Monday, January 31, 2011

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

I'm amazed to report that I started and finished four books this month.  It wasn't easy as the lees of December's reading, Jane Eyre, almost killed my reading interest (and caused a bit of a ruckus in the comments).

I've said all I need to say about Ender's GameThe Magician's Nephew was kinda 'blah' by Narnia standards, and The Mammoth Book of Merlin was just plain ole 'not good.'  There were stellar efforts by Charles de Lint and Michael Swanwick but they weren't enough to save the collection from mediocrity.  My thoughts on Middlesex--which are ambiguous at best-- will go up in a day or two.  I am pleased at this months reading in the regard that I was able to get through two doorstopers.  Hopefully that trend will persist and the multitude of giant books I own won't hinder, inhibit or otherwise stymie my reading.        

For February, the most terrible word in the English language, I'm gonna take Mark Twain's advice and swallow the frog first.  My frog-of-the-month, doorstoper, is Summerland by Michael Chabon.  As it's a short month if I can get through Summerland and three others I'll be pleased.

It's been a remarkably uneventful month, which I guess isn't bad.  Hopefully I'll have more things of interest to report next month.  

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Rarity

I don't usually walk into a bookstore and leave having purchased nothing; let alone a bookstore that is having a going out of business sale.  There's a Borders that is going under in Buckhead--one of the most expensive retail areas in Atlanta.  The last day of business is still a ways off and today they were only offering 30% off everything which basically put them right in line with internet retailers.

I just couldn't bring myself to buy anything; isn't that terrible?  I want to feast on the lees on the last day of the stores existence when all books are one dollar.  With this in mind I was awfully tempted to 'misplace' some jewels in hopes that they would still be there when I go back.  Brick-and-mortar book selling is hard, and I guess I'm not helping, but 30% didn't make an impression on me for a new book, especially since I buy most of mine used at substantially less.    

I was encouraged (for selfish reasons) to see that next to no one was in the 'literature section' as the non-fiction trend seems to still be in control of sales.  Here to hoping there is something left for me when I go back in a few weeks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Year's Reading Rut

I don't feel pressured to read.  I do it because I enjoy reading.  But for the past week or so it's been a chore.  I completely blame Charlotte Brontë.  Jane Eyre almost killed me.  I told myself I'd finish it before 2011 got here... that didn't happen.  I've completed five other books in the time it took me to knock this 19th century British behemoth out.  It's over and done; I've turn the last page.  The final word was, "Amen" and in response all I could say was, "Hallelujah!"

I liked it better than Wuthering Heights but thats not say much.  I'm glad I read the book.  If nothing else, it proved that 19th century British lit ain't for me.  Dickens, Eliot, pick a Brontë, I'll throw Conrad into the pot, and damn near anyone else other than Jane Austen you can think of I'll pass and say their work is not for me.  I can admit that there is quality there, I'd just rather contemplate the sharp end of a Bowie knife on a tender spot on my body than seek said quality out.  

It's odd as I love Russian 19th century writers so much: Turgenev, Tolstoy, Checkov, Dostoevsky, Lermontov, and probably a host of others I don't know and can't pronounce.  German writers from the same time, Goethe, Schiller, Heine also make me very happy.  I've even come across some French writing for the time that I've thoroughly enjoyed though I'm not well versed enough to even drop names.  I'm sure some bright, literature person could tell me what that means about me and my reading preferences but I don't know such people...    

So Jane Eyre is over and done with, problem solved right?  All-kinds-of-wrong.  I'm reading Middlesex, which is possibly the most compelling thing I've ever come across--and it just won't end.  It never ends... and I've no clue where it's going.  It's long to def: i.e. really long.  I like it better--much better--than The Virgin Suicides, but at least that one was terminal.  Middlesex feels indefinite.  (Commentary forthcoming)  Jeffery Eugenides is quickly joining the ranks of the previously mentioned British authors from yesteryear.      

I'm also reading The Mammoth Book of Merlin figuring super awesome short stories will help pick up my reading pace.  Normally this is true, but this collection has very few redeeming qualities to speak of so far; I've about a hundred pages to go.  It's not bad; all the writing is very competent.  It is however, the most uninteresting compilation I've ever come across.  Considering the subject matter I'm amazed at the blandness of the stories included.  It makes me believe in the power of some of those 'name brand' editors I see on regular fiction anthologies and collections.  I'm not even sure that Michael Swanwick, with the last story in the book can save this mammoth book of trite banalities.   

I want to read something fabulous at this very moment and at the same time, my disenfranchisement with reading makes me not want to open a different book, but rather turn to the unthinkable: renew my World of Warcraft account after four long years of dormancy.  

My favorite hobby somehow got tedious. 


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

A six year old science experiment--Andrew "Ender" Wiggin--is manipulated into saving the world in Card's breakout 1985 novel.  Control is a central element in Ender's life.  He is given little more than verisimilitude of choice.  While the sci-fi setting, alien invasion; the human race on the brink of extinction, is in place for a stereotypical save-the-world ordeal Card instead chooses to tell something unique, intimate and ultimately more satisfying than genre fair.  
Ender a is genetically engineered and enhanced child born and breed for no other purpose than saving the world.  He has a special ability when it comes to understanding people and relationships.  His life has been scripted before his birth.  How he develops--alters or adheres--to the preordained path, is what's interesting.  He is consciously aware of how he is being molded and made to conform.  His own feelings remain conflicted as he is manipulated into thinking he has no choice in anything he does.
Ender doesn't think like an ordinary child nor an adult.  He processes information more like a computer than the rational, often dual natured, thought process of a human being.  He can predict reactions and then take definitive measures to achieve the results he desires.  Pushing the limits of what is able to foresee or expect is that drives him near the limits of his mental capacity. 
I have problems with novels that cast children in the lead and expect such great things from ones so young.  We primarily see Ender's family life, both with and without him, and his years in battle school where he trains to be a fleet commander to destroy the threat of invasion.  Ender's emotional maturity was difficult for me to reconcile.  The reader has to swallow a big pill in accepting the advanced intelligence in the children we encounter early on to avoid much eye-rolling in the latter half of the book.  To make this acceptance harder still, Ender is a bit of cry baby; a display of emotion that I felt incongruous with, well… everything.  On one hand we see him as a six-eleven year old who is in fact very sensitive.  On the other hand he is perhaps too rational and too efficient and calculating in thought to experience emotions with such frequency that would permit tears.      
For the backdrop of the novel to be so detailed, if only on a superficial level, (forbidden religions, internal struggle in unified international government, government funded education and no taxes to all families with no more than two children) I was surprised with Card's handling of all the other children who were deemed not fit for the prestigious battle school.  Ender's siblings, who were both thought to be 'the one' for a short time, are two of the world's most intelligent people and the government knowingly made them so.  The creators of these wunderkind can find no greater purpose than to send them to middle school and let them be regular kids?  Really?  Being brilliant ten and fourteen year olds, they plot to take control of the government and, over a course of many many years, are ultimately successful in achieving their goals.  That they were allowed to do so is one thing, but that they were never given any expectation at all with their enhanced intelligence was an oddity to me. Particularly so in a government as ruthless and capable as the one Card has established.     
Ender has some identity problems that are wonderful to watch unfold.  He was breed to be part of each his older brother and sister.  His possession of both killer instinct and a sympathetic nature combine to make him resent himself and not only what he's been born to do but the only thing he is good at: wagging war.  Ironically, combat is the only place he feels comfortable in his own skin.
The eponymous 'games' that Ender plays end up being the novel's--and the plot's--salvation.  I don't know that I've ever read a story where the author gives up so much of the plot's happening without the reader knowing until after-the-fact.  In an unexpected twist, the device also brings closure to the story and stops it from meandering in the obscure, 'Land of Blah…'  There is also a seed of redemption and atonement for all of Ender's doing at the end that was most unexpected.  And the unfulfilled 'planting' of this seed will ensure that readers think about the novel long after it is finished.  
The writing is all around solid with no stand out features or flaws.  Plot conveniences exist to serve the story and that alone is an admirably acceptable excuse.  Despite any misgivings on my part the novel is a fantastic read: thoroughly satisfying and surprisingly sensitive.  I'd highly recommend it to all fans of fiction.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Greatest Book Sale of 2011

Night Shade Books will be giving away their current inventory and even forthcoming books until January 23.  This is a great way to treat yourself with your news bonus, or buy what you really wanted for the holidays.  I've have been waiting on this sale for awhile now; saving for it honestly. 

I'm in short story heaven with this sale but the first and easiest purchase was Michael Swanwick's forthcoming novel Dancing with Bears.  Not even Amazon is gonna give you fifty percent off.  I've told myself I'm going to branch out this year and read more science fiction so I hope to see what all the hype around The Windup Girl is about.  Rounding out my splurge are two short story collection from the awesome Kage Baker, Wings of Fire edited by Johnathan Stahan, Wastelands by John Adams (which features an amazingly diverse group of writers), and The Imago Sequence and Other Stories by Laird Barron (because Terry told me to read it).

There were a few other I passed on; I had to draw the line somewhere.  Now if I could only get Tachyon to do a similar promotion... 

Tachyon?  Jacob, Jill and company?  You listening...? 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Musings

There's a racket being run at Books-a-Million and Borders.  It's one of those sale offers that tries to capitalize on consumer impulses of what they perceive to be a good deal.  They got these tables set up all around the store with "Buy two get a third free" signs and stickers.  One particular table had me drooling with offerings from A.S. Byatt, Patrick Rothfuss, John Irving, Sarah Waters, and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I was about to put a serious dent in my TBR list until I saw the prices.  Thanks to an iphone and 'snaptell' I saw that I could save about $21 by passing on what seemed to be an awesome deal.  I'm all for supporting brick-and-mortar stores, but when I spend that kinda money it will be at one of the local family owned stores, not a large chain.  I go to chain retailers to look at publishers remainders and bargain books.  (I know my efforts are in vain but I try...)

So I stuck to the bargain books as I planned and for nine bucks made out with Trader by Charles de Lint, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and Escapement by Jay Lake.  Reading de Lint was a new year's resolution as is reading some steampunk (Lake).  While I read Lake before Escapement does mean I have to track down book one of this trilogy; for that reason alone I'm surprised I bought it.  This is actually the fourth time I've bought Grossman's novel though this time I don't know who I'll 'force-lend' it to.  I guess I liked it even more than I knew.  And by the way, does Michael Swanwick really count as steampunk?

Shopping today threw into sharp relief an interesting fact of my reading last year: I didn't read a single mass market paperback.  I finished Ender's Game last week and hope to have a review up shortly; it is the first mass market paperback I recall reading in a long time.  That was just a random fun fact.

I've discovered I like rye.  In fact I'll go so far as to say, "it's delicious."  If I can be sexist for a moment--and I can--it's a man's drink.  In today's drinking culture I can understand how rye has lost so much ground to bourbon, but just try a Manhattan with rye--as it should be--as opposed to bourbon; you'll see things the way I do shortly and if not, have another one...  I could see myself doing "Rye Reviews" much as I have with rum as soon as I get a better grasp on it.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The "N-Word" and Mark Twain

This is getting to be old news, but I've yet to really decide how I feel on the matter.  The Afterword is telling of a new edition of Huck Finn that will be published with "slave" in place of "nigger"... all 219 times.  Also on the chopping block is the word "injun" to be replaced with "slave" as well.

I can see both sides as to why the words should be replaced and why they should be kept the same.  Ultimately I think my feelings lie in the purist realm of, "leave it alone."  Anything else will be nothing more than an affectation of politically correct semantics which would go against the reality Twain was trying to write about.  Or at least that is how I think I feel.

Any one else have thoughts on the matter?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Most Anticipated Books of 2011

It's kinda odd for me to do a list.  I've never done one and I admit the lameness ahead of time.  Yeah, you guessed it... this is something else that was originally meant for examiner.

It goes without saying there will be more awesome books published this year than I'll read and unfortunately I'll probably never even hear of a large percentage of them.  So I should steal an idea from Joe Sherry and leave a place open for all the stuff that is unknown to me, but instead I'll just list what I know exist and gets me excited.

I've felt for awhile now that Michael Swanwick is a master of the short story and none are better than those involving his brilliant and lovable con-men Darger and Surplus.  (If you haven't read his fabulous collection, The Dog says Bow-Wow, which contains three Darger and Surplus stories, shame on you.)  So an entire novel dedicated to the two (They've FINALLY gotten to Moscow!) has to be awesome!  I read two of his previous novels and they were both meaty, behemoths that were as rewarding as wagyu beef; I expect nothing less from one as Swanwick.  He is manifest awesome.  

Sorry.  I'll calm down now...

Dancing with Bears comes out in May and is easily this years publication I'm most looking forward to.

Number two on this short list has to go to Lev Grossman.  I had so much fun reading The Magicians that I'll probably read it again leading into the fall release of The Magician Kings.  I will say that I have no idea where this book will go; it kinda makes me apprehensive like the second Matrix movie (which is a horrible feeling), but I'm hoping for the best.

KJ Parker's Purple and Black was an out-of-nowhere publishing piece of awesome for me last year.  By reading more of the author's work in 2011 I can satisfy two of my reading resolutions.  I've already ordered Blue and Gold,  and as I always prefer reading stand-alones to series The Hammer seems another good book to pick up.   
And what are you dear reader (sorry I've been reading the Bronte sisters lately...) looking forward to in 2011?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

First Book Purchases of the Year and Other Happenings

Yesterday was a really long day, so today, I went book shopping (there is no logical correlation between the two...).

I sure hope John Fowles is as good of a writer as I think he is, because I'm racking up on his literary output.  Daniel Martin is a novel of Fowles that I've not heard of, but it fit the theme of 2011 "Doorstopper Year" and a gut feeling told me it was a safe buy.  My wallet said it was a safe buy because I only paid two dollars for a hardback copy.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte was one of my great discoveries last year and I look forward to The Nautical Chart a stand-alone title.  There was a small book by some guy named Kurt Vonnegut that I've never read; Slaughter House Five.  The latter is a book I have the least powerful urge to pick up and read of all books on my TBR shelf, but it was only six bucks.  The most intriguing book I found on this trip was The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.  The table of contents is absolutely staggering in this 1996 collection and the fun thing about anthologies isn't finding new favorites by authors I already know, rather coming across authors that are new to me and great writers.  It included stories from: Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Terry Dowling, Patricia McKillip, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Thomas Ligotti, Michael Swanwick, Angela Carter, and --the biggest surprise, to me--Susanna Clarke.  I had no clue she had publication credits going back to 1996 (though I've since read the story by her included here).

This shopping trip also helped me understand why my blogging has been on the rise in the past month or so.  That examiner gig is only kinda blah...  The support is awful.  I send emails asking questions get little to no reply, or an answer to one of four questions asked and I really just don't have the drive to put content up there.  However I resolved to do so in the beginning, it seems the material just ended up on my own blog instead of theirs.  I could go on with examiner frustrations but I don't want to dedicate the time to it.  (Should any of 'them' be reading, I've done the survey, and sent multiple emails to my content editor.  I mean seriously, why do I have to jump through hoops to include a link in an article?)  

So what are your first of the year book purchases?