Monthly Archives: February 2010

Book #6 and Other Reading

I was working my way through the Nebula list and some short fiction from Tor, all online fiction, when I left for Omaha. Since I have neither a mobile computing device nor eReader (which wouldn’t have helped that much), I switched to physical books and started the Holmes-a-thon.

I read Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories when I was pretty young. I’m not a huge mystery fan, but I always liked the logic and ratiocination of Sherlock Holmes (and Poe as well when I found out Poe did it first). That logic could infallibly solve crime appealed. Those stories made an impression on me. Unconsciously, I write somewhat like Doyle. I have a soft spot for the Sherlocks, the Spocks, the Austin Jameses of the world (as many women do). I’ve watched many Sherlock Holmes adaptations and liked most of them. In a manner similar to comic book characters, there’s something malleable about the background and continuing exploits of Sherlock Holmes. Strangely, I haven’t read any of the mammoth quantity of Sherlock works by different authors. It never occurred to do so. Okay, I have read Saberhagen’s Holmes-Dracula Files and maybe one or two works were Sherlock Homes, John Watson, or Arthur Conan Doyle were characters. But really nothing *about* Holmes. I had acquired some books, but not read them. Therefore, I decided to have a two month Holmes-a-thon.

First up, Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind (Book #6). I had not heard of this book until Elizabeth Bear mentioned it in her review of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. It sounded good to me.

Considering recent events in my life, this book was a hard read. This Sherlock Holmes is 93 years old and dealing with slight dementia, an old body, and all the questions that might come at the end of a man’s life. Of course, Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be the man that has the answers when he asks questions. What happens when he doesn’t? This is a novel firmly within the literary "genre." We’re examining the inner life of a character, not terribly concerned with discrete events of a plot. I liked this book; it will undoubtedly stick with me, but I can’t say I found it enjoyable. I read most of it in airports and airplanes while traveling to possibly say goodbye to my grandmother. (I had a similar problem with Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres — not reading material when you’re family is going nuts.) Stories are told and retold, both in this book and in my life (and in several of the short works I read).

Of particularly Holmesian things, the novel does not have Watson, drug abuse, or Irene Adler. It does very much have an apiary. I’m noting this because I think it will be interesting what authors decide to focus on or not. Obviously, my next selection, The Seven-per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer, is covering the drug abuse angle. I’ll probably have more to say about these things after I’ve read a few more texts.

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Short fiction I also read since February 20th:

The best English course I took in high school was called "Stories and the Human Experience". It taught me more about writing than most writing classes. These stories, along with A Slight Trick of the Mind, could be used an alternate syllabus. (Btw, that was the class I read Jane Smiley for.) All of this fiction is about the stories that we tell ourselves or about ourselves and what stories are told about us by our cultures and societies. It’s made for a slightly claustrophobic experience. I really want a popcorn book at this point. Maybe instead of Meyers, I’ll hit my mom’s shelves for a Star Trek novel or something. 

Oma(ha) Update

So, on Tuesday night after talking to heart surgeon #2 (opinion #4), it was decided that Oma would go home on medications sans any procedure. On Wednesday morning, her main cardiologist came in announcing that it was time to go put in some stents. My mom was called and all hell broke loose. The cardiologist, confused by the decision, won out. In his opinion, there was only a 1% chance that things would go badly, which wasn’t the impression we were under. They put in two stents (the third will be done later) and Oma almost immediately started feeling better. They sent her home Thursday. Yesterday, I went grocery shopping with her and she was moving around better than when I saw her last summer. Funny how much blood circulating through your body helps. Her main frustration now is diet. She’s low-sodium now as well as low-sugar. We’re a family that likes to eat and are pretty stubborn about our likes/dislikes. (I’ve tried to buck this trend as much as possible. Nothing particularly bad comes from trying new things.) But, my grandmother is a smart woman and with some explanation, I think she’ll do just fine. Mom, Oma, and I are going to get hair cuts/dos today, an activity that had been schedule last Saturday.

I’m getting along okay. Two layers of clothes keep me warm. I’ve been taught how to use the swanky coffee pot, but managed to melt bubble wrap on to a roaster. The cats fine my presence interesting.  I’ll probably finish reading A Slight Trick of the Mind on time tomorrow. I haven’t done anything work-related. I miss Eric.

Abruptly in Omaha

My mom called me Saturday morning to tell me that Oma was in the hospital. Congestive heart failure with renal complications. She had been having trouble breathing during the last couple of days, especially when sleeping, and actually asked to be taken to the doctor on Friday. (Our family is notoriously doctor adverse. Grandpa was liters down from a bleeding ulcer before going to the doctor. The doc was amazed that he was not unconscious. Asking to be taken to the doctor means something is *wrong*.) Tests found that Oma has a leaky heart valve and hefty blockages in three arteries. Cardiologist #1 said that stents wouldn’t be viable and bipasses would have to be done. Heart surgeon #1 said that due to age, diabetes, and other factors that open heart surgery really wasn’t an option. Cardiologist #2 said open heart surgery or stents *were* an option. (Note: neither of the cardiologists do surgery.) Which brought us to yesterday and heart surgeon #2. He came in, asked my grandma how she was feeling (okay, aside from being in the hospital — she had gotten up the night before and rearranged the furniture in her room) and how she was feeling before she had started having breathing problems (same as usual, fairly active for a 79 year old). And then heart surgeon #2 suggested trying to manage the situation with meds because, well, once you start down the path of surgeries, recovery will become another obstacle and maybe one worse than the occasional congestion. Which makes a certain kind of sense. So, we went from expecting Oma to have a procedure of some sort today to her probably coming home by the end of the week. This isn’t a cure; it’s a management situation.

Anyway, fearing really bad things, I flew to Omaha yesterday. I should have decided to do so over the weekend because booking Monday night and flying Tues was not ideal. From 7:30 (mountain time) until 17:00 (central time) I was in an air -plane or -port, making a stop over in Chicago. It is cold here in ways I had forgotten. Nonetheless, I’m glad I’m here.

Book #5 – The Blind Side

Book #5 – The Blind Side by Michael Lewis

Often titled The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, especially editions that aren’t related to the movie. Once again, I’m not entirely sure how this book came to be on my to-read list. I think Lewis’ Moneyball intrigued me first, but being more of a football fan than baseball fan, I decided The Blind Side might be a better choice. And with that secondary title in mind, I was somewhat surprised to find that the current Sandra Bullock vehicle is based on this book. I haven’t seen the movie. I will eventually because, well, I like Bullock and I like sports movies.

The book has two aspects: the story of Michael Oher and, as a backbone to his story, the evolution of the offensive game over the past 30 years or so. Both are compelling, though I was probably more interested in the history. The evolution of a system (running game to passing game to defense against passing game to offense countering passing defense) is a cool thing to consider. Granted, Lewis probably gives me as much history as I really want and keeps it interesting with Oher’s narrative.

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Re: Reading List

Moving Mary Reilly to later in the year and am going to take a stab at the Nebula nominees and various other short works for the remainder of February. And then March and April will be Holmes-a-thon 2010.

Forks are painful.

The Spoon Theory from my point of view:
(a cached version since ButYouDon’tLookSick.com is undergoing a revamp)

I have a silverware drawer with a finite and unknown number of spoons in it. I also don’t know when the used spoons will be washed and placed back into the drawer. What I assume to be true about the situation: if I play it safe and only use one spoon, eventually I will forfeit all of them. Therefore, I occasionally think I have more spoons in the drawer then I do, run out, and have to use a fork instead.

(Where spoons are low-pain days (or something like that). And forks are painful.)

In short, I’ve overdone it in the past month.
From mid-January to mid-February:

  • Games of ultimate frisbee played: 10
  • Miles ran: 9.95
  • Drinks I didn’t pay for: 8 (Thanks Tyler, Casey, Cisco, Kuby, Dave & VOTS)
  • Words written: 6,628
  • Schemes related to writing: 1
  • Rejection letters: 3
  • Web pages created or modified: 13
  • Offers of work that I turned down: 1
  • Everquest 2 "events": 4 (and I totally missed one)

Of course, when I list it out it looks like the life of a not-very-busy geeky person. It’s just a little much for a hermit. I look forward to not doing much of anything for a while.

27:39

When I put together my 101 Things in 1001 Days list back in 2007, I included doing a "fun run" as the sort of end point to a series of running goals. At the time I was running a couple of miles fairly regularly, but not taxing myself. Other running goals on my list were Couch to 5K (which I could never quite get the hang of…too much structure), run 10 miles a week for 5 weeks (which wasn’t too hard after I managed to run 3-4 miles in a row), and interval training 3x a week for 5 weeks (pushing my pace seems to result in a unhappy joints, especially doing it for five weeks in a row). I was interested in testing my limits as much as simply providing things to do that would burn calories. Doing a fun run  would be a gut-check. Could become a confident enough runner to do a public run? (Granted, what I lack in confidence I make up in obliviousness. I am certain I would not want to see a video of myself playing ultimate during 2001-2007.)

Yesterday, I ran the Skirt Chaser 5K. I didn’t do it last year mostly due to fitness considerations. I hadn’t run at all in January 2009 according to RunLogger. From journal entries, it doesn’t sound like I was doing much else either. In the interim, I’d seen Skirt Chaser shirts and skirts and been a little envious. Considering that people I knew were doing it this time, I took the opportunity even if I hadn’t been running much this year either.

Per my advisement, Casey and Reif parked by my apartment and we’d took the light rail to quite-near Tempe Beach Park. Once there, we met with Laura, Josh, and Jeff (our cheering section/holder-of-stuff (And stuff there was. I didn’t remember that the fare kiosks gave change in the form of dollar coins and therefore didn’t warn Reif before he received $13 in non-runner-friendly currency.)). Much to my relief, this plan worked well. I was also very happy to have Laura there, considering the women’s start time was 3 minutes before the men. As a race veteran, Laura dragged me with her to near to front of the pack and was generally a reassuring presence.

As for the race itself, the experience wasn’t as I expected it to be. I’m used to saying, "I’m going for a run" and going. No waiting in line for a tracking chip or for the race to start amid other antsy people. As soon as the race did start, I was thirsty, needed to use a restroom, and most annoyingly, my shoes felt too loose. Running with people wasn’t as energizing for me, mainly because I was concerned that I was going to overpace myself. The course was nice, though again I was distracted by how I was doing that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have if I were running on my own. I slowed to a walk a couple of times to change my music and after the substantial hill about a mile in. I didn’t think I did very well and was tired enough to not think of looking at my time at the finish line. I was hoping for better than 30 minutes and figured I did about 29. (The results were posted this morning and I managed better than I thought: 27:39. Not the best 5K I’ve ever done, but decent for me. I crossed the finish line 241st (or with the 354th best time, if you subtract out the men’s 3min. penalty) (or 15th among women age 35-39).)

Post-run festivities included music and free beer which were loud and not that tasty. After Josh, Laura and Jeff took their leave, Casey, Reif and I adjourned to Rula Bula, a downtown Tempe establishment that I had heard about but never been to. Much better beer and atmosphere more conducive to conversations about television, movies, ultimate drama and lack of drug usage.

In all, a good experience, but made so by the people involved. Due to that, I’m really glad I didn’t do it last year.

Book #4 – Stephen King Goes to the Movies

Book #4 – Stephen King Goes to the Movies by Stephen King

This book was fairly disappointing.

As I was browsing around PaperBackSwap or maybe Amazon, I caught sight of it. Ooo, I thought to myself, right up my alley. I love it when writers talk about movie adaptations. The interplay between the two types of story-telling intrigues me. Unfortunately, King doesn’t have much to say on the subject. Each of the five stories in this anthology are accompanied by only a page of commentary. Really, this book seems to be an excuse to anthologize five disparate stories.

I’m not a huge King fan, but I can’t deny that he deserves a hard look due to his popularity. Two of the stories were rereads for me.  "The Mangler" and "Children of the Corn" are from Night Shift, the first King I read back in high school. They’re decent stories though during this reading I was amused  by King’s interpretation of Nebraska geography. (From the northern most point of Highway 17 to Grand Island is 165-ish miles, to North Platte (which I could see being the author’s choice, but not an editor’s choice) about 80.) The movies are not good, though it’s mildly amusing to watch Robert Englund chew the scenery in The Mangler.

"1408" is the gem of this book. It’s a tight, unsettling short story. It’s King at his best. Unlike Carrie, this story has "found footage" that is only alluded to instead of shown. Ambiguity lends itself well to horror. In many ways, this story feels like a brief version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. In fact the more I think about it, the more parallels I see. Not a bad thing, in my opinion. I haven’t yet tired of good solid haunting stories. The movie is good too and this project is on King’s favorite adaptation list.

While I own Different Seasons ("The Body" is my favorite Stephen King work), I had not read "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." I’d seen Frank Darabont’s movie adaptation which, while good, is slow and methodical. (Darabont has also written-for-the-screen and directed The Green Mile and The Mist. I haven’t seen the former, but the latter is one of the bleakest horror movies I had seen in a long while. Well worth a watch.) The story is slow and methodical as well, maybe too much so. As a writer I’m at the stage where lean writing is my friend, and it seems that there could be areas of "Shawshank" that could be left out.

Which brings me to the last story of this anthology: "Low Men in Yellow Coats." I did not read more than the first section of this story because it had no hook for me. Nothing compelling happened in the first 24 pages. The movie Hearts in Atlantis works better, but is somewhat unfocused in its structure. Unfortunately, "Low Men" takes up half the book. Too bad "The Mist" wasn’t included instead.