Category Archives: Nonfiction

Reading Notes, 5/19/22

Cover: Sundial by Catriona Ward
Cover: Come Closer by Sara Gran
Cover: In Cold Blood

Read

Sundial by Catriona Ward

This was Ladies of Horror Fiction’s May book selection. I almost gave up on this book because its first 10% is pretty much all domestic drama, mostly Rob and her awful husband fighting. Luckily, Ward started weaving in some creepy threads kept me reading. Ultimately, Sundial goes in a science fiction direction that I’m not too sure about. That, mixed with a melodramatic aspect that wouldn’t be out of place on a CW show, makes for a somewhat entertaining read, but I really would have been happier with just the creepiness.

Come Clean by Sara Gran

Heard about Come Clean book from a Tor post on possession in books. One of the things that freaked my out about The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty when I first read it was that the possession of Regan starts with noises in the attic that no one pays attention to. I don’t know if that’s a general “you’ve got demons” trope, but it’s the jumping off point for Come Clean. Oddly, I felt the first person perspective of Amanda took away from the horror of her becoming possessed. While she’s helpless to stop it, she also isn’t really part of bad things happening during to blackouts. I did like the background that Gran brings to the demon Naamah: that Adam rejected his second wife because he saw what was inside her. You can read that literally or figuratively.

Deal Me In, Week 19

Q♠️, “Wake Up, I Miss You” by Rachel Swirsky – From Into the Night’s archives, but not strongly horror in my opinion. Very dream-like because it is full of dreaming. Not quite sure what the Queen of Teeth is meant to be.

Reading

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker

Reading Notes, 5/12/22

Read

Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter by Janet Campbell Hale

In the fall of 1995, as junior in college, I took a Native American literature course. Since it counted for the college of arts and sciences’ cultural minority requisite, many of the students were there because they had to be. I was there because I had to be too, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to do the work. Plus, it wasn’t uninteresting. I took an introductory anthropology class and a course called “Stories and the Human Experience” that semester too and they all meshed together nicely. At the end of the semester my instructor gifted me with Janet Campbell Hale’s Bloodlines.

At the beginning of Bloodlines, Janet Campbell Hale warns that autobiography isn’t always entirely true. Some stories are better if they aren’t entirely true. Yet, I have little reason to suspect that Hale isn’t telling the truth. Her narratives move from the history of the Coeur d’Alene and Kootenay peoples to her own fragmented childhood, spent traveling with her mother. Her writing is clear and unadorned, but still lyrical.

I learn from Wikipedia that Hale died just last year of complications due to COVID-19. According to LinkedIn, my professor moved on to non-teaching pastures, establishing a company that combines archaeology and law to help deal with cultural property issues in the Great Plains.

Deal Me In, Week 18

18♦️ “The Tyger” by Tegan Moore – As I kid, I very much enjoyed museums. That might have been because a trip to Lincoln to visit Morrill Hall was a treat. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the museum more when I was a student at UNL. So, I understand Jules a little. This is a gentle fantasy and, for once, I didn’t mind the kid narrator.

Reading

As I mentioned, it’s Bout of Books this week. My reading has been pretty slow though, so far.

  • Sundial by Catriona Ward – This seems to be going well for me, but the beginning had me worried.
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker – In bite-sized pieces.

Reading Notes, 12/27/21

Finished Reading

Cover David Copperfield's History of Magic

David Copperfield’s History of Magic by David Copperfield, Richard Wiseman, David Britland & Homer Liwag (photographer)

Magician David Copperfield has been putting together a private museum of magic history for years now. This big, beautiful coffee table book highlights certain pieces in his collections in order to tell a short history of stage magic, from Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin’s mystery clocks through Copperfield’s own Death Saw illusion. Each chapter is only a half dozen pages long; these are biographical sketches, not anything too in-depth. If you’re newly interested in magic, this is a great primer, but don’t expect any techniques to be outlined. (Or, if you’re interested in magic history, but don’t want the secrets spoiled, worry not: this book is mostly spoiler free.) The true value for someone who already knows some of the history is in the photography. Seeing some of these items, like one of Adelaide Herrmann’s dresses, in full color is really great. It’s easy to think of history in black and white or sepia tones. Or, with magic, in the garish colors of posters. The true colors of things make them ever more real.

Wrapped deck of cards in front of some holiday decorations.

In related news, I won a pack of cards related to the book. I will be using them as my Deal Me In deck for 2022.

Currently Reading

Me: “I’m going to finish the two books I have in progress and start new ones on Jan. 1st.”
Also Me: *starts reading several more books*

Book ~ The Devil In Dover

The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America by Lauri Lebo

This was an impulse read. I suppose it might be odd that I chose to read about a evolution/intelligent design court case on impulse, but that’s how it goes sometimes. The book was mentioned in passing during an interview I watched with actor John de Lancie (“Q” on Star Trek: The Next Generation). De Lancie is a secular activist and has been working on a play based on the trial.

The trial is Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. Basically, in the early 2000s, some members of the Dover Area School Board sought to add creationism (later, intelligent design) to the local public school’s science curriculum while downplaying the validity of evolution. Some parents of students had a problem with this, seeing it as a violation of division of church and state. The teaching of creationism in public schools had already been ruled against: creationism is seen to be a religion-based concept that furthers only a specific religion. The crux of Kitzmiller v. Dover came down to whether intelligent design is an actual scientific theory not based in any religious (Christian) faith and whether the proposed addition constituted as “teaching.” The judge ruled for the parents in a 139 page decision.

Lauri Lebo is a Pennsylvania native and was a local reporter during trial. The Devil in Dover is about the trial and the events leading up to it, but also focuses on relationships between people on both sides of the issue, her own relationship with her fundamentalist Christian father, and her shift away from religion. Many of the people involved in the case were neighbors and most were Christians, though not necessarily of the same denomination. There was also libel and potential perjury on the part of the defendants, which is not a good look for people who claim to be interested in the souls of others.

The Devil in Dover was published in 2009, but there are aspects of it that still seem very relevant. Lebo states near the beginning of the book that she believes 9/11 changed the US in a bad way. That it made it easy to embrace an “us against them” attitude where “they” are evil even when they are your literal or figurative neighbors. I’m not sure I entirely buy the notion that the change occurred particularly after 9/11, but it’s baffling to me how much division there has been when we really needed to be united.

Danse Macabre Around the Sundial Tonight

A couple reviews of books I finished a last weekend during Readathon:

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

Back in the late 70s, after Stephen King had become the go-to horror guy, he was approached to write a book about the phenomena of horror: why some people like it, why some writers write it, and why horror works. King decided, judiciously, to focus the field and write about horror between 1950 and 1980, both written and on film.

I first read this book back in college. At the time, I hadn’t read or watched much horror at all. Much of what King discusses was not really in my realm of knowledge (though weirdly, reading about horror media has always been almost as fun for me as consuming it). This book was, in fact what turned me on to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Anne Rivers Siddon’s The House Next Door, both of which I happily found in UNL’s library. It was definitely interesting to revisit Danse Macabre now that I’ve read and watched more of the titles mentioned.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Speaking of Shirley Jackson . . . A second reread for me this month. This isn’t decreasing my “# of owned and unread books”.

I have in the past confused this book with We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Not hard to do, I feel. Both involve a very insular group of people living in big old house. The difference: Merricat (from Castle) knows the world isn’t ending because she’s not lucky enough for all the people she hates to be so quickly wiped out.

This book is wild. As I mentioned the first time I read it (in 2006), I’m pretty sure there’s a satirical element, but, other than pointing out the lunacy that can come from classism, I’m not sure I’m neurotypical enough to puzzle it all out. It is a very funny book with moments of WTF and a dollop of terror when Julia tries to break for town.

Review ~ Never Say You Can’t Survive

This book was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories by Charlie Jane Anders

I was a few years out of college and working on my first novel when 9/11 happened. I wondered whether my silly ghost story mattered in such a world. Most artists feel like this at some point because the world is always on fire. That’s not to say that the last 18 months haven’t been…special.

Charlie Jane Anders argues in Never Say You Can’t Survive that writing (or making any art) isn’t just essential because it adds value to the world, but can be the thing that keeps a writer sane. Artists, and writers especially, are in the position to create their own worlds around them, not only as a form of escapism, but to present better worlds. It’s a form of hope and activism, even if those things are translated onto a worlds of space ships, dragons, or zombies.

I was surprised at how much of this book was nuts and bolts writing advice. As with any advice, your mileage will very. I had quite a few moments of “oh, I guess that’s a way to do it” which is never a bad thing. Many of the chapters started as blog post at tor.com and much of the language is contemporary and colloquial. Anders obviously loves writing and that comes through in these essays. If anything, reading what someone has to say about something they love is always a pleasure for me.

Reading Notes, 8/2/21

Finished Reading

Cover: All Systems Red by Martha Well

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

I’ll be honest, I was looking for a short science fiction book for #TrekAThon and I’d heard a bit about the Martha Wells “Murderbot Diaries.” All Systems Red was fine. A first person narrative, our main character is the self-dubbed Murderbot, a sentient security droid who hacked his governance programing. Murderbot is taciturn, sarcastic, cynical, and a bit lazy when it can be. Kind of like grumpy teenager. Murderbot has a past, which we don’t find too much about, and the story has a mystery, which isn’t entirely solved. This is the first in a series of novellas, after all. I’m not inclined to read the rest because “Murderbot Diaries” isn’t really my thing. I find I’m pretty picky about science fiction.

Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay

From 1994–2000, magician Ricky Jay published a quarterly pamphlet entitled Jay’s Journal of Anomalies. This is a soft bound collection of the 16 issues, lovely typeset and lushly illustrated. Subjects include intelligent dog acts, flea circuses, ceiling walkers, the Mechanical Turk, and the odd association between dentists and traveling entertainments. Magic adjacent subjects. Jay is more interested in the history of such things instead of the debunking of them. The illustrations of broadside, advertisements, and poster are from his own collections.

Summer Challenges Check-In

#TrekAThon

#TrekAThon wrapped up on Saturday. I managed to save six crew members! Hey, I’m terrible at prompt-based readathons, so this is totally a win for me.

  1. Commander Scott: Zhiguai: Chinese True Tales of the Paranormal and Glitches in the Matrix, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu & John Yu Branscum
  2. Nurse Chapel: The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho
  3. Captain Kirk: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  4. Yeoman Rand: Jay’s Journal of Anomalies by Ricky Jay
  5. Commander Spock: All Systems Red by Martha Wells
  6. Lieutenant Uhura: All Systems Red by Martha Wells

20 Books of Summer

My goal for 20 Books of Summer was ten books. And with a month left, I’ve read…ten books! I don’t really have plans to expand my goal to 15 books. I have two books in-progress that would count (started after June 1st), but I also have The Mysteries of Udolpho, planned for August which is 18th century and long. But, Reverse Readathon and Bout of Books are both coming up; I won’t say “impossible” and I’ll continue to keep count.