Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter Read-a-thon

Easter Readathon
Hosted by Kate @ Nose in Book

Apparently, I just can’t resist a readathon. I’m also pretty bummed that I’ll be missing Dewey’s 24-hour readathon for the second time in a row. (My participation last spring was on the low side as well…) I’ve been making up for it ever since. 😉

Goals

I’m going to keep it modest: 300 pages.

I have two books out from the library (Make that three. What’s the law that says that books on hold will all become available at the same time?):

  • Fooling Houdini by Alex Stone (starting at 82%) Finished!
  • Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn
  • The Way of the Wizard edited by John Joseph Adams

And I still have my weekly reading to do:
Two chapters of A Storm of Swords, a poem, a section of Prose Edda, and I should probably get another Nebula short story nomination read.

Progress

Updates

Friday: Wasn’t in the mood to read, wasn’t in the mood to write; wasn’t in the mood to watch TV (even basketball), wasn’t in the mood to play EQ2. Did all in small amounts.

Saturday: The bad part about being a writer is that sometimes, you don’t want to have anything to do with words. Writing or reading them. Wasn’t in a Scoundrels mood so I moved on to The Way of the Wizard, an anthology that I really checked out for Peter S. Beagle’s “El Regalo.” And then, keeping with my tradition of not keeping to my lists, I picked up William Goldman’s Hype & Glory, which I just received from PaperbackSwap this past week.

Sunday: Lazy day. Read some. Gamed some. Cooked a bit.

Monday: Had to get work done on Monday despite some pretty heavy brain fog. Between naps, everything seemed to take much longer than usual. Didn’t reach my 300 page goal. 😦 Stupid body.

Throwback Thursday ~ No Country for Old Men

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Cover via Goodreads

One day, a good old boy named Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. A load of heroin and two million dollars in cash are still in the back. When Moss takes the money, he sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.

As Moss tries to evade his pursuers–in particular a mysterious mastermind who flips coins for human lives–McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this morning’s headlines. (via Goodreads)

I have a love-hate relationship with both Cormac McCarthy (author of this book) and the Coen brothers who co-wrote and directed the 2007 movie. As I originally wrote:

The first time I encountered Cormac McCarthy was online, in an excerpt from one of his books. WTF, I thought. Not only does this guy not use dialogue tags, he doesn’t use dialogue punctuation. As a writer it’s the kind of thing that makes me scowl. How come this guy gets away with playing fast and loose with his punctuation while I’d probably get dismissed out of hand by sending in a writing submission that way? The lack of punctuation seems to bother no one but me, so maybe I’m labeling myself as an unsophisticated n00b by complaining about it. *shrug* What have you. Nonetheless, it took me while to decide to read McCarthy’s stuff.

I was very impressed by the movie No Country for Old Men and I got curious about how McCarthy wrote it. And how the lack of dialogue punctuation affects how the reader experiences the text. McCarthy’s writing is very clean. His sentences are structured simply and his details are only in evidence when they’re needed. When he spends a few paragraphs on Moss’s guns, it’s to convey the expertise of the character. Clean writing is something I envy. Most of the time, McCarthy proves that dialogue tags are the safety nets of authors that…well…need safety nets. Myself included. I’ve tried to cut back on the number of tags I use. Really, I have! But there are times when a nice “he said” would have come in handy. The punctuation… As a fairly aural reader, it removed any special emphasis I might give to what was being said by characters. Whether that’s the intent and whether it’s a similar experience for other readers, I don’t know. I was occasionally confused by the lack and that bugged me. I’m from the transparent writing school of thought. I don’t believe the text itself should get in the way of the storytelling. There are exceptions and there are techniques of using the text to make the reader slow down and contemplate what’s going on, but I’d say the times when I had to reread a passage it was for clarity’s sake. It wasn’t to have McCarthy reiterate something important.

On the whole, begrudgingly I admit, this is a very good book. It’s certainly the best I’ve read this year, thus far. I’ll be reading The Road sometime in the near future.

My opinion of The Road was pretty much the exact opposite of my opinion of No Country for Old Men. Likewise, the movie is one of my favorites, but I’m not much of a fan of many other Coen brothers’ movies.  Their sense of humor and mine don’t jive. I’d say that the movie wins by combining great performances, understated direction, good writing, and spectacular cinematography. It’s a modern day Western and, if McCarthy is to be believed, we live in a very bleak world. It’s not a shiny-happy movie or novel, but the characters are survivors.

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1

If my progress was a mountain, it would be:

Hayden ButteHayden Butte

Yep, not a mountain at all, but a substantial hill. It’s a nice 1/3 mile hike if you’re near downtown Tempe and out of things to do, but it’s not really mountain climbing.  Thus far, my Mount TBR progress had been on the hilly side as well. I’ve read 14 books thus far this year, but only two of them have been off my shelves.

A couple weekends ago I joined the Take Control read-a-thon and zipped through two translated works that I’ve owned for…a while. At least five years I’d say. I actually did start reading Leonardo’s Hands by Alois Hotschnig, which I had only owned for a year, but it just wasn’t working out for me. Instead I read Hitchhiking by Gabriele Eckart and Misreadings by Umberto Eco. Both were okay, but not great. I just posted reviews of both yesterday.

I have a lot of mountain left to read.

Double Review ~ Hitchhiking & Misreadings

Hitchhiking: Twelve German Tales by Gabriele Eckart, Wayne Kvam (Translator)

Cover via Goodreads

First published in East Germany in 1982 and in West Germany four years later, this collection of short prose firmly established Gabriele Eckart in German literary circles (her poetry had earlier won the critics’ praise). Eckart’s stories offer a panorama of East German life: sharply drawn vignettes in which “the familiar, the all-too-familiar, takes place alongside the surprising and the bizarre. . . . Authentic sketches with delicate strokes, concise, to the point.”—(Aschaffenburg) Main-Echo. Although East Germany disappeared from the map in 1990, the experiences of the people who endured, evaded, challenged, and thwarted the socialist regime will long affect a reunified Germany. These stories are powerful and moving reminders of what conditions were like not so long ago. (via Goodreads)

Sketches is a precisely the word for this collection. That’s not a bad thing because they definitely evoke a specific time and place, but for the most part they’re not full stories. There is a certain amount of bleakness to these stories. I loved “The Tall Girl,” but the ending is just…bam, done, no happy ending in East Germany.

Genre: Short fiction with a little autobiographical fiction thrown in.
Why did I choose to read this book? I wanted to read some German fiction.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes!
Craft Lessons: One difficult thing about translations is that it’s hard to take away sentence level craft lessons. In this case, there’s not too much to learn structurally either.
Format: Paperback
Procurement: I think I picked up this book at a library sale. Maybe. Quite a while in the past.
Bookmark: Business card from Mercurial Musings

Misreadings by Umberto Eco

Cover via Goodreads

Satirical essays in which Eco pokes fun at the oversophisticated, the overacademic, and the overintellectual and makes penetrating comments about our modern mass culture and the elitist avant-garde. “A scintillating collection of writings” (Los Angeles Times). Translated by William Weaver. (via Goodreads)

These essays were originally published in the 1960s in Italy. As Eco notes in the preface, some changes during translation had to be made to make this collection understandable to an American audience, but there is definitely something lost between two continents and 50 years. Some of these essays, like “Granita” and “The Things” were pretty funny. “Regretfully, We Are Returning Your…” is pretty much every writer’s cringe-worthy nightmare as famous manuscripts are turned down by publishers for inane reasons. The second half of this collection really drug for me. I felt I didn’t know enough about the politics, literary and governmental, to really get the jokes. That’s always a barrier with satire.

Genre: Satire. What is satire? Fiction? Non-fiction? I’ve never thought about it before.
Why did I choose to read this book? I like Umberto Eco.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Eh…I skimmed toward the end.
Craft Lessons: Watch your in-jokes. In fiction, if the joke is dependent on a certain time or place, it might be funny to a later audience.
Format: Paperback
Procurement: I swear I bought this at UNL’s bookstore, but it has a half-price mark on the inside.
Bookmark: The same Mercurial Musings card.

Both work for the following challenges:

2013transchallenge-3

Star Trek -a-thon

The Enterprise

Hulu has all of their Star Trek episodes available for free between now and March 31st. In a slight deviation from what’s usually on this blog, I’m going to post about what episodes I watch and add some notes if I have something to say. Probably won’t delve too deeply into Voyager or Enterprise, but I might give them a fresh try.

Star Trek: The Original Series

  • S1:E03  “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – The one with Gary Mitchell, who might have made a good reboot villain. I’ve really been pulling for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Into Darkness character to be Mitchell.
  • S1:E07 “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” – The one where Nurse Chapel is engaged to an android-creating nutjob. Quote: “Mind your own business, Mr. Spock. I’m sick of your half-breed interference! Do you hear?” Written by Robert Bloch.
  • S1:E16 “The Galileo Seven” – The one where Spock, Bones, Scotty, and four red shirts crash land on random class M world in the middle of nebula-like phenomenon. Who will survive, and what will be left of them? This entire episode is logic versus emotion as Kirk is pulled between searching for his crew members and a mercy mission to a plague-ridden planet. The emotional crew members marooned with Spock strike me as very annoying while Commissioner Farris’s rational arguments aboard the Enterprise are grating.
  • S1:E22 “Space Seed” – The one with Khan. Also Kirk at maybe his most Picard-like. When faced with a superior foe, Kirk resorts to talking. Until he beats the crap out of Khan. (Kirk *is* Kirk after all…)
  • S2:E01 “Amok Time” – The one with TMI about vulcan relationships. Quote: “It would be illogical for us to protest against our natures, don’t you think?” Written by Theodore Sturgeon.
  • S2:E7 “Catspaw” – The one where Kirk, Spock. and McCoy meet three weird sisters and a black cat. I’ve always enjoyed the Hammer horror feel of this episode. Written by Robert Bloch.
  • S2:E9 “Metamorphosis” – The first one with Zefram Cochrane.
  • S2:E10 “Journey to Babel” – The one with Spock’s parents. Quote: “On Vulcan the ‘teddy bears’ are alive, and they have 6-inch fangs.” Written by D.C. Fontana
  • S2:E14 “Wolf in the Fold” – The one where Scotty might be Jack the Ripper. Written by Robert Bloch.

Really enjoying the “remastered” original series episodes. The effect tweaks are nice. I have no particular method for picking episodes. These are just the ones I feel like watching.  Some, like “The City on the Edge of Forever,” are good, but I’ve watched them too many times.

  • S2:E26 “Assignment: Earth”
    Me: You know, the one with time travel.
    Me2: “Tomorrow is Yesterday”?
    Me: No, not *that* one with time travel, the other one.
    Me2: “City on the Edge of Forever”?
    Me: No, not that one either. You know, the one where they time travel on purpose.
    Me2: Star Trek IV?
    Me: No. The one with time travel and a futuristic spy and his black cat.
    Me2: Oh. That one.
    According to Wikipedia, this episode was supposed to be a “back-door” pilot for another Gene Roddenberry show, but considering that Gary Seven uses a sonic screwdriver to escape from the Enterprise, I will instead think of this as a Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover event. Though the motivations for many character actions are muddled, Teri Garr is pretty great in this episode. Her character would have made a great companion for the Doctor.
  • S3:E02 “The Enterprise Incident” – The one where the captain is crafty and the first officer seduces the woman. And isn’t a Next Gen episode. Quote: “Commander, your attire is not only more appropriate, it should actually stimulate our conversation.” Written by D.C. Fontana.
  • S3:E05 “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” – The one with a being so ugly that a glimpse of it would drive a human insane. He’s generally kept in a box. Diana Muldaur, who later plays Dr. Pulaski in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, guest stars.
  • S3:E05 “Spectre of the Gun” – The one at the O.K. Corral. With its surreal, half-formed Tombstone landscape and fairly good turns by the actors, this episode avoids being cheesy. Quote: “Good old Virgil. We can always count on him.”
  • S3:E11 “Wink of an Eye” – The one that I completely don’t remember. Even after watching it, I don’t really recall having seen it in the past.
  • S3:E23 “All Our Yesterdays” – The one with the library of time portals. I didn’t watch many McCoy-heavy episodes, but it was nice to see the good doctor solving a puzzle or two. It’s also interesting that Zarabeth, as a political exile, is not the main plot point. The portal that are allowing the Sarpeidonites to escape their doomed world had other applications in the past. That’s a nice little attempt at world-building. Quote: “I have eaten animal flesh and I’ve enjoyed it. What is wrong with me?”

I should have picked episodes based on Spock wearing ear-hiding hats.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

  • S1:E05 “Where No One Has Gone Before” – The one with The Traveler.  Life would be much easier if people just listened to Wesley. He’s never wrong. Plus, Kosinski pretty much violates Wheaton’s Law.
  • S2:E13 “Time Squared” – The one with the two Picards. It’s an interesting piece of suspense. When Picard is unease so are we.  It also includes the tried and true time travel question: Is this the thing I do that dooms me? Or is changing my mind the thing that dooms me?
  • S3:E01 “Evolution” – The one with Wesley’s science project on the loose. They never do hold Wesley particularly responsible for the accident.
  • S3:E13 “Deja Q” – The one where Q loses his powers. Quote: (Q, after appearing naked on the bridge of the Enterprise) “Red alert.”
  • S3:E14 “A Matter of Perspective” – The one where Riker is on trial for murder. The holodeck is used to present testimony and Picard later uses it to piece together what really might have happened. It’s a courtroom drama with a twist.
  • S3:E15 “Yesterday’s Enterprise” – The one with Enterprise-C. This episode is trippier and better than I remember. Forget, Wesley. Listen to Guinan. She is always right. Quote: (Worf, after trying prune juice for the first time) “A warrior’s drink!”
  • S3:E21 “Hollow Pursuits” – The one where we meet Reginald Barclay, holodeck addict. Amid Starfleet perfection, I’ve always kind of identified with Barclay. Plus, his psych profile says he has a history of seclusive tendencies. Horror! And, Dwight Schultz is just fun to watch.
  • S3:E23 “Sarek” – The one with Spock’s dad. Also, the one with the bar brawl in Ten-Forward. Written by Peter S. Beagle

If I would have known that season 3 had so many good episodes, I wouldn’t have bothered with “Evolution.”

  • S4:E09 “Final Mission” – The one that is Wesley’s final episode. Wes is really putz-y in this episode.
  • S4:E14 “Clues” – The one with Gloria from Cleveland. Okay, not really. After being teased with the possibility of Guinan participating in a Dixon Hill mystery, this episode offers up a different mystery.
  • S4:E19 “The Nth Degree” – The one where Barclay gets some confidence. And  intelligence and, of course, arrogance. He has a pretty nice HAL moment. Quote: “He did make a pass at me last night. A good one.”
  • S5:E07 “Unification, Part I” – The one where Spock defects.

Throwback Thursday ~ The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl

Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by The Housework Can Wait and Never Too Fond of Books!

Noting that book blogging often focuses on new releases, here’s how Throwback Thursday works:

  1. Pick any bookish or literary-related media (or non-media item) released more than 5 years ago.
  2. Write up a short summary of the book (include the title, author, and cover art) and an explanation of why you love it.
  3. Link up your post at The Housework Can Wait or Never Too Fond of Books.
  4. Visit as many blogs as you can, reminisce about books you loved, and discover some “new” books for your TBR list!

The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt

Cover via Goodreads

As night manager of Santa Cruz’s quirkiest coffeehouse, Marzi McCarty makes a mean espresso, but her first love is making comics. Her claim to fame: The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, a cowpunk neo-western yarn. Striding through an urban frontier peopled by Marzi’s wild imagination, Rangergirl doles out her own brand of justice. But lately Marzi’s imagination seems to be altering her reality. She’s seeing the world through Rangergirl’s eyes–literally–complete with her deadly nemesis, the Outlaw.

It all started when Marzi opened a hidden door in the coffeehouse storage room. There, imprisoned among
the supplies, she saw the face of something unknown…and dangerous. And she unwittingly became its guard. But some primal darkness must’ve escaped, because Marzi hasn’t been the same since. And neither have her customers, who are acting downright apocalyptic. (via Goodreads)

As I wrote back in 2008:

Rangergirl is probably the most fun I’ve had reading in a long while. Pratt uses the tropes of Westerns and how stories are “supposed to go” and subtly turns them on their heads. The characters, while not overly complex, are interesting enough. His writing is natural and deft. He keeps his plot and mythos internally consistent and brings it all to a satisfying conclusion.

A fun book that I need to reread one of these days.

Review ~ Behind the Scenes with the Mediums

Cabinet. Performer, & Appliances

Behind the Scenes with the Mediums by David Phelps Abbott

There are those among us who cannot accept the promise of immortality on faith alone and require positive proof for any such belief. This volume discusses various types of Mediums; how they work, how some trick us, and how some do not use trickery. A sampling of the contents is as follows: spirit slate writing and billet tests; some modern sorcery; unusual mediumistic phenomena; materialization; relation of mediumship to palmistry, astrology and fortune telling; performances of the Annie Eva Fay type. (via Goodreads)

The cross-out above is my own. David Abbott (the cabinet performer above) was a skeptic during the heyday of spiritualism. He was not opposed to the idea of the survival of the spirit after death, but this book is a refutation and expose of the techniques used by mediums of the era. Abbott himself was a parlor magician, well-respected by his peers, but rarely performed magic outside his own home. He was not interested in profiting from his talents and was disdainful of mediums who took advantage of grieving clients. There really isn’t a portion of this book about mediums not using trickery. (In later years, Abbott did encounter a few things that he couldn’t explain. While newspaper coverage seemed to paint him as a believer because of this, his comments strike me as being on the cautious side.)

This isn’t a book for a “popular” audience. The majority of Behind the Scenes is about the nitty-gritty of slate and billet switching. These are the techniques behind “spirits” writing on blackboard slates and/or using a medium to answer questions asked on paper by sitters. No spoilers here; no spirits are involved. Instead it’s all a very skilled dance of information. The descriptions are repetitive and technical. I got a bit bogged down by it in the middle even though I find this stuff pretty interesting. The end portion, touching on other mediumistic phenomena like materializations, is a welcome change. I also finished up a few other of Abbott’s text in the last week or two. The photograph is from “Spiritualistic Materialization and Other Mediumistic Phenomena” an article published in The Open Court in 1919.

(As a side note, I’m going to share one of my favorite things I’ve read about David Abbott: In Houdini-esque style, before his death he told his wife that if  his spirit continued on, he would contact her or give her some sign. “Perhaps,” he suggested, “we should arrange some signal…so you can be sure I am the one talking.” Fannie Abbott replied, “After I’ve lived with you for 47 years I’ll know if it’s you.” [1])

Genre: Non-fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Interested in the subject, writing a book featuring David Abbott.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. Took me a while, but yes.
Craft Lessons: Read for research.
Format: Scanned book. Not the best reading medium
Procurement: Most of David P. Abbott’s works are available for reading through Google books.

[1] Morrow, Edward. “David Abbott Dies; Would Seek ‘Return.'” Omaha World-Herald, Vol. 49, no. 244. June 13, 1934. pg. 1