Wednesday, February 28, 2007

February Books Bought and Read

As we arrived at 2007, I told myself I'd cut back on my book purchases, which I did in January, only buying two books. Two! That's pretty good...for me.

Needless to say, I was very bad in February.

It's all the fault of The Book Nook II in beautiful Glen Burnie, Maryland. (The original Book Nook [NOT "Book Nook I", I hate when people do that with movies...] in College Park, Maryland closed down last year.) They only have one sale a year - a half-price sale - and it was last week. That sale accounts for most (but not all) of February's book purchases.

And most of it is stuff I wouldn't normally buy. I mean, sure, I have some interest in philosophy, logic and architecture, but if they hadn't been HALF PRICE, they'd still be on The Book Nook II's shelves. But anyway, here we go with February's lists.


Fantastic Tales (1998) - Jack London

Everyman (2006) - Philip Roth

A Friend of Kafka: Stories (1979) - Isaac Bashevis Singer

The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (1960/2002) – Monroe C. Beardsley, ed.

Introduction to Logic (1957/1999) – Patrick Suppes

The Ten Books on Architecture (1914/1960) – Vitruvius, trans. Morris Hicky Morgan

I Am Legend (1954) – Richard Matheson

Heart-Shaped Box (2007) - Joe Hill

BOOKS READ: (links to those I enjoyed most)

The Complete Stories (1971) - Flannery O'Connor

Understanding Flannery O'Connor (NF 1995) – Margaret Earley Whitt

Everyman (2006) - Philip Roth

The Terror (2007) - Dan Simmons

A Sight for Sore Eyes (1998) – Ruth Rendell

Dearly Devoted Dexter (2005) – Jeff Lindsay

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books (NF 2005) – Maureen Corrigan

Bald As I Wanna Be (NF 1997) – Tony Kornheiser

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Going from Tony Kornheiser to The European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche...What a clod!" Well, maybe. But sometimes you just need a little comic relief. I might just keep a Marx Brothers DVD film festival going while I'm reading the philosophy book.

I hope I don't get my Marxes mixed up...

Gifts from The Slush God

Awhile back I sent John Joseph Adams (a.k.a. The Slush God) a back issue of F&SF that he needed to complete his collection of the mag - a complete run, which is quite impressive.

To show his appreciation, he sent me a whole box full of YA sf/fantasy galleys! Wow, I've now got enough YA books to justify the purchase of another bookcase. (I wonder if Cindy will notice?) I surely appreciate it, JJA.

I wonder if there's any other stuff lying around here that JJA could use...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Whatever It Takes To Get the Thing Finished

I'm sending my YA novel Fortress off to a contest today. I don't expect to win, but no matter what happens, one good thing is going to come from it and one already has.

I finished the first draft about this time last year and just couldn't get motivated to revise it until I talked to some folks at World Fantasy. Even then, I only got maybe five or six chapters revised. Then about six weeks ago, I found out about this contest with a deadline of Feb. 28. I tend to work better with a deadline hanging over my head (even if it's one of my own choosing) than with none at all, so I decided to enter the contest.

Little did I realize at the time that I'd already committed myself to finishing my deacon training, running a 5K and moving my mom from Arizona to Maryland. Despite the all the insanity, I finished my revision last night. Deadlines can be wonderful things.

Again, I don't expect to win in the "Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative" category of this contest, but I'm pleased with most of what I've written and know that at least two judges are going to read it. Plus each judge will send back a written critique, which will no doubt help with a future third draft.

I'm just glad the thing's done.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

I Just Don't Know If It's Worth It...

Of course I'm talking about watching the Oscars tonight. For the first time in a long time, I

1) haven't seen any of the films or performances nominated. (I take that back. I did see Little Miss Sunshine.)

2) don't really care who wins.

3) have better things to do (like writing).

Maybe this sounds a little morbid, but recently the most enjoyable part of the show has been the montage of clips commemorating those in the film industry who passed away during the previous year. (Somebody could just call me and let me know when that portion's about to air. That would be cool. As long as it's not at 2:15AM, which it very well could be.)

I know this year's list of those no longer with us will contain some big names, among them:

Robert Altman
Shelley Winters
Don Knotts
Arthur Hill
Peter Boyle
Al Lewis (Grandpa on The Munsters, although I'm sure he also made some motion pictures)
Red Buttons
June Allyson
Phil Brown (Luke Skywalker's uncle in Star Wars)
Dennis Weaver
Darren McGavin

I'm sure there are many more that I've missed. For some reason, just knowing about them isn't enough. I guess I want to see them on-screen, featured in their most memorable work one last time. They deserve at least that.

I just hope Anna Nicole Smith isn't among them.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Trade-Off

I guess it's a trade-off. On the one hand, I've been going to the gym pretty regularly lately (except for the last few days - we've been moving my mom into her new apartment) and feel better than I've felt in years. On the other hand, my up-close vision has sunk to abysmal levels.

At my last eye exam, my optometrist (who looks like he's about 25) shook his head and told me, "Well, you're 45 years old...that's about the time these things start to happen." (Start to happen? What's next? Those beige orthopedic shoes? Cardigan sweaters?) He suggested I try some reading glasses so I picked up a three-pack at Costco. They work great and I figured, "Hey, a three-pack is cool. I'll NEVER run out." (Plus I'll look all distinguished, especially with the gray hair and all...)

I often have moments of great stupidity. This was one of them. I can never find the blasted things anywhere. I've left them in the drawer of my nightstand, in my bookbag, in the bathroom drawer where I keep the bandaids (figure that one), you name it. I don't think I've left a pair in the refrigerator, but I wouldn't be surprised to find something clunking around inside the orange juice container one day.

I just can't keep up with them. I tried putting them in hardshell cases (like they were real glasses) and I lose those too. I look for and at books all day long and sometimes need to whip out the ol' reading specs, so I tried keeping a pair in my shirt pocket. No good. They fall go boom. Same for the pants pockets. They come out looking like some metal and glass modern art project.

I guess there's only one way to solve my dilemma, but I won't do it, I just won't. I REFUSE to wear one of those little chains or bands or shoestrings or whatever those things are that crusty old guys use to keep their glasses around their necks. (At least my glasses are full-sized and not those little skinny glasses that look like the top half got chopped off.) So forget it! I'll manage somehow.

Hey Cindy --- would you hand me the orange juice?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Cormac McCarthy for Trent...or Anyone Else

My fellow Clarion dude Trent writes:

...but I think it's only fair that your blog exists in order to answer my questions.

Sounds good to me. Let's do it!

The question, for those of you who do not read every comment on this blog, is about the writing of Cormac McCarthy. I'm certainly no authority, and I can only give my own brief reflections (plus one other guy's) on the three McCarthy works I've read. Here we go....

I first listened to No Country for Old Men on audio shortly after its release in 2006. I'd never read anything by McCarthy, but at that point had owned an unread copy of Blood Meridian for a few years, so I thought I'd start with something I could listen to while driving.

(You can read the plots of each of these books on Amazon, so I'm not going into them here. One is set in the current west, one in the Old West, and one in a post-apocalyptic locale.)

The first thing I noticed about the audio version of No Country was the absence of "he said"s and "she said"s, which I really didn't dwell upon until much later. There was (as I remember) a fair amount of poetic language scattered throughout the book, mainly reflections on and personifications of the landscape, the desert heat, violence, that sort of thing. The dialogue, however, was fairly simple and unadorned. I thought the book was effective, although maybe a bit emotionally manipulative and brutal. But as it was my first encounter with him, I thought I'd want to read McCarthy again. (Almost immediately after reading No Country, I read somewhere that the novel was considered by many to be McCarthy's most approachable work. Of the three I read, I would agree.)

Next I read Blood Meridian. If I thought No Country was brutal, I soon redefined (or rather McCarthy redefined) the word. I considered Blood Meridian a much more challenging, but more satisfying read overall than No Country. At times I thought McCarthy's poetic descriptions of the landscape and the brutality/depravity of man were a bit over the top, at least for me, but I kept at it and was glad I did. Blood Meridian is certainly not a feel-good read and I sometimes felt like I'd lose my lunch reading it, but I can't deny the power of the book.

Since I'd listened to No Country, I learned from reading Blood Meridian and The Road that McCarthy apparently has a deep-rooted hatred for quotation marks and often dialogue attributions too, which makes it sometimes difficult to know who is speaking. But for the most part, you get used to it.

By the time I'd finished the book, I understood that McCarthy's style, pacing, word choices and tone in Blood Meridian, sometimes referred to as "muscular prose" (more on that term in a minute) worked very, very well. I felt it was a book I would and should read again. Well, most of it. Some parts I didn't think I could stomach again.

I hadn't really intended to read The Road, my third meeting with McCarthy in twelve months, but I'd heard the novel was somewhat of a post-apocalyptic tale approaching genre dimensions, so I thought I'd give it a try. I'm in the vast minority here, but I didn't think it was that great. McCarthy's "muscular prose" is in full use here as are his distaste for quotation marks and love of sparse dialogue. I can't really put my finger on why, but The Road just didn't do it for me. Maybe I should read it again to see if I missed something. But to me, it just seemed to be one of those novels that everyone says is great just because everyone says it's great. Again, I may be the only person on the globe reluctant to anoint McCarthy for The Road and if I indeed missed the boat, I feel I should give it another shot.

After reading all three of these McCarthy novels, I ran across a book by B.R. Myers called A Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose. In the book, Myers takes a swing (with a pretty hefty bat) at several American writers including Cormac McCarthy. Myers refers to McCarthy's writing style as "muscular prose," which he only defines as "The masculine counterpart to the ladies' prose poetry." I'm not exactly sure what he means by that, but he goes on to accuse McCarthy of unrestrained "literary" complexity. For example, Myers cites in McCarthy's writing what he calls the andelope: "a breathless string of simple declarative statements linked by the conjunction and." Sentences like this:

He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her. (from The Crossing [1994]).

Sure, McCarthy does a lot of andeloping, but I guess I just got used to it. What makes Myers even madder is McCarthy's lack of economy of words, instead using "barrages of hit-and-miss verbiage (rather) than...careful use of just the right words." He may have a point, but maybe McCarthy's not always interested in the economy of words. And maybe he enjoys andeloping.

But what really steams Myers is his belief that McCarthy just flat-out isn't a good storyteller. He attempts to make his point by quoting a section from a novel by one of the western genre's most-loved writers, Louis L'Amour and comparing (whether fairly or not) his style to McCarthy's:

Fortunately for millions of readers around the world, L'Amour was less interested in winning prizes than in telling a good story: "That's the way I'd like to be remembered," he told an interviewer, "as a storyteller." So of course the critics dismiss Hondo as pulp, just as many book-reviewers once regarded Treasure Island as fit only for children. The cultural establishment likes to reserve its accolades for those who take themselves most seriously. But how many critics will care to be reminded of Cormac McCarthy in twenty years? The smart money's on the storyteller.

Myers may have some valid points, but he also may have an axe to grind – I don't know. I do know that for me, McCarthy's style worked best in Blood Meridian. No Country for Old Men certainly seems to have fewer instances of the things Myers is griping about. The Road I just couldn't get that excited about. I don't think Myers and his views have really changed my mind about any of these three books, but he's entitled to his opinion.

So Trent, I don't know if that helps you at all, but there it is, bro. My suggestion: Definitely read Blood Meridian. If you like it, try No Country, or maybe The Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain), which many people seem to enjoy. Let me know how it turns out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

New Editor in Town

Announced yesterday on VanderWorld, Ann VanderMeer is now the fiction editor at Weird Tales. Congratulations, Ann!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

And Now For the Fitness Portion of Our Program....

This morning - at 28 degrees outside - Cindy and I ran the first area 5K of 2007. Cindy runs 5Ks all the time, but it was my first one in nearly five years. I actually felt pretty good up until slightly beyond Mile #2, where there was a steady uphill slope all the way to the end. But I made it, ran the entire way and wasn't the last to cross the finish line, thank you very much. Maybe I'll do another one soon.

When it gets warmer...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mission: Impossible Revisited

My mom's staying with us for a few days until her apartment is ready, and since we get only local channels, I asked her the other night if she'd like to watch a movie on DVD. When I mentioned that I had the first disc of the first season of the original Mission: Impossible show (1966-1973), she said, "Let's watch that."

Now it's been at least twenty years (probably more) since I'd seen any of the original shows, so my expectations weren't too high. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised.

Sure, the technology is from 1966, which at that time probably was the cutting edge or close to it. Some of the tech stuff looks pretty funny today, but the way it's treated isn't. In fact, the way the show respects the tech and the audience is what makes it work.

One of the things that struck me about the show is its lack of unnecessary explanation. In each episode, you get the basic premise of the mission, the rough plan, and an execution of the plan (with lots of intangibles thrown in). What you don't get are a lot of lines like, "Hey, Bob! Jump out that open window and cut that fuse leading to that load of dynamite that's going to blow us all up in fifteen seconds! Good luck!" No, you have to keep up with what's going on and you have to pay attention to details. This was not a mindless show. (If mindless is what you want, just watch the Tom Crusie Mission: Impossible movies, if you can stand them.)

Only two actors worked for the entire run of the series: Peter Lupus (Willy Armitage) and Greg Morris (Barney Collier).

Willy was pretty much the guy that did the driving and the heavy lifting, which worked out well, since Lupus was a bodybuilder (a former Mr. Hercules). I remember seeing him in later seasons, an disgusted look on his face as Peter Graves says, "Okay, Rollin: You impersonate these four people on this mission. Barney: you rig up seventeen explosives timed to go off at 42-second intervals. Willie: you drive the truck." Lupus currently runs a nutrition company.

Greg Morris played Barney Collier, an electronics and computer specialist. His character was quiet, yet sharply intelligent, working well under pressure. (Morris's son played in the second TV installment of Mission:Impossible in the late 1980's.) It is reported that Morris hated the first Tom Cruise Mission:Impossible film that he left the theatre before the film ended. Morris died in 1996.

I didn't even realize that the first leader of the IMF was Dan Briggs, not Mr. Phelps (Peter Graves). Briggs was played by Steven Hill, who later went on to star in Law & Order from 1990-2000. Hill only appeared on the show for one season. An Orthodox Jew, Hill refused to work on the Sabbath and the producers wouldn't budge on the production schedule.

Barbara Bain played Cinnamon Carter, the head-turner/femme-fatale when one was called for. At the time, she was married to co-star Martin Landau. Bain and Landau also co-starred in Space:1999 (1975-77) before divorcing in 1993. Bain currently spends her time promoting and supporting charities, including literacy.

Martin Landau played my favorite character (and favorite character name) on the show, Rollin Hand, master of disguise and impersonation. Landau is best remembered for his Oscar-winning role as Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood. Landau is still working, most recently in an episode of Entourage.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Considering OT (and I don't mean overtime)

As some of you may know, I was installed as a deacon in my church yesterday after a year of training. Sure, deacons really aren't expected to know as much scripture and theology as elders (After all, most people's image of a deacon is somebody setting up folding chairs, collecting the offering and fixing the boiler. Or at least cleaning out the coffee pot.), but after the written exams, I realized I could probably know more about the Bible that I do now, especially in the Old Testament.

It's not like I flunked the test or anything. I didn't put Moses in the ark or have Daniel parting the Red Sea or anything like that. (We all know it was Samson, right?) I just wanted to know more.

I'm in a Sunday School class right now that's exploring the minor prophets and it didn't take me long to realize I don't know jack about those guys, the kingdoms, the invasions, ANY of it. I noticed that the teacher was using An Introduction to the Old Testament by Longman and Dillard, so I decided to give myself that book as a birthday present.

I sure didn't realize that the book is a textbook for many seminaries and Bible colleges. Hey, I just wanted to know the difference between Zechariah and Zephaniah.

But the book isn't really that difficult, at least not yet. With each of the OT books, the authors discuss historical background (composition and authorship), text and tradition, historical-critical approaches, alternative critical views, evaluation of the critical approach, literary analysis, theological message, and how the book ties in with the New Testament.

All of this sounds quite difficult, but it isn't. I find it fascinating. (That could be why Cindy calls me a geek.) I especially like how differing views are discussed and how the authors avoid saying "THIS is the right way; stay away from this other view." None of that. Very interesting stuff.

Maybe I can figure out how they did that wall of Jericho thing.... I could get a group of guys to follow me down to Capitol Hill. And I've still got my trumpet...