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Book Report: I'm not a fan of fantasy, except for this one work

"The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows," by Jacqueline Cobian West, black and white illustrations by Polly Bernatene (Dial Press, $16.99), just blew me away.

I must confess I didn't approach the book with much enthusiasm because adolescent novels aren't usually my cup of tea, unless you count Jon Hassler's early forays into the genre. 

But the author went to school in the town where I live and now dwells in nearby Red Wing, Minn., and I loved the book of poetry, "Cherma," which the University of Wisconsin Press published recently. So I dove right in. 

Golly, this is a good read even if you're seven times as old as you're supposed to be. I'm learning that's true of lots of books like Hassler's and now West's. West's of course is different than Hassler's because it dwells in the realms of fantasy (another reason I crept reluctantly toward it).

Seems that little Olive is something of a misfit. Her parents are math professors and Olive has a difficult time counting to 100 without missing the 70s and sometimes the 80s. It's not that she's stupid; it's just that her interests lie elsewhere, especially in the arts.

Nevertheless her brilliant if somewhat eccentric parents have a difficult time relating to her and consequently treat her like a foreign exchange student from a country they've never heard of.  If Olive is mathematically challenged, then the parents are commonsensically challenged, from which much of the book's humor springs.

Complicating the plot still further is the situation in which Olive finds herself. She and her parents have moved out of their apartment into an ancient house in the city. Olive is old enough to stay by herself when her parents are out concocting mathematical formulae, and so she goes exploring in the old manse, the walls of which are hung with pictures that reminds one of your great aunt Bessie's dreary old house.

And that isn't all. Upon closer inspection, Olive discovers if she wears these old spectacles she's found in a desk, she can crawl right into the picture and take part with the subjects of said picture, can walk up and down paths and even be chased by ogres that seem to appear from nowhere.

You get the picture. How is Olive going to explain to her rather benumbed parents, who treat her like a foreign exchange student, that she's just extricated herself from that pastoral scene over there hanging on the east wall?

Already critics are comparing West to the likes of Roald Dahl and she has recently finished a sequel. Now West is making noises about a series of five books, which has allowed her to give up her job as an English teacher.

Someone asked her what kind of painting she'd like to dive into if she were able. She replied "It would have to be something by Salvador Dali," explaining it that it would be like swimming around in silly putty or fried eggs.

Easy over?


Two sports books for your consideration: "As Good as Gold," by Kathryn Bertine (ESPN Books, $25) tells the story of Bertine, a onetime college athlete who is in desperate need of a job other than waitressing.

ESPN network offers her a two year contract to train for the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing.  Bertine romps through this adventure as she trains for pentathlon, triathlon, team handball, track cycling, road cycling, rowing, open water swimming, race walking, and luge, after which she must find a country willing to let her represent them.

"Carew," by Rod Carew with Ira Berkow came out in 1979 and is now re-issued by the University of Minnesota Press ($18.95 paper).

It tells the story of the Hall of Famer and former Twins player. The new edition has a new forward by Torii Hunter.

Berkow, won the Pulitzer Prize for sports reporting at the New York Times, before which he was a reporter for the Minneapolis Star. 

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.