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MirrorMask (children's edition)
Neil Gaiman
The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories, Volume One: Where on Earth
Ursula K. Le Guin
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown
Maud Hart Lovelace
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde, Camille Cauti
Riders of the Purple Sage
Zane Grey
Vampires, Zombies, & Wanton Souls
Marge Simon
The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country  - Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones, Colleen Doran, Charles Vess So good! All four of these stand-alone stories are excellent. My personal favorite? Gaiman's blurring of boundaries between fae, dream, and worldly realms in A Midsummer-Night's Dream. Seriously, how cool is the idea to have Dream commission the play from Shakespeare in the 1590's? Will's son Hamnet says a lot in his condemnation of his father's detachment:

"I'm less real to him than any of the characters in his plays. Mother says he's changed in the last five years, but I don't remember him any other way. Judith--she's my twin sister--she once joked that if I died, he'd just write a play about it. 'Hamnet.'"

I suspect there's a significant autobiographical component to this story for Gaiman. What trade offs and omissions did Gaiman accept in following his passion for story? My second favorite in the lot - Calliope - involves writers block and questionable trade offs as well. Holding captive and raping a Muse just to crank out entertainments? Vile stuff! I believe Gaiman dedicated Calliope to Clive Barker, begging the question: "What tortured process do these two masters of darkest fantasy go through for the sake of their art?" The horrifying dreamscapes they create certainly must take a toll on their own lives.

The other two stories - A Dream of a Thousand Cats and Facade - have nothing to be ashamed of either. All depict deep loneliness and yearning for a better existence. Unlike the first two volumes of Sandman, these stories can be read in any order. Then for the curious, there's a marked up script for Calliope at the end. I love Gaiman's red-ink commentary on the line "Still, every little bit helps, as the old woman said when she pissed in the sea" -- "A genuine old English proverb, strangely enough." Ah, old English proverbs. My Pop used to spout similar folksy wisdom like "Everybody to their own taste, as the old lady said when she kissed the cow." Pop never provided commentary, however. But I digress!

Enjoy the disturbing interlude of standalones, everyone. See you in Volume Four: Season of Mists.