And the other…

While reading Rebecca Rosenblum‘s run-down of the books she read last year, I realized I hadn’t mentioned what my favorites of 2009 were. Honestly, it was a pretty low year as far as reading materials were concerned. Kij Johnson’s "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss" was definitely the high point, along with Peter S. Beagle’s We Never Talk About My Brother and No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. And that’s about it.

2010 is off to a better start…

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Book #1 – Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

In Thunderstruck, Erik Larson takes a moment in time, the apprehension of murderer Hawley Crippen in 1910, and expends on it, telling the histories of Crippen as well the  men involved in the development of the wireless telegraph that was instrumental in Crippen’s capture. What you end up with is two stories, told in counter point — the personal life of Crippen, and Guglielmo Marconi’s obsession with sending a trans-Atlantic wireless signal. Both narratives are backed up with an enormous amount of research. Indeed, anything "said" in the novel is a quote from a primary source. As far as historical fiction goes, the emphasis is firmly on historical and therefore the stories are told more than shown (in writerly parlance). And it works for the most part. History is most interesting when it’s placed into context. Larson adds enough touches and fourth-wall winks to the audience to keep the book from being a textbook. Strangely, for the first half of the book I found Marconi’s tale to be the more compelling, and in the second half, Crippen’s.

Tyler loaned this book to me and I’m glad he did. I tend to remain in one literary circle and rarely venture from it. Larson is an interesting writer with a good head for the personalities and cultural parallels. Reading about the scientific and corporate in-fighting, as well as the public reaction to the new technology, you have to think a little about how far we’ve come in 100 years, but also about how things remain very much the same. 

I have Larson’s The Devil and the White City on order from PaperBackSwap.

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Trying out a reading plan. I may or may not link it to other pages. I reserve the right to chuck it at any given moment.

Ending The Year; Books Read

Yesterday and today were a pretty nice way to end the year. Indeed, the decade(!). Wednesday was highlighted by a nice long session of disc and a Nebraska win in their bowl game. Added value, we watched the game at Majerle’s with Reif (poor Arizona fan), Sean, Laura, Casey and Jeff. I had a tasty buffalo chicken wrap and a couple Kiltlifters. Today, I mostly spent the day cooking and reading. I made Baja Chicken Enchilada Soup. It came out fairly good, though thick. I had halved the amount of chicken and therefore broth, but not the amount of rice. Still, tasty enough that I had a two bowls and an associated amount of corn bread. And finished reading Book #22. (I mis-spoke at the Christmas party a few weeks ago. I had only read 21 books, not 22…)

Book #22 – Faith & Fire by James Swallow

I chose and continued to read this book for two reasons: I’m interested in how authors write military sci-fi, and I wanted to get a better feel for the Warhammer 40K setting. Swallow is a decent writer on the detail level. The combat scenes in particular are very well done. If I take something away from this book, it’s that the language of combat itself needs to be dynamic. Strong verbs are especially important. I tend to write combat in the same manner that characters take tea. This does not work. Swallow also does a lovely job of describing the 40K tech in all its gothic baroque-ness. Unfortunately, the plot of this book isn’t very good. The ending especially was painful. There were too many  cases of convenience and coincidence for me to suspend my disbelief.

But still, time spent reading. How much better does it get?

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Here are the stats for what I read in 2009:

22 "books" read.
Included a free-form handful of short stories, a graphic novel, and a group of essays on short stories by Poe.
Doesn’t include Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I checked out before gifting
to my niece.

Only 4 of them had Amazon.com word counts and other stats, so I won’t bother with those.

Only 3 of the novels were by female author. The essays on Poe were by a female author (I believe), and 5/9 of the short stories were by women.

Excluding the short story authors, I read works by 18 different authors.
8 of those authors were new to me.
Only 2 of the works were rereads.

12 were books I own(ed).
2 were PaperBackSwapped after I read them.
3 (including the short stories and the Poe essays) were in electronic form.
7 were from the library

In the category of books acquired:

Acquired 15 books.
Not including text books or computer books.

3 were gifts.
6 were from PaperBackSwap.
2 were from the library’s sales corner.
1 of the remainder were bought new and 3 were bought used.

I read the book I bought new.

For 2010:

My intention is to read 30 books, and to not purchase new books.

I’m considering the goal of reading a book every ten days with the reasonable exception of something like Return of the King, which will be read in conjunction with Tor.com’s read-through. I’m also considering an established reading list. The problem is that as soon as I set these sort of rules, I take glee in breaking them. It might be a nice challenge though.

If I were to generate a reading list, it would start out with:

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson (on loan from Tyler)
On Basilisk Station by David Weber (on loan from the library)
The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu (shiny and new…Christmas present!)
Hart & Boot & Other Stories by Tim Pratt (also shiny and new)
A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (on its way to me via PBS)
Stephen King Goes to the Movies (also on its way to me via PBS)
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin (low-hanging already-started fruit)
And chapters of The Return of the King

Harpys, Bats, Audio Books

Recently read:
“The Horrid Glory of Its Wings” by Elizabeth Bear, Illust. John Jude Palencar
There aren’t enough harpy stories in the world.

I’ve finished, mostly, the holiday gift buying. I still spend too much money on books, but now it’s mostly limited to books for the nieces and nephews. Christmas book-buying usually entails a telephone call/email to check up on what the far-flung kids are interested in combined with some prognostication on my part and the tendency to want to buy books I like. Then Eric and I hit Amazon.com and/or the bookstores to find books the kids might enjoy. Eric’s off-the-shelf pick, one that didn’t quite fill the criteria of “narratives about pirates, dinosaurs and puppies” but still had promise, was Bats at the Library by Brian Lies. If I had an Oprah-level of money and influence, I’d buy this book for every young reader I know. The art is lovely and the story, in easy rhyme, is about two things I love best: books and reading. With a bit of Bradbury-ian autumn thrown in. Hopefully, Ben (age 4) will like it and maybe his sister and little brother will enjoy it too.

Speaking of not spending money on books, I’ve been taking greater advantage of the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, including downloading some audio books. I haven’t been a big fan of audio books despite their multitask potential. I often think to myself, “X task would be better if I could read while doing it.” Yet, I’m not sure if audio books count as reading for me. I tend to space out when listening to stories. And, the story is different when it’s not my inner voice telling it to me. I’m a fairly auditory (and therefore slow) reader. When I read, I say the words in my head. Having someone else doing the saying takes away from it. For example, I downloaded The Haunting of Hill House, a book I’ve been itching to re-read. A book I’m familiar with. I found that the creepy parts weren’t as creepy as when I read them. The narrator just didn’t put the pauses and inflections were I’d put them. Maybe, he’s not a great narrator. Maybe, I’m further hindered by my auditory tendency.

Still trying to get a handle on reconciling all the things I want to do with the number of hours in the day. It was easier when there was nothing good on the internet.

Random Reading Notes

A couple of notes about what I’ve been reading that haven’t been transferred from my written journal:

Tolkien does an amazing job of adding detail to the travel log chapters. While I’m not a fan reading about scenery, I don’t hate these chapters. Tolkien seems encyclopedic in his knowledge of the natural world and puts it to good use. Again, I’m struck by the similarity in the feeling that both Tolkien and Dahl give the landscape.

Read the first 30 pages or so of The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I couldn’t get into it. Too many characters, and strangely, too much going out without much explanation. I’m all for the gradual revelation of information, but I felt like details were being purposefully left on the sideline. The pacing was off to me. Also, Rusch has a tendency to use some of the same passive writing qualities that I do — these are things that annoy about my own writing.

Currently reading Faith & Fire by James Swallow in an effort to expand my experience with “military” sci-fi. I’m enjoying it well enough, though a contention of the plot has annoyed me. I am interested in seeing how the author handles his female characters. One thing that I’ve noticed: while the setting involves quite a bit of jargon, it doesn’t slow me down. As a writer in the speculative genre, I worry about having too many “made-up” words. I’m not a hardcore sci-fi fantasy reader, so if I can keep up with no problem, I assume anyone can.

Sharing

I realized on Monday that Obscure Media Monday was slightly over a year old. In that time I wrote 32 entries. I should post more often, or at least more regularly. I’ve been shooting for every-other week and posting less than when I was trying to post every week. *shrug* Human beings seem to harbor the desire to share their opinions with others. It’s been fun to occasionally have someone say, “Hey, that sounds cool. I’ll check that out.” To wit: OMM Anniversary Updates

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Since I haven’t posted anything about ebooks and ebook readers in a while:
Will today’s eBook readers be obsolete? | PC Mike – Tech News and Reviews

I’ve been an early adapter of this technology, globbing on to the first Kindle when it came out two years ago. Since then, there have been two new versions and some of the latest improvements aren’t compatible with my older Kindle. I paid about $350 for it in 2007 and, while it’s still quite usable, I’m somewhat frustrated that, well, it’s been left behind in the technodust.

Eric and I were talking about the Kindle in particular last night, regarding how long its working life might be from a physical standpoint. In another three years, will the originals start getting glitchy? I suppose it might not matter if the stream of upgrade/obsolescence is fast-moving enough. Which raises the question: If I buy a $350 piece of personal electronics, how long should I expect it to be useful? Is that length of time getting shorter?

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Book #21 – Slippage by Harlan Ellison

It’s been a while since I’ve read much Ellison beyond re-reading “The Paladin of the Lost Hour” or the occasional essay. I’ve read many short stories this year, and honestly, the best of them weren’t in this anthology. And such is my experience with Ellison in general. Sometimes, his writing clicks with me. Other times, I can take him or leave him. I did enjoy “Where I Shall Dwell in the Next World,” in which Ellison gives a glimpse of his process in relation to a couple of short-shorts. The benefit I do get from him is in the periphery things. There was mention of “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts” by Shirley Jackson (a story I had on hand and read — very enjoyable!) and of Gerald Kersh.  Interestingly, back in 1997 when Slippage was published, Kersh was out-of-print and perhaps close to being forgotten. Now, he’s available at Amazon.com and there are several web pages devoted to him. I wonder if that would have occurred in the absence of the internet, the thing with which Ellison and other fantasists have an extremely contentious relationship.

Could it be that the internet, that downfall-of-civilization, actually helps us share the things we find important or, at least, enjoyable?

And I’m probably not going to make my reading goal either!

Officially, I’ve thrown in the towel on this year’s NaNoWriMo. The last word count was 28,673. A few thousand of those word might end up in some manuscript written in the near future. I’ll get back to this version of the Alterverse in January. For the remainder of November and in December, I plan on doing a “final” polish on Model Species, writing a new query letter, and sending it out to a half dozen agents. I need to follow up on Pas de Chat queries as well.

I’m not overly disappointed about not “winning” NaNoWriMo. The Alterverse is at the awkward stage that occurred about six months (?) after we started the Weordan project. I couldn’t continue on in writing-abandon knowing that so much of it is way of- base from where it needs to be. That’s not a bad thing. Unlike NaNo of 2004, when we started Weordan, I can see the flaws. Not just the superficial detail flaws, but the deep cracks in the world-building. But, these 28K words are a stake in the ground, and that’s worth a tiny bit.

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Book #20 – The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
(I have a month to read ten more books. Not likely to happen.)

The re-read at Tor has been moving at syrup-in-January-in-a-cold-climate pace, so I decided to go ahead and finish The Two Towers. Honestly, without looking at the table of contents, I couldn’t remember what all was included in this book. First off, meeting the Riders of Rohan and Treebeard were a long time ago (June and July, according to the blog). Second, “Shelob’s Lair” alone puts the rest of the book to shame. Maybe it was tainted for me, knowing who Shelob is before reading, but the tension that Tolkien built in that chapter really got to me.

I’ve started taking craft notes again and the lesson I’d like to take away from “Shelob’s Lair” is this simple thing: (Possible Spoiler Ahead)
Possible Spoilers

Readathon! The Final Hours

Considering I had one hour of sleep between 8am Friday morning and 11pm Saturday night (and that was a nap in Eric’s ugly, green chair), it’s not surprising that I couldn’t keep my eyes open by hour 23 of the read-a-thon. If I do this again, a little more planning might be in order.

Compared to other readers, I didn’t get through too many pages. For me, I did pretty well. 230 pages on Ripley Under Water, 26 pages of The Two Towers, a couple articles, and 167 pages of Slippage.. That’s more than I’ve read in a long while and I enjoyed it. If there’s one thing I don’t have in my schedule, it’s reading time.

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Book #19 – Ripley Under Water

This is the last book in the Ripley series, or Ripliad. I’ve now read four out of the five. Under Water is pretty much the direct sequel of the first two books. It was published 36 years after The Talented Mr. Ripley and eleven years after the previous Ripley novel The Boy Who Followed Ripley (the only one I haven’t read yet). Under Water is no where as good as the first three. It is meticulously plotted. Everything that needs to happen happens. The problem is that what happens isn’t very interesting. There are many conversations, “real” sounding as they may be–filled with tangents and inside jokes, that just don’t go any where. Ripley’s charmingly psychopathic habits of gardening and killing people wear a little thin when too much time is spent on the gardening. Very little happens over the course of 300 pages when the set-up is one that could lead to Ripley coming up against an actual challenge. Ah, well.