on reading

ARC pile demolition project, part 2

It is time for another ARC demolition project! I did one a couple of months ago with great success, and I am due for a repeated because this is how much my pile has increased just this week:


This is insane, although I do not feel particularly bad in this case, as on Monday I reorganized all my giant stacks of books and got rid of three giant boxes of literature that will either never be read or has been read and will not be reread.

We’ll see how it goes this time.


Reading in the genre and James Morrow’s Madonna And The Starship

I spent most of last week walking around town (with a brief detour to Baltimore), listening to genre podcasts, reading books, and making lists of more books I would like to read. I drafted a couple of posts and maybe even started a story. In other words, business as usual. All this reading and listening led to an examination of my own genre reading habits. In my weird mind, SF sub-genres are very loosely organized along a spectrum, with epic fantasy on one end and hard sci-fi on the other. Or maybe it’s a system of coordinates. Whatever it may be, it is not a value scale by any means. As I inspect my TBR stacks and books long overdue at the library, I realize that while I read quite widely in the genre, anything that belongs on either end of this spectrum does not get read all that much anymore. I used to read a lot of epic fantasy, and I went through the space opera phase, but now my tastes veer towards more nebulous books. Books that mix genres, the New Weird stuff, slipstream, just Strange Fiction (whatever that may be). Stuff that gets nominated for Shirley Jackson Award, which I simply call Disturbing Fiction. I don’t want just sword and sorcery, I want sword and sorcery and spaceships together. Or maybe sword and sorcery and meta-fictional twists. I don’t really want to start a genre nomenclature conversation, I just want to point out that my own tastes gravitate towards the less easily defined stuff.

Another category I don’t tend to read much is humorous or satirical sci-fi/fantasy. I’ve read my share of Sir Terry, but only when nothing else would do. I love Douglas Adams, but again, only when I really feel like it. Vonnegut is a wizard, but his books are not the ones I would just pick up. And yet when I sat down to write my not-yet-existent story, I realized that the resulting product was very much in the Pratchett/Adams style. I might want to write disturbing dark fiction, but what comes out on my screen has talking space shrimp and (probably) witty dialogue.

madonnaAnd so I decided I might as well read and re-read some funny books. I picked up James Morrow’s The Madonna And The Starship (you can see a full review by Michael Dirda here). It’s set in the 1950s, aka golden days of television, when every show was broadcast live, and its main character is Kurt Jastrow, a writer for one of those live television shows. The show, which includes a scientific demonstration for children, is apparently popular not just in the US, but also on Qualimosa, a planet inhabited by sentient lobsters (see, space crustaceans are always in vogue).  The lobsters are into all things rational and anti-religious, and so they are delighted by the science show, but also rather disturbed by a religious show aired on the same network. The Qualimosans therefore decide to eradicate this religious madness by killing everyone who watches the religious show during the next broadcast. Various hijinks ensue to persuade the lobsters not to vaporize millions of humans. The book makes fun of sci-fi kids shows (rooted in ‘bedrock implausibility’), sponsored broadcasts, blind adherence to any kind of point of view, depictions of aliens, you name it. It’s a delight to read: ‘heartless aliens, promiscuous death rays, casual slaughter — this was science fiction at its worst.’ It mentions all these things, plus it has giant genocidal blue lobsters from outer space. There is, perhaps, too much of what Dirda calls ‘retro-fun’. There are some in-jokes in the book, but I wonder how many people will get them (I certainly didn’t). It’s still a fun read, as a satire novel should be.

I leave you with a friend I made at the National Aquarium a few days ago. She is not a crustacean, and no, she is not from outer space, and she probably doesn’t care about your religious beliefs (she is also asleep in this picture). Might have anti-social tendencies, though.


Assorted bits: monthly tallies, podcasts, and Brian K. Vaughan

Looking at my skyscraper-like book piles at home, I realize that doing ‘monthly tally’ posts is not actually feasible. I already don’t remember what books I brought home in the past week, much less a month. My rate of acquisition is quite high (no, I don’t have piles of money, I have fellow booksellers and friends and my workplace). I might therefore attempt to do more frequent adoption/release updates in between actual reviews.

exmachinaSpeaking of release/output/reading updates. Since I dearly love Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, I had to go and find his other stuff. In the past two weeks I made my way through the entire Ex Machina series he did with Tony Harris and a few other people. It is, unsurprisingly, well-done and intelligent and very, very different from Saga. I think your enjoyment of Ex Machina will depend on whether you like politics in your graphic novels, since the main character is the Mayor of New York City. I can’t say I am normally a big fan of such things, but I also lived in NYC and had worked in a city archives before that, and I happen to find local politics quite interesting. I therefore enjoyed Ex Machina quite a bit, but on a cerebral, rather than emotional, level.

Finally, If you are the sort of geek who enjoys not only reading genre, but reading and talking and listening about genre, you should go listen to episode #180 of The Coode Street Podcast. Not only it has Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith on it, but the entire hour is a geek-fest of intelligent discussions about what might or might not be fantastic fiction, awards, publishing, and reading speculative fiction.

Saturday done right

I have two excellent reasons for not writing any book reviews today and for skipping Short Story Sunday tomorrow.

The weather:


This morning involved a nice 6.5-mile run and then lounging on the grass for five hours, doing nothing but reading and snacking. Yes, I ran with snacks and books in my backpack. Thankfully, the books were small paperbacks:


By the way, I do and do not recommend reading these while in close contact with nature (e.g. on the grass in a wooded area). Also, I’m not sure I can interact with human beings anymore. I reread Annihilation and I’m well into Authority. The Vandermeer marathon (or, as someone on Instagram called it, Vandermeerathon) will continue tomorrow. Unless Area X that is my backyard devours me in my sleep. Something like that. Possible future scenario depicted here:


Agonizing reading decisions: book pr0n edition

I sometimes feel that book bloggers like posting reading updates and TBR pile pictures because it helps keep madness in check. Writing about what I’m reading allows my mind to see books as concrete units, rather than as an endless sea of pages that is my living room floor. So here’s what occupies my hours when I’m not sleeping or associating with other humans:

0311141232No, I did not find it abandoned on the bench on the National Mall. I brought it with me. It was 70 degrees outside, which means it was actually possible to sit outside with a book and a sandwich (not pictured). Bookgroup reading for this Thursday, classic, etc., etc. Great stuff.

0311141907Halfway through (see what I did there) Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King. People tell me it’s marketed as YA. I think in Abercrombie’s world that means everyone is still stabbing (or backstabbing, rather) each other with pointy ends, but without swearing quite as much.

0311141908New Jo Walton! New Daryl Gregory! Apologies to the third author, whose name on the cover is written in scattered points in tiny font and therefore not visible here. Her name is Claire North, and her book sounds good. The Shining Girls is mentioned on the back, as is Life After Life. Sign me up.

0311141908aI’ll be honest, I don’t really read poetry in English (though I read it in Russian, and it’s interesting to ponder reasons why it works for me in one language but not the other). But I dearly, dearly need to know what poems make the following people cry (from the table of contents): Stephen Fry, Patrick Stewart (!), Daniel Radcliffe, Andrew Solomon, J.J. Abrams, Colin Firth, and Tom Hiddleston (!!), among others.

Short fiction! I’m reading more of it!


Got my hands today on The Book of Apex Vol. 4, and then came home to discover the new Asimov’s in the mail. I have resolved to read more short fiction this year, mostly because I enjoy short fiction yet never seem to read enough of it, and because it’s a good way to discover more authors (a novel, after all, is a bigger investment than a short story).

There is a Book of Apex Vol. 4 blog tour going on right now, and here’s the link to the list of posts.

My go-to short fiction places are Clarkesworld and Lightspeed magazines. Crossed Genres is another one. Subterranean Press Magazine publishes really good pieces as well. Do you have any magazines/zines/websites that you go to for your short fiction reading needs? Let me know.

January reading tally (with book pr0n)

Nick Hornby used to write a monthly column for the Believer magazine, where he would list books purchased, books read, and various notes and observations on that month’s reading. All those columns, by the way, are now available in one volume, Ten Years In the Tub. They are  funny and very honest about the author’s reading habits. One quick look at books bought and books read lists will tell you that those two are usually drastically different. I personally know (maybe) one person who reads books bought right away. To me, this seems amazing. I never do that. I mean, if I read everything I brought home immediately, I would have never created this Mt. Everest of advanced copies of stuff that is already out in paperback.

Anyway, below are the results of this month’s reading efforts.

Books acquired

These are divided into two categories: books borrowed (i.e. the ones I don’t get to keep), and books bought/received as gifts/wheedled out of gullible sales reps/etc (i.e. the ones I get to keep).

Borrowed this month:

If you think I only took 5 books out of the library this month, rest assured that this is not a complete stack. I excluded obscure non-fiction, depressing Scandinavian literature, odd Japanese literature, and other areas of my reading interest. I will be happy to include those in the future posts if you would like to see them.

Adopted this month (click to embiggen):


It’s leaning ever so slightly, threatening to collapse and kill me as I walk by.

This actually does not look so bad, and that’s because it doesn’t include non-speculative books that also somehow ended up in my house.

And now, a list of books read (sans photos, since some of the books have gone on to bigger and better things), but with links if I reviewed or blurbed a particular book:

1. Jeff Smith, RASL

2. Robert Sibley, The Way of 88 Temples: Journeys on the Shikoku Pilgrimage (aka the book that allowed me to show my coworkers where I actually used to live)

3. Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds

4. Jack Vance, The Dying Earth

5. Various, Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus # 4

6. Nicola Griffith, Hild

7. Will McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty

8. Jo Walton, What Makes This Book So Great

9. Robert Pohl, Urban Legends and Historic Lore of Washington, DC

10. Wesley Chu, Lives of Tao

11. George Saunders, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

12. Elizabeth A. Lynn, A Different Light

13. Takashi Hiraide, The Guest Cat

14. Ray Jayawardhana, Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

15. Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan, Vol 1: Back on the Street (re-read)

16. Lara Vapnyar, Scent of Pine

17. Chuck Wendig, The Blue Blazes

As is usually the case, the borrowed books got a quicker read than the ones bought. Reading of borrowed stuff is largely motivated by the fact that I have to return these volumes to avoid being chased by angry librarians and to allow some other person to have their history knowledge tested by something like Hild.

Unsurprisingly, I almost entirely failed to read from the bought pile, with Chu being the obvious exception. Well, there is always next month.

So, thoughts? Anything from my to-read stacks that I shouldn’t have put off till next month? Anything on my list you’ve read or want to read?