Archive for the ‘reading’ Category

major accomplishment

I finally read The Haunting of Hill House. Does this mean I get to level up?

Creepy and emotionally distressing. I’m not going to sleep well for at least another week…

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2018 reading

So once again, it appears that the vast majority of my reading was short nonfiction–astronomy and archaeology/paleontology articles mostly, with a good portion of health and diet research and a side helping of art history getting ready for our big trip to Spain last fall.

Best nonfiction: Smithsonian magazine

Best poetry: Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. Seriously, if you haven’t read this yet, do it, even if you didn’t like the Odyssey in high school. Especially if you didn’t like the Odyssey in high school.

Best fiction: Troll Tunnels, the third book in Erin M. Hartshorn’s Technowitch series. (Full disclosure: Erin’s my good friend and crit partner.) This series just keeps getting better with every installment. Can’t wait for Maenad March due out later this year, and a special holiday novella featuring the trolls’ quest for a Yule log πŸ˜€  (Sign up for Erin’s newsletter here: http://www.erinmhartshorn.com/newsletter/)

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Elizabeth Bear announces that One-Eyed Jack and the Suicide King novel will finally be released this summer! I’m so excited I can hardly wait! I’ve loved Jack ever since I read the short story. When I heard Bear was writing a full-length novel, I ran to get in line.

You can read Bear’s announcement here: http://www.elizabethbear.com/?p=2133

And it’s available for preorder here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1607014068/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER (at least I presume it’s the same book. It’s still showing the old cover).

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I don’t really have a “to be read.” The whole world is things I haven’t read yet, and I mostly take whatever’s next.

I read far more nonfiction than fiction, and always have. I read far more short stuff than long stuff. I keep the latest issue of Scientific American on my kitchen counter and read articles while I’m waiting for the Foreman Grill to heat, while the microwave is reheating the soup, when I should be slicing tomatoes.After I’m done with that, it will be Sports Illustrated or the local paper.

I usually keep a huge heavy book for bathroom reading. I just finished Diarmaid MacCulloch’s The Reformation and started a biography of Andrew Carnegie that I bought four years ago when youngest started at Carnegie Mellon University; I intend to finish it before he finishes his master’s in December. Seriously. Really, I will.

In more targeted reading, the ghost story has sent me into New England history, particularly history of Rhode Island and Cape Cod, and general news from those areas. I think I’m going to have to make a research trip to Cape Cod later this summer. Such hardships we writers endure…

In fiction, I tend to read whatever’s to hand: short stories whenever I come across a pointer that looks interesting, whatever book or magazine is next to the chair I happen to be sitting in. Last week at my mother’s, I read several romances when I couldn’t sleep. I adore long meaty complex books that never seem to end: Dickens, Tolstoy, George RR Martin. I’m fond of forensic mysteries, cozy mysteries, decipher-the-code mysteries, and ghost mysteries. I’m currently reading a lot of Heather Graham, Donna Andrews, and Preston and Child.

Today’s post was inspired by the “what’s on your to-read list” writing prompt in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what’s on their nightstand, check out the rest of the tour! Up next: Raven O’Fiernan at Raven’s Scribblings.

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If you like dark fantasy with lots of magic, make sure you read , by N. K. Jemisin, which is the best fantasy book I’ve read in a long long time.

I learned about Jemisin last year as part of Erin M. Hartshorn’s excellent introduction to women in SF and Fantasy. Erin pointed me to Jemisin’s wonderful story, β€œOn the Banks of the River Lex,” which appeared in Clarkesworld‘s November 2010 issue. I enjoyed that so much that when I saw a promo for The Killing Moon, I went to Amazon and downloaded it right away.

And stayed up half the night last night reading it, which is a mistake at my age. I’m paying the price today. But it was worth it. Tremendous story, with a plot that rises out of the needs, desires, and beliefs of the characters. Interesting, deeply rounded, believable characters who are utterly alien and yet completely human. Detailed and complex world, wonderfully executed. Magic that is both internally consistent and wildly unpredictable. A believable ending that satisfies emotionally. And on top of all that, it’s beautifully written.

It is dark, bordering on psychological horror, butit’s not blood and guts. I suspect that parts of it might be heavy going for someone not used to orienting themselves in a fantasy world — in a couple of places, such as the beginning of Chapter 4, where Jemisin introduces the fourth character and setting in four chapters, even I had a bit of trouble with all the names and concepts and things I’d never heard of before. But that’s only a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent book.

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Short reviews of what I’ve been reading recently:

Walter Hunt’s excellent A Song in Stone, highly recommended for fans of medieval tales, time travels, and thrillers that don’t involve impending destruction of the world. Hunt handles the Templar trope with skill and finesse — he really knows his history and his religion. Plus he has real characters, with depth — even spiritual dilemmas.

Two, no wait that’s three, no wait five murder mysteries of varying quality and memorability, including some very good ones by the ever-reliable and ever-funny Donna Andrews.

Re-read Patricia Cornwell’s Postmortem, the first of the Kay Scarpetta novels. I first read it back in the 90’s, when it was a new bestseller and the simple fact that Cornwell included direct forensic observations was shocking and fascinating. Not being the kind of person who’s bothered by things like blood and bodies, I loved it. I don’t know whether Cornwell really started the most recent trend for forensic and crime scene shows, but she was certainly on the early part of the wave. But the forensic parts don’t stand up so well to re-reading 12 years later. Cornwell used leading edge technology of the day, but the computer stuff especially seems almost laughably dated. It gives me pause about some of the things in my own writing — but I guess all I can do is write the best story I can, and if life circumstances make it a forgotten story, well, that’s out of my control.

Boston Noir, a collection of detective stories edited by Dennis Lehane. Very good short stories, showing the dark side of life in Boston. Or just life in Boston. There’s just something about walking down Boylston Street before a Red Sox game or strolling by the harbor that makes you think something black and nasty is just around the corner. And hey, is that a body bobbing in the water? The stories Lehane chose capture that feeling perfectly.

P. D. James’ Talking about Detective Fiction, a good analysis of the British mystery, with a brief stop by American noir detectives. I hoped she’d talk more about her own writing, but it’s mainly about the genre and its history. It includes a bibliography that has some titles that look interesting for further research.

I have some further thoughts about noir and detective stories, but I’ll save those for a separate post.

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Tristram Shandy

I read Tristram Shandy back in grad school, in an English department that was divided down the middle between the deconstructionists and the Robertsonians (oh, and the last living new critic). Those few of us who didn’t find any school satisfying spent a lot of time staring in bewilderment and drinking in dark corners. It seemed clear to us that some works are metafiction, and some are allegory, and some are meant to be interpreted religiously, and some are written on another scale altogether. It didn’t seem necessary to shoehorn everything ever written into one theory or another.

But that’s what the school was, and most of the classes were about learning how to shoehorn appropriately. The most important deconstructionist professor had made his entire career from noticing that Tristram Shandy is a modern novel in eighteenth-century grammar. He was so busy deconstructing that he overlooked all the dirty jokes, sly innuendo, and general hilarity. I could tell that there was a rousing good tale under all that criticism, but it took 30 years before I felt like I could tackle it with an open mind.

So earlier this summer I tackled it again.

I found it needed to be read in small doses. Eighteenth century usage and construction require detailed attention. It thrives on witty repartee, double and triple entendre (and if there’s a meaning that can be supplied by a dirty mind, rest assured Sterne intended to supply it.) And it’s so all over the place, it’s hard to remember where you are, much less what happened before. Not to mention that “before” is a completely relative concept. Sterne has no problem going from Tristram’s childhood to his adult travels and even, quite seamlessly and without accounting for how he knows, back to the night of his own conception.

It’s not really a tale at all. It’s more like an extended stand-up comedy routine. “An Evening with Lawrence Sterne,” with drinks served at your table and the jokes getting rowdier as the night progresses.

Or, as Tristram concludes, a very fine story about a cock and a bull.

Highly recommended for those who have the patience to work through the language.

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I’ve read better

Somebody recommended Dorothea Benton Frank’s Return to Sullivan’s Island as a good ghost story to read, and another friend suggested it because it’s more or less “new adult” — the main character being just out college and the issues being mostly about finding herself and finding a life, coming to grips with her place in the world, rather than the romance and advancement that tend to concern women’s fiction.

I’ve read better.

It does have a lot of things going for it. I liked the voice when I picked it up on the shelf. Frank has a wonderful eye for details, especially the details of the South Carolina coast. I noticed that the dialogue was a trifle stilted, but that doesn’t normally bother me too much. Beth, the main character, is supposed to have an attitude, but after a while she just seems bitchy. The relatives, especially the female ones, are great.

But we’re almost a quarter of the way into the story before we meet the character who powers a main plot thread, which hasn’t even been hinted at up to this point. I found him pretty flat and uninteresting, though his bad-guy scheme worked well from a storytelling perspective. (Not so sure about the believability, but I was willing to overlook that.) I found the ghost stuff flat. I found the tragedy rather unmotivated. She set it up fine from the mechanical point of view, adequately foreshadowed and all, but it winds up being sort of unrelated to the story — it’s an accident, not a climax that grows out of action and character.

In short, it reminded me a whole lot of my own stories :p

It’s easy to see, in her story and in mine. It’s not so easy to see what should have been changed in either case. I think it would have to be totally reimagined.

The other odd thing: as I recognized my own flaws, I found it harder and harder to see the merits in Frank’s story. I wanted to throw it at the wall just for being a mirror. So much for being a grownup!

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Heather Graham’s Ghost Shadow is a rather good serial killer romance/mystery set in Key West, Florida. I picked it up because one of the main characters is a ghost — the ghost of a privateer (not pirate!) wrongfully hanged 200 years ago. He’s the most interesting character in the book, but thankfully not a lot like Sal in mine. He helps the heroine catch the bad guy — and the good guy. The romance plot played a much bigger role than I expected.

Key West’s colorful history and eccentric present play a big role in the mystery and make the story more fun than scary.

Highly recommended if you like a little mystery and some paranormal with your romance. Probably not too satisfying if you don’t.

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Dream Wars, Stephen Prosapio

Opening chapter of Dream Wars, by my friend Steve Prosapio.
Dream Wars, Steve Prosapio

I remember first reading part of Dream Wars years ago when Steve bravely submitted it to, um, I think it was Evil Editor for critque and amusement. Or maybe it was one of the first-page contests. The old brain is going. But wherever it was, I was hooked and I’ve been pulling for Steve ever since. Opening sentence: “Given the mysteries of the human mind, it was perhaps inevitable the CIA would one day invade our dreams.”

Yeah. Go read the rest. Then go buy the book — it’s on Amazon.

Oh, and coming up the last week of July: a guest blog post from my friend David Bridger and his new release. You can find an excerpt here. Beauty and the Bastard

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