by Sam Savage
Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2009
I’m a reader. And I love to read a book that leads me to another book that leads me to another book that leads me to even another book. This petite novel, Firmin does this. Delightfully so.
I’m not normally attracted to fantasy books where the protagonist other than human. There have been a few. The Narnia series (though I read this first when I was 11.) A couple of books written from a dog’s point of view. But usually – not. So I wasn’t sure about a novel where the main character is a rat (Firmin) who teaches himself to read the novels he had here-to-for feathering his nest and/or eating when desperate for food.
However – Firmin was recommended by the same person who recommended The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. He has good taste. And he reads for the many of the same reasons I read. So – I bought the book.
I was a bit startled though when I saw the book for the first time. There’s a bite out of one side. A big bite. Like a rat might have begun gnawing this book before it arrived.
I got the metaphor. Or at least the one that came to my mind – because I’ve often said that I “consume” books, that I “eat” them. I write in the margins. I put exclamation marks or question marks. I put lines alongside passages I agree with. One line means “I agree”, two lines “I really agree” and three or more vertical lines mean “EXACTLY! I wish I’d said this!”
I also note in the back pages where there are paragraphs or words that I want to remember forever. (Which is why no one is ever going to buy my collection of books after I die – or be able to sell my collection used online. Too “used.” Too many “marks” to ever receive that Very Good or even Good rating under the used books available link online at Barnes & Noble.)
So – I got the bite out of the book. Loved it. And loved the way Firmin (who lives in an independent book store soon to be closed due to urban improvement planning where whole neighborhoods are leveled for better freeway connectors) lead me on a journey reminding me of classic books I’d read, or should have read and so now, that he reminded me, intend to read.
He – or rather author Sam Savage – is a good guide to all things wonder-filled in books that have stood the test of time. And Savage himself is a wonder. He received a bachelor and doctoral degree in philosophy from Yale where he taught “briefly,” according to his bio on the last page. Since then – he’s worked as a bicycle mechanic, carpenter, commercial fisherman and letterpress printer, Firmin was his first novel and received the Library Journal Debut Novel award as well as being the Winner of the American Library Association’s Notable Book Award when it first came out in 2006.
Want one more recommendation? Here’s what author Donna Leon says on the back cover:
Delicious. Firmin is a book that is written for Readers, that is, for people who have the book passion and for whom books are as real as anything else in life. Realer, perhaps.
Couldn’t agree more!