Monthly Archives: May 2014

Armchair BEA ~ Topic of Choice: Non-fiction!

ArmchairBEA LogoExample

It’s Friday and time for Armchair BEA‘s Topic of Choice. While I love novels and adore short stories, I’d like to spend a few minutes on a “genre” that doesn’t seem to get a lot of love from the book-blogging community: Non-fiction.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that everything is narrative. We’re creatures of tale-telling. For better or worse, we make sense of the world by framing things in the form of stories. We want cause and effect. We want a beginning, a middle, and, most importantly, an ending.

When we watch sports, we like to hear about the athlete’s back-story and give dramatic structure to a game’s ebb and flow. We want scientific inquiry to be discrete, and while story-telling is good for creating hypotheses, it’s bad when we need to re-evaluate conclusions. Who wants to continually re-write the ending? One of the most interesting aspects about dealing with a chronic illness is the fact that the story of my arthritis has no conclusion and people are uncomfortable with that. When we talk of being sick it’s in terms of “getting better” and “beating it.” It doesn’t quite make sense when there is no good ending.

I’ve also found non-fiction to be more satisfying lately because, as an author, I need to know how the world works. I believe in a orderly world. If you know the systems, you can apply them. I’d really like to write a historical fiction about Omaha in the early 1900s involving several magicians who lived at the time. Not only has my research included them, but the city, the magic and technology of the era, economics, religion… It’s a long list of stories within stories!

So, here are links to some of the non-fiction I’ve really enjoyed, the best of best perhaps. Click on the covers for links to Goodreads.

History

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
Review
Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear
Review
The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous 19th Century Chess-Playing Machine
Review

Other Topics

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Review
The Devil: A Biography
Review
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Review

Memoirs

Bad Luck Officer
Review
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Review
Chocolate and Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go Away
Review

Do you blog about non-fiction? What non-fiction surprises have you read?

Armchair BEA ~ Novellas/Short Stories

The Complete Stories and Poems Stories of Ray Bradbury At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories

Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors?

Generally, I think of myself as a novel reader. Sure, I occasionally pick up an anthology or read a passing short story on the web, but I’m not *really* a short story reader. Which is totally silly. My past, my present, and even my future reading habits are very much tied to short stories and novellas.

The Complete Sherlock HolmesPast

The first authors I remember reading voraciously are Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. I think these short works can be a great way to introduce younger readers to classics. They are the basis of many genre tropes and more accessible than classics that are based on cultural or political history. Short stories are a sneaky way to get absolutely anyone to read literature that’s well over a 100 years old.

Sleight of HandPresent

My favorite authors are short story writers. I’ll read anything by Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Peter S. Beagle, and Shirley Jackson. All of these writers? Damn good short story writers. Most American students have probably encountered Jackson’sThe Lottery and some Ray Bradbury, but these authors have a large catalog of work! Even some writers known for their door-stoppers get in on the act. One of my very favorite short story and novella writers is Stephen King. “The Body” is probably in my top ten of favorite pieces of literature ever written!

And if you’re of a reading challenge frame of mind, you might want to check out the Deal Me In short story challenge run by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. It’s been a great way to stay on track and read a story every week.

Returning My Sister's Face and Other Far Eastern Tales of Whimsy and MaliceFuture

Short stories anthologies are also a great place to try-out new authors.  I’ve found many “future” favorite authors in the pages of Best of- collections: Glen Hirshberg, Eugie Foster, Cat Rambo, Rachel Swirsky, Kij Johnson, Charles Yu. These authors have become go-tos on my TBR list.

Where Do I Find Short Fiction?

There are plenty of great places to find short fiction on-line.

Non-Genre:

Genre All Over the Place:

Even if you don’t want to commit to an entire anthology, there’s  a great selection of stories to sample!

Armchair BEA 3

Armchair BEA ~ More Than Just Words

DSCN0187

There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats?

I’m not a big reader of graphic novels (though I’ll dive into the occasional comic) and I have a hard time listening to audiobooks without spacing out. So, I’m going to look at this topic from a slightly different angle and ask you all for some feedback.

Way back in 1996, I wrote an essay in a college class about ebooks. The class was Autobiographical Fiction, but the teacher was fascinated by technology. Part of the class syllabus was to create a “Home” web page. Let me reiterate: It was 1996. The popular web browser back in the day was Mosaic.

Without wireless technology, books in electronic form were something of a stretch. There were a few electronic texts available for BlackBerrys and the like, but handheld personal electronics with connectivity and decent storage capacity weren’t common. Still, after building a few of my own hypertext documents, electronic texts seemed to hold a tremendous amount of potential. My mind ran wild at the thought of things like hypertext Milton or Chaucer or Shakespeare. Instead of hunting down all those references in the footnotes, how about links to them? It didn’t even occur to me that there might come a day when it would be possible to have film clips at your fingertips. How about being able to compare the text of Romeo and Juliet against the Zeffirelli film, or the Baz Luhrmann adaptation, or even Shakespeare in Love?

Today, twenty-one-year-old me would be impressed, but maybe a little disappointed too. I have an 8 oz piece of electronics that holds an entire library. If I touch a word on the screen, I can see the dictionary definition. I can add notes and highlights and even share those with other readers. You have to admit, that’s pretty darn cool. But… Links within ebook texts are still more of an exception than a rule. On the internet, we have more flexibility to create hypertexts, but within actual ebooks, we’re just not there yet.

Or am I missing out on some really great multi-media books? Will the movement to more media-rich platforms (like tablets with actual operating systems) finally bring about my full-fledged books-with-DVD-type-extras dreams?

Armchair BEA 3

Armchair BEA ~ Introduction

ArmchairBEA LogoExample

This is my first Armchair BEA (or any BEA) and I’m looking forward to a week of book-ish goodness. Without further ado: An Introduction!

Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online.

The Writerly Reader is my thoughts on how writers write and stories are told with a dash of other things that interest me, like the history of stage magic and ultimate frisbee.

Other places you can find me:

Carter Beats the DevilWhat was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year?

I read a lot of great books in 2013! All of Jim Steinmeyer’s books are excellent. And then there was The Seance by John Harwood! But my favorite was Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold. It hit all the right notes for me. Magicians, mystery, technology, and a dash of romance. Good stuff. So far this year, my favorite has been (coming as a shock to no one, I imagine) Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson. It’s a very non-tabloid look at Tesla’s early years and the philosophy behind inventing.

Share your favorite book or reading related quote.

“…Reading is the drinking of strange wine. … Drinking strange wine pours strength into the imagination.” ~Harlan Ellison

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what 3 books would you bring? Why? What 3 non-book items would you bring? Why?

Only three? Fine, but I’m totally cheating by taking some thick collections.

    • My written-in Selected Works of John Milton from college. Puzzling through Milton and my notes on Milton from 15 years ago would keep me busy for a while.
    • The Essential Ellison. It includes most of my favorite Harlan Ellison stories, plus a good amount of new (to me) material. What’s that? No, no, that isn’t a photocopy of “The Paladin of the Lost Hour” stuffed in the back. This was a special lost proof copy of The Essential Ellison that includes the story Ellison’s editors carelessly forgot. *cough*

The Last Unicorn: Deluxe Edition

  • It was a tough call at #2 between Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, but I chose Ellison because #3 is The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I’m going to need the lilac woods and some Schmendrick on that damn island. And the deluxe edition, please, with “Two Hearts.” And I’m going to be sad that I can’t take the other Schmendrick stories Beagle has written.

Non-book items. In the spirit of keeping it low-tech:

  1. Pen
  2. Notebooks
  3. More pens and notebooks

What good is reading if you can’t write about it?

What book would you love to see as a movie?

In the land of fiction, Carter Beats the Devil, but I’d take any well-made late 19th/early 20th century magician movie.  😉 I also think Jim Steinmeyer’s Who Was Dracula? would make a great TV series. It’s a non-fiction book about Bram Stoker in relation to his writing Dracula and includes lots of theater history and literary personalities of the day. I know I’d watch a TV series about Stoker, Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde, and Walt Whitman. Wouldn’t you?

Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Humpty Dumpty was a Runner”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Humpty Dumpty was a Runner” by Janet Berliner

Card picked: Two of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination, edited by David Copperfield and Janet Berliner

Review: The year is 1996 and Jennie is a blond, fifteen year old California girl. While her heritage is Jewish,  she doesn’t understand why WWII is remotely her problem. The Berlin Wall has fallen and, in her opinion, the old people should just let it go. When she travels to Germany to visit her grandmother, time seems to slip and Jennie finds herself back in 1986, looking at the Wall.

The character of Jennie really bugged me. I guess she’s supposed to, with her blithe, “Who cares? It’s not *my* problem.” But the depiction of this attitude was very heavy-handed and simply unrelenting. The character is fifteen. Fifteen-year-olds know nothing and still have a lot of time to figure things out. It was pretty obvious that there would be a turn-around in her attitude by the end of the story.

About the Author: Janet Berliner is the co-editor of these two David Copperfield anthologies. She co-writes with George Guthridge, the author of last week’s story, and was involved with Jack Kirby’s foray into long form prose from Week 8.

Is This Your Card?
A long clip of a pretty iconic bit from Penn & Teller.

Review ~ Sundance

This book was provided to me by Penguin Random House via First to Read in exchange for an honest review.

Sundance by David Fuller

Cover via Goodreads

Legend has it that bank robber Harry Longbaugh and his partner Robert Parker were killed in a shootout in Bolivia. That was the supposed end of the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy.

Sundance tells a different story. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Longbaugh is very much alive, though serving in a Wyoming prison under an alias.

When he is released in 1913, Longbaugh reenters a changed world. Horses are being replaced by automobiles. Gas lamps are giving way to electric lights. Workers fight for safety, and women for the vote. What hasn’t changed are Longbaugh’s ingenuity, his deadly aim, and his love for his wife, Etta Place.

It’s been two years since Etta stopped visiting him, and, determined to find her, Longbaugh follows her trail to New York City. Confounded by the city’s immensity, energy, chaos, and crowds, he learns that his wife was very different from the woman he thought he knew. Longbaugh finds himself in a tense game of cat and mouse, racing against time before the legend of the Sundance Kid catches up to destroy him.

By turns suspenseful, rollicking, and poignant, Sundance is the story of a man dogged by his own past, seeking his true place in this new world. (via Goodreads)

I am a sucker for fish-out-of-water stories and gray heroes.

With the use of a plausible stretch of history–identity in the “old West” is as mailable as inconsistency of records kept–David Fuller doesn’t need a time machine to produce a man out of time. When Harry Longbaugh is released from prison, he finds a world that could be called science fiction, if Longbaugh knew enough to use the term. New York is a city of lights, skyscrapers and automobiles. Trains run on rails above the ground and below it. Even guns have changed. Yet, into this world of the future, Longbaugh’s reputation is never far behind him. While officially it was Harry Alanzo that did time in Wyoming, figures from Longbaugh’s past are waiting for him. Including his wife Etta.

I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of the dusty West with the urban east. Fuller does a good job of distilling down the crazy amount of change that occurred in the early 20th century. I was also impressed with where this novel went, plot-wise. There’s a lot going on in New York in the early 1910s and Longbaugh finds himself wrapped up in the politics of unionization and organized crime, issues I wasn’t expecting from a book that starts in a train-stop town in Big Sky country. An unfortunate consequence of an ambitious plot is that it becomes hard to manage. The ending of Sundance relies on some serendipity of events that is too good to be true and a little rushed.

The most surprising aspect of Sundance is that it’s quite romantic and quite middle-aged. Harry Longbaugh in 1913 is in his mid-40s. He’s taking stock of his life and realizing that what’s been important, in good ways and bad, have been the people in his life. He mourns the presumed death of his friend Robert Parker, aka Butch Cassidy, and shows great fidelity to his wife Etta. Longbaugh is a sympathetic character though he still feels a great excitement toward lawlessness, despite where it’s taken him.

Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication date: May 29th 2014
Genre: Historical fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Fish out of water, touch of Western/touch of Romance


Hosted by Historical Tapestry

Review ~ Deadlock

This book was provided to me by DarkFuse via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Deadlock by Tim Curran

Cover via Goodreads

Charlie Petty is a man known for having ice water in this veins. He never backs down and is never shaken but unfortunately stirred up into the wrong crowd. As a degenerate gambler, his luck has run out and his debt has now come due.

Charlie is offered a chance to clear his tab: simply stay alone on a ship overnight to prove to its owner and potential crew that it’s not cursed nor haunted. Never mind the ship’s history of suicide, violence, mutiny and murder. Or how the ship’s past crews have gone missing or insane. The fact that no one has set foot on deck in darkness for years doesn’t phase Charlie one bit. It sounds like easy money to bust up a superstition or two.

Charlie thinks his luck is returning. Little does he know it’s about to run out completely. (via Goodreads)

I’d been meaning to sample more of DarkFuse’s offerings and horror-at-sea is a subgenre that I think should get more attention. Deadlock is actually horror-docked, but it’s still a nice twist on a haunted house story.

Charlie Petty is presented with the ubiquitous deal: stay one whole night on the ship, get your $50K debt forgiven. Petty even jokes to himself that he thinks he saw a Vincent Price movie like that once. And similarly to The House on Haunted Hill, the deal-maker’s philandering wife is involved as well, though given a much more peripheral role. That’s where the similarities to the William Castle picture end. Deadlock serves up a visceral haunting that drives poor Charlie a little mad and then consumes him whole.

Curran does gross-out pretty well, but some of the story’s repetition, that was probably meant to be tension building, misses the mark. Much is made of Charlie’s tough guy reputation, but honestly, I didn’t buy it. The reader isn’t given much evidence of it outside of Charlie and Arturo saying it’s so. The story has a pretty long wind-up, so it might have been good to see Charlie deal with something real before facing him off against the supernatural. The horrors of this story rely on the eldritch fear men seem to have in regards to the female body, an interesting change-up to a woman-in-peril story. It’s a decent read for a spare hour.

Publisher: DarkFuse
Publication date: May 27th 2014
Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? horror-at-sea from DarkFuse

Photobucket