July Reading Recap

I passed the 90-book mark in the wee hours of July 25th and now I’m counting down toward 100, which will be a personal best for at least the last few decades.  So…

  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay — Full Review  I hope that readers will understand what it is Gay is saying here, not just about being fat in a world that values only thinness, but about being female in a world that values us as objects, not people.  Hunger isn’t just about Roxane Gay.  It’s not just about being fat.  It’s not just about being different or challenging society’s expectations.  It is about being female in a world where everything you are is public property, and where you are expected to take up as little space as possible.
  • 30517272[1]Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson —  Full Review  I can’t improve on Lawson:  “I’m fucking done with sadness, and I don’t know what’s up the ass of the universe lately but I’ve HAD IT. I AM GOING TO BE FURIOUSLY HAPPY, OUT OF SHEER SPITE.”
  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher —  Full Review  I ended up with more respect for Carrie than ever before, but a deeper sense of sadness that she’s gone too soon, and as a result of her own emotional problems. I hate seeing her as a cautionary tale, but I can’t help but feel that she might enjoy being thought of as a terrible warning.
  • Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3) by Rachel Caine — Full Review  After a bit of a slow second book, this series picks up again with Ash and Quill, and races to an unexpected (for me) cliffhanger that had me shouting at my Kindle at one in the morning.  Yeah, that good.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle — Full Review  An old favorite from my childhood, one I’ve read dozens of times.  I decided to read it again on the strength of the first movie trailer which looks fantastic.  I was not  wholly disappointed, but I did realize that I’m past the point of being uncritical about it.
  • Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson Full Review  Hanson is what I think of as a great science writer. He engages our imaginations while imparting facts, and I suspect that is at least in part because he has such a lively sense of wonder that he can’t help but infuse even the most prosaic of information with a feel of awe as if the evolution of feathers or seeds, or whatever else he’s writing about is pure magic. And in a sense, the things he writes about are magic, or as close to as we get in our world.
  • Howards End Is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill Full Review (such as it is) What caught my eye, and my imagination was this comment about how time will not change Murdoch’s novels, and yet with each subsequent generation that discovers them, they do change; every reader changes them.  Hill says: “…because until it is read, a book is a dead thing.”  That’s true.  Books depend on us as much as we depend on them.  They must be read to live.  I underlined that in neon pink, in keeping with the color scheme established by the Roald Dahl fan who owned this book before I did.  …  This is a book with heart, not just because of its contents but because the physical copy I own has been well read, loved, perhaps shouted at, as I did when Hill went on a rant against e-readers.  And I will concede this one point to her: No ebook could ever be so beautifully aged.  People who insist on pristine copies miss a lot of the deeper beauty of a physical book.
  • 41f6b9uCFpL[1]Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West — Full Review   I didn’t find Shrill as laugh-out-loud funny as Furiously Happy, nor did it make me break down in tears as did Hunger.  It made me furious, it helped me — here’s that word again — assimilate a lot of the experiences I’d had in my life and understand how they’d shaped my attitudes.  It helped me to forgive the unintentional hurts and view the intentional ones with a resolve never again to let anyone make me feel like a bug to be squashed.  And remember: “They talk to you this way until you make them stop.”
  • Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini —  Full Review Avast, ye lubbers, here’s a fine tale of hearty men, stout ships, proud wenches, (well, one anyway) and brave deeds! … I’m declaring this one a No Guilt read.  Read what you want, put it down when you want, pick it back up only if you want, and have some fun with it.  It’s not to be taken too seriously.
  • Parnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley —  Full Review There’s a lot of charm to this book.  The characters are all too human, but in the end they have become sympathetic and appealing, and I found myself cheering for them.  So while I’m not at all sure why I spent the $0.99 on the ebook, I’m heartily glad I did.
  • The Golden House by Salman Rushdie –  Full  Review  The Golden House is far greater than a fictionalized view of the House of Trump. Rushdie is not heavy-handed, he doesn’t make this a thinly veiled portrait of an easy target, but creates Trump-flavored touchstones in an attempt to do much more than simply criticize or satirize a single figure or family. Rather, peppered as it is with popular culture touchstones, it becomes a portrait of an age in American life, and not a pretty one.
  • 23647530[1]The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami –  Full Review  I still have no idea what actually happened.  I mean, I know what the book says happened, but I don’t really understand it at a visceral level except as a fairytale that doesn’t seem to make any sense.  To be fair, I find a lot of fairytales from outside the most familiar cultures make little sense to me, and this is more alien than I’m used to.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be clear on why.
  • Jurassic Park  by Michael Crichton Full Review  I’m willing to give props for a compelling story told in such a break-neck fashion that had I not been paying close attention to the text, I might never have caught these problems. Or at least they might not have gotten up my nose so completely.  What you have is a decent thriller with a great plot and a damn good hook: cloning dinosaurs.  It was timely then and it still is, it plays to our fears and our desires, and Crichton knows how to manipulate both.  My 94th book this year.

I started The Invisible Library, by Genivieve Cogman last night, in hope that I could finish it today, but since I virtually passed out about 15 minutes in, and woke up at 3:45 this morning with all the lights still on, and since I still have work to do, that’s not going to happen.  My final tally for the month is 13 books.  Year-to-date: 94  (oooh, so close to having done 95!)  I’m going to start adding some statistics to my monthly recaps so when I do the year-end one, I can see what kind of progress I’ve made in reading more widely and diversely.

Statistics for July

  • Books read this month – 13
  • Books by Women: 7
  • Books by People of Color: 2
  • Books in Translation: 1
  • Books by LBGTAQ Authors or with those themes: 1
  • Books about Books: 4
  • Sci-Fi and Fantasy: 4 (I count The Golden House as a fantasy, though it’s as much a Greek tragedy as contemporary mythology.)
  • Mysteries and Thrillers: 1
  • Science: 1
  • Bio/Memoir: 5
  • High Adventure: 1

Um… huh?

I’ve pretty much stopped looking at my royalty statements since they’re depressing.  The last one I looked at was something like ninety-three cents.  Woo hoo, partay!  Yeah, not so much.  At that rate it’d take me something like three or four months to buy a simple cup of coffee.  I don’t even look for my stuff on pirate sites anymore because what’s the point?  If people are gonna steal my work instead of pay for it, what’s my recourse?  And clearly nobody wanted to buy it, so I doubt the pirate sites are getting much traffic on my account.

51hmfqEdD1L[1]So when my last statement came in from Dreamspinner Press it was not something I paid much attention to, guessing that it’d be something like fifty cents, and almost sure sign that when the terms of the contracts were up, they’d be cutting me loose.  Ask not for whom the bell tolls, your royalty statement lays all that out in detail.

But today I got a notice that they’d sent me a payment.  It was actually more than ninety-three cents.  A lot more.  My first reaction?  Someone made a mistake.  I finally opened the statement and it turns out that my work suddenly, and for reasons I don’t truly understand, began to sell after all this time.  Could it be the blogging?  The social media presence?  What am I doing right?  OMG, am I famous?

Uh, no.  Pleasantly surprised?  Yes, absolutely.

vampyres-revenge[1]Call Me But Love seems to be the clear winner this quarter.  I applaud that choice, it’s one of my better works.  But The Vampyre’s Revenge, which I enjoyed the hell out of writing, seems not to have breathed its last, and I’m kind of glad.  I always liked Frank.  I was happy to give him a chance to be who he really was.

After my contracts ran out on a bunch of other items I listed them through Kindle Direct Publishing over on Amazon.com, and while the response was not terribly exciting, I pretty much knew that I couldn’t blame anyone but myself because in spite of 51WtLcoTAXL[1]spiffy new covers, I wasn’t doing much to support their release.  One of the hardest things for me to do is promote myself, and that’s why ghostwriting is a good gig for me.  I never have to promote anything, I just write. That’s what writers want to do.  Just. Write.51ecoRBYrpL[1].jpg

I always meant to do more with the out-of-contract stuff.  I have the rights to Suffer the Little Children, and a sequel to it that only needs a good edit to get it into fighting shape, but I never did anything with those or any of the other titles which reverted to me.  This is what severe depression does to people.  They stop caring.

But that weirdly unexpected royalty payment did me a world of good, and while I know my energy levels won’t carry me through a whole lot more effort to get new titles into the KDP program, they have moved me to do one thing.  I have no control over the pricing of the titles under contract to Dreamspinner, the ones that are currently self-published, I can put on sale.  So starting August 2nd and running through the 9th, both Waiting for the Moon and Devil in the Details will be $0.99.  (I’d have made them free, but couldn’t figure out how to do that without having to pay for it, which I can’t afford.)  When the promotion is over I’m dropping the price to $1.99 for both stories.

I would love to promise (to myself as well as anyone who is interested) that I’m going to get on the stick and get my other out-of-contract books back on the market.  We’ll see what the rest of the year brings.

Wish me luck, willya?

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Review: The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami

23647530[1].jpgIf I said, “Strange doesn’t begin to cover it,” I could probably just stop.  This is easily one of the most bizarre things I’ve read in yonks, a nightmarish fairytale about a boy who just wants to read about tax collection in the Ottoman empire.  Yes, it’s strange from the get-go.

The boy goes to his local library to return books about building a ship and… something else equally odd and not particularly interesting, and the librarian, who would rather read than deal with him, tells him if he wants more books he need to go to room 107 in the basement.  There he finds an old man who rustles up not one but three books on Ottoman tax collecting, and then tells the boy they have to be read in the library.

The boy doesn’t want to stay.  It’s late and his mother worries, but he’s a polite boy and agrees to read for 30 minutes.  The librarian leads him through a maze to a cell where he’s told that if he’s memorized the three huge books in the course of a month, he’ll be set free.  He’s put in the charge of a man in a sheep costume, fed well, and told that at the end of the month, the old man is going to eat his brains.

At this point I was pretty well committed to the story so I read on to find out whether the cannibal-librarian would have his meal, or whether the boy would get away, and who is the man dressed like a sheep and the girl who brings the boy food, but who everyone else says doesn’t exist?

And I still have no idea what actually happened.  I mean, I know what the book says happened, but I don’t really understand it at a visceral level except as a fairytale that doesn’t seem to make any sense.  To be fair, I find a lot of fairytales from outside the most familiar cultures make little sense to me, and this is more alien than I’m used to.  I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be clear on why.

Possibly it’s something to do with the illustrations which look like bits of Asian advertising art from the mid-20th century.  In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if Murakami began with these images and rearranged them until a story began to form in his mind.  That would make as much sense as anything else.

The Strange Library is short, oblique, perturbing, scary, and funny.  I found myself laughing over the most awful things, or muttering “What?” and “Oh come on!” but I finished it with a sense that I wanted to read more Murakami.

Review: Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

18112981[1]I read this years ago and loved it.  Helluva page turner.  So when my client told me to pick a popular writer of thriller-type novels, and study one of them to get the tone he wants for his novel, I chose JP because I was familiar with it, not just from having read it but from multiple viewings of the film which I love.  A familiar work would allow me to study the structure without losing myself in the story.  I thought.  Turns out I was dead wrong about that.  I got caught up immediately.

Because I was interested in how it worked as narrated as well as how it read, I purchased the Audible version of it at a discount, and moved back and forth between it and the ebook.  (By the way, it’s nice that at least some Kindles will play the audio right along with the ebook.  Audio broadens my understanding of a work, and listening while reading, though it slows down the latter dramatically, even though I normally listen at 1.5x the normal speed, is a highly immersive way of approaching the text.

But what about the book???  Yes, okay I’m getting to that.  The book.  Well… It still counts as a page-turner, no question.  I got caught up in the narrative so often that I found I had to consciously slow down and look for the things I wanted to study.  Crichton could tell a story!  And in that respect, he’s like Tolkien, a damn fine storyteller, but kind of a crap writer.

Yeah, I’m sorry if there are Crichton fans out there foaming at the mouth, but the drawbacks of his writing are so clear, and in some cases so dire, that I couldn’t  overlook them.  The most egregious problems are his characters.  None of them have real internal lives.  Crichton gives lip service to family, exes, jobs and the like, but they’re not terribly developed.  But this is a thriller, you say, they don’t have to be.  And I would agree up to a point.  But consider:

  • John Hammond is a joke.  He’s an uber rich guy who exists for two reasons: First to pay for and supervise the development of the park, and second, to be annoyed when people tell him the park isn’t going to work.  He’s so obtuse that when Ian Malcolm explains things to him, his consistent response is to ask the rest of the people in the room what Malcolm is talking about.  There’s nothing about him that isn’t cardboard, and even the cardboard doesn’t ring true.
  • Ian Malcolm, or as I like to call him Information Dump Malcolm, exists to explain things.  From the get go, all he ever does is lecture.  He doesn’t have conversations, he doesn’t connect with anyone.  He’s like an AI.  Say: “Chaos Theory,” and off he goes, explaining it.  Say: “Look, real dinosaurs,” and you get pages of explanation about what’s wrong with science today. After a while I just skimmed over his dialogue.
  • The kids:  Two of the most utterly pointless, useless characters ever penned.  Lex is so annoying that I kept hoping the T-Rex would gobble her up like an hors d’oeuvre.  She never shuts up, never does what she’s told, screams, whines, and makes endless noise when everyone is telling her to be quiet or the dinosaurs will eat them.  She’s an insufferable know-it-all, who knows virtually nothing about anything, and doesn’t really want to know anything.  All she wants to do is play “pickle” and whine about how none of this is fun and she’s hungry.  The only time she’s bearable is when she’s unconscious.  Tim is a virtual non-entity, but at least he’s an improvement over his sister.
  • Everybody else: Almost totally interchangeable except for their area of expertise.

I don’t really feel like I’m being harsh here either.  I’m willing to give props for a compelling story told in such a break-neck fashion that had I not been paying close attention to the text, I might never have caught these problems. Or at least they might not have gotten up my nose so completely.  What you have is a decent thriller with a great plot and a damn good hook: cloning dinosaurs.  It was timely then and it still is, it plays to our fears and our desires, and Crichton knows how to manipulate both.

I think I’m pretty much finished with this book now, I doubt I’ll ever need to read it again unless I want to remind myself of the spare, efficient style of it.  Crichton proved to me that the advice about dialogue — use “said;” the eye skips right over it — is completely true.  His work is an education for any writer, but particularly those who are going to write fast-paced stories.

He tells a great story, and that’s really the bottom line.

Review: The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie

34128285[1]Donald Trump will hate this book. Not that I think he’ll read it, but he will hear about it. (Rushdie has had a fatwa issued against him; I doubt he’s particularly bothered by Trump yelling about lawsuits he’ll never make.) The Golden House is far greater than a fictionalized view of the House of Trump. Rushdie is not heavy-handed, he doesn’t make this a thinly veiled portrait of an easy target, but creates Trump-flavored touchstones in an attempt to do much more than simply criticize or satirize a single figure or family. Rather, peppered as it is with popular culture touchstones, it becomes a portrait of an age in American life, and not a pretty one.

The Golden family is fantastically wealthy (almost certainly from criminal enterprise), mysterious, dishonest, filled with secrets, and ultimately doomed. They are viewed primarily by a family friend, who eventually becomes entangled in their scheming, a young man named Rene who is a filmmaker. And many of the scenes are described by Rene’s cinematic plan for a film about the Goldens. Rene is both outside the family madness, and tangled in it. He’s a reasonably reliable narrator in a nest of unreliable characters.

Much of the story’s emphasis on duality can be understood via the Russian fairytale that is linked to Nero Golden’s young wife, Vasilisa. Early on she is identified as Vasilisa the Fair, a character who is first under the thrall of the witch Baba Yaga, and later thwarts her and ultimately becomes the wife of the Tsar. Rushdie also identifies her with Baba Yaga herself, suggesting a dual identity, just as he does for Nero Golden by making him a Trump-like character even as he describes Trump (never by name) as the DC villain, The Joker, a horrific, vulgar, hateful, larger-than-life figure who has entered the political arena. There is, in fact, a great deal of duality in this book, the most obvious of which is the story of D (Dionysus) Golden, who is suffering from gender dysphoria, and trying to decide if he should transition into a woman.

There’s far too much about this novel to unpack in a review. It’s dense and beautifully written (This is my first experience with Rushdie’s fiction and I was blown away by the beauty of his prose.), and requires attention and thought. If you’re not willing to give him that much of your reading self, then avoid it at all costs because it will probably frustrate you. But if you are, I really feel there is so much to love about this book, so much to take to heart. If nothing else, it does show us the face of our United States in the 21st century.

Mental Health Seems Impossible When You Have Wasps

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Don’t let the smile fool you, they’re assholes.

We have wasps in our walls.  Depending on your experience of wasps you might say, “That’s interesting,” or “Yeah, happens all the time,” or “OHGODOHGOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”  My response is unprintable even for a forum where I don’t often censor myself.  I’m a live-and-let-live kinda gal, but I don’t want those things around my cats.  And Glinda has even more reason for concern since her cats are older, and one of them has some severe health issues.

I am aware that at this time of year the chances of being stung are minimal unless you fuss with them, which means that Peebie is likely to get stung.  Leo, who is big and lazy and covered with so much fur it’s hard to find the cat underneath, is less likely.  Me?  I don’t want to be stung, but I don’t worry about myself too much.  They sting me, they sting me.  I’ll survive it.  Unless I prove to be deathly allergic, and then… well it’s been nice knowing you all.

So, the upshot is that we’ve got the exterminator coming tomorrow afternoon, and until then, we plan to spray the whole house with a peppermint oil concoction which seems to repel them.  Once the nest is inactive we’ll be hanging the fake nests around the house to deter them from coming back.  Again, those seem to work from all I’ve read, though you have to be sure to get rid of any active nests.  So I’m thinking that we hang them in the fall after the first frost, just to be sure.

Between that, taxes, work, and general health concerns (nothing immanent) my rag is being lost on a semi-regular basis.  When I told Glinda I could get the nests and the oil here today I found myself annoyed that she was considering it.  It’s not like I hadn’t considered it, but once I had, I decided that more consideration was just dithering.  I’m annoyed because, like me, she’s worried that the insecticide he uses might hurt the cats.  I’m annoyed because when someone else worries about the same thing, it makes it real.  Until then, you can say, “Just stop, this is nonsense.”

Yes, I’m irrational lately.

I’m so irrational that I look at photos of other places, like Amsterdam and Iceland, and think that if I could just move there, everything would be fine.  Except I know it won’t.  Wasps can still move into my house even if my house is somewhere else (Unless it’s a place without wasps or at least ones who aren’t rude enough to try to move in with you, rent free. Is there such a place and where do I find this paradise?) and I’ll still have all the other problems like wondering why nobody sees what a fucking genius I am.

I can’t run away from my life.  It’s not possible.  For one thing, I’m 65 and broke down.  When you say “Getting old sucks” to someone who is not old, they always say, “It beats the alternative.” Does it really?  Do you have empirical evidence to prove it?

I don’t normally blame anyone else for the way my life turned out.   But today I’m blaming the wasps, and they can just suck it.

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Review: Parnassus on Wheels, by Christopher Morley

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What a weird little book this is.  I don’t even remember why I have it now, though I expect it was on the strength of The Haunted Bookshop, a book given to me by a dear friend, but which I’ve never actually read.  I suppose that’s a sufficiently odd explanation.

In any event, the story opens with a disclaimer by Morley that he is not the author of this book, but rather it is a Miss Helen McGill, who undertook the purchase of a traveling bookstore simply to keep her brother from doing it. Helen is not what you’d call a sympathetic character right out of the gate.  She’s an irascible woman of about 40 whose high-handed manner rubbed me the wrong way.  She and her brother, Andrew, have made a comfortable life on their farm and she is angry that he has become an author who now neglects the daily requirements of farming in favor of writing about them.  He spends a good deal of his time tramping about the countryside, chronicling the life of country folk, leaving Helen to take up the slack at home.  She hates being put upon so much that she burns a great deal of the mail he gets from publishers who want to offer him contracts.

One day a stranger appears, wanting Andrew to buy his traveling bookstore, Parnassus, which Helen refers to as “Parcheesi.” Helen tries to shoo him off but Roger Mifflin is persistent, and to keep Andrew from further folly, she buys the enterprise and sets off on an adventure of her own.  She tells herself it’s to teach Andrew a lesson, but it’s soon quite clear that Helen needs this as much as she’s ever needed anything in her life.

Her travels with Mifflin, who intends to catch a train to Brooklyn where he will finally write his book, Pegasus, the horse who pulls Parnassus, and Bock, the delightful terrier who becomes a companion and protector to Helen, (sort of) are all part of a journey of discovery for her, during which she goes from being Andrew McGill’s increasingly bitter spinster sister, to being H. McGill, proprietor of Parnassus, a book-lover, and possibly a writer too.

In the end, Helen finds out what’s important to her.  When her brother objects, she tells him to mind his own business, and not to forget that the red hen has a hidden nest behind the coop, putting him firmly back into his place.  When he takes a high-handed approach  to her plans, and does something underhanded (It runs in the family, I guess.) Helen is an avenging angel, intent upon righting a wrong, and in the process declaring herself and her feelings.

There’s a lot of charm to this book.  The characters are all too human, but in the end they have become sympathetic and appealing, and I found myself cheering for them.  So while I’m not at all sure why I spent the $0.99 on the ebook, I’m heartily glad I did.