Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Books Bought

I really started the month of August "on the cheap," but one trip to Daedalus did me in. Still, not a bad month. Here's what I purchased:

Watchmen (Graphic Novel, originally published 1986-87) - Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons

I know I should have read this before now, but I saw the trailer for the film a few weeks ago and checked out a copy from the library. Then I saw it at a library sale and grabbed it.
Trade Paperback - Price = 10 cents

Watership Down (1972) - Richard Adams

I actually own a first edition (U.S.) copy of this novel, and even though it's a little weathered, I went ahead and bought a reading copy. Why not? Look at the price.
Mass market paperback - Price = 10 cents

Poe (or if you prefer, Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe) - (NF 1972) - Daniel Hoffman

Poe criticism. What's not to like? It's Poe!
Trade paperback - Price = 10 cents

Werewolves in Their Youth: Stories (1999) - Michael Chabon

Okay, I'll admit it right now. The only Michael Chabon I've ever read was The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which blew me away. So purchasing his 1999 collection of short stories wasn't really going out on a limb. The guy's incredible.
Hardcover first edition - Price = $1.99

William Faulkner : Novels 1930-1935 : As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, Pylon (Library of America)

William Faulkner : Novels 1942-1954 : Go Down, Moses / Intruder in the Dust / Requiem for a Nun / A Fable (Library of America)

All I've got to say is "Blast you, Daedalus Books!" I was doing just fine for the month when I walked in and saw these two (and the only two) Library of America editions of Faulkner. (There are, for those of you keeping score at home, five volumes of Faulkner in the LOA series.) I can't resist Faulkner and I can't resist Library of America. They had me as soon as I entered the store. Blast those guys....
Both volumes brand new hardcovers, not remaindered - Price = $14.98 each

Total Book Expenditures for August: $32.25

Next time: The stuff I actually read

Monday, August 25, 2008

Still Here...

Okay, I know it seems I dropped off the planet for awhile, but I'm still hanging around. Lots of family issues, mostly looking after my mom, but it looks like things are beginning to clear up, at least for awhile.

And yes, I finally finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle! Is it as good as everyone says? Should you believe the hype? Should you wait for the movie? (I don't even know if it's been optioned, but in many ways it would be a challenging story to adapt to film.)

It is a good book and a good read. I'm not ready to break out the anointing oil and proclaim Wroblewski Writer of the Year, but the book is definitely worth your time. It will be interesting to see what he does next.

So you're waiting for me to talk about the book itself. I have a lot of thoughts about it, but I really can't begin to talk about it without giving away too much of the story. I will join a multitude of others in saying it could have been 100 pages shorter, but don't consider that a huge issue. Read it and see what you think. Feel free to comment with a spoiler alert.

Right now I need a little comfortable, familiar reading material, so I chose one of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. If you have never read one, shame on you. I'm taking my sweet time and reading through all 33 novels and 39 novellas (in order of publication, of course) for the second time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Writing, Revising and Sending Out Those Things We Call Stories

According to my spreadsheet, I have only two stories in the pipeline, but I'm working on three new ones. After reading my good friend Trent's blog, I remembered four other stories that need another look. I think they're good stories, or at least have the potential to be good stories. Apparently some editors think so too. Two of the four stories have received positive comments, but something about them just isn't there yet. As Trent says, the revision process is not easy and is frequently not fun, but sometimes that's what it takes to see what's really going on.

I was watching an interview with Martin Scorsese the other day. He related a story of not knowing what Raging Bull was really about until well into the production. It's like that with stories sometimes. You really don't know what it's all about until you start revising, at least in some cases. That's one part of the process I enjoy. What's difficult is matching up which tools will fix which problem. It sometimes seems I'm trying to loosen a screw with a hammer. You can probably do that, but it can get pretty messy and doesn't give you quite the outcome you wanted.

And then there's the novel revisions. Man, don't get me started. It's like Jenga: change one thing and it affects everything else. But what are ya gonna do, stop?

No way.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Feeling Pretty Strange...

Robert Aickman (1914-1981)

If you've never read any of Robert Aickman's short stories, I urge you to do so immediately. Last night I read the first story in his collection Painted Devils, a story called "Ravissante." When I finished, I immediately read it again. I had to know how Aickman had succeeded in creeping me out so completely. Reading the story again only added to my unsettling feelings (in a good way). Aickman is too good a writer and I'm too weak a reader to be able to point to a certain paragraph or sentence and say "Here's where the story moves from conventional narrative into the surreal."

I'd read another Aickman collection years ago, Cold Hand in Mine, which left me with the same feeling: an unsettling discomfort that's absolutely delicious. Both of these collections are book club editions, but who cares? Just get your hands on some Aickman in any form you can. (You can probably find some of his stories in several horror anthologies such as David Hartwell's The Dark Descent.) If you love quality supernatural fiction, you won't want to miss Aickman.

(By the way, Aickman preferred the term "strange stories" over "horror stories" or "ghost stories." I can't think of a better term for them.)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

At What Point Do You START?

A little different slant from yesterday's post. This morning I was reading a post by Ekaterina Sedia, guest-blogging for Jeff VanderMeer over at Ecstatic Days. For the last couple of days, Sedia has written about three overlooked books and their authors: Mockingbird by Sean Stewart, The Mount by Carol Emshwiller and The Traitor by Michael Cisco.

I own (but have not read) the first two books and have had the Cisco book on my Amazon "Wish List" for months. I now have an overwhelming desire to immediately pick up one (or all) of these books and start reading.

I know, I'm the marketing department's dream come true.

I also know I have the problem of seeing a book I want to read, thinking to myself, "Gee, it's here, the price is reasonable, I want to read this eventually...what the heck - I'll take it!" Thus my home is overtaken by books.

But when do I actually get around to reading it/them? When I'm reminded of a post like Sedia's?

I've tried (I really have) to look at a book I'd really like to read and ask myself the following questions:

(1) Is the library going to get this book? If so,

(1.1) Do I want to wait for it to arrive or wait for all the holds to go down? (as in Edgar Sawtelle) Or just buy the blasted thing? (again, as in Edgar Sawtelle, which was probably a stupid move, since I still haven't finished it.)

(1.2) Are they going to get it on audio? If so,

(1.3) By the time I get the audiobook, are the discs going to be so scratched up it'll be unlistenable? (What do these patrons use the CDs for, anyway, coasters for sandpaper table surfaces?)

(2) Am I ever going to see this book for sale again? When I was running my on-line bookstore, I was in used bookstores and thrift stores nearly every day. I'd frequently find books I knew I couldn't sell for much, but still wanted to read, books I thought I might never see again. So I bought them.

(3) Am I just getting caught up in the moment? This is really dangerous when you go to an author signing. Or maybe EVERYONE'S talking about this book and you've just GOT to read it RIGHT NOW!

But I still end up with shelves of books that I haven't read. (Plus, like an idiot, I've signed up to get ARCs from LibraryThing and Amazon, so the hits just keep on coming.)

So how do you decide what to read next? Does it depend on the mood you're in? Or what everyone's talking about? How do you balance fiction and non-fiction? Young Adult vs. adult fiction?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

At What Point Do YOU Give Up?

This week I gave up on two books I'd been reading. I had invested about 100 pages in one, about 75 in the other. Neither was poorly written, but at some point I simply lost interest. With one, the plot was something I'd seen before (many times.) The other book was YA, which can easily fall prey to formula. Yet it wasn't formula that bothered me with this one, but the tone of the book took a drastic turn about six or seven chapters in, which really destroyed the experience for me. It's not that I don't like change or surprise in a book, but the shift in tone was just too abrupt and unnecessary.

Although I keep track of just about everything else in my reading, I don't necessarily keep a list of books I've given up on. If I did, this year's list would probably be around twenty titles. Maybe I just don't have the patience to finish something I'm not enjoying, maybe I've realized that life is too short to spend it reading books that just don't do it for you. (Although I sometimes find myself agreeing with Roger Ebert: "You must read books like The Da Vinci Code to remind you that life is too short to read books like The Da Vinci Code.")

My rule lately has been 100 pages (or three discs if I'm listening to an audiobook). At that point, it either stays or goes. For some reason, it's easier for me to abandon a work of fiction than one of non-fiction. And sometimes I know it's just a case of the right book at the wrong time; I have to be in the mood for certain books. Jane Austen is great, but I don't want to read her every day.

So at what point do you give up on a book? When do you decide "That's it! I've had enough!" or "This just isn't for me right now." ???

Monday, August 04, 2008

July Books Read

Well, I certainly read more books than I bought in July, which is a good thing. I was a little burned out on YA/J-Fic, intending on reading only one title for the month, but ended up reading three. Go figure.

Anyway, here are the books I read in July:

Darkside (YA 2007) - Tom Becker
A few thoughts about this one here.

Angels Flight (1999) - Michael Connelly
A word or two here.

Uglies (YA 2005) - Scott Westerfeld

The concept has been done plenty: Everyone gets "the operation" when they turn sixteen. You know, the operation that makes everyone beautiful. The problem is, Tally, days before her 16th birthday, meets a radical young girl named Shay, who decided a long time ago that she doesn't want to be pretty. Again, you probably think you've seen this all before, but Westerfeld is a very good storyteller and knows when to back off, knows when the science is necessary and when it might get in the way. I enjoyed his Midnighters series, but Uglies is on a higher tier. Concepts of image, social structure and more, all without getting preachy. I definitely plan to read the other books in the series.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (NF 1985) - Neil Postman

Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth about the American Voter (NF 2008) - Rick Shenkman

Thoughts on both books here.

The Last Apprentice: Wrath of the Bloodeye (J-Fic 2008) - Joseph Delaney

Readers of the previous Last Apprentice books will know the basics: Tom Ward continues his apprenticeship to the Spook, a master foe of witches and other evil beings who practice the dark arts. As Wrath of the Bloodeye opens, the wicked Fiend is at large terrorizing the county by any and all means, including war. After Tom has a close call with a press-gang looking to kidnap potential soldiers, the Spook sends him to train with another spook, former apprentice Bill Arkwright. Although Arkwright's methods are extremely intense and demanding, the Spook feels Tom will be relatively safe from the Fiend. Of course, that's when the trouble really starts.

Fans of the series will no doubt enjoy this volume. Like the previous books, Wrath of the Bloodeye is scary, exciting and non-stop. Delaney generally does a good job of creating creepy atmospheres and settings while moving the reader along at a brisk pace. Those familiar with the series expecting scenes of grisly and sometimes gross-out horror will not be disappointed. What was disappointing to me, at least in this volume, is a lack of focus. The plot and changes in setting seem to meander and wander, especially in the last half of the book. As a narrator, Tom often seems to be capable of a whole litany of extended thoughts and ruminations during the middle of nail-biting action scenes. I won't give away any important details, but some of the confrontations were a bit disappointing.

Kids ask for these books all the time at all the branches I've worked. The books are marketed to ages 10 and up (or grade 5 and up), although they may be too intense for some young readers. Anyone who enjoys the first book will probably enjoy them all, although Wrath of the Bloodeye is not the strongest entry in the series.

Eternity and Other Stories (2005) - Lucius Shepard

If you enjoy good writing and haven't yet encountered Lucius Shepard, I encourage you to pick up any of his novels or collections (like this one) and lose yourself for a few hours. Shepard's stories usually contain some speculative element and he sometimes gets thrown into the "magic realism" camp, whatever that means, but readers should enjoy these tales for what they are: superb writing.

Salt River (2007) - James Sallis

I'd previously never read any work by Sallis, but had heard his name tossed around for years. This may not be the best place to start reading Sallis, but I enjoyed this short, reflective mystery and plan to read him again.

Five Minds for the Future (NF 2007) - Howard Gardner

Psychologist and Harvard professor Gardner has some excellent thoughts about the types of minds and thinking that will be necessary for people who want to make a difference in the 21st Century, especially in the area of using synthesis as a means of discovery. Maybe I came away with an incorrect interpretation of what Gardner actually says in some parts, but it seems he holds a somewhat naive view that with enough education, respect for others (and ourselves) is a readily attainable worldwide goal. A thought-provoking book.

Longitudes & Attitudes: Exploring the World after September 11 (NF 2002) - Thomas L. Friedman

I don't always agree with Friedman, but he's always interesting. I believe all of these essays appeared in The New York Times during the year-eighteen-month period after September 11. I'd like to read a follow-up book of his essays now, seven years later to see if his opinions have changed.

That's it for July. Go read something!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Greatness for $1.99

"I've suffered a lot for my music. Now it's your turn."

I get a lot of grief from my friends who don't share my eclectic musical tastes. I haven't run across many people who enjoy Beethoven string quartets, Bob Dylan, Ella Fitzgerald, The White Stripes, Paul Hindemith's music for brass, Bjork, 77s, Sons of the Pioneers and John Coltrane, but that's okay. But what REALLY gets me steamed is hearing someone say

"Well, I like country music."

"How about Hank Williams. Hank Senior, that is."

"Naw, man." (Insert optional tobacco spit here.) "I'm talkin' 'bout real country!" which translates Toby Keith, Gretchen Wilson, Kenny Chesney, etc.

Now I've got nothing against those artists, but if you really want to hear county, you have to listen to Hank. Senior. What better opportunity than to spend two bucks on true greatness: 20 Of Hank Williams' Greatest Hits. You've heard covers of probably all of these tunes. Now listen to the guy who wrote nearly all of them and set the standard for country greatness. Two bucks! And it's today only. You won't be sorry.

Friday, August 01, 2008

July Books Bought

You know it's been a busy month when you buy only three books! Man, what a dry spell! (Of course, Cindy's probably throwing a party with all the money I saved from not buying more books.) Anyway, here we go with the July edition of Books Bought:

Lectures on Literature (NF 1980) - Vladimir Nabokov

I checked this out through Marina (a system that allows library patrons to request books from other counties in Maryland) and decided I needed a longer amount of time to study it. The book is a collection of Nabokov's lectures at Cornell and Wellesley covering the following works:

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Walk by Swann's Place - Marcel Proust
"The Metamorphosis" - Franz Kafka
Ulysses - James Joyce

I sampled all the chapters but only read the Stevenson chapter in its entirety (as well as two other lectures called "Good Readers and Good Writers" and "The Art of Literature and Common Sense.") Most of what Nabokov seems to discuss is the form and structure of each work.

My plan is to read each work, then study what Nabokov has to say. I'm really weak in form and structure in my own writing, so I'm very eager to start a little self-directed study led by Mr. N.

Trade Paperback; Price = $12.24

The Trinity (NF This edition 1991) - Saint Augustine

Several guys from my church and other churches get together every Monday night to discuss philosophy (as well as eat pizza and drink beer - what's not to like?). They've been meeting for years and have worked through several books, but just started this one a few weeks ago. Josh, a friend of mine who hosts the group, invited me to check it out, so I bought the book. Philosophy is something I always wanted to investigate, but didn't think (1) I had the time and (2) wasn't smart enough to understand it. I'm still convinced (2) is true, but maybe not (1). But it is fascinating. All these guys are waaaaaay smarter than me, so each meeting is both a humbling and a learning experience.

In the book, Augustine seeks to try to understand the divine Trinity from an examination of Old and New Testaments, then argues using the language of philosophy and logic to defend the orthodox thinking of the doctrine of the Trinity against the Arians of his day. Again, deep, difficult stuff, but fascinating.

Trade Paperback; Price = $19.77

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories (2001) - Alice Munro

I've only read a few stories by Alice Munro, but I've read enough to know that finding a first edition hardcover copy in pristine condition at the Goodwill for two bucks was a no-brainer. This collection includes the story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain," which was adapted into the film Away From Her.

; Price = $2.00

Total = $34.01

Next Time: July Books Read