reading update

Reading update: Stephen King’s Revival

In case you didn’t know, Stephen King has a new novel coming out tomorrow (November 11th). He is up to 54 or so books now, which means he has a separate ‘Bibliography’ page on Wikipedia. It also means it’s quite unlikely to find a reader who loves everything King has ever done.

I always say I like King in general. I like his mode of storytelling, his style, his imagination. I also really don’t like some of his books (*cough* Dreamcatcher *cough*). Gunslinger is still one of my favorite books, but I never finished the Dark Tower series because I could not get through the last three volumes.

revivalAnd now there is Revival. It’s a cool story. A young minister comes to a small town, befriends a kid named Jamie Morton. After a family tragedy, the minister delivers a sermon filled with loss of faith in god and is subsequently banished from the town. The novel follows Jamie Morton through his life. He meets the minister again. There is rock-n-roll, and drugs, and terrible dark things.

And yet, I plodded through this book. It might be that it was not dark or weird enough. It might be that the pacing was not to my liking. Whatever the reason, I was not along for the ride. That said, my friend, who was looking for a less terrifying read, liked it. We are just different King fans, I guess. Maybe I should go and finally read The Stand instead.

One interesting thing I noticed is how much of himself King puts in his novels, and in what ways. I’m not talking about meta-writing himself into books (see the later Dark Tower volumes), but more about having characters reflect his worldview and philosophy. In most cases, I don’t even know if his characters think and voice his opinions, but it feels like they do. There is a certain lack of subtlety and palpable desire to work some things out through fiction, especially in King’s later works. All writers do that, I think, but they do it in different ways at different times in their careers. The cool thing about King is that because he has so many novels out there, you can get a glimpse into his mind and decide which King you like best.

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Reading update: Brust with more Brust and some more Brust

hawkbrustI apologize for falling into a sink hole of Real Life this week and not posting anything longer than what you should read while you wait for the new Game of Thrones book. Work has been extremely busy, my laptop is still out of commission, and most nights I don’t really want to do anything but sit and read something fun. Which brings me to my next point: at least four people on staff are now reading all of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books. It’s an epidemic. There is a new one coming out next week, in case you want to join us in our reading/rereading obsession.

I have a terrible confession to make: I had not read a single book by Brust until two days ago, when I got The book of Jhereg (my friend this morning: ‘You have never read Brust?? I feel like I have failed you.’). Well, do not worry, I have already plowed through Jhereg, Yendi, and Teckla. This reading is cutting into my sleep time, and it almost cut into my being-at-work time one morning. I doubt I will review these, unless I do a reread, but there are plenty of delightful write-ups out there: Little Red Reviewer has a few blog posts (you can start with The Book of Jhereg, if you want), and Jo Walton did a series of posts on these at tor.com as well.

Reading update in which I did not do much reading

All three of you who read this blog regularly are probably wondering whether I have fallen into some alternate dimension or been abducted by alien entities. Fear not, I have simply been crushed by this pile of ARCs acquired this week (that biography of Stalin on the bottom could have done this all on its own, really):

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Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I worked somewhat insane hours, though some of them were for fun things like breathing the same air as David Mitchell while he signed books. I also saw a couple of plays (also fun, but resulted in late evenings and difficult mornings). The one thing I didn’t really do was read, but I managed to finish two books:

1) John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van. Darnielle is probably best known for his band The Mountain Goats, but he also writes novels. I’m still trying to figure out what I thought about this particular one. It’s strange, and I think it is strange mostly because of the narration style. It is a story told essentially backwards, with more and more details uncovered as you read. It reminded me of All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld.

2) Caitlin Doughty, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes And Other Lessons From The Crematory. It’s not a big surprise that I like morbid things. When I was 14, I dragged my mother to Kunstkamera in St. Petersburg to look at preserved body parts and two-headed babies. Therefore, this book went straight to the top of my to-read pile. It’s a memoir, but it’s also a hard look at how we treat our dead and deal with death in general. Doughty is not kind to the American funeral industry, and she presents a compelling argument for greater acceptance of death and our own mortality.

We have put the dead beneath. Not just underground, but under the tops of fake hospital stretchers, within the bellies of our aircraft, and in the recesses of our consciousness.

Those of you who like both morbid and linguistic things will learn the word ‘desquamation’. It is perhaps best if you don’t look it up in Google images.

Reading update: Scalzi, Atwood, Leckie

It’s been a pretty good week in terms of reading. After deaccessioning some of my book collection, I once again picked up a pile of books at work because of the powerful bookstore mind control aura, and thus had to initiate a new phase of the ARC Pile Demolition Project.

I also realized that my job now includes a number of rather tedious solitary tasks that are perfect for listening to podcasts and short fiction. I have a notoriously bad history with audio books, but short fiction is just short enough to hold my attention. Clarkesworld is currently my favorite when it comes to short stories on audio.

Paper books were also consumed this week:

Lock In by John Scalzi. In my opinion, this is Scalzi’s best book so far. I’ve read most of his stuff, though I did not finish the Old Man’s War series (not because it wasn’t good, it just sort of went the way of all unfinished series, even good ones). I do not belong to either Scalzi super fan camp nor to his haters/detractors’ camp. I was not impressed with Redshirts, but I enjoy most of his books, and I definitely enjoyed Lock In. This one has great ideas and a setup that for the first 100 pages or so will make you feel like your brain is about to turn inside out.  As is with all Scalzi’s books, it’s fast-paced, dialogue-rich, and yet it’s much less funny than his other fare. It is very much social sci-fi, as it touches on health care legislation, minority group culture, and relations with Native Americans, among other things.

stonemattressStone Mattress by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is, as always, snarky, pithy, bold, and honest. This collection could almost have a subtitle of ‘people obsessed with sex’. Well, of course they are. In this case, most of these people are older, with a slew of marriages, divorces, children, and other assorted life experiences on their dance cards. The first three stories are interlinked, but the rest are standalones. Atwood is damn good whether she sticks to mostly realism, or wades into fantastical. This is out on September 16th (look! I read an ARC!)

My short story obsession continues with something like four anthologies and  collections in progress/rotation. I also rediscovered my long-dormant love of horror, so dark and disturbing tales will crop up in my post in the next few weeks. If short stories are your thing too, you can join Matt at Books, Brains and Beer for his Jagannath readalong, which is a fantastic little collection of stories.

I have also attempted to consume my bookgroup book for this month, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. This is my second attempt, and it is with great sadness that I announce my inability to get past page 50. This book is now officially the Ulysses of my genre reading. I really wanted to like it, and there are some interesting themes in it, but the prose seemed so bland that I felt my eyes just moving along the page without capturing any meaning.

Also, my laptop keyboard gave up the ghost and now types zeroes between every letter. Useful for my KGB missives, not so useful for blog posts. It’s going to be that kind of week.

Reading update: book juxtaposition

I am finishing up my review of Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone (while eyeing his Two Serpents Rise on my nightstand), but in the meantime, here’s some reading news that is not news about me reading short stories:

wonderbookI’m still making my way through Wonderbook, and I am still mightily impressed. If you are a creative type of any variety, you should get this. It’s incredibly useful if you like to put words down on a page, but if painting or music or some other thing is more your speed, the art itself is worth it just for inspiration. I’ve been writing and drawing again, mostly thanks to Jeff VanderMeer.

I am also re-reading The Drowning Girl: A Memoir by Caitlín R. Kiernan. It’s probably my favorite Kiernan book, but it invariably gives me very strange dreams (stranger than usual), disturbs me, unsettles me, and, going with the theme in the book, haunts me. Also, there is a transgender character. It is amazing, and I am savoring each sentence.

In a rather odd juxtaposition to The Drowning Girl, I am also reading Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett. I have mentioned my conflicted relationship with humorous genre fiction before, and that I only read Pratchett when I really feel like it. Maybe I just needed funny this week to counteract all the shitty things that are happening (see #Ferguson in your latest Twitter feed). There is a delightful Discworld reading chart on io9, and I am sort of using it to re-read or fill my gaps in different story arcs.  I like the witches, but I am pretty sure I have only read Wyrd Sisters and Carpe Jugulum in that storyline.

Perhaps it is also time to do an ‘upcoming releases’ post. We’re heading into a pretty busy fall, and there are some truly cool things about to be released into the reading wilds.

Bookstore trip and short fiction readathon

What do booksellers do on their day off? They go visit a different bookstore, duh. Yesterday, two of my fellow book slingers and I went to Second Story Books, a used bookstore in Dupont Circle. To my shame, I had never been there until our trip. At this fine bookselling establishment I saw a giant poster of Lenin (for sale) and picked up two books. ONLY TWO. I honestly don’t know what was wrong with me (besides abject poverty, which also prevented me from purchasing the aforementioned likeness of the long-dead-but-not-yet-buried Soviet leader). Here’s the photo of my loot:

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I was very excited to find Theodora Goss, and I had no idea this novel by Tiptree even existed. One of the booksellers at the store also told me that at one point Tiptree lived just a few blocks away (probably when she was getting her degree either from American or George Washington).

In other news, short story reading proceeds apace. I finished the mammoth Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year, Volume 6, edited by Jonathan Strahan. Mr Strahan and I seem to have similar tastes in short stories, so I will definitely be reading his other anthologies. This collection included quite a few stories that I would simply classify as ‘strange’, rather than as ‘fantasy’ or ‘science fiction’. Here’s the table of contents with a list of my favorites:

0817141305Neil Gaiman, The Case of Death and Honey

Caitlin R. Kiernan, Tidal Forces

Catherynne Valente, White Lines On A Green Field (I really like Valente’s shorter works than her novels, same with Gaiman)

An Owomoyela, All That Touches The Air

Paul McAuley, The Choice

Dylan Horrocks, Steam Girl

Peter S. Beagle, Underbridge

Robert Shearman, Restoration

Libba Bray, The Last Ride Of The Glory Girls

Nnedi Okorafor, The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from the Great Book)

Kij Johnson, The Man Who Bridged The Mist

K. J. Parker’s A Small Price To Pay For A Birdsong was also excellent, but while I can objectively say that her stories are well-done, I get no emotional punch from them at all. They are sort of like brilliantly executed, yet not expressive, piano pieces.

And Ellen Klages’s Goodnight Moons made me cry. Avoid reading this one in public, particularly if you have a small child.

I’m continuing my short fiction reading with The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 28th Annual Collection, edited by Gardner Dozois (I’m basically going by what I have at home). This one looks like it contains stories that could be confidently labeled as ‘science fiction’, which means I will probably get a bit tired of it and have to switch to a different collection. It’s just pure luck that I have In The Forest Of Forgetting by Theodora Goss now…

Reading update: short fiction and Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

This week, spurred by either a work-induced existential crisis or a well-meaning attempt to de-clutter both my space and my brain, I got rid of approximately 20 books (while proofreading this post, I realized I typed ‘I got read of 20 books’. Sort of true.). That’s 20 more than usual. I shoved a couple into my local tiny library. The rest went to the staff break room. I also decided I wasn’t going to bring books home. That resolution lasted exactly until I laid my eyes on this:

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Oh, it was so pretty. Look at what was under the dust jacket:

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Could you resist? I could not. I adopted it and brought it home. I had read it already (and here’s what I thought), but I wanted to own the book.

My only other acquisition was a collection of short stories by Atwood, with whose writing I have a conflicted and tempestuous relationship:

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I am on some kind of mad and inexplicable short fiction kick at the moment, so I think this time we’ll hit it off.

The aforementioned short fiction obsession has so far resulted in a diligent reading of The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy Of The Year, volume 6, edited by Jonathan Strahan. I am normally quite bad at reading anthologies and short fiction in general. I like the fact that someone has already combed through various short stories of the year and picked what they thought were the best, but I never really read them. And yet here I am on story #22, with no sign of stopping. In fact, I have gathered a few other anthologies to feed my new-found short story love. I want to try and figure out who my favorite editor might be.

My other obsession in the past couple of days has been Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer. Commence incoherent gushing (which is ironic, seeing how it’s a book about writing). It is indeed quite wondrous and delightful. I love everything about it: writing advice, asides, examples, extras by some really great contributors, weird art.

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So that’s what I’m doing with my tomorrow.

The photos in this post might lead you to believe I live in a lightless cave. This is not entirely wrong.