People often ask us how we decide what to read next. My answer is that I don't really decide--I just start reading. I don't commit to just one book (I often have several going at once), and I am not one of those readers who feel compelled to finish every book they start (I know many who find this appalling--sorry dad!). This policy helps me deal with the blessing and curse of our jobs (there are so many books to read, and so little time to read them all!) and affords me the freedom to crack open any book that crosses my path and dive right in. Things that help me sort through what to keep and what to give in a box of books include anything from a clever title (a couple of us are hopelessly in love with After the Fire, a Still Small Voice), to a great quote (Colm Toibin's blurb on the cover of John the Revelator earned it a spot on my shelf), or a really good cover (yes, you can sometimes judge a book this way). This brings me to my current crush, Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard. In the true spirit of a crush, I fell hard and fast--loved the cover, was intrigued by the epigraph (the opening stanza to Emily Dickinson's "A Clock Stopped"), and dug the pen and ink illustrations at the start of each chapter. I admit to being a sucker for Faustian tales, so the story of a snarky scientist who hastily sells his soul to the devil before he realizes he does in fact, need it, was enough to hook me. As an added bonus,the first chapter made me laugh out loud--always a good sign. I am only halfway through, however, so like many crushes, this one could flame out quickly. So far, it's a fun ride, and it looks like many of our customers have enjoyed it, so I’m not too worried.
Here's a taste of the first chapter to entice you, wherein our soul-less Johannes Cabal confronts Satan in hell, and they strike up a deal (cue The Charlie Daniels Band):
"Frankly I don't think your challenge is entirely fair."
There was a period of silence for a long moment.
Satan's periods of good nature--in common with many managerial types--lasted precisely up until the moment he was challenged. He scowled monstrously the smile falling from his face like a greased pig off a church roof…
"Not entirely fair," repeated Satan, all trace of jovial hail-fellow-well-met gone. "Not entirely fair?" His voice became that of the inferno: a rushing, booming howl of icy-evil…
"I am Satan, also called Lucifer the Light Bearer…"
Cabal winced. What was it about devils that they always had to give you their whole family history?
"I was cast down from the presence of God himself into this dark, sulphurous pit and condemned to spend eternity here…"
"Have you tried saying sorry?" interrupted Cabal.
"No, I haven't! I was sent down for a sin of pride. It rather undermines my position if I say 'sorry'!"…
Satan leaned back in his throne, and his voice dropped to the low tone of somebody who is about to abort an interview. "Look up 'Satan' in a thesaurus at some point, mortal. You'll find terms like elemental evil,' 'wickedness incarnate,' and 'the begetter of sins.' If you find 'nice chap,' 'good bloke,' and 'the embodiment of fairness,' then I would suggest you buy a new one. Do you accept the deal?"