Wednesday, May 30, 2012


So I went book shopping after work today.  It's Maria's fault and I'll tell you why later.  While I didn't find the book I was looking for I did end up with two when I left.  Furthermore, in going book shopping I was able to clear out a stack on trade-in books that was getting precariously tall on my floor.  

I bought Litany of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe because he is amazing though that is no secret.  This book contains first two books in his The Book of the Long Sun series:  Nightside of the Long Sun and Lakeside of the Long Sun.  It's an attractive paperback from Orb that comes in at around five-hundred fifty pages.  I already own Epiphany of the Long Sun, the last two books in the series, which contains Caldé of the Long Sun and Exodus from the Long Sun in hardback in a Guild America Books edition.  So, all-in-all, it's a mismatched collection of The Book of the Long Sun.  I can't explain to you why, but I want a complete collection of each: the second half of the Orb edition and the first half of the Guild America Books edition.  And yes, I already know I'm crazy.  

Wolf remains the only science fiction writer that I read with no reservation.  (That said I've never considered Michael Swanwick a science fiction writer, thus I read his work all the time...)  Also , Wolfe remains the only writer in any field that I will risk reading a book in a series.  Presently, I'm finishing The Urth of the New Sun by Wolfe--which is better than I ever thought possible--and so, I'll probably take a break from Wolfe for a while because he makes my head hurt with awesome juice.  

The second book I bought is one of those that makes you mad at the publishing industry.  The name is horrible: (and therein may lie many of the answers for my anger) Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy edited by Al Sarrantonio.  How is it possible that such a collection of short stories is ever published by such an amazing amount of authors and yet I've never heard about it until I accidentally come across it in a second hand book store?  It could be awful, but seriously, look at the author line up.  It's not likely that this original anthology sucks.  I'm looking forward to getting to this one sooner than later.  

As for the book Maria brought to my attention for our joint read (oops did I spill the beans?!?!) more on that later.   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Writing a story with a central character, dealing with a universal theme and doing so in a manner that is believable to your readers is difficult.  Doing the preceding and making your story interesting to someone else is an accomplishment.  Weaving multiple primary character's lives together, exploring a wealth of emotions and ideas with subtlety and ease all without coming across as inorganic is how Nicole Krauss rolls. 

Leo Gursky is at the end of his life and he knows it.  He enjoys being out in public and making small scenes not so much as to be an ass rather he desperately wants to be noticed by the world for something--no matter how trivial--before he passes.  When not intentionally spilling coffee at Starbucks or knocking over displays in retail stores we see bits and pieces of the utterly unremarkable life he has lead.  Grusky never spends times reminiscing on his youth but nor does he revel in the twilight of his dotage. 

Alma Singer is a fifteen year old who lost her father early in her life and searches for clues and stories to reconstruct his image in any way she can; primarily through researching her parents favorite book, A History of Love of which she was named after the main character.  She also has to concurrently deal with adolescence, a younger brother who believes he is one of God's chosen, and her mother's melancholy.

The way Leo and Alma's lives interact is through A History of Love: it's author, the story's meaning, and what the narrative itself means to each of them at extreme different ages and and a wealth of different personal experiences.  It would be easy to say the plot is clever and intriguing due to constant questions raised and the reader's yearning to understand seemingly impossible character connections, and while all that is true; this is just how Krauss writes.  There is no carefully crafted mystery or intentional twist to get a knee-jerk reaction from reader; only carefully executed complexities to provide greater enjoyment on every level without ever coming close to the realm of convolution.  

As Alma's mother works on a translation of A History of Love for a patron with curious motives, great wealth and a somewhat obscure background we see how one book--long since out of print--can unify so many lives, and connect a vast host of people in addition to seeing Leo get the notice he so desperately craves (even if he is the only one who recognizes his accomplishments) and learn that all of Alma's anxieties come from her horribly sad desire to see her mother be happy.        

Loss, and filling the void, seem to be the primary theme dealt with.  Leo has lost the great love of his life and never once sought to have a relationship with anyone else.  Later in life he finds that he has fathered son and laments never one having the smallest interaction with him.  Alma, who has already lost one parent, is terrified of distance growing between herself and her mother.  While she wants to replace the role of her father in her mother's life Alma struggles with recreating (and falsifying) her father's image in her own mind so she can selfishly expound on the handful memories she has of her father.  If I told you the story was beautiful, hilarious and heartbreaking all at once I'd understand hesitancy to believe me... 

The characters are beautifully brought to life.  Leo feels like a real old man while Alma is a vivid and comical teenage girl.  Considering the disparity of age in characters and their handles on life a real accomplishment is lack of sentimentality as to not obscure the story.  The narrative is anything but cold, but perhaps endearing from a distance.  I told myself at the outset of writing this commentary that I wouldn't mention Great House, Krauss' third novel that was nominated for the National Book of the Year award in 2012, but I can't help myself...  As well crafted as Leo and Alma's voices are, I miss the controlling, dominate, presence of the author's voice as in Great House.  I'm also aware that I couldn't voice this tiny qualm had I read the books in the order in which they were written.  I'm not sure if I can call the narrative style from A History of Love to Great House 'progress' as both as so well done, but rest assured: no matter the voice Krauss adopts you'll love every word. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Familiar Territory and a Breakthrough

I'm stubborn.  Really hard-headed.  I've been here before, with the whole, "I'm not surprised that secondary world fantasy does nothing for me," feeling.  The question is why I keep going back. 

It's secondary world fantasy that turned me on to reading.  After reading enough, and finding some really great stuff, it was secondary world fantasy that alerted me to the fact that I love to read.  That was years ago...  Nostalgia is so very dangerous.  I've tried a few times this year to rekindle past good reading vibes, and it has nothing to do with the works I've chosen or the authors, rather, it's me.  I can't read this genre anymore.  I recently put down a well-written book that seemed to have much going for it simply because I can't suffer the genre's structure and conventions anymore.  (I could get real specific here, but no one is listening anyway so why bother?)

So what does this falling out of genre fantasy mean for me?  Well, for one thing, it's sad.  It's also awesome to severe ties and move on completely.  There has been a huge cull on my bookshelves and my TBR stack has nearly been trimmed by nearly fifty percent.  I'm happy about those points, and speaking of points it seems I'll be hitting the jackpot on my next trip to trade in books at my used book store.  I should mention I'm not completely wiping the slate clean: there are a few authors in the genre that I enjoy too much (and write to what think is a higher standard than most genre writers) that I'm not willing to part with.  Furthermore there is one series that I've been collecting--but have yet to read--that I will at least try before trading in.

It may seem that I'm narrowing my reading focus but the opposite is true.  I still think the most creative and often time profound fiction comes from the fantasy genre; I only need to work harder in seeking it out.  I'm also slowly warming up to the fact that I like science fiction.  It doesn't scare me as much as it used too, though I don't see myself trying space opera of any kind.

I've learned something new about myself and I'm coming out to tell the world.  It feels good.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

Oops... I almost forgot this post.  That would be the first time ever since I've started doing end of the month recaps; better late than never.

I finished Daniel Martin this month; YEAH!!!!  It took me a while--because it's beastly long and in part because I really didn't want it to end.  I love John Fowles.  A lot.  Whenever I read about John Fowles I usually see people talk about The Magus or The French Lieutenant's Woman; sometimes The Collector.  I haven't read The Magus yet, but if it is to hold up as Fowles Magnum Opus it truly must be a phenomenal effort.  Daniel Martin makes me rethink much of what I previously said about how hard it would be to trump The Windup Girl.

I also read, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss who is one of my favorite living writers.  She is amazing.  That is all.  I'll have comments up on that in a few days.  The Screwtape Letters was many many things; all of them good.  Additionally I read a very large chunk of Warriors, a short story anthology I'm plugging my way through.  April was one of those months were the reading output concerning page count was really high, just not in total works read.  And I'm okay with that.

Hmm; what else... I went to the lake and drove my friends' boat around which was fun in a "are-we-gonna-die" kinda way.  Got sunburned too.  It hurts.  Went to a funeral for my grandmother which was sad and happy in many ways.

May looks like another chunk of Warriors getting read, Acacia by David Anthony Durham and I'm aiming for at least two other titles that I've yet to decide upon.

Stay tuned.

Go read Nicole Krauss.  Start with everything she's ever written.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Guest Blogging

Are you tired of me rambling my book babble on my own blog?  If so, check out Kim's!  Her blog is not only cooler than mine, but she also let me babble there in addition to my own quiet corner of the Internet.