Sunday, December 20, 2009

The greatest idea ever

How cool would this be?

An itunes-esque store for short stories would make me very happy. Countless collections come out and I can't afford them all and there are usually only a handful of stories in each that I would really want to add to my 'permanent collection.' I'm still not a fan of the e-readers I've gotten my hands on but if I could buy a single story from a collection, much like a single song from a CD, then I'd be hard pressed to not ask Santa for a Kindle.

The idea is fraught with problems. Least of which include, 'how do authors get paid,' and 'will there be exclusivity among the different brands of e-readers? ' (Which would be an instant deal killer for me, because I wouldn't buy more than one device just to ensure I could read all the materials I wanted).

Still how badass would it be to type in "Michael Swanwick" in the itunes store and get a catalogue of his short stories for purchase?

Some one who does stuff like this, please hurry up and make it happen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Patricia McKillip and I

At the random suggestion of someone at the library I started reading The Tower at Stony Wood. Previously, I've read Alphabet of Thorn and The Tower at Stony Wood seems to be extracting much the same feelings from me.

I want to like her writing. I feel like I should enjoy the story she tells, but for some reason, I don't. For whatever reason, I have a hard time getting my bearing with her prose. I feel like her writing is not grounded and I have a hard time telling up from down let alone even guessing where the story is going. It's not the allusive writing of Toni Morrison though it has an airy abstract feeling to it, but for me it seems to have similar intangible qualities. I don't mind odd presentation, or suggestive writing that makes me think, but I do need something concrete to build on.

I'm sure she is amazing and worth all the praise and accolades given her, but her ability seems to be lost on me.

Update 12/28/2009

I just read a short story by her in Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy edited Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois call Naming Day and absolutely loved it.

Seems I am ever the hypocrite.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oddities in female writing

I've been reading a lot of fiction, both short stories and novel length material, by women authors the second half of the year. Perhaps it's the sample of material I've read, but I've noticed some peculiarities about women authors.

Excluding the 'classics' and period works, the contemporary ones I've read come across as very forward. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It struck me as strange that very rarely do women want to make love, rather they hurry up to the four-letter word variations. They tolerate the men in their world, but truly have no use for them. To my surprise, the vast majority of the substantial men in the sample of books I read seem to have very strong homosexual tendencies if they aren't outright gay. And there is nothing wrong with that, but it has been cliched unto my sample of reading to see a story with a strong, independent female lead and an average Joe, best friend male who happens to gay.

I've never claimed to understand the female mind, but apparently I have even less of a clue than I originally supposed.

Oh, yeah, and the antagonist is always male. Always. Because men are bad. I'm looking forward to broadening my reading by female authors to see how long these queer quarks hold true. Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, A.S. Byatt, and Cathrynne Valente are in the immediate future.

The Limits of my Genre Interest

I started, and put down, Anathem by Neal Stephenson last night. I gave it my best shot, but after two hundred pages there was nothing to keep me interested.

Two things about this book jumped out at me. The first was the "Note to the Reader" written by the author. It was essentially a set of guidelines on how to read this particular book. The inclusion of such a message is when I felt the first tendrils of dislike latching onto my put-this-book-down gene. Those used to reading speculative fiction and figuring things out were encouraged to skip over the message, and so I did. It was the inclusion of the message to the benefit of everyone else that worried me.

How exclusive is such a message? How elite is a book such as Anathem that a reader unaccustomed to reading science fiction may need, 'assistance' in getting through. If such assistance is needed, what is to be said for 'enjoyment?'

Perhaps, readers unaccustomed to the argot, history, and personalities within the world of classical music and politics concerning Western Europe during both World Wars shouldn't read The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax. Or perhaps it is a testament to the Romano-Lax's writing that a neophyte in all those areas can read, understand, and enjoy the book with out the need of an outside reference. (The Spanish Bow, is a purely random example, the first book I saw, when glancing at the books shelf.)

The second issue I had with Anathem was the inclusion of a glossary. The first book that I can recall reading that included a glossary of terms was The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. I also remember not knowing the glossary was there until I finished the book and was left wondering what the last twenty pages were. I didn't use the glossary. I read the book in a few short days and was able to keep all the information straight in my mind, and furthermore, there was nothing foreign presented that I was unable to figure out with context.

Is there a better way to detach your reader from the story you are telling then by making them rely on a glossary of terms? It is particularly frustrating when a standard English word is re-assigned a definition at the whim of the author. Gene Wolfe has a particular gift for what people often perceive to be the art of "making words up." But he relies on context, an astute reader, a multitude of world language idioms to make himself clear; not a glossary.

I think this is one of the reasons I tend to walk softly upon hardcore sci-fi and fantasy. If you're going to invite me into your world, make sure the primer is thin and readily understandable. In short I felt there was a learning curve to merely open the book. Perhaps, I'm not cunning enough to enjoy what was given, but for me, the price of admission was too high.

After all that, I can't bring myself to part with this book. I'll give it another try sometime down the line, and perhaps have a wholly different experience and resend my current sentiments expressed here. But for now, this is strike one...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book Signing

So I meet Brandon Sanderson and Harriet McDougal Friday night (which isn't very hard to do). A few things struck as soon as I arrived: Sanderson is only five years older than I, fully two thirds, if not more, of the two-hundred plus people there were women, and that attending this signing was probably something akin to going to Dragon Con.

Sanderson is a very genuine guy: nice and very approachable. I was inclined to like him through past email exchanges. Mrs. McDougal, Robert Jordan's widow, is a true southerner so I liked her right away, not to mention that she is an all around charming lady. I didn't get called on during the Q & A but after chatting with a new friend Mick for two hours and waiting to get in the end of the line I was able to speak to both, albeit it was still rather brief.

I asked my standard question to fantasy writers about sequels and books in a series and got some standard answers. I could tell they both wanted to speak at length but unfortunately for me they had other obligations. There were a few late attendees who needed books signed, pictures taken and babies autographed so nothing in depth was truly shared.

As much as I like Sanderson, I'm not gonna pick up the wheel of time again due to his involvement. I put that series down for a good reason. As goofy (in a good way) as he is, his autograph is stranger still. I can almost read it… kinda. But I'm not sure I could convince anyone that he actually signed my book.

It was fun. Reading is so solitary its always nice to see people come together--offline-- with the expressed intent of talking about books.

If you plan to go to the signing and you don't mind missing the Q & A and the reading, both of which were Wheel of Time related, then I'd say go about two and half to three hours late. He'll be finishing up and have time to talk.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What comes next.

I started reading Roots by Alex Haley and through about two-hundred pages I can't recall being spoon feed a story in greater detail by any other author. To me the writing is dead on the page, quiet literally it is all telling and no showing: turn your brain off and accept what is given; no reader imagination required.

It seemed odd to me because the beginning ( I'm not sure if was exposition yet ) contained so many foreign elements that I read it all as a missed opportunity. Perhaps it's my love of world-building in fantasy novels, but everything that should have been new and exciting came across as boring and inconsequential. An amazing culture that is so rarely dealt with was being glossed over in a laughable manner.

Everyone knows this book, whether or not we have read it. Everyone knows who Kunta Kinte is and what this story is about. The most compelling part for me--the part I was looking for--and what saw me through the boring beginning (I'm not gonna pull punches anymore) was, wondering when will the abduction come that will mark the true beginning of Kunta's life? Every time he left the village, I felt the possibility, and I was always looking out for him as a reader. It was a weird sort of engagement because the writing had no affect of me, but knowing what was coming, and having it constantly put off until later, heightened my anticipation to the point that I was crying out for xanax.

It reminded me of some of the prominent passages in Toni Morrison's Beloved which I recently finished. She has many an odd story telling mechanics, but the one that struck me the most is her presentation of a climax to the reader without any foreplay. She is far from the first to employ such a tactic, but it is one that I feel continually fails except in Morrison's case; odder still both parties bought into the philosophy. We, the reader, knows something important has happened, but we don't know why it should affect us or the characters the way it does. I'd call it a literary wet dream, where you wake up with evidence of certain events, but still wonder, "What happened?"

It is a difficult thing to know a particular event before it's significance is explained.

Just so there is no confusion, their are precious few similarities between Beloved and Roots. I didn't particularly care for the former, but it is amazing and brilliantly done, the later...

It's hard to speak words of praise to Haley considering the blatant plagiarism, forgery, and complete fabrication of the story that he sold to the world as genealogical history. It is harder still to praise his 'ability' as a writer; as I said earlier, I was never engaged by his combination of words to elicit a specific feeling from the reader, rather the occurrence of something expected kept me going. That said, all of these mitigating circumstances--and complete lack of anything of interest happening--that lead up to chapter thirty-four combined for what was without doubt the most intense reading experience of my life. In no way am I a fan of horror fiction, but I can think of nothing scarier and begrudgingly I can stay that events of that chapter were significantly heightened by all that preceded it.

The night I read that passage, I still could have used some xanax, but to calm down after reading the events that I already knew were going to take place. It is not rare for me to stay up till two in the morning reading, but it's never happened before that I stay away till two in the morning, scared out of my mind concerning what I've just read.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Short Story Poseurs

I've made it a point to read short stories this year and it has been an effort that I have greatly enjoyed. However, one aspect of short story anthologies that I have been running into that really bothers me is novel excerpts posing as short stories.

Sometimes this is unavoidable. A writer writes a piece, finishes it, and it turns out to be of 'short story length' only to expand upon it at a later time and develop the work into a novel. But the blatant inclusion of the these not-short-stories in the hopes of getting readers to purchase a collection on the off chance they only want to read author 'X' is offensive, and will probably turn reader off from reading more short stories in the long run when they see author 'X's' new novel out; now with eighty percent more of the short story you already enjoyed for twice the price sandwiched between chapter nine and eleven.

If you want to publish a collection of related novel excerpts, then do so and market them as such, but don't mislead and imply that an excerpt and a short story are one and the same. Very few of these novel excerpts can stand well on their own, hence the reason they are novels. From the editors stand point it looks good to put "Neil Gaiman's" name or whomever on the cover. As a reader, it pisses me off and I feel it does damage to the collection as a whole. Anyone care to call me out with a contrary argument?

Tangent: the spelling of the word poseur gave--and still gives--me a bit of trouble. It seems 'poser' is totally wrong yet completely acceptable. Which really makes me wonder about 'y'all,' a third person plural contraction that is found in an large number of languages yet is frowned upon in English as improper 'southern grammar.' As a southerner I'm offended and as an American speaking English (armour, honour) I'm confused. Latin retention seems a bit arbitrary, archaic for the hell-of-it, and wholly unneeded.

Semantically confused, and hating all you posers


Fantasy by Another Name

A few things have come to my attention while reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. The most obvious is that he is amazing and pretty much on my 'just buy it' list assuming this book is indicative of the rest of his work. (Sometimes I feel he is trying a bit too hard, especially when it comes to humor, but all-in-all, it's really good stuff.) The second issue that comes to mind is the genre of the book it self. I'll be the first to say, genre doesn't matter to me. I've said many a time before that good writing is good writing is good writing and genre doesn't play into it. But I do find it interesting how marketing departments put their spin on a book that is deemed to have mass market appeal even if the book in question is in an 'unsuitable' genre.

Alternate history, contemporary fantasy, or any other term that will be used in the future is all just a cover. It's misleading to readers. I don't see how it could be an offense to author: call a spade a spade and put the book on the fantasy self.

There is a good deal of modern fiction that contains strong fantasy elements. Sometimes I feel if publishers want the work to be successful or perhaps respectable in the eyes of the literary elite (NYT reviewers, book award committees and such) that there is a need to obscure a books true roots if it comes from a speculative genre. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Chabon and others are almost never billed as speculative fiction, or derivative, and almost always their books are branded, "A Novel" on the cover. As if such a designation is a cover all gesture that establishes legitimacy by way of disowning ugly origins.

"A Novel, by Author X," read: something greater than mere fantasy...

What I'd really like to consider is whether or not the industry is correct in their efforts with these particular books. Perhaps it does lead to increased sales, wider cross-over appeal, and higher recognition for a writer that is greater than the genre in question. But if all of this is the case, then I wonder why isn't all speculative fiction presented in the same light as the afore mentioned writers.

This is not to say all speculative fiction writers are as good as Chabon, but lesser writers have sold more, and better writers have won awards and respect while gaining virtually no sales. What is good for the goose aught to be good for the gaggle, right?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Institution of Dry Cleaning

Forty-two extra long, athletic cut it isn't a common measurement if you are a male looking to purchase a suit. All things considered, pants are easy, but a coat or even a shirt can present a significant problem. The breadth of my shoulders--more specifically the measurement across my chest--is an anomaly in the fashion world.

So when I finally find something that fits, which is an effort that most people-women in particular--will never fully appreciate, the cleaning of this particular garments present some internal problems.

Who do you trust when it comes to taking care of your can't-just-walk-into-a-store-and-take-another-one-off-the-rack-should-something-go-wrong article of clothing? I spend money on the suit and alterations, and a good deal of time in an effort to find nicer clothing that both fits and is affordable. Then I'm supposed to give some guy I don't know all of ten bucks and trust him not to mess the summation of all my shopping efforts in a weeks time at the cleaners.

I'd like to think I'm doing something wrong. I have to be skipping a step somewhere. Surely there is more to the process, some research I should be doing a on specific cleaner and what qualifies them to handle my clothes, a liability waiver at least.

What of those with their bespoke Savile Row apparel? Do they take there thousand dollar clothing back to the tailor when they need it cleaned?

I'd be grateful to any that can shed some light on this topic for me. What am I missing?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrless

What would the fantasy genre have become with out the breakout popularity of a certain hobbit? Would everything have to come in installments of three? Would there still be such as thing as epic fantasy? Would it still be the big money maker that it is for the publishing industry?

Lud-in-the-Mist offers readers a glimpse of fantasy literature before Lord of the Rings defined the genre in so many people's minds. By no means is it the origins of fantasy literature, but it is a look at the genre before it birthed voices of dissent that only popularity affords (like mine), spawned a multitude of sub-genres, and twelve volume series that continue long after the authors untimely passing.

The story is simple, and that single element is the most refreshing part of the reading experience. It is sorely lacking in the plot convolution, character over analyzation, and page-turning-frenzy that marks so many of today's works of genre fiction. It could be said, and I for one would agree, that the book starts slow. And not the slow of too-much-exposition-not-enough-action of todays novels, but the unhurried pace of a true nineteenth-century novel though it was written in 1926. Upon completion of the book, what is more apparent than the 'slow' pace is the author's comfort with the speed that events happen. Never is their an effort to hurry things up or make events read faster, rather she is in complete control of the story's presentation and very aware of the fact. It is not so much a matter of forcing the reader to be patient, but there is a definite stylistic difference in Lud-in-the-Mist in comparison to a recently written novel of any genre.

Many of today's novels move at the pace of a prime time TV drama (and default to as little character development as well) as that is a viable story-telling medium that we are all exposed too. If you are able to 'unplug' and take things as they are given, without skimming to find the action you will find much to enjoy in Lud-in-the-Mist unhurried presentation.

There is an overwhelming sense of familiarity with this book. Perhaps, because of that feeling there is almost no real gravity in any given situation; even those concerning life and death. The familiarity is due to the works influence on so many of today's modern British fantasy writers: Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, and John Connolly to mention a few. While the origins of those writers works don't lie solely in Lud-in-the-Mist its influence can't be denied. From one source or another, we, as readers, are familiar with the material in Lud-in-the-Mist.

We somehow know not the trust "The Green Man" and of course the boundary of our world and Fairieland is not to be crossed (even if the 'why' intrigues us) just as we know it is wrong to partake of things from Fairieland. But think of the delight and wonder that readers at the time felt when reading this work. What we now accept as folklore was at some point in time, an original concept. This book is refined comfort food and a bit of a guilty pleasure all in one: homemade chicken soup on a cold, rainy day with chocolate cake and a glass of milk to follow.

It is this sense of comfort--almost as if you are re-reading a work that has been a long time favorite--that gives Lud-in-the-Mist such a satisfying feeling of intimacy. There is no plot twist when the hero is wronged, or the murder trial goes according to plan. What we would today call simple and straightforward was perhaps shocking in it's own time.

I wouldn't say this was the kind of book I wish I had read as a child, because--truth be told--I'm not sure I would have gotten through the slow pace of the beginning (much like I struggled with Lord of the Rings at an older age.) But having read Lud-in-the-Mist I am sorely tempted to go back and read those opening pages again, now understanding their quality and pertinence.

To think that the world doesn't have to be at risk, and the fate of humanity isn't at stake--in a fantasy novel, no less--and that a story can still have significance may shock some, but trust me, it works. Oddly enough, while this book doesn't focus on plot machinations, it is not a character study either. While we do meet very interesting individuals it's charm lies in it simplicity. There is so much room for a readers personal imagination to 'fill in the gaps' where a modern author may have spelled everything out.

Quite simply, this book is the reason I read fiction: it's fun. Much as I loved it, I can't recommend it to everyone in good faith. It is not for the modern reader, nor the timid that can't handle nineteenth-century style prose and exposition. But to any lover of fantasy that is well read in the genre and seeking something truly different that in one way or another you have read before, there is no other book that I can give a higher recommendation. It is a beautiful, non-epic, of the most trivial sort--and I say all of those with the kindest of meaning. While the construction of the book may be terrible, I'm glad someone is still printing it as I feel it would be a shame for this volume to be hard to find. As it is widely available if you up for something different, in a mundane sort of way, then go grab a copy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Whenever my interest is piqued by a book or author that is new to me, regardless of what caught my initial attention, I always pick up the most recent work by the author. I particularly don't like to start my induction to a writer that is new to me with the work that established the writer's fame. In some cases in is unavoidable, but not so with Toni Morrison.

I mention this here, at the start of my commentary, because so often the work of renown--in Ms Morrison's case Beloved--is so frequently referenced that it can become difficult to tell which book a reviewer is commenting on. As if having written a classic helps substantiate the quality of all the other works written by that author. Having not yet read Beloved (it is in my to-be-read stack) I offer here free commentary to A mercy, without any dependancy to Beloved.

I found this to be a very difficult read with a payoff that was obscured by a consistently awkward presentation. The multiple points of view force you to stay alert as a reader which is fine by me. The broken English which some characters use is also okay, even if it did get old. (I found it to be a tiresome device to use in the first place.) Yes, it yielded some personality and told much about the particular character, but it did so at the expense of my personal ease-of-reading, which I, of course, value more than any story telling device. I found it hard to make out a central story that all the characters could relate to. Each was doing their own thing, any unifying thread among the characters was thin. I felt Lina, Florens, and Mrs. Vaark--the all female leading cast--all had their own stories to tell and their was not moment of recocilliation for all their stories. This lack of cohesion also detracted from what I felt was the book's strongest point of interest: the 'mercy' itself.

The story was highly enjoyable but getting through it was rough. I can't help but feel that if it were told in a more standard, third person or even a single character's first person point of view that it would have had a stronger affect on me as a reader. All the characters seemed detached from each other, and certainly from me as a reader. Some events were shared by all and some were their own that made them who they were. Once you read far enough into A Mercy there is no confusion as who is who. All the characters are distinct, but for such a short book, there is a steep learning curve.

It sounds silly to say there were 'glimpses of brilliance' considering the author, but …(see above disclaimer) in some of the rare third person narrative I could easily see why the author is so highly regarded. There was beautiful prose, and writing that truly connected me to the situation, and the characters involved. But they were few and always seemed out of place among the garbled poor grammar of one character and the inadequate story telling of another.

At one point in reading, I set to musing if anyone else could have written this book. Or rather if anyone else could have gotten it published. Having already been awarded quite literally ever literary award there is to give, no agent or editor is going to send back a work of Toni Morrison and say, "Let's work on a few things."

I appreciate something different. Furthermore I think it's great when such an established author is willing to try something out of the ordinary such as the presentation elements of A mercy, but I can't help but wonder if a first time writer or anyone not of the stature of Toni Morrison had written this book if it would have gotten through the powers that control publication.

I do not want my feelings of this work to come across as bad, or that I feel the writing was poor. Only it felt like an experiment that was forced upon an existing great story that may have better been told in a more conventional manner.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Meaning of Well Read

There are a great wealth of blogs that talk about books and there are even more readers. 'Well read' is a phrase that is thrown around by anyone who thinks they read more than the average person.

What does it mean to be well read?

How does one become well read? Do you have to read the complete works of Beckett, Proust, and Camus? Does it mean you have to read as many works by women as men? In as many other languages as in English?

Perhaps it means you have to read in all genres and time periods of literary history. Is there a list of books that make one well read? What of the reader that endlessly devours romance novels or biographies and nothing else; as opposed to the reader that picks and chooses from all genres but reads at a much slower rate; are either well read?

Are there benefits to achieving the status? Do these perceived benefits have any practical application; could they be gleaned in any other way?

I'd love to call out a select few pretentious literary bloggers out there for their answers, but I've never been one for name calling.

So what in your mind makes someone well read and what--if any--is the value of such an achievement?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sir Harold Evans at the Decatur Book Festival

The country's largest independent book festival started today with a writers conference, and after that series of workshops concluded the day ended with a speech entitled, 'The Vital Future of the Printed Word', by Sir Harold Evans, a man whose laundry list of accolades is so detailed that to only mention a few honors would seem an offense.

Sir Evan's called out what he deemed 'The four Horseman of the Apocalypse' concerning the printed word--one of which was internet technologies and rapid sharing/printing of information. Then he spelled out what he saw as the future print media and a point of eternal optimism when newspapers are closing faster than ever all over the world: Print on Demand. I found it ironic that he didn't truly address the irony.

In fact, he played his duality very well. He never condemned technology, praised it's many accomplishments, yet adamantly stated the importance of true journalism. His definition of 'the news' was the same as given to him by the proprietor of a news paper he served as editor of in England. "The news is that which someone would pay you not to report." He made his views very clear on how the internet could never deliver the news. A point that upon the conclusion of his talk I was in agreement with.

His eternal optimism was really very catching. Especially so for a writer seeking publication. Even when he referred to himself as a 'relic' and a physical book as an 'artifact' he made the words feel like I do about a great work of fiction: something to be treasured. When asked how to best motivate younger generations to write and appreciate the written word, he responded with a truth that I've never considered. "People want to express themselves, and more so than any other fashion, in writing." As proof he pointed to the bloggers-sphere and said no more.

He was smart, prepared, overly-well informed and truely had something to say. It's not everyday you get to hear a presentation by someone such as he. At least we can read his books, and look forward to his memior.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mistborn. The Hero of Ages

Ready? Set… Action!

This movie catch phrase seems to work pretty well when it comes to describing fantasy trilogies. The first book, 'Ready?' is posed as a question to the reader; wondering if they have prepared themselves for reading three books to get one story; desperately wanting to incite the reader to pick up book two. 'Set,' is exactly as it sounds like it would be; endless drudgery where you are left wondering if anything happened from cover to cover. In terms of Brandon Sanderson, if you can make it through Ready and Set, he is phenomenal when it comes to action.


Things actually happened in this book, and it wasn't all fight scenes and sorcery though there are solid helpings of that. But with no more books left in the series every and anything that is going to happen had to happen in this book.

Sanderson's gift of intrigue is wonderful and constant. Even though things are coming to a close, he is always posing new questions and giving you new unforeseen issues to think about and try to figure out how to resolve. He does this right up till the end making you wonder, "Well, what happens next?" There are no plot hole or loose ends, merely suggestions that he offers the readers to keep their minds occupied in the world he has created after the ending. Many of these issues and wonderful points of interest didn't need two books worth of set up to feel important or be interesting...

All is not perfect in the land of Action however. There are a few convenient plot ideas that happened just to make things easy, but they are small sins and easily forgivable considering the rest of Sanderson's offering. Deities did things without explanation as to how as only they can; saving the day only a few times when writing a way out of a situation may have proven too arduous. A point that was easily noticeable, yet never truly bothersome, was that amid a cast of many characters only two ever managed to sound distinct: Sazed, and Breeze; and yes, I've already said my piece about those names…

Even when a previously negligible character finally becomes a star--if not the most interesting person in the whole series by way of his development and growth--he manages to morph into one of his companions in terms of voice, rather than become his own person. It could have been intentional, but I saw it as a missed opportunity.

For me, my consistent complaint of Sanderson's Mistborn is the lack of truly compelling characters. There were many that I liked, but no one that made me say, "That guy is awesome." There was nothing wrong with the cast, they were just a little blah… That married with the standard fantasy, save-the-world-from-destruction plot helped combine to never truly grab hold of me. However, this installment of Mistborn is not one that I want to harp on negatives.

When the Action! Starts, it doesn't stop. There were occasional lulls--including an odd one near the end--some eye rolling, derivative dialogue, but in the end this book is fun. In my mind it was easily the strongest of the series; which also seems to hold true to fantasy form. Readers of Sanderson's Elantris will recognize some surprises. Not that he employs similar plot ideas, rather the scale of the surprise when you think you have things figured out is a great deal of fun.

Looking over the series as a whole, I'm still not sure what happened in book two and why it couldn't have happened in book one or three. Sanderson is great working with plot, but I feel I'm a reader that is more interested in character driven stories. A few of his amazing situations had me reading with apathy as I didn't care about the people involved. The story is long, filed with ash and dust, but when the Mist finally clears, you'll say you had a good time.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tools of the Trade

So I borrowed a new guitar today, a Les Paul Studio.  The manufacturer--Gibson Guitars--would have you believe that a Les Paul is the single greatest guitar money can buy.  Marketing and PR fanfare aside--I think it is.  What I'm used to playing on is a Fender Squire; an entry-level guitar that looks like a Stratocaster.  It's about as inspiring as it is infuriating. 

The difference in quality, playability and my own ability to shred: the confidence the physical instrument bestowed upon me, the player, between the two is beyond my words to describe.  It got me thinking about tools of the trade and how hard it is to succeed at anything when you working with the worst possible materials.  I had gotten pretty good playing on the Squire.  I always knew it wasn't the best thing out there, but I also knew it wasn't the worst. I can make that guitar sound as good as it is able to sound.  That said, give me the Les Paul and I'm Jimmy Page.  Well, not really, but greatly improved nonetheless. Being an accomplished pianist, I was already aware of this fact, but it wasn't until I had to start over and learn guitar that I really gave it thought, the better instrument you have the easier to play. Earth-shattering I know...

This got me thinking about writing and curious as to what the 'tools of the trade' are in the culture of literacy.  Reading surely has to be one such tool, and the 'quality' of materials read I feel correlate to one's own writing.  But outside of reading, I was drawing a blank on other tools of the writing profession.  The quality of one's computer, pen and paper sure don't have anything to do with the finished product. I'm left with yet another musical comparison. It's the same reason I'm not as fluid a guitarist as I am a pianist, because I've been playing the former for about twenty years less time. In all things, it seems practice is key.

There are always exceptions: one-hit-wonder composers and breakout first time novelist. Artist that can never seem to repeat their initial success. While the layman may know said artist name and appreciate their work the more astute practitioners and erudite students of a particular art can tell the difference between those who have been remembered in their field for years and those whom fortune smiled upon for fifteen minutes.

Practice makes perfect and for that there is no fast-track.

If writers are carpenters, what's in their tool bag?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Places to Read about Reading Books

How's this for an internet compilation?


Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German


7 Foot Shelves

The Accidental Bard

A Boy Goes on a Journey

A Dribble Of Ink

Adventures in Reading

A Fantasy Reader

The Agony Column

A Hoyden's Look at Literature

A Journey of Books

All Booked Up

Alexia's Books and Such...

Andromeda Spaceways

The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ask Daphne

ask nicola

Audiobook DJ


Australia Specfic In Focus

Author 2 Author



Barbara Martin

Babbling about Books

Bees (and Books) on the Knob

Best SF

Bewildering Stories

Bibliophile Stalker


Big Dumb Object

The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf

Bitten by Books

The Black Library Blog

Blog, Jvstin Style

Blood of the Muse

The Book Bind



Booksies Blog


The Book Smugglers


The Book Swede

Book View Cafe [Authors Group Blog]

Breeni Books


Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]

Charlotte's Library

Circlet 2.0

Cheryl's Musings

Club Jade

Cranking Plot

Critical Mass

The Crotchety Old Fan


Daily Dose - Fantasy and Romance

Damien G. Walter

Danger Gal

It's Dark in the Dark

Dark Parables

Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews

Darque Reviews

Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog

Dead Book Darling

Dear Author

The Deckled Edge

The Doctor is In...

Dragons, Heroes and Wizards

Drey's Library

The Discriminating Fangirl

Dusk Before the Dawn


Enter the Octopus

Erotic Horizon

Errant Dreams Reviews

Eve's Alexandria


Falcata Times

Fan News Denmark [in English]

Fantastic Reviews

Fantastic Reviews Blog

Fantasy Book Banner

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Book Reviews and News

Fantasy By the Tale

Fantasy Cafe

Fantasy Debut

Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings


Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' News and Reviews

Feminist SF - The Blog!


Fiction is so Overrated

The Fix

The Foghorn Review

Follow that Raven

Forbidden Planet

Frances Writes

Free SF Reader

From a Sci-Fi Standpoint

From the Heart of Europe

Fruitless Recursion

Fundamentally Alien

The Future Fire


The Galaxy Express


Game Couch

The Gamer Rat

Garbled Signals

Genre Reviews


Got Schephs

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review

Grasping for the Wind

a GREAT read

The Green Man Review

Gripping Books



Hero Complex

Highlander's Book Reviews


The Hub Magazine

Hyperpat's Hyper Day


I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending

Ink and Keys

Ink and Paper

The Internet Review of Science Fiction



Janicu's Book Blog

Jenn's Bookshelf

Jumpdrives and Cantrips


Kat Bryan's Corner

Keeping the Door

King of the Nerds


Lair of the Undead Rat

Largehearted Boy

Layers of Thought

League of Reluctant Adults

The Lensman's Children

Library Dad

Libri Touches

Literary Escapism

Literaturely Speaking

ludis inventio

Lundblog: Beautiful Letters


Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review

Mari's Midnight Garden

Mark Freeman's Journal

Mark Lord's Writing Blog

Marooned: Science Fiction Books on Mars

Martin's Booklog


Michele Lee's Book Love

Missions Unknown [Author and Artist Blog Devoted to SF/F/H in San Antonio]

The Mistress of Ancient Revelry

MIT Science Fiction Society

Monster Librarian

More Words, Deeper Hole

Mostly Harmless Books

Multi-Genre Fan

Musings from the Weirdside

My Favourite Books

My Overstuffed Bookshelf


Neth Space

The New Book Review


Not Free SF Reader



OF Blog of the Fallen

The Old Bat's Belfry

Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy

The Ostentatious Ogre

Outside of a Dog



Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Patricia's Vampire Notes

The Persistence of Vision

Piaw's Blog

Pizza's Book Discussion

Poisoned Rationality

Popin's Lair


Post-Weird Thoughts

Publisher's Weekly

Pussreboots: A Book Review a Day



Ramblings of a Raconteur

Random Acts of Mediocrity

Ray Gun Revival

Realms of Speculative Fiction

Reading the Leaves

Review From Here

Reviewer X

Revolution SF

Rhiannon Hart

The Road Not Taken

Rob's Blog o' Stuff

Robots and Vamps


Sandstorm Reviews

Satisfying the Need to Read

Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics

Science Fiction Times


Sci-Fi Blog


Sci-Fi Fan Letter

The Sci-Fi Gene

Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]

SciFi Squad

Scifi UK Reviews

Sci Fi Wire

Self-Publishing Review

The Sequential Rat

Severian's Fantastic Worlds

SF Diplomat



SF Gospel


SF Revu

SF Safari


SF Signal

SF Site

SFF World's Book Reviews

Silver Reviews

Simply Vamptastic

Slice of SciFi

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Solar Flare

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction Junkie

Speculative Horizons

The Specusphere


Spiral Galaxy Reviews

Spontaneous Derivation

Sporadic Book Reviews

Stainless Steel Droppings

Starting Fresh

Stella Matutina

Stuff as Dreams are Made on...

The Sudden Curve

The Sword Review


Tangent Online

Tehani Wessely

Temple Library Reviews

Tez Says

things mean a lot [also a publisher]

True Science Fiction


Ubiquitous Absence



Urban Fantasy Land


Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic

Variety SF

Veritas Omnia Vincula


Walker of Worlds

Wands and Worlds


Wendy Palmer: Reading and Writing Genre Books and ebooks

The Weirdside

The Wertzone

With Intent to Commit Horror

The Wizard of Duke Street

WJ Fantasy Reviews

The Word Nest


The World in a Satin Bag


The Written World



Young Adult Science Fiction



Cititor SF [with English Translation]




Foundation of Krantas

The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [with some English essays]

Yenchin's Lair






Fernando Trevisan

Human 2.0

Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm

Ponto De Convergencia




Fantasy Seiten

Fantasy Buch

Fantasy/SciFi Blog


Welt der fantasy

Bibliotheka Phantastika

SF Basar

Phantastick News



Phantastick Couch


Fantasy News

Fantasy Faszination

Fantasy Guide

Zwergen Reich

Fiction Fantasy


Romanian French Chinese Danish Portuguese German

Friday, August 14, 2009

Women's Fiction

In these sometimes tense times of gender equality I feel I can be pretty direct. What is women's fiction; is it solely for women? Is the name strictly a ‘buyers beware’ to any man’s hand that may have strayed so far as to pick up the book and turn it over? I still stand on my feeling that good writing is good writing and a change of genre or perceived audience will not affect the quality of the words on the page. However, the previous statement being true, why would anyone trying to sell books limit the potential readership with such an explicit genre appellation?

This issue of women's fiction has been bothering me for quite some time. It is the only fiction genre designation that I know of that is not only branded by the publisher but done so in general accordance with the author. Many a non general ‘fiction’ author would love their books to be sold with the mass market epithet “A Novel” coming after the title as opposed to being put on the fantasy or mystery shelf. I know a few authors (none of whom I”ll call out) who recently lead a panel discussion at a writers club meeting that covered many things. When the topic of women's fiction came about I found myself growing irritable with the pregnancy of woeful ignorance; either in myself or the panel.

Is there such a thing as men’s fiction? I’ll wage a legitimate answer that there is, and I can’t over stress the seriousness of my attempt. After you’ve read it with with earnest consideration (and a more open-minded than it’s worth) then, tell me how absurd it is.

* * * * *
Men’s literature (or Men! Books! Read! as the marketing branch of the publishing world would have us call it) is always an energetic story with excess testosterone and alpha males doing terribly interesting things in most Michael-Bay-type of manner. Female leads are absurd given the genre and any female characters are bound to be helpless idiots and at all times displaying generous amounts of cleavage. Rarely amusing or light hearted these stories resemble the steaks me like to eat: bloody, gritty with little seasoning and no time for side items like vegetables. Men’s fiction is about men’s issues for a male readership; women would have a very hard time identifying with the subject matter of family, relationships and blowing stuff up. While the subject matter often crosses genres it always has commercial appeal and the characters are often attempting to overcome both a personal and external adversity.

Although men’s fiction often incorporates grave situations such as poverty, divorce, abuse, and host of other social struggles, it can also explore positive aspects within a mans life: such as guns, swords, sports, sex, gluttony and video games. Sanguine soaked fantasy and sci-fi are an integral part of Men’s fiction although the content is mature enough and well-developed that it sets itself apart from other genre classifications. Generally speaking, Men’s fiction often delves into deeper, more serious conflicts and utilizes a more poetic literary writing style than standard fiction that would be deemed appropriate of both genders.

Chad Hull the prolific author of numerous bestsellers of Men’s fiction including: The Man Book, Why Elves and Fairies are Gay, Go F*** yourself, and Tit Hooker is the ideal author of Men’s Fiction. His forthcoming novel detailing the heartbreak of a car--lovingly restored for five tender years before being totaled in a horrific accident involving no insurance and a culprit that couldn’t speak English--Steel Dump is due out this winter.

* * * * *
So… seriously. What is women’s fiction? Are those the books Nicolas Sparks writes? Is Anna Karenina the archetype of the genre? Is there such a thing as Men’s fiction? If so, what is it? If not, why?

Monday, July 27, 2009

All too familiar fantasies

I’m about to shut the door on the fantasy. Trying to find something outside the parameters of “heroic/epic fantasy” is turning into a full-time job. Especially considering every publisher out there list their books as being something greater than they are; with promises to transcend genre and change preconceived ideas of what fiction is.

I’m going to start and finish Brandon Sanderson's Hero of Ages soon and then I’ll be placing a lot of faith in Jay Lake’s Green. I don’t know why I am doing this but I am. Perhaps it’s the cover. Maybe because it’s written in first person which seems to me a rarity in fantasy. Perhaps it’s because it’s not a standard fantasy trilogy. Perhaps it’s this excerpt.

It’s not a happy feeling to learn that the genre that prompted an interest in reading within me is falling out of favor.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A terrible book

I want to be absolutely clear that when I say terrible I am referring to the book’s manufacturing: the construction of the book. As for the words on the page, I haven’t read them yet.

If you go to amazon and search for Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees you will find a few results. The first to come up is the one I purchased. Printed by CreateSpace, which is, as best as I can tell from their website a POD/self-publishing subsidiary of amazon.

I have nothing against such presses but this does raise some questions, least of all how they acquired the rights to print the book. The cover has a zoomed in pixelated picture that looks to be an extreme close up of the cover art from a previous Del Ray mass market paper back and is without doubt a copyright violation of some sort. (As Del Ray is more than creditable, for three dollars a used copy of that edition is probably preferable to the Createspace edition.) When the book is opened there is no library of congress catalogue listing, nor copyright information of any sort. All that is said before the table of contents is the title, the author and, “First published in 1926,” which combine to make for a very poor title page. Perhaps public domain is in effect, but even so that does not explain the reproduction of the cover art--no matter how altered it may be--without permission or accreditation.

The paper is standard office stock, the binding is laughable. I think it would be apparent to the untrained eye that this book was made in someone’s basement. I have seen many and own a few self-published books. All of them were more professionally done than this. If you are a lover of books and enjoy creating your own library I have no doubt that my complaints will become your own should you purchase this edition. The alternatives are an edition by the now defunct BORGO PRESS, Cold Springs Press (which amazon reviewers have also bashed in terms of quality of book construction) and the apparent diamond-in-the-rough Wildside Press.

I do not own any books printed by Wildside but judging from their website and the authors they represent I think they are legitimate, though I would welcome any feedback from any who know. I searched for this book on amazon’s Canada site to seek alternatives after seeing what arrived in the mail and was fortunate enough to stumble across Wildside. For whatever reason, they do not appear on any page of the amazon US site. Sadly, they do not have a “look inside” option to check out the formating. Should you be interested in Lud-in-the-Mist, THIS, is the edition you should purchase. Without seeing it, I have full confidence it can't any worse than the competition and judging from the books they publish I have a feeling it will be infinitely better.

I don’t expect all the books I buy to posses the master craftsmanship of Random House’s Everyman’s Library, but I do expect a lot more than this for my hard earned money. Having only gleaned the first few pages I have no doubt that I will have better things to say concerning the content of the book than the quality of it’s construction and I look forward to saying those things shortly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Finding a New Office

There are fourteen libraries in Gwinnett county which at one point in time was the fastest growing county in the nation. The services they offered were wonderful and the facilities were some of the nicest to be found in a public library system. Seems as if their heyday is over and the reality of budget constraints are affecting everyone.

The staff cutbacks are sad and I feel for those who have been let go, but--on to more selfish concerns--the hours being so heavily cut in the evenings is something I may have to protest.

I can blog and freelance about anywhere, but when I write my own fiction I enjoy being able to get of my apartment to do so. (And no, I'm not that pretentious guy you see at a coffee house with a notebook, laptop, more pens and pencils than needed surrounded by cups of tea.) The comforts of home are too tempting for me to properly focus on anything that is truly important to me. The library was a perfect outlet: an office of sorts, for me. They used to close at nine so there was a timeline that was imposed by someone else that I was working under; a great motivator. The silent reading room was deathly quiet. Most of all it felt like an office to me. No, TV, video games, I turned my phone off and Wi-Fi, and in that room I was surrounded by other people that, in one form or another were there to work. It was an environment that I found very conducive to making progress.

Sadly there isn’t another option quite like it that comes to mind. So it seems that I have either a couple more weeks before I’ll have to learn how to write at home or find a new safe haven for creative thought.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Three Strikes

July has been a really bad reading month for me. I’ve picked up three books with intentions of finishing them promptly and ended up putting all three down. It has been a little disheartening to say the least.

The only one of the three that I feel deserves mention would be Then we Came to the End by Joshua Ferris. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in spots, but for me there was no gravity to hold the loosely strung together events called the plot with any cohesion.

Not to make a division among readers, but any who read casually and want something fun and funny; this book would get a high recommendation. I personally needed a more present central element to give things a feeling of unity. This was by no means a bad book, it’s just not for me.

As my everyday reading pile crapped out three straight turds, I’ve retreated deep into familiar and comfortable territory. I’m half way through Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. Needless to say, I’m enjoying myself. If things go well and these two are finished shortly I may indulge in a third bit of comfort fiction with Hero of our Time by Mikhail Lermontov.

Anyone else have any reading duds lately?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reading more than one book at a time

I am a one-track-mind person. I can multitask, but given the option I’d rather dedicate myself wholly to one project and then move on upon completion. The same is true for my reading habits. I know of people that can juggle three, four, or more books at a time; still keep things straight and enjoy doing so.

I don’t think I’m capable of this feat. If I start to lose interest in one book and pick up another chances are slim to none that I’m gonna go back and finish the one that is now officially boring in my mind.

Perhaps if it was four books in four different genres I could manage to keep things straight, but even then if one of them was really good I think I’d stay with it until it was over; thereby possibly not doing justice to the other three.

So, all of you multi-book-reading-at-one-time types: how do you do it? Are there benefits that I’m missing out on? Do you feel you finish all started novels in a timely fashion? Is it worth the effort?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Jellyfish, Books, Saltwater, and Complete Relaxation.

I can’t read on the beach. In fact I’m not sure how anyone can. It’s not the kids (there were few and well behaved), or the heat (I am from Atlanta so Gulf Shores humidity isn’t intimidating) or even the constant drone of the ocean (I’ll get to that drone in a moment.)

The beach may be the most surreal place on Earth. Everything you look at is amazingly beautiful from the sand, to the water to the skyline and yet it is all a bit cloying. So much so that we have to mute all we see with sunglasses least we go blind.

The water is lethal made up of ridiculous salinity, algae, and nigh invisible jellyfish that sting like fire ants, but none of that keeps people out of the water. The sand is too hot to walk on and the sand crabs are too territorial to risk with out sandals but still adults compete in sand castle contest as if they were five year olds and the five year olds bury each other up to their necks in what used to be the crabs home.

It would seem that the beach is the perfect place to read a book as the temperate water and inviting white sand only hold appeal for a little while and after time send everyone running for the relative safety of higher ground and an umbrella. Yet I just couldn’t read. Feeling as out of place as I did, and in such a foreign environment, I felt being there was more than enough to make me happy and a greater escape than any fiction I could have brought along.

That said I did discover the purpose for buying books in ‘terrible’ condition off ebay. Take them to the beach. If all you pay is ten cents and shipping who cares how much sand, salt, and water get into it?

The drone of the ocean is near deafening. I don’t know how people say they can tune it out. There are few comparable omnipresent sounds I can think of. It is most commonly described as ‘hypnotic’ and I think that is a good descriptor. As such, I couldn’t focus on much else let alone take part in a novel.

I had noticed myself falling into a pattern these past few days: when the jellyfish finally defeated me and the sand had burnt the previous day’s blisters I retired to my chair and umbrella with the intentions of reading. I read the first three pages of the same book four days in a row but never got any further.

Since I wasn’t able to read on the beach I was forced to take in the environmental oddities that some people call everyday life with out a book to distract me; made to consume fruity flavored rum drinks and nap in the shade.

Pity me...It was terrible.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mistborn. The Well of Ascension.

I’ve been finished with this book for a few days now, but summoning the energy to revisit it, even if it only is in the way of written commentary, has proven difficult. For me there was an overwhelming amount of drudgery in this novel. It didn’t go anywhere. It moved forward with the haste of US forces trying to get out of Iraq. Generally speaking in most all narrative fiction there is a central conflict that is built upon for the better part of 80 percent of the book. When that moment arrives it is a big deal to the reader and the resolution has a profound effect. Usually this central conflict is hinted at and indeed built upon in many subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. This concept holds true for Well of Ascension but the lethargic pace and somewhat dead setting (for Sanderson this is somewhat of a compliment that I’ll explain later) combined to help me read the book with nothing short of complete and total apathy.

The majority of the book is very interesting, well written and woefully unimportant to the events that comprise this trilogy. I can say this without even having read the third book yet. There is not a lot of material to work with here. The essential dull cast from the first book are back again doing exciting things that manifest themselves as mundane only because the bulk of the events going on lack a tie in to a central theme or relate to the novel’s pivotal climactic moments.

To say this book felt like a place holder would be a stretch but I am left wondering if I left this book out and skipped to the third would I still be rewarded with comprehension? Perhaps even greater enjoyment?

I had started reading Robert Jordan’s famed Wheel of Time series years ago. I stopped around the sixth or seventh entry because I felt nothing happened in an entire 700 plus page book. In the penultimate book that I read, I still distinctly remember placing a post-it note inside the front cover should I ever want to consult the book again. I wrote on that note the only two events that I felt were important to the entire story. Upon reading the next entry and experiencing the same feelings I promptly started reading other things. Upon finishing Well of Ascension I felt I could place another post-it note on the inside of this book as well.

Reading a series with all the books in hand as opposed to waiting for each entry's publication is a bit different than the norm. My single biggest contention was the constant recapping the book provides of the events from the previous entry… the entry I had just read. This redundancy only added to Sanderson’s still persistent form of repetition. Perhaps other readers will be able to empathize when Adrian Tchaikovsky’s trilogy comes out next year; each book will be released in successive months.

Feruchemy takes Allomancy’s place in terms of reader education and general ‘bogging down of events.’ And now characters are associated with the same cliched word each appearance they make to help hammer home the repetition: Vin, mist; Breeze, wine; Dockson, ledger; OerSeur, contract. And my final point of the written repetition: I pray that the third book makes no mention of Inquisitors with metal spikes through their eyes. (Who could possibly forget an attribute as distinct as that!?)

Forgive me. I don’t use exclamation marks causally. When they happen they take even me off guard.

There were a few awkward moments where the speaker attributive contained an adverb. Something I always thought was a, “no, no.” Not only is it insulting to reader intelligence but it is a cover for weak writing; and Sanderson is not a weak writer. A couple of previously taciturn characters are now chatter boxes only to be called out by other characters as, “quiet” within a few pages. Oh yeah, and a dog constantly shrugs his shoulders.

I’ve been a dog owner and I’m pretty sure the action is physically impossible.

Despite my ranting all is not doom and gloom. My compliments to Sanderson remain the same as my first comments on The Final Empire. He can craft tension and drama as well as anyone but getting there can be a chore and it’s only worth the experience if you actually care about the people involved, and these characters are a bit stiff.

His world-building is nothing short of phenomenal which was also my primary praise of Elantris, his first novel. Considering the book takes places in or around only one location is a further testament to his ability.

I think it’s easy for me to be hard on Sanderson because I am predisposed to liking him. If you enjoyed the first book then you should pick up the second. I, however, am going to take a break before exploring the series end in The Hero of Ages. Amidst all the excitement action and intrigue their is a great, dull presence that I shall call ‘mist.’ At the moment, I need to clear the air, take a break, and read something else.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where are the women on my book shelf?

I’m going to assign myself a challenge: seek out the best female writers regardless of genre and… read their books. I don’t think I’m sexist--actually I like women a lot--but for whatever reason the only book I currently own written by a woman in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And so, I turn to you dear readers…

I’m open to suggestions. My prefenreces in reading lean toward nineteenth century Russian literature (for whatever reason most stuff written by English speaking writers from the same time frame really turns me off: Wilde, Dickens, Conrad, ect.) I like intelligent fantasy--which I find increasingly more difficult to come across--anything that can make me laugh out loud, and whatever else might define a good book. My ideal love story is Bram Stokers’ Dracula, I love things that make me question my own life upon completion and anything I, the reader, get to take an active role in the reading process. I hate writers who spoon-feed me everything.

I won’t allow Toni Morrison as a suggestion as I already plan to delve into her works. I have tried Patricia McKillip and Mary Gentle and both were strike outs for me.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Who cares about Holden Caulfield?

Catcher in the Rye is being talked about a lot these days. (Perhaps it’s time I read that book…) I feel that I can understand Salinger’s feelings and I think he has a legitimate grip. What I think needs further evaluation is the relevancy of Catcher in today’s literary canon.

Some books, like Catcher are time sensitive: Notes from Undergroundwhat I think is Dostoyevsky's most intelligent work , and the more recent The Reluctant Fundamentalist are two others that come to mind. It is not to say that these books are irrelevant to later generations but the bulk of their clout is going to be felt be readers at the time of the works writing. While I always think that Catcher will be regarded as a great work for reasons I hope to experience for myself shortly, I do think it’s star is fading.

Salinger is ninety and in declining physical health. The readers that the novel so heavily affected aren’t to far behind. With this passing of a generation I wonder about the credence given to a work like Catcher. To those who read it within a few years of it’s publication especially readers around Holden's age they were moved and felt they found a spokesman of sorts: some one who thought like them and expressed everything they couldn’t and acted as they wish they had the guts to do. Those same readers make the best teachers to todays generation when it comes to explaining the novel and it’s appeal. Because of that strong connection and identification that they experienced they can better relate the message of the novel to other young readers. It’s a bit like listening to someone in their late fifties tell you about the how great the Beatles were. (Well perhaps not, Salinger’s writing actually does have substantial merit.)

My contention with classics of the arts in any medium: be it literature, music, or visual art--is that in today’s age of declining interest in classical arts the classics do more damage than good. We make kids today read Catcher and Wuthering Heights because they are great and everyone should appreciate their quality. Twenty years ago that may not have been a big deal but today getting kids excited to read a book is a chore in itself; tell them they are reading a “Classic of Western Literature” and watch the eyes roll and try to gauge their boredom in metric tons. What faster way to turn off interest in reading is there?

If we are going to force kids to read give them something they want. Let them read all the pulp fiction that they can get their hands on. Let them enjoy it before we turn them off to it. Everyone’s taste change in time, some even mature. You can’t force escargot on an eight year old and demand that they like because it is fine dining. (An extreme example; I know.)

Furthermore, has there been absolutely nothing of note written since Catcher that may have literay merit and appeal to todays youth? Perhaps coming of age stories are dead--I sure as hell don’t like the genre. Perhaps children today come of age earlier in life than in Caulden’s time. Yeah, I can see how the internet would work like that.

I’m not saying bury the classics but with the constant forcible promotion of, “This is a great book goddamnit!” I feel we are doing more to stunt the interest in reading than promote it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bargain books

I’ve found a new book store with a ‘bargain bin’ section that took me more than an hour to wade through. I managed to walk away with only three. You can’t imagine the restraint I displayed to hold myself to this number.

Michael Chabon is a name I’d known for awhile but never looked into. The Yiddish Policmen’s Union is his newest and seems like an easy entry at less than five dollars. Here’s to hoping that the words on the page are less of an eye sore than the cover. One of the reasons I love hardback books is because you can take the cover off: you can’t judge a book by it’s cover if it doesn’t have one, and this one is headed for the trash.

Alex Haley’s genealogical wonder Roots has been on my ‘list of stuff to read’ since I was a teenager. The cost of entry for this Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award winner was three dollars and change for the thirtieth anniversary edition in a nice trade paperback. While I am very excited about this book, coming off the epic page count of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn I may hold off on these nine hundred pages and catch my breath with some shorter works.

I am hoping that The Dog Said Bow-Wow a collection of short stories by Michael Swanwick is the prize pick of this litter. I read his short story Urdumheim in a collection earlier this year and knew right away he was someone I needed to follow. This was an odd one to find in the bargain bin, but I’m not complaining.

I’m feeling pretty good about picking these three up for the less than twelve dollars.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mistborn. The Final Empire

I previously blogged about how much I like Brandson Sanderson (here and in various other post as well) so I'm not going to sugar coat things. This is not a "review" as such, rather commentary on the work of a favorite author of mine.

The two biggest surprises I had upon finishing this book were that in many ways, it could stand alone even though it is the first in a trilogy and that it was pretty much standard, run-of-the-mill fantasy; anything but what I would expect after reading Sanderson's Elantris.

The pacing of the novel is extremely well controlled: never at break-neck, page-turning speed nor does it limp along; the cruise control is set at a comfortable, if not slightly unhurried, tempo. While he can create tension and conflict as well as anyone else, I wasn't so much left feeling drained only wondering why there was fifty or so pages left after what I found to be the primary climax. Controlled pacing is to be admired but as events rarely got to the point of maddening page-turning and the conclusion was as satisfying as it was, I have to wonder how many readers Sanderson lost for the trilogy after the first book. While I appreciated the lack of a cliched cliffhanger leading into the second entry, Sanderson left me with precious little substance to look forward to.

There is originality here and it comes across in Allomancy, Sanderson's system of 'magic.' The price of originality seems to be convolution and repetition. The principles of Allomancy are beaten into the readers head to the point that upon completion I could have passed a written exam on what was presented in the book concerning Allomancy's rules. While the readers' understanding is essential, the better part of most all action sequences were explanations of who was doing what, with which force, to whom. Rarely confusing, but frequently tiresome passages made up the bulk of the action. Every time a physical conflict came about I couldn't help but say to myself, "Here's the review lesson for the test I'll take tomorrow on Allomany."

Characters may have influenced most of my shoulder shrugging. I don't expect David Gemmell-esque, larger than life, people to populate anyone else's books, but I do have to care about the characters or the setting enough to make a connection. The "A-List" hero fell flat for me and while the endearing apprentice is positioned for greater things, she didn't quite tug at my emotions enough to make me anxious as to her fate.

The characters names certainly didn't help anything: Felt, Sazed, Ham, Marsh, Breeze, Clubs, Spooks. Did Sarah Palin win a contest that allowed her to name Sanderson's characters? Granted Ham was short for Hammond, but in general it was as if the names, much like Allomancy, while original came across as the author trying to hard.

I recall Sanderson using italics to set off interior monologue in Elantris but no where near to the extent he does in The Final Empire. I found the sheer amount used to be an eye sore, and compensation for not finding a different (better) way to express how his characters were feeling.

Swords and sorcery, action adventure fans are sure to be satisfied, as was I, even if I was constantly wanting something more substantial. Either I've matured as a reader since Elantris or for whatever reason it struck a special chord with me, either way Mistborn is worth the time despite my long list of personal peccadillos.

It's difficult to form an opinion as this is book one of three and perhpas in the next installments all that I love about Sanderson will be on the pages before me. If not, I fear my commentary for the second and third books will read just as this one has.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Commemoration of Dotage

Why do we celebrate birthdays? I understand the need of keeping track of age but it is the party--the recognition--that I am calling out specifically. Particularly when we are past the age of twenty-one where anything truly “substantial” happens, what’s the point in celebration?

A celebration of the accomplishments made in a year or significant events seem more relevant to me in terms of having a party. It’s not exactly as if birthdays are exclusive or rare: everyone has one, once a year, and while it’s true that we don’t all live to the same age is there anyone out there who is truly so happy to be forty that they feel the need to have a party about it? To the best of my knowledge the sentiment of getting older is vastly different to a five year old and a twenty-nine year old.

Most parties are for a unique accomplishment: winning the Pulitzer Prize, elected President of your country, or a special academic achievement, but any old regular nobody can, and usually does, celebrate their birthday like it’s something special.

Perhaps I’m odd.

Oh yeah, happy belated birthday to my blog. I guess I’ll call a few friends and go out for the evening...