Horns by Joe Hill
Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a pair of horns growing from his temples.
At first, Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who had been raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.
Once, the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed. But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. Nothing Ig can do or say matters. Everyone it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone that is, but the devil inside. . . .
Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. It’s time for a little revenge . . . it’s time the devil had his due . . . (via Goodreads)
I picked up Horns due to its Stoker nominee status. It’s been a while since I’ve read any contemporary horror, and the premise of this book is related to the devil, a topic that is handled considerably less often than zombies and vampires. I remember trying to read Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box a few years back but it never caught with me. The beginning of Horns is a major hook. A man wakes up with horns. Where do we go from here?
The hook was enough to carry me through unsympathetic characters and a pile of bland back-story. There’s a very interesting tale of good, evil, love and forgiveness in this novel, but it’s stuffed into the last third of the book. The other two-thirds are uncomfortable and boring. Mostly the latter. The story of these characters before Merrin’s death is not that interesting and not that needed. I’ve heard that Hill is quite a good short story writer. If that’s so, I wish he would have condensed those annoyingly flat chapters. By the end of the novel, Hill does a fair job of fitting together the pieces of the plot, and there are some nice touches, but he goes through great lengths to tie everything up when it’s not needed either.
In all, it was an okay book, but not one I’d recommend.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
I know nothing about baseball.
I grew up in Omaha, NE. While Nebraska is more strongly associated with football, it has baseball ties as well. It’s home of the College World Series and the city has a pretty strong softball culture. Yet, as with all sports, I had no exposure to baseball while growing up. Sport wasn’t valued in my family and was avoided as much as possible. I’ve come to see the error of that attitude, but I still don’t have the patience for baseball. So, what’s the deal with reading Moneyball?
I first came across Michael Lewis’s Moneyball while looking through a list of books that friends had read or wanted to read via a Facebook application. This was before I had heard of Lewis’s The Blind Side. The intersection between economics and sports sounded intriguing to me despite my general lack of interest in baseball as a sport. On a dramatic level, I do like baseball stories. Cut out 4/5th of the playing and baseball becomes more about the sport and less about waiting for the sport.
The book proposes the question: how does a baseball team with a very small budget (the Oakland As) compete against teams that can afford stars? To avoid sounding dumb, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of Lewis’s findings. The most interesting aspect of the narrative to me is the uphill battle with common wisdom that was waged by Billy Beane and the proponents of sabermetrics. Baseball insiders with their traditional wisdom valued all the things that “rich” teams could afford. No one had thought to question traditional wisdom. Do those valued things win games? Bill James and other sabermeticians were asking those questions, seemingly into the wind, until Beane was forced by lack of money to put the system to the test. The lesson here is that common wisdom needs to be tested when it can be.
I enjoyed the book. Lewis has a knack for finding personalities and stories while presenting information in an understandable manner. He is, in fact, good enough at this that his non-fiction, non-overly-dramatic books are made into movies. I am amused this morning to find the trailer for the movie version of Moneyball has been released. (Funny thing: I still don’t remember if I’ve seen the movie version of The Blind Side. I think I may have, but I am maybe just imagining it.)
Torn Wings and Faux Pas by Karen Elizabeth Gordon
I hated grammar in grade school and high school. Grammar was all about learning rules, but many of the rules seem to have more than two exceptions and are therefore very tenuous rules at best. I seemed generally to get by as a writer on sound alone and to not worry too much about looking like an idiot if I violated one “rule” or another. During my second-to-last semester in college, I took a grammar course. In some ways it was more of a philosophy of grammar course. We learned about the history of the English language and about how it is continually changing. Rules aren’t rules at all, but guidelines to clarity. This time, grammar’s guidelines finally made more sense to me. I started to care more about what guidelines I was wildly diverging from.
To keep grammar fresh in my mind, I read a grammar book every-so-often. My favorite is Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s The Deluxe Transitive Vampire. While Torn Wings and Faux Pas tries to be a companion to Transitive Vampire, it doesn’t really succeed.
The pieces are there. Gordon uses Gothic Victorian examples, baroque explanations, and slightly creepy clip art, but this time the quirkiness is too much. The explanations are sometimes not clear and the examples are too ornate for the mistakes and corrections to be clear. (I think I had this problem with Transitive Vampire too, but to a much lesser degree.) There are some additional “characters,” fictional grammar specialists, that don’t add much other than exhausting paragraphs of prose. And the clip art is more along the line of doodles than the wood-cut demonic putti of Transitive Vampire.
In the end, I did learn one or two things and was reminded of a few others. Unfortunately if I hadn’t read it straight through, and instead dipping in and out of it, I probably would have missed those things.
Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg
I was first introduced to Natalie Goldberg and the concept of free writing during my first semester of college. That first composition class was a revelation to me. It was exactly what I needed at that time in my life: an affirmation that this writing thing wasn’t completely crazy. Or rather, it was crazy, but I wasn’t alone in it. *I* could be a writer. Even if I was a biology major at the time, I was a writer.
That was 18 years ago.
Being a writer is a belief. Any belief is subject to doubts. I need reaffirmations. Reading and re-reading books like Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind give me assurance, even more than so than all the writers I know online.
Of course, the weight of 18 years of my experiences as a writer color my reaction to this book. I believe that writing is work, hard work, that can be broken down to a process. So, some of Goldberg’s fuzzy spiritual aspects leave me a bit cool. Truly, any advice about writing only works for some of the writers some of the time. But at its core, Goldberg’s philosophy is this: Shut up and write.
And that’s what I need now.
(Read this book as a part of #ToBeReMo and Read Me Baby, One More Time. I also mentioned Wild Mind over at my LJ.)