Tuesday, April 28, 2009

April Books Bought

No two ways about it: April was Book Insanity Month. Good gracious, look at all the books I bought. I blame one of the usual suspects, Daedalus Books and a new tempter, Re-Reads, the new used bookstore in Crofton. Of course here I am writing with over 48 hours left in the month! Who knows what might happen? So now, before I get even more out of control....


(For some reason, the images are not uploading. Use your imagination.)

McTeague (1899) - Frank Norris

I've wanted to read this ever since I saw the silent classic Greed (based on the novel) many years ago. I finally found it at a good price.
Trade Paperback; Price = $1.00

Always Looking Up (NF 2009) - Michael J. Fox

I bought Michael J. Fox's memoir of his battle with Parkinson's Disease for my mom, who also struggles with PD.
Hardcover; Price = $15.49

Speak, Memory (NF 1951) - Vladimir Nabokov

Any look into the mind of a writer of Nabokov's stature is certainly worth this price.
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.00

Ghost Story (1979) - Peter Straub

Can you believe I've never read it? Now I have no excuse.
Mass Market Paperback; Price = $2.00

The Short Stories - Ernest Hemingway

Okay, I had a big, bulky hardcover edition of this that's just...well, too big and bulky. This trade paperback is much easier to deal with (and probably easier to make pencil notes in the margins).
Trade Paperback; Price = $5.98

The Ethics of Star Trek (NF 2000) - Judith Barad, Ph.D. and Ed Robertson

Okay, go ahead and laugh. But I've heard lots of good things about this from people who are not only into Trek, but also philosophy and theology. (So there!)
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.98

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007) - Michael Chabon

I thought this novel was absolutely brilliant when I read it two years ago. I just didn't own it. Until now.
Trade Paperback; Price = $1.00

Garnethill (1998) - Denise Mina

This Scottish crime novel has been praised for years. Thought I'd finally try it.
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.50

The Long Goodbye (1953) - Raymond Chandler

This guy's the master. I'm always in awe of Chandler.
Trade Paperback; Price = $3.98

Martha Peake (2000) - Patrick McGrath

I was actually looking for McGrath's Dr. Haggard's Disease, but couldn't find it. I settled for this novel of the American Revolution because it looked intriguing and is signed by the author.
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.98

The Woman in the Dunes (1964) - Kobo Abe

I loved the film version of this novel. I also remembered that my good friend and Clarion alum. Rebecca Rowe is a big fan of Abe.
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.98

Mothers & Other Monsters: Stories (2005) - Maureen F. McHugh

What I'm sure is another stellar collection from Small Beer Press.
Trade Paperback; Price = $3.98

The Grifters (1963) - Jim Thompson

Gritty. Brutal. Depressing. Gotta love Jim Thompson.
Trade Paperback; Price = $3.50

Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories (2003) - Jim Shepard

I was crazy about Shepard's last collection Like You'd Understand, Anyway, so I knew this would be money well spent.
Trade Paperback; Price = $4.00

Fire, Burn! (1957) - John Dickson Carr

Highly recommended by my friend and former co-worker T.
Mass Market Paperback; Price = $2.00

The Writing Life: Writers on How They Think and Work (NF 2003) - Marie Arana, ed.

I stood around a thrift store deciding whether or not I needed another book on the writing life. Now you know what I decided.
Trade Paperback; Price = $1.41

I think that's gonna do it for April. I sure hope so.

Total Book Expenditures for April = $67.78

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flannery O'Connor, Writing and Running

I've been marveling at Flannery O'Connor's collection of essays/lectures Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose. Marveling and tearing my hair out, that is.

Here's a quote from one of O'Connor's essays on her own work:

I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity. The action or gesture I'm talking about would have to be on the anagogical level, that is, the level which has to do with the Divine life and our participation in it. It would be a gesture that transcended any neat allegory that might have been intended or any pat moral categories a reader could make. It would be a gesture which somehow made contact with mystery.

O'Connor goes on to show where such a gesture occurs in "A Good Man is Hard to Find," when the Grandmother faces the Misfit near the end of the story. What she says and does is the story. Without it, you have no story.

Maybe that's why it's taking me so long to finish the two short stories I'm currently working on. Either I don't know where the real heart of the stories lie or I don't know how to show it. I suspect the first problem with both stories, but even when I figure that out, I'm not sure how to conquer the second problem. Frustrating. But I believe O'Connor is right.

Last week's writing total was not huge, 12 hours. This week will be far less, mostly because of the problems mentioned above. But you keep on plugging away. (Some John Gardner exercises are helping me produce some pretty good potential first drafts.)

But I must say my running is going well. 10 miles yesterday on the B&A Trail. Not fast, not pretty, but 10 miles is 10 miles. My goal for next week is 11 miles. And to finish at least one of the two stories.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Yea! There's a New Bookstore in Town!

Cindy and I were over at Rita's Italian Ice (where they were once again out of my favorite flavor, strawberry) last night when I saw my two favorite words on a nearby sign: Used Books.

We soon discovered Re-Reads: A Used Bookstore at 2133 Defense Hwy, Suite 4, in Crofton, MD. It's a great looking place, filled with floor-to-(almost) ceiling bookshelves, but these are nice bookshelves, not the typical used-bookstore ratty-looking units that look like high school wood shop rejects. And the books themselves were the best looking used books I'd ever seen. The guy running the place must have extremely high standards. None of the books I saw had wrinkled spines. None. Every book looked as if it had been handled maybe once or twice. Only when I pulled down a couple did I see any signs of edge wear, and even then not much.

All of the mass market paperbacks went for $2, but again, they all looked pristine. I bought one trade paperback (Jim Thompson's The Grifters) for $3.50, a couple of others for $4 and one for $5.

The guy behind the counter (also the owner) said he's been there since December. I never knew it, but then again I hardly ever go on that side of town. I really hope this store makes it. If you're in the neighborhood, drop in.

(The store's bookmarks carry this quote from Andrew Ross: "The smallest bookstore still contains more ideas of worth than have been presented in the entire history of television.")

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The 400 Words

Lately I've been working on studying stories I admire, trying to determine what each sentence does. Good sentences do more than one thing, which is always a goal of mine, so seeing how other writers are able to pull that off helps me tremendously. After working on that exercise, I'm trying to determine what my sentences do. Sometimes it seems like they just sit there, which is not a good thing. This morning I spent about an hour and a half working on just a few paragraphs (about 400 words) of a story, determining exactly how each sentence functions, why it's there, if it's in the wrong place or shouldn't be there at all. I found that several sentences either served no purpose or basically reiterated the previous sentence. Yeah, I spent an hour and a half on 400 words, but I feel that those 400 words are pretty good now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Repentance (1984)

Georgian director Tengiz Abuladze's film Repentance is one of the most amazing, fascinating and disturbing films I've seen in years. (I have to give credit to Cindy for discovering it, mentioned in a book by Philip Yancey.) I'm sending it back to Netflix today, wishing I didn't have to.

After burying his father (the former mayor of a small Georgian town), Abel Aravidze settles into his large estate for what he hopes will be a night of much needed rest. It is far from restful. Aravidze awakens to his wife's screams. She's looking at something outside their bedroom window. That something is Aravidze's father's corpse, leaning against a tree.

The man is reburied. The next day, he's back again. And buried again. And back again.

The situation would almost seem comic, yet we know it's not. Mostly from flashbacks, we learn that Aravidze's father was not only the mayor of their small town, he was a tyrannical mayor, for all practical purposes a ruthless dictator. And someone refuses to let the man's earthly remains rest even for one night.

I won't tell you any more of the plot; you'll have to see it for yourself. What I will tell you is to expect a challenging, thought-provoking and utterly unique film experience with Repentance. Director Abuladze uses many surreal touches, non-linear storytelling and black humor in telling this amazing story. The film was apparently banned in the Soviet Union for three years, first appearing at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival, where it unanimously won the Grand Prize of the Jury. Rightfully so. Repentance is a film not to be missed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Another Job-Related Distraction

One of the best (and somewhat dangerous) aspects of working at the library is in seeing what's new. I was checking in new books on Saturday when I noticed J. Robert Lennon's new novel Castle. I'd read someone's blog about this book, but can't for the life of me remember where. I read the jacket flap and decided that I'd have to put John Crowley's Four Freedoms (good as it is) on hold for a few days.

Eric Loesch, a man in his 50s, returns to the upstate New York town he grew up in and buys some land. Quite a bit of land - over 600 acres. He hasn't been home in quite awhile, so many of the locals don't recognize him. Very soon you start getting a weird feeling, almost one of foreboding. Something's going to happen, but you're not sure what. Nothing overtly weird is going on, but a few things that are mildly unsettling.

Then Loesch discovers something odd. There's a small parcel of land in the middle of his woods that belongs to someone else. The problem is that in all of the legal papers concerning that plot of land, the owner's name has been blackened out.

I'm only about 45 pages into Castle, but it's creeping me out in a very subtle way. I've never read J. Robert Lennon before, so I hope this is an author I can return to. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Enough Already! Gimme Grown-Up Fiction!

Okay, I love YA fiction, but after preparing for Great Books (for kids) for the past eight weeks or so, I need some adult fiction. The problem (as always) is What's Next?

There's always the Best American series, which you can chip away at here and there. (I'm already a few stories into the mystery volume.) Always a good choice.

Then there's Roberto Bolano's final doorstopper of a novel weighing in at nearly 3 pounds. I've been wanting to read this one for awhile (and I finally own it - thanks again, Heather!), but just don't know if I'm in the mood for a long haul right now.

The same can be said for Mr. Dickens.

And I've heard nothing but great things about Guy Gavriel Kay's World Fantasy Award winner Ysabel, which continues to call out to me.

My good friend Joy loaned me this collection of stories set in Africa after Cindy and I watched Hotel Rwanda with Joy and her husband, so this one's calling to me as well.

And then here's an advance reader's copy of John Crowley's new novel that came in the mail the other day. (I'd completely forgotten I'd requested it. Oops.)

Decisions, decisions....

Friday, April 03, 2009

Books Read March

Me, the Missing and the Dead (YA 2008) - Jenny Valentine

The Adoration of Jenna Fox (YA 2008) - Mary E. Pearson

The Little Sleep (2009) - Paul Tremblay

Faceless Killers (1991/2003) - Henning Mankell

Outliers: The Story of Success (NF 2008) - Malcolm Gladwell

The Castle (1922) - Franz Kafka

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (NF 2008) - Colin Duriez

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (NF 2007) - Tim Challies

Newes from the Dead (YA 2008) - Mary Hooper

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution (YA NF 2008) - Moying Li

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row (YA NF 2008) - Susan Kuklin

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You...Or Maybe Not...

Just a few days ago someone placed three catalogs on my desk, catalogs from small press publishers. I didn't know if someone wanted me to order some of these books or just have a laugh. But I thought some of them were.... well, different.

I'm really interested in the over 100 ways my horse and I can save the planet. I wonder if Mr. Ed did his part back in the day? "Hey Willllllbur! Don't dump that toxic waste in the back yard!!!"

No, this is not the French translation of William P. Young's The Shack. But I wonder how many people might think it is? C'est dommage.

I don't know if they come from the same guy that produced this book Little People in the City, but Jeffrey Ford sometimes has similar interesting miniature figures on his blog 14theditch. This book actually looks pretty fun.

I just love this cover....

At first I thought Within These Walls: Memoirs of a Death House Chaplain smacked of exploitation, but after reading the Amazon blurbs, it might be a pretty interesting look at capital punishment. This must be a re-issue since the Amazon publication date is 2003 and used copies start at $49.96.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Great Books Celebration 2009

I certainly enjoyed my first Great Books (for kids) Celebration yesterday in Baltimore County. It was a well-organized, well-run event that in my mind went off without a hitch. The event was my first Great Books, but from what one of the introductory speakers said, it may be the last Great Books Celebration, at least of this magnitude. I hope not. That would be a real shame. I told another librarian from my system that even if we only have half a dozen people sitting at a picnic table next year, we should still try to have some type of Great Books discussion. We shall see.

Anyway, Great Books is a two-day event (You only attend one day. The second day is the same as the first, only with different participants.) that allows librarians to discuss the best children's books published during the past year. Three committees read at least 100 books in each of the following categories: Picture Books, J-Books (fiction and NF) and Teen Books (fiction and NF). From that list, they narrow it down to several categories of four books each (five books each in the Picture Book category). You sign up for three groups/categories, which you can mix or match.

I chose all Teen Books, which meant I had to read twelve YA books. So you have two sessions, followed by lunch and a guest speaker (in this case children's author Jacqueline Woodson, who was excellent), followed by the third and final session.

The sessions I signed up for consisted of anywhere from six to eight people with two facilitators who were on the committee for that category. The first group was full of lively discussions of the "Survival" books: The Hunger Games, No Choirboy, Living Dead Girl and The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Some great discussions here, especially with Living Dead Girl, the most controversial book of the lot. The conversations were so interesting, I could easily have stayed in that group for another hour.

The second group - the Dead group (Generation Dead, Newes from the Dead, Me, the Missing and the Dead and Deadville) - was not nearly as lively (maybe because they were dead books? :), but there were still some good discussions. I sat next to a guy from one of the Enoch Pratt branches that had some really great comments, but I think the lady next to me was comatose.

The final group - the Freedom group (Sunrise over Fallujah, Snow Falling in Spring, Little Brother and Bog Child) - must've felt like pulling teeth for the facilitators. I definitely did most of the talking to start things off. Nobody else would! I wonder if many of them either didn't read the books or didn't get much out of them. So I talked a lot. Hey, I got my money's worth. If you're going to have a book discussion and want people to talk, I'm your man. Otherwise why would you come? (Don't get me started....)

The verdict? A very enjoyable day, well worth the money. Will they have Great Books again in some format? I sure hope so. If not, you're all invited to my house for a discussion of the best books from 2009 next March.