Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “Light And Space”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Light and Space” by Ned Beauman

Card picked: J
Found at: The Guardian

Shortly after midnight on Christmas morning, a night watchman discovered me standing by Feretory with a fire axe held over my head. I am, or was, a senior member of MoMA’s curatorial staff, with a special interest in the Light and Space movement of the 1960s, and so naturally I’ve been called upon to give an account of why I should wish to destroy such an important work. My only reply is that in fact I wanted nothing less than to destroy it. Even after all that’s happened, I still recognise Feretory as a masterpiece. Destroying it would have been no more than an unavoidable consequence of what I really hoped to achieve with the axe that night.

The Story
This is one a several “Christmas” ghost stories that The Guardian ran in 2013. I bookmarked them probably in 2018, so I haven’t been sitting on them for *that* long. But it’s always fun to see where seasonal stories end up when you’re picking randomly.

Conroy Glasser is a 1960s “light and space” movement artist who worked in blocks of resin. His masterpiece, Feretory, is an impossibly seamless pillar of translucent plastic. What makes this sculpture even more mysterious is that the formula for the resin was proprietary, cooked up by Glasser and “a sympathetic polymer salesman from Hudson Plastic.” And also that Glasser’s wife disappeared around the time the sculpture was poured. And that Glasser committed suicide a few months later. And that in 1989 a curator of his works ended up in an mental institution after one of his assistants turned up dead. And that a collector of Glasser’s works from the same period as Feretory also committed suicide. The curator we meet in the quote above was also planning a new showing of Glassers, until he begins to suspect there are dark truths behind Glasser’s works.

In the real world there is no way that there wouldn’t be a thousand podcasts and YouTube videos about the (obvious) curse of Conroy Glasser and his art…

Conroy Glasser is fictitious, but the  Light and Space art moment is a real thing, involving minimal and abstract works that focused on the interplay of light, objects, and color. (That’s probably wildly inaccurate. I know very little about art.) Do an image Google search on Light and Space. You won’t be disappointed.

Also, a feretory is:

1. A receptacle to hold the relics of saints; a reliquary.
2. An area of a church in which reliquaries are kept.

The Author
Ned Beauman is a new author to me. He’s a British novelist, journalist, and critic. I enjoyed this story and I am tantalized by his novel The Teleportation Accident, “a hilarious sci-fi noir about sex, Satan, and teleportation devices.”

Pick a Card, Any Card

I’m not entirely sure if Light and Space can be accurately produced in two dimensions, but the back of these horizon playing cards might come close.

Horizon Playing Cards at Kardify
And at Kickstarter

{Book} Minor Mage

Minor Mage

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

Oliver was a very minor mage. His familiar reminded him of this several times a day.

He only knew three spells, and one of them was to control his allergy to armadillo dander. His attempts to summon elementals resulted in nosebleeds, and there is nothing more embarrassing than having your elemental leave the circle to get you a tissue, pat you comfortingly, and then disappear in a puff of magic. The armadillo had about wet himself laughing.

He was a very minor mage.

Unfortunately, he was all they had. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
T. Kingfisher (aka. Ursula Vernon) writes the type of light, funny fantasy that I enjoy, and that I’d like to write.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Minor Mage has a pretty simple plot. Oliver is a twelve year-old mage’s apprentice, whose master has died before teaching him much. Unfortunately, his village needs him to journey to find the Cloudherders and bring back rain to break a drought. That’s it. The story is his journey through a haunted forest filled with bandits. And who are the Cloudherders anyway? How will he manage when he only knows three spells and has a young armadillo as a familiar? It’s the limitations that make the plot good.

As I noted back in my Sunday Salon post, I started the year reading Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones. I put it down at the 20% mark because the plot was moving very slowly and, honestly, the creepy happenings weren’t enough to really hook me into the plot. There is probably a lot more going on plot-wise in The Twisted Ones, but it was taking sooo looong to get going.

Characters
T. Kingfisher’s strength is her characters. Oliver is admirable. He’s loyal to his community, but unsure of his own abilities and their motives for sending him off on his own. (He was going to go anyway!) He wants to be a more major mage, but his youth causes him to reach before becoming an expert at what he already knows. His familiar is an armadillo; only slightly wiser than Oliver and much more snarky. Their additional companion is a very peculiar minstrel who is always in trouble.

Setting
The setting isn’t too much different from generic medieval Europe. There’s a small village. There’s a haunted forest. Kingfisher does spice it up with quite a few plant details. There story does have some gore and some other creepy things which, if this were a movie, would probably put it in the PG-13 range despite the young main character.

Overall
Just the sort of fun, slightly absurd fantasy I was wanting. Great first full read of the year!

Original Publishing info: Red Wombat Studio, 2019
My Copy: OverDrive Read, Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: fantasy

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “What Tune the Enchantress Plays”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“What Tune the Enchantress Plays” by Peter S. Beagle

Card picked: 5
Found in: Sleight of Hand, Tachyon Publications, 2011

Ah, there you are. I was beginning to wonder.

No, no. Come in, do—it’s your lair, after all. Tidy, too, for a demon. I’d do something about those bones, myself, and whatever that is, over in the corner, that smelly wet thing. But each to his taste, I say; you probably wouldn’t think too much of my notions of décor, either. God knows, my mother doesn’t.

The Story
In the introduction to this story Peter S. Beagle admits that it is the voice of a character that comes easiest to him. As you can see from the beginning few sentences above, this story has a great deal of voice.

Our speaker is Breya, an enchantress of some power. She is from Kalagria where many of the women are witches, sorcerers, or enchantresses. Never the men, though. The men of Kalagria are carriers of magic. Furthermore, if a majkes of Kalagria marries an outsider, their daughters will not have any knack with magic. So, the story that Breya tells this demon before she sings him into oblivion at moonset is an unfortunate one: Breya’s true love was an outsider.

I didn’t remember this story from the first time I read back in 2011-ish. A different author five years later might have used this set up to tell a tale of gender reversal or maybe at least gender role reversal, but that’s not quite Beagle. Lathro, Breya’s love, goes off to become the man he thinks he needs to be. Breya goes after him under the advisement of her mother, who is bent on making Breya into the woman she needs to be.

The Author
Peter S. Beagle is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, but he has a fairly large body of work. “What Tune the Enchantress Plays” is set in the same magical world as his novel The Innkeeper’s Song.

Pick a Card, Any Card

Music plays a role in this story and many of Beagle’s works. Vivaldi Playing Cards evoke some of that beauty and grace.

Vivaldi Kickstarter
And at Kardify

{Books} Two from True Crime

Alligator Candy Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession

 

Why Did I Choose These Books?
I chose both of these books due to my continuing investigation into true crime as a genre. Savage Appetites was recommended to be by multiple people because it is very much what I want to learn about: why do we “like” true crime. Alligator Candy was a book I chose through Goodreads’ “Readers Also Enjoyed.”

Alligator Candy: A Memoir by David Kushner

Every life has a defining moment, a single act that charts the course we take and determines who we become. For Kushner, it was Jon’s disappearance—a tragedy that shocked his family and the community at large. Decades later, now a grown man with kids of his own, Kushner found himself unsatisfied with his own memories and decided to revisit the episode a different way: through the eyes of a reporter. His investigation brought him back to the places and people he once knew and slowly made him realize just how much his past had affected his present. After sifting through hundreds of documents and reports, conducting dozens of interviews, and poring over numerous firsthand accounts, he has produced a powerful and inspiring story of loss, perseverance, and memory. Alligator Candy is searing and unforgettable. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
When David Kushner was four years old, his older brother went missing and was later found dead. Obviously, being so young at the time, his memories surrounding the events are very hazy and muddled. For example, did his brother go off on his bike to the store just to get David some Snappy Gator candy? And that’s what really intrigued me about this particular story. Kushner grows up in the shadow of his brother, but gradually realizes how unreliable memory is. The memoir is about family and personal survival and how he came to find some truths about the event.

I listened to Alligator Candy as an audio book narrated by the actor Bronson Pinchot. As I keep saying about these true crime books, this was a hard “read.” Pinchot does a wonderful job reading it.

Original Publishing info: Simon & Schuster 2016
My Copy: Audio, hoopla Digital Library
Genre: memoir

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

A provocative and original investigation of our cultural fascination with crime, linking four archetypes—Detective, Victim, Defender, Killer—to four true stories about women driven by obsession.

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a frustrated heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own. (via Goodreads)

What Did I Think?
I hadn’t realized just how much the audience for true crime skewed toward female. I knew that it did, but when Rachel Monroe writes about the true crime convention that she attends, I didn’t expect that the vast majority of attendees would be women. Monroe writes about four case studies which illustrate what she finds to be archetypes of true crime fans: the detective, the defender, the victim, and the killer.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Monroe’s theory that women especially are true crime fans because we slot into these types. It doesn’t quite feel right to me and, as Rennie from What’s Nonfiction, pointed out, it might be because these case studies are pretty  extreme. Monroe also floats the idea that because women taught at a young age to be wary and alert, true crime is sort of further training: maybe if we empathize alternately with the detectives, defenders, victims and killers, we can be better prepared for bad situations. Ironically, though true crime probably has never been more popular, violent crime rates are generally down.

My favorite of these four women profiled (which probably exposes my true crime archetype) was Francis Glessner Lee—the detective. Lee, an heiress, spent her later years creating miniature crime scenes to be used as a teaching tool. She also championed the cause of scientific investigation of crimes and is considered the mother of forensic science.

Original Publishing info: Scribner 2019
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library

{Book} War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks

War for the Oaks by Emma Bull

Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But she’s breaking up with her boyfriend, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk. Now, more than her own survival is at risk—and her own preferences, musical and personal, are very much beside the point.

By turns tough and lyrical, fabulous and down-to-earth, War for the Oaks is a fantasy novel that’s as much about this world as about the other one. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
This is a re-read. I first read it in 2011-ish. I wanted to read it again because I’ve been in a “light” fantasy, or maybe even urban fantasy, kind of mood.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
Machinations of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. There is something about faeries that make my eyes glaze over. In this book, in Paul Kidd’s otherwise excellent Greyhawk trilogy; there’s just something I’m missing in the subtleties of deception, I guess. So, I’m not super thrilled with the faeries bits of plot in War for the Oaks. Luckily, it’s all pretty murky to Eddi too. When the plot is boiled down to action-reaction, I’m totally okay with that.

Characters
Eddi is a good character. She’s unsure of herself, even after willingly stepping deeper and deeper into fae politics. While she’s maybe sort of fairy-touched, she’s often wrong, which is sort of refreshing. I like the moments of Eddi looking into the bathroom mirror and pulling herself together. It’s…relatable.

The phouka may be one of my favorite characters in literature. While I’m not a fan of Fairy Court stories, I have a weakness for eloquent, smart aleck fairies. The other characters—the band members—are also just good eggs. Carla, especially, is the best friend you’d want to have by your side.

Setting
One of the things I love about this book is it Minneapolis setting. Emma Bull knows Minneapolis and it shows. Places are almost important to this book as music, which is also part of the setting. Eddi and Fey are a rock and roll band, after all. (I hadn’t searched on Spotify while I was reading, but a War for the Oaks playlist exists.) During my first read of this book, I was annoyed by the fashion details that are included, but this time those details might have been one of my favorite things. What characters are wearing really evoked the late 1980s.

Overall
I liked War for the Oaks more on second read, and I enjoyed it quite a bit the first time! Half of me would really like to see it on the screen, either as a movie or TV series. The other half knows that, with all the music and performances involved, it would be so hard to do well. I feel like this book isn’t read much anymore, being 30-odd years-old. I definitely recommend it.

Original Publishing info: Ace, 1987
My Copy: mass market paperback, acquired via Book Mooch
Genre: urban fantasy

{Book} Well Met

Well Met (Well Met, #1)

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only ever supposed to be a pit stop on the way to somewhere else for Emily, but soon she can’t seem to shake the fantasy of establishing something more with Simon, or a permanent home of her own in Willow Creek. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Choose This Book?
Sometimes I need a little frivolous romance in my reading life. I’d also like to add some romantic B-plots to my own writing, but I’m not super familiar with romance genres. Kazen at Always Doing reviewed Well Met a while back and it sounded like a fun story that I would enjoy.

Programming Note
I’ve noticed that, especially in prose fiction but also in non-fiction and TV/movies, there are three basic things that keep me interested: plot, characters, and setting. A story doesn’t need all of these, but it can’t utterly fail in one of them either. I’ve decided I want to think about these three aspects in my “reviews.”

Plot
I’ve watched my share of rom-coms, but I’m a newb when it comes to reading the genre. Therefore, I was actually intrigued about where the plot was going. At about 70% it seemed that our characters were into happily-ever-after land, so I started wondering who was going to screw things up and how. Thankfully, the turn of events wasn’t too out there, but it wasn’t entirely obvious either.

Characters
All in all, the characters weren’t anything special, but they were all likable enough (even Simon when he’s being a bit of ass). More importantly, all the characters were separate people. Occasionally, I thought Emily was a little dense about things, but maybe that can be forgiven due to her pre-book breakup.

Setting
I liked the ren faire setting, but I was a little confused about how small of a town Willow Creek is. On one hand, everyone seems to know everyone’s business. On the other, the town is big enough for physical therapists, an indie bookstore, and enough people to support a renaissance faire. I can see that maybe Willow Creek is on the edge of a metro area, but does that lend itself to that small-town-ish-ness? It’s not a big deal, but the setting didn’t feel as real to me as I would have liked.

Overall
This was fun. It was a light read with enjoyable enough characters and a pleasant romance. It seems to be the first in a series. Not sure what more story there is, so I probably won’t read the next one.

Original Publishing info: Penguin Publishing Group, 2019
My Copy: Tempe Public Library
Genre: rom-com

{Book} Columbine

Columbine

Columbine by Dave Cullen

EXPANDED WITH A NEW EPILOGUE “The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . ” So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year. What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors. (via Goodreads)

Why Did I Read This Book?
Columbine was probably the most recommended book I saw during this year’s Nonfiction November. I was in the market for true crime, though not necessarily this flavor of crime. Regardless, I saw the opportunity to check it out from the library and took it.

What Did I Think?
The Columbine High School shootings happened at a time when I had stopped watching TV for the most part (I had no cable and OTA in Lincoln, NE was sketchy) and I hadn’t become a regular consumer of online news—there was relatively little of anything to be had online in 1999. I knew the shootings had happened and that they were at the time the most fatal such incident, but honestly after it had left the immediate news cycle, I never followed up. I knew what happened right?

Well, honestly, even in the moment I was skeptical of some of the media’s conclusions. Music and video games weren’t the cause. The rest seemed plausible enough, though, didn’t it? Two outcasts had had enough and plotted their revenge.  But that wasn’t what happened. That was a narrative the media latched on to based on not-very-good early information. It was easy and it made sense in the moment. Law enforcement didn’t do much to counter that narrative. They had their own problems. Alas, the story is more complex and nuanced, as reality often is.

I am rather awed by the amount of compassion that Dave Cullen has in his writing for everyone, including the shooters and their families. There are many things that are still unknown and will never be known, but Cullen doesn’t luridly speculate. It would be easy to do so.

I’ve been thinking about why anyone should read a book like Columbine. Perhaps, yes, knowing the minds of these killers might be valuable, even to the general populous. The stories of the victims’ families and the triumphs of the injured are by turns tragic and inspiring. More broadly though, I hope that Columbine serves as a reminder that, as uncomfortable as it might be, nothing is ever as simple as one might think. That is a valuable thing to keep in mind.

Original Publishing info: Grand Central Publishing, 2009
My Copy: Overdrive, Tempe Public Library
Genre: nonfiction, true crime