Monthly Archives: July 2021

Reading Notes, 7/5/21

Finished Reading

A Thin Ghost and Others cover.

A Thin Ghost and Others by M.R. James

I’m very susceptible to peer (non)pressure. Or maybe it was a case of FOMO. But, anyway, Dale at Mirror with Clouds is reading through a collection of James’ tales and I was moved to read a few as well. I was going to read Journey to the Center of the Earth for my June Classics Club book, but Verne will have to wait.

I’ve said this before, probably differently, but M. R. James gets undervalued as a writer of weird literature. He gets the designation “teller of traditional English ghost stories,” but maybe I don’t understand either category. Are traditional English ghost stories full of bugs (often very large ones) and strange hairy things that are spawned from an apparently cursed wallpaper print? Sure, James has the nested narrators—someone relating a tale told to him by a friend who read the creepy historical documents—of a Christmas ghost story. Often, at least in the case of these five stories, the terrible thing has happened in the less enlightened 1700s, but make no mistake, James traffics in the uncanny.

Reading Challenge Check-In

Here we are at the halfway mark of 2021. Time for a good check-in!

Summer Challenges

10 Books of Summer graphic.

20 Books of Summer

Actually, my goal was to read 10 books between June 1st and Sept 1st, but I’ve already finished six! They’ve all been on the short side, but I’m still considering changing the goal to 15 books. Only two of the six were from my original TRB. ✅

#TrekAThon prompt graphic.

#Trekathon

#Trekathon just started July 1st. I’ve finished one prompt: read a book either set somewhere you’ve never been. A good start.

Next, I’m listening to the event group-read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, though I’ll probably switch over to reading it when my hands get tired of crocheting.

I’m feeling pretty optimistic about this readathon! 😎

Year-Long Challenges

Classic Club graphic.

The Classics Club

Goal: 10 Books by 12/14/21
Progress: 6/10

✅ I’m on track! For the second part of the year, I plan on reading a couple of longer works. I might go for a chapter-a-day strategy after I finish the Dune books.

Bookshelf picture.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#ShelfLove / Shelf Maintenance

Goal: Abstain from acquiring books; read at least 21 books from my shelves.
Progress: I’ve acquired 12 titles (including five ARCs and a preorder), 5/21+

❌ I’ve moved on to cataloging my Kindle books on LibraryThing, which is kind of a pain. I’m through titles A–F. I’ve deleted quite a few ebooks that I downloaded for free that, frankly, I’m never going to read. As is, I’m at 453 unread of 862 titles.

I Read Horror Year-Round

Goal: Read 6 books from 6 categories.
Progress: 3/6

✅ Still on-track, more or less. So far I’ve read:

  • A body of water (featured in story, on cover, or in title): The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
  • Written by a woman: Into Bones like Oil by Kaaron Warren
  • Ghosts or spirits: A Thin Ghost and Others by M. R. James

Dune Read-through

Goal: Read Herbert’s 6 Dune books by October.
Progress: I managed to finish God Emperor of Dune, which is generally considered a stumbling block. I’ll admit, though, Heretics of Dune isn’t clicking with me. ✅

Nonfiction

Goal: Read at least 30% nonfiction.
Progress: Currently, at 36%. No nonfiction planned in July though. Or August. I’m not worried. I’m sure something will come up. ✅

Short Stories

Goal: Deal Me In each week and Cather Reading Project each month.
Progress: I dropped the Cather Reading Project, mostly because I felt like I wasn’t adding much to the discussions. Still reading my Deal Me In Stories, but haven’t been posting about them. 😬

Cinema Saturday, 7/3

The Haunting in Connecticut

Year: 2009
Runtime: 1h 32m
Rated: PG-13

Director: Peter Cornwell

Writers: Adam Simon, Tim Metcalfe

Stars: Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, Elias Koteas

Initial: Why was this movie even on my random TBW list? Was it Virginia Madsen? Was it the séances? It was probably the séances.

Production Notes: The true story on which The Haunting in Connecticut is “based” is connected to Ed and Lorraine Warren. One imagines that if this movie had been made 4–5 years later it would be part of The Conjuring-verse.

What Did I Think:
Some movies are a slog to get through. I watched this one over the course of three dinners, about a half hour at a time. If you’ve never seen a horror movie, The Haunting in Connecticut might be clever and effective. But probably still slightly confusing because some of the choices characters make no kind of sense. Do you really decide to move into a house with an entire half of the basement behind a stuck door? Does any kid really decide to hide in the rusty dumbwaiter? Plus, there is just too much: necromancers and spiritualists, hallucination inducing medical treatments and a semi-estranged alcoholic father who decides that breaking every light bulb in the house is appropriate punishment for leaving the lights on. Verily, I have gained more appreciation for the focus and efficiency of Poltergeist (1982).


Aliens

Year: 1986
Runtime: 2h17min
Rated: R

Director: James Cameron

Writers: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen

Initial: Sometimes you just have to rewatch a favorite.

Production Notes: It’s only been nine months since I last watched this movie. I had thought that I’d mentioned it at the time, but it was in the middle of my September horror movie A to Z.

What Did I Think:
James Cameron does two things well in Aliens.

One, he presents a really good sequel. He starts off with enough nods to Ridley Scott’s original before pivoting the whole story into a different genre. This takes time and Cameron takes the time.

Second, he’s good at information management. In action movies, it’s actually really important to know where characters are going and why they are going there. The audience should have some expectation of what’s supposed to be happening so that when things go wrong, we understand the gravity of the situation. The characters in Aliens spend a lot of time looking at maps and explaining to each other what’s going on. Cameron and his co-writers make those explanations work because the characters are either part of a command structure where information is passed down the chain or the characters are trouble-shooting. “Can we do this thing?” “No, we’ll become alien fodder.” “What about this?” “Sure, be we’ll have to go there.” These exchanges take time too, but the movie never lags.

I haven’t seen The Abyss or True Lies in a while, but this might be my favorite James Cameron movie.

Reading Notes, 7/1/21

Finished Reading

The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science by John Tresch

One of my favorite things about mid-19th/early 20th century fiction is the inclusion, even in works of “literary” fiction, of lots of science. Or rather, natural philosophy, as it was referred to during the period. Poe was no exception, but I hadn’t considered just how science-leaning much of his personal philosophy was. I’d read Peter Ackroyd’s Poe: A Life Cut Short back in 2019 when I was reading through my “unabridged” Poe collection, but Ackroyd’s book is a very basic telling of Poe’s life. The Reason for the Darkness is a biography specifically looking at Poe’s education (at UVA and West Point in mathematics and engineering) and other connections to the burgeoning science community in the United States.

Throughout his writing Poe was striving to find the system behind what makes a good and affecting piece of poetry or fiction. This wasn’t any different to him than trying to discern a system of the universe—which he had his own thoughts on. My “unabridged” collection doesn’t include Poe’s version of a grand unified theory: “Eureka” which is subtitled “An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe.” In the way of an imaginative 19th-century man-of-science, some of Poe’s ideas in “Eureka” seem to foretell later theories in astrophysics and quantum physics. “Eureka” was presented and published the year before his death, to generally unfavorable reviews from both the literary and scientific communities. Poe seemed to consider it his master work, though perhaps he always considered his last work his master work.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Reason for the Darkness of the Night, bot as a Poe biography and as a history of science in the United States.

Book #4 for 20 Books of Summer!

Currently Reading

#Trekathon kicks off today! I’m starting out with Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum (Translators and Editors). This will fulfill my “a book either set somewhere you’ve never been” prompt and beam up Scotty. Still reading a chapter-a-day of Heretics of Dune by Frank Herbert and Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury.