Tuesday, May 24, 2011


About a book a week is my average.  With that number in mind, I'll say it's a feat to get a rise out of me while I'm reading: to make me laugh so hard that I have to stop reading to compose myself, repulse me to the point of squeamishness (okay, that one happens more than most) or shock me to the point of spoken expletives. 

The latter happened this morning, thanks to Michael Swanwick and Dancing with Bears.  I'll not give away particulars as to not spoil the moment for potential readers.  There was a brief passage on faith, pleasure, suffering, heaven, hell and earthly existence.  These topics were disscused against a backdrop of sex.  It really got me thinking and apparently I misinterpreted the passage as much as the novel's character in question and when matters were cleared up all I could say was, " **** **** **."  And laugh my way to work.

When was the last time a book got a powerful physical emotion (good or bad) from you as a reader?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Saturday Musings

I'm done.  I finished The Beast.  Jonathan Franzen's 568 page wonder, The Corrections and it only took me twenty-one days to get here.  I had decided to not leave commentary for this book before I started reading it.  Having made Oprah's book club and many best of the decade list, there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said.  It comes close to my 'no speaking of dead authors of the classics' rule, but happily Franzen is alive and (I hope) in good health, and able to provide us with many more ridiculous awesome offerings.

That said, I'm in no hurry to get to Freedom.  In order for Franzen to 'get better,' at least by my definition, he is going to have to do something substantially different.  As in, write about African's and the war in Sudan type different to really make an impression on me.  Perhaps Freedom is such a book, but with knowing nothing about the book and only a little about the badass writer, I don't think it is.  The summation of my 'not a commentary' is this: go read The Corrections, if you've yet to do so.

A few words about my journey through this behemoth, because that is what it was: a journey.  I mentioned that I was reading it to the only co-worker I have at either job that I think is capable of reading and, naturally, she had year it years ago.  "How far in are you?" she asked.  "Just started it.  About a hundred pages or so."  The strongest part of the book, that which stuck with her for nearly ten years after reading was, "There was a part about a chaise lounge chair, and a scent and a stain..."  I had passed that part and all I could do was laugh.  More than anything else, that is what The Corrections is to her.

She is the only flesh and blood person I know (interweb people are something different, though not lesser) who reads more than me.  She knows what she likes and doesn't like.  She knows what's good and what's bad and she can explain why.  "That book was amazing, but the whole chair, stain, scent thing really bothered me."  That comment says more about her than Franzen.

At the other job, the one where it is okay if I read, a superior said, "I've read that!  This is the book with that crazy ass dysfunctional family."  I replied something to the affect that the family was normal as hell, only more honest than most, and that all families probably have similar problems and issues and that 'normal' probably doesn't exist.  She agreed with me.  Moments later a patron saw the book and my book mark and asked, "Are you really that far into that book?"  I told her yes.  She was in a state akin to awe.  She got about a third of the way through and then put it down due to the "mundaneness."  I was not in a spot where I could comment freely, but thought to myself, if the actions in this book are mundane to you than your family must all be histrionic or worse.

My 'boss,' only commented, "That book was fucked up."  I asked, "Have you read Freedom yet?" "No.  The other one was too fucked up for me to read Freedom."  I'm not sure what all he meant but I understood, implicitly.

I accidentally went to a bookstore today.  I didn't plan this trip; it really was an accident.  I was going to the East Atlanta Beer Festival and happened to park directly across from Bound to be Read Books.  I heard of it before, but never really get to this part of town.  Small, well lit, too many damned cats; those seem to be the traits of a used book store.  Worse than going to a book store, I bought books: sorry...

I've wanted Shogun in hard back since forever and now I have it in a two volume set marked 'Atheneum." I've no clue what that means... I also bought two novels by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch and Love in the Time of Cholera.  My gut tells me neither will be as good as his short fiction but what is?

As to the beer fest.  I officially don't like IPA's but Flying Dog Raging Bitch ain't bad, and neither is Dogfish Head, 90 or 120 minute.  As to the good stuff, more on that later.    

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It's tough having fans...

I suffer no delusions that Ms Valente read my review of The Habitation of the Blessed, but if she did she wouldn't have liked it.  (I used the word 'dense' albeit in a positive light.  The bright side of my faux pas is that I get to drink!)  I have my own misgivings on what she has said, but I'll suffice it to say perhaps she should add 'amazing' 'intelligent' 'special' and 'elite' to her list of words she'd rather reviewers not use.

Whatever happened to the old days when artist such as Beethoven could only vainly bitch and moan about being unappreciated and never reaping the full reward of their efforts?  So much for 'suffering' the pain of success in silence.  

The Weight

It's happening and...  Déjà vu.  Giant books and my inability to get through them in a timely fashion.  I've been doing so well this year in getting through the door-stoppers plaguing my TBR shelves, but it's always a challenge.  

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen is amazing; thus far.  I barely crested the half-way mark this morning, yet I feel like I've yet to make a dent.  It's an odd psychological issue I have with big books.  Even when I'm enjoying what I'm reading, the visual reinforcement of my page marker and all that remains until the end nearly crushes me.

It's okay.

I can do this!

I've been through the same territory with Middlesex and even managed to read other books in the same month.  Deep breaths.     

Friday, May 6, 2011

Annabel by Kathleen Winter

Kathleen Winter's debut novel is sensitive, uncomfortable, and feels wholly real.  Believe the hype you've heard about Winter (and if you haven't heard it; then remember you heard it from me first.)  Considering the subject matter, it is uncanny how quickly Winter makes readers identify with both characters and situations.  
Wayne Blake is born a hermaphrodite.  His parents and a close family friend are the only ones who know.  A little bit of surgery, years of social conditioning, and the most masculine yet sensitive father ever, render Wayne, Wayne.  He is a boy.  
Labrador Canada is nearly the book's main character.  It is a harsh untamed land and we see it primarily through the eyes of Wayne's parents: Treadway is a hunter and a trapper and Jacinta manages domestic affairs.  Through the land and indeed both of Wayne's parents, it is hard to find much that is feminine in Wayne's surroundings.  Treadway is an anachronism, and as much as he wants his son to follow in his footsteps his efforts to interest Wayne in the traditional manner that the men of Labrador make their livelihood are fruitless.  Wayne can cut wood, mend fencing and identify many birds and animals at sight but he has no passion for these things.  
There is an element to Wayne's upbringing that doesn't exactly feel false, but nonetheless feels wrong.  Wayne is brought up to be a boy.  He takes hormones to reinforce his boyhood.  Yet there is this striving effort from Jacinta and Thomasina, who was at Wayne's birth and knows his true nature, to quite literally make him a girl.  Jacinta reflects often on how beautiful the word 'daughter' is to her.  Thomasina due to her tragic past, which is spelled out in the book's opening pages, gives Wayne a special name and in turn the novel's title.  While growing up there is never a push for gender parity, but rather an undercurrent to not only acknowledge his feminine side but to live life as a girl.  All of which gives way to some marvelous discussion on parenting in such a unique situation.  None of it felt right to me, but all of it sure did encourage a great story.  
Odd things happen at puberty when Wayne's body goes through some changes.  There is more surgery, and a lot more pills and the beginning of his search for identity.  There is a parallel struggle to reclaim identity in one of Wayne's friends, Wally.  It was a nice subplot that was well managed as both interesting and a vehicle to push Wayne's story along.  
While not the book's main characters Wayne's parents, Treadway and Jacinta were the best drawn.  That they both care and love for their child is never in doubt.  While Wayne struggles and has breakdowns trying to find himself, his parents do the same in an effort to accept their child without labels or trying to place him in a preconceived mould.  There is some soap opera drama and I mean that in the best of ways.  Out of love and concern Treadway scared me to death with his plans to do somethings I'd rather him not have done.  Jacinta needed to be slapped out of malaise far too often and Thomasina, a third parental force, was so out of line from Wayne's baptism forward that I never like her for a moment.  The story is very easy to become involved in and speculate as to what will happen next.  
I do wish there was a bit more confrontation with Treadway and Jacinta.  Their interaction was perfect and felt real, but I can't help but think if they ever wondered about having another child, or even if the topic came up, what they may have expressed to each other about Wayne.  There is also a moment in the end where Wayne seems to make a 'gender doesn't matter' decision by taking some drastic measures; embracing both sides of his dual nature.  I'm not sure if it was Winter's ultimate gesture of acceptance or if the act undermined all the past trials Wayne had gone through.    
The ending is far from 'happily ever after' but is it ultimately very satisfying.  Annabel is a linear tale that was difficult to point out exactly what the story was building toward but there was always enough tension and drama to propel events along.  Excellent storytelling by a very capable writer; a very intimate and personal story that is bound to arouse thought in any sensitive reader.   

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dark Mondays by Kage Baker

Kage Baker is a writer I'm very familiar with.  I've come across her works in themed collections, best of anthologies, and just about anywhere quality short fiction is to be found.  Dark Mondays is a 2006 collection in which I was hoping to find the charming, seemingly effortless short stories that made her a name I remember.  While there are high points, more often than the not, the collection is listlessly bobbing in a sea of uninteresting events.
My first contention with the collection is that the title story is in fact not in my edition of the book.  It only came in the limited edition with cost $49.99; shame on me for not reading the fine print and while this is more of a gripe with the publisher, Night Shade Books, than the author my displeasure may have colored my thinking on the stories that were present.  
Dark Mondays is a collection of very well written of short stories, only most of them weren't special enough in any way as to standout.  "So This Guy Walks into a Lighthouse" is a great title that only yields a mildly interesting story about a man looking forward to the solitude of a lighthouse position only to be overrun by very peculiar visitors. 
Few of the stories contained enough thematic material or anything that could be called plot that was worth developing and a weak premise rarely makes for interesting reading, regardless of the characters created in the story.  The one hundred page long "The Maid on the Shore" proves this point better than any other.  There is a great and diverse cast of pirates--two women dressed as men, a priest with psychotic breaks, gay pirates, a stereotypical 'good-guy' who has merely fallen in with the wrong crowd, and a phantasmic young woman who may or may not be real--that Baker seemingly does nothing with but make march and sail.  It turns out their objective was to sack a great city in Panama, but this didn't register with me until the very end, it hardly felt climatic or worth the time it took to get there, and by the time it happened, I didn't care.  With such a cast I'd hoped that Baker could do more.
Perhaps it's not coincidence that the stories that brought Baker to my attention were one where she focuses on smaller cast and the events of individuals as opposed to large groups; such as the 'Ruby Incomparable' from Wizards and 'Are you Afflicted with Dragons?' from The Dragon Book both edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.  The only real standouts for me in Dark Mondays (and let me tell you how much I dislike referring to the name of this collection by a story that wasn't even included…) were 'The Two old Women' and 'Oh, False Young Man!'  Both are about older women trying to reconcile something in their past.  The former deals with a woman who lost her husband at sea and finds a way to conjure him back.  Despite the unnatural manner of his actions and the pleadings of her family she has a very hard time giving her husband up a second time knowing they will be forever parted.  'Oh, False young man!' is a revenge story gone horribly wrong where a scientist--a very bitter, scorned lover--plots revenge with the aide of her best creation: a fully functioning human AI.  She intends to marry her 'son' to the daughter of her once lover.  Things don't work out and there are many lessons learned.  While all these stories share treads of being more intimate and personal that is not necessarily the key to success for Baker.  
'Portrait, With Flames' and "Katherine's Story' share similar elements as the better stories in the collection but with little to no action happening of any kind it is hard to push events along and harder still to keep turning pages.  
While the good stories are good, neither are worth seeking out the collection solely on their account.  All in all there are some very creative and wonderful ideas, only a few of them develop into something special.  All the writing is well done and it certainly feels like Kage Baker; only not the really amazing Kage Baker that I'd previously come across in so many anthologies and collections.  It's all well written and generally I'd consider Dark Mondays good reading.  It's just not very interesting reading.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Month in Review and of Things to Come

I've been a very negligent blogger this past month.  Sorry.  I can't claim to have been busy, in fact I've had more free time this month than most, and that's not a good thing.  In March I promised reviews of all I'd read in April.  Which means I owe you my comments on Annabel Kathleen Winter and Dark Mondays by Kage Baker.  They are coming...

Dancing with Bears by Michael Swanwick was my only book acquisition for the month.  I actually pre-ordered, 'bought' it back in January.  I'll be reading it as soon as I get through The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen.  As I skipped a doorstopper last month I'll be doing double duty in May: Franzen being one, Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley being the other.  I don't see any reason why I can't get through Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chaing in addition to everything else.  How's that for reading variety?  

I now own two hardback books from Night Shade Books and they are both very, very nice.  Not yet enough to do one of my book reviews but they are slightly better than the norm.  That said, I still hated the uber-deckled pages of  Catherynne Valente amazing, The  Habitation of the Blessed.  The book almost looked unfinished to my eyes.  I guess they can't do it all.

Bar Golf happened yesterday.  As always, it was great fun, lots of people, perfect weather.  I didn't play the score card assigned to me as I've previously eagled every hole on the course in past years.  I did a 'choose your own adventure' route with some other friends.  The end results were probably the same...  

Well that covers 'reading' and 'rum.'  As to 'red shells,' if you've been reading this blog for any amount of time you'll know I've never mentioned video games here as they completely fell out of my life about the time I started blogging.  I'll have to change that part in the header.