1980's. The Ocean at the End of the Lane takes place in an older version of rural England and uses the somewhat detached and formal voice that Gaiman often uses in his books. The book is told by an unnamed narrator after he goes back home to visit after "growing up" and is mostly a long flashback of strange events from his childhood that he has long forgotten.
My first "artistic" endeavor for this book uses my main form of self expression: Beer Making! The story takes place near and in a farm house, so I took this cue to create a classic farmhouse ale--the Belgian Saison. This type of ale was typically made on a very small scale mainly for the people working on the farm, and as a result the "style" is really quite varied since every farm had their own recipe, yeast, and brewers. Most of the brews were fermented on the warmer side resulting in a fruitier flavor from yeast derived esters. I brewed up a fairly simple light colored beer mainly of pilsner malt, with some noble Saaz hops for bitterness and a hint of floral aroma. The real player in this brew is the Belgian Saison yeast, which I fermented initially at 67 degrees, then ramped up to 70 for finishing. The resulting brew is my take on the Saison farmhouse style and I've named it Hempstock's Farmhouse Ale. I'll be taking some of this brew along for an in-person visit to the live book club meet up in Andrew's home town in Pennsylvania!
I'll try not to give too much away...but want to explain my pictures a bit, so if you hate spoilers, just scan the pics and ignore the words. Let's be honest mostly we do that anyway!
Much of the action in the book takes place at the farmhouse of the Hempstocks, a trio of women who live just down the lane from our narrator. The youngest, Lettie, is just a few years older than the protagonist and takes him under her wing. She tells him that the pond on the property is really an ocean, along with several other nonsensical things, but he takes this in stride in typical young child fashion. I took this particular photo of a farmhouse along the pond at Phelps Mill in Ottertail, MN. This is a place I grew up, swimming in the river, fishing in the pond, and climbing about in the then-decaying and dangerous mill building. Testing out my new Photoshop Elements, I pasted in this seagull from a shot I took up in Duluth the same summer. I think it ties in the Ocean aspect of the story...
Creeped out yet? Gaiman's books often have an element of horror wrapped up in them. At one point in this particular tale, after getting embroiled in some fantastical events with Lettie Hempstock, the protagonist discovers a disgusting worm living in a small hole in his foot. In the bathroom he tries to get the worm out, and this is my take on it. Not sure why, but I found this particular part of the novel especially nightmarish! So I took this vision of the book and did a bit of a self portrait...now all of you can have nightmares as well!
During the culmination of the book, the narrator has a desperate evening run through the farmer's fields to escape the villain and get back to the Hempstock farm and Lettie's protection. I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how best to make this work in photography...starting in the spring and not really getting anything great until fall harvest time. At our Minnesota Landscape Arboretum they had a special limited run of glass and metal sculptures throughout the grounds and this particular grouping of glass people rising and cavorting from the tall grass finally hit the sweet spot I was looking for.
Overall this was a book that was at once simple and complex, hitting many levels at a time. I highly recommend it to any age reader. I hope you enjoyed my write-up. Please check out the other blog entries on this book--I'll be updating this blog with their URLs once everything is posted!