Saturday, August 31, 2013

Month in Review

Lots and lots of reading this month, but as you may have noticed, very little reviewing.  I've been lazy in that regard; sorry.  I got through nine books which may be a record.  It could have been more.  I'd read a few short story collections and I have a few waiting to be read that the library will want back sooner than later, but instead of knocking a couple of those out I really wanted something big and meaty and awesome so I started reading The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault a bit earlier than I had planned.  It's big and fat and dense in the best of ways.  I'll have somethings to say on that when it's over and done.  

The list of books read this month which were not my favorite stories committed to paper are Among Others by Jo Walton, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and The Line Between, by Peter S Beagle.  Gaiman and Beagle are amazing, but I don't feel these are anywhere near their best work.  You can check out the full review for my thoughts on Walton.

The Prophet by Kahil Gibran and Social Studies by Fran Lebowitz were an interesting pair of books to read back to back.  Gibran is a pan-genre inspirational, spiritual, self help, prose poetry, awkward narrative kinda thing full of paradoxes and lofty thoughts that may--or may not--be worth thinking about.  And Lebowitz's hysterical social commentary is dated but still relevant.  Add me to the legions that wonder how it is that she hasn't published anything in decades.   

Oh yeah that's right.  I even threw in some non-fiction this month because I'm awesome like that.

The really really good stuff I read this month were Crow by Ted Hughes, The Wizard of Earthsea and Changing Planes by Ursula K Le Guin, and Four Quartets by TS Eliot.  To this I owe a large measure of thanks to Jo Walton as every one of these books or authors came to my attention by way of reading Among Others.  She provided some excellent recommendations and I'm further encouraged to try other books she mentioned in Among Others.  Good thing I took notes!  

I can't say I understood all the poems in Crow, but if that is a style of poetry I need to know what that style is, because I loved each and every one.  Visceral, bloody and immediate would be a some words used to describe that collection.  Eliot contrast nicely with Hughes though it was harder for me to follow.  I'm the last person alive over thirty to read The Wizard of Earthsea so I won't talk about it, but Changing Planes was just plain old cool.  It's a collection of related-ish short stories.  The premise is, while killing time at an airport while waiting for your connecting flight why not visit a new plane of existence, new people, culture, society for a few days and be brought right back to your airport terminal when it's time to board your flight?  There's some real social commentary in this collection, some faux, hypothetical social commentary, and some all around great writing.  In many ways, Changing Planes felt like non-fiction.  This would be the one book I regret not leaving commentary for this month, but oh well…   
That's a lot of reading for me in one month but I honestly think I'm leaving something out.  In August, I had to actively work to not re-read Perfect Escape.    

The Decatur book festival happened this month, and it will happen for two days next month as well.  I go every year as there is always someone I want to hear speak, meet, or hangout with, but I never go to go see and do all the stuff.  I did so this year and capped the day off with a talk by Austin and Lev Grossman.  They are the most down to earth, regular ass guys you could ever expect to meet.  They're funny and approachable, and they like the same books I like; in addition to their own.  To be identical twins it's amazing how after an hour of hearing them talk I don't feel I'd ever get them confused.    

Lev has personally assured me that The Magician's Land will be out early to mid next year…'or something like that'…  'as long as I finish it.'  And while I didn't go to his reading at DragonCon (how is he reading from a book he hasn't finished, you ask) he kinda maybe probably inferred that at least one chapter is done and even being published in some form in the coming months.  Random side notes on Lev Grossman: he had to force himself to read and finish "that book by Tolkien with the rings…" because it was long and boring (we are kindred spirits), he feels Kelly Link is a secret the publishing industry has kept too well for far too long, he's a huge fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (who isn't?) and The Once and Future King (blah to really good…), he's not too hot on Mevryn Peake and has far more praise than I for Jonathan Franzen's fiction.   

I didn't know Austin Grossman existed until the book festival.  He is awesome.  I tried to buy his book but the seller had run out of copies.  (A mammoth oversight in my mind… come on now independent book sellers…)  In addition to needing to track down copies of his currently available You, and Soon I will be Invincible, please please please keep your eyes peeled for his current work in progress which will feature a throw down for the title 'biggest and baddest villain of all time': Cthulhu versus Richard Nixon.  Did I mention Austin is awesome?

Because that is the greatest idea ever.  

I also went to a poetry reading where I had fun laughing at a woman poet from out of town who was invited to read from her new book of poems.  For reasons unknown to herself or anyone else, she wore long corduroy pants and a sweater and looked very nice.  She remarked on the heat was and thought it prudent to only bring shorts and tee shirts should she come back to the festival in the future.  (Some of today's poets earn their rep for 'loopy.')  I also had the pleasure of hearing Thomas Lux read.  He is amazing and I'll shortly be tracking down everything he has published.  I'm not a poetry critic but I know what I like: his work is accessible, disturbing, and poignant.  

I can't say enough how much I wish I had a written copy of the poems they were reading while they were reading.  To me, poetry on the page is especially dead, with it's oft time esoteric or outright unexplainable punctuation and presentation, but when it's read by the author it amazed me how much of a narrative story was being told.  Go check out Lux; now.     

David Levithan, and more Grossman tomorrow in some very interesting panels.  And who knows who else I'll bump into?  Note to self: when rich, move to downtown Decatur.    

Apropos of red shells, I've discovered Knights and Dragons and that is how I waste all my free time.  It shouldn't be as much fun as it is.  It shouldn't be as addictive as it is.  It shouldn't crash as much as it does, but I can't stop playing.  It's like reading Graceling...   You can friend me if you like, or better yet hit me up and I'll send you an invite then you can friend me after the tutorial so can get the extra goodies.  Then we can be best of friends.  Guild coming soon.  If you have a smart phone or ipad, start playing; you'll never have another free five minutes.  XBD-WPF-VYV  Tutorial, then friend me, and you're awesome.  

Finally, the most impressive thing that happened in my life this month was the discovery by Maria and I that I am in fact, a unicorn!  (This has nothing to do with DragonCon going on in town this week either.)  While this may seem chimera (I myself thought that I would be more dragon-ish, cthulhunic, or winged Balrog type menace) it was through rather exhaustive discussion that Maria proved beyond all argument I could care to offer (which was little) that I am in fact, gorgeous, awesome, single (at the time of writing), male, and one who reads slightly more than most.  

Unicorns for the win!     

Monday, August 12, 2013

It Would Be Nice If Something Happened

Apparently, I'm becoming a picky reader in my old age.  Two years ago I was so bold as to ask really good authors to write something that resembled an ending in their works. And here I am now, wanting something to happen in a novel; just a bit of action.

I've said my bit about Among Others, and others seem to agree that nothing happened.  Now, I'm reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I find myself reading another novel in which nothing is happening.  I'm getting a bit frustrated...

Added to which I've hit my limit for items checked out from the library at one time (Who knew there was a limit!  Why is there a limit?!).  I almost bought everything on my Amazon wish list, which would have ushered me into insolvency, in hopes of there being one book in which stuff happened as I was too worn out to actually 'shop.'  I'm too worn out to shop, people!

Hell, I'm tempted to go pick up my paperback collection of David Gemmell stuff only because I know stuff happens in those books (even if I have them memorized and even if I'm not sure I could bring myself to read again).

Half way through Gormenghast--nothing is happening...
Half way through The Line Between--nothing is happening...
Halfway through The Ocean at the End of the Lane--nothing is happening...

Thank God for Ted Hughes and Crow; cause it's awesome.  (Thanks for the recommendation Jo Walton.)

What ever will I complain about next?  

Friday, August 9, 2013

Among Others by Jo Walton

Morwenna likes to drink water.  Her favorite thing in the world is inter-library loan.  She doesn't like tea, orange juice, and certainly not champagne.  She doesn't like people and prefers the company of fairies and science fiction--both of which seem to be a rather exclusive, if not an esoteric, pursuit.  While there is nothing wrong with these personality traits, I share a few, neither are they interesting enough to justify writing a book about.  After reading Among Others I feel certain Morwenna wouldn't like apple juice, cool-aid, or Armagnac.  Morwenna likes to drink water.  She is willfully the most boring person alive.

But she doesn't have to be.

Walton chose to write a book about science fiction.  She discusses other books and authors in the genre up until 1980.  There is nothing wrong with such a book, and I think it would be welcomed among that community of readers, but why she chose to do so under the guise of fiction is beyond me.  More so than the book discussion--which was genuinely interesting from time to time--is the fact that Walton chose to write a novel out of what should have been a readers guide to SF with absolutely no conflict or tension to speak of.  It's not that the conflict is subtle or heavily cloaked: it ain't there.  This absence of conflict is exacerbated by lovely prose about trite day-to-day occurrences and vague hints in directions of interest that are never developed or explored.

Morwenna can see fairies, but please, don't expect a story out of that.  She was involved in an accident that killed her twin sister, at which point Morweena assumed her sister's name, and she has been left with a ruined leg and a cane; but for some reason we don't need to make a story out of that either.  After meeting her father and feeling indifferent she brushes off a drunken incident where he tries to force himself on her, but let's not introduce anything that could be misconstrued as an interesting launching point at this time in the story.  The accident that claimed her sister and leg was brought on by her allegedly mad mother, who is a witch, but surely that wouldn't be fun to talk about either.

After running away from her crazy mother, she goes to stay with her estranged father and his three sisters, who are also witches and manipulating their brother.  (No story there either...)  She goes to a private school and resolutely resist making friends or socializing in any way, until she 'magically' works her way into a book club.  I don't mean this as a joke, but to those who have read the book: does any of this sound interesting yet?  Am I being faithful in regards to what the book is about?  Everything is so casually mentioned as to not resonate: 'Today I did some lame ass magic,' 'I followed around the ghost of my sister,' 'I went to sleep masturbating about Wim (a horrible diminutive of William).'  (Okay, actually when she said that I was startled--heart skipped two beats; primarily because that part woke me up and I learned Morwenna has a pulse... )  Nothing in Morwenna's life matters to her and in the narrative she conveys it as such.  It sure doesn't matter the reader.

Over the course of about a year she does manage to grow and develop some, first in the friends she resents having, the book club, a boyfriend, and ultimately finding purpose and direction in her life as opposed to joining her deceased sister, but here is nothing in this journey to the end that warrants a novel.

Morwenna is perhaps the hardest part of this book to deal with.  If you love SF from the time period involved you'll probably find much to enjoy or happily reminiscence , if not expect to be excluded from about a hundred pages worth of writing in this book.  About of third of the novel.  Morwenna is also the most condescending, high-and-mighty person ever depicted on the page.  (And to this achievement Walton is to be commended: well done.)  I have three post-its full of quotes to this effect but there was one at the end that summed it all up so nicely.  "I looked at him.  He was rarer than a unicorn, a beautiful boy in a red-checked shirt who read and thought and talked about books."  She is far more shallow than those she aggressively mocks and equally unwelcoming of those who aren't like her.  There isn't much she's not better than.    

The writing is clean, clear, and very pleasing to read.  I only wish there was something remotely resembling a story to go along with it.  The ending doesn't fizzle out because what precedes the ending never built up to anything.  The book could have ended on any page--any page--to the exact same effect.  I feel it pertinent to say: I'm not condemning this book.  It's not bad and I'd never tell someone that it is, merely, I've no idea why one would choose to read it, or what compelled Walton to set out on the surely arduous task of writing it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Month in Review

Oops, I almost forgot to do this.  It's the only regular post I do so it really would have been a shame to leave it out.  July has been busy, and busy, has been good.  I did a lot of reading, and better still, I did a lot of good reading.  Perfect Escape takes the crown for the month but everything I read was really good.

I didn't get around to posting anything for The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet but I liked it as much as I have best books in Perez-Reverte's Alitriste series.  Spain was the main character and I'm amazed each time I read one of these books to see how he deals with time and setting while still telling a story.  Story of a Girl didn't stick as much as I thought it would, but it was awesome while I was reading it.  Bitterblue has ultimately made me want from of everything from Cashore.   Lonely Werewolf girl was such a break from what I normally read that I'm all kinds a eager to get to the follow up.  A Stir of Bones was not what I was expecting but wonderful nonetheless.  I hope to suppress this urge as long as I can or at least until I'm in another reading funk.

I didn't get to reading any more of Gormenghast, which was a goal of mine, but as I have a friend reading Titus Groan I'll put some more effort into it in August.  I also got about half way through The Line Between by Peter Beagle.  It's a short story collection by a phenomenal short story writer, but all in all, I haven't been in love with anything in it thus far.  It's a very small book of very long stories; which I find odd for some reason.  I plan to finish it soon-ish.

I'm currently reading Among Others, which is an awesome birthday gift, and I'll have a couple things to say about that in a few days.  (It's a about quiet, condescending girl who has read everything.)  Also in line for this month is a small haul from the library: Werewolves in Their Youth by Michael Chabon, Changing Planes and The Birthday of The World both by Ursala K Le Guin.  Three short story collections in one trip; perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

July is kind of a downer month in terms of reading; one of those that I doubt I'll repeat in terms of quality, but here's to hoping I'm wrong.