Category Archives: Books

2014: A Year of Reading Intermittently

It was a strange year. I can’t say it’s been a good year. I started a lot of books and didn’t finish them. By my count, I only finished 82 books this year. Half of those were probably comic books.

In no particular order, here were some that really stood out:

My Heart is an Idiot by Davy Rothbart

A book of autobiographical essays. Charming and memorable. The one with the lottery tickets was my favorite.

To Be or Not To Be by Ryan North

Hamlet turned into a choose-your-own-adventure story. A delightful mashup.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Along with Inherent Vice, one of Pynchon’s most readable books. A strange ode to a pre-9/11 world.

Saga by Brian Vaughan

The best comic book I read all year. A true delight. And captures something true about the wonders and horrors of bringing new human beings into the world.

Triton by Samuel Delany

This book captured more closely, in retrospect, the mood of 2014 at large more than anything else I read this year. Written in 1976.

The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

Not my favorite of his work, but still an amazing three books. There’s nothing else like it that I’ve ever read. I prefer his more surreal stuff, but good for him for doing what he needed to do to get on the NY Times Bestseller List.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Yeah, I cried. What can I say. It’s heart wrenchingly charming and sad.

Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

I’ll sing Harkaway’s praises until the cows come home. This one’s well worthwhile, even though it’s such a dude’s book.

Not such a bad year in reading, I suppose. Still, here’s to a better reading year in 2015. It’d be nice to find that rhythm again.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

PARADISE LOST by John Milton

Click the image for more info about the book.

It was a funny feeling, when I read it in college, to realize that my inherited conceptions of Satan and Hell and the Garden of Eden mapped eerily closely to Milton’s PARADISE LOST. And one more foundation stone got shimmied away.

I don’t remember liking PARADISE LOST very much. It seemed smug and off-putting, and I was super irritated at the lack of religious knowledge of my fellow students. Silly me, I assumed a basic, if not religious background, at least a knowledge of religion (read: Christianity). I found myself veering into self-righteous christianist mode, which I had mostly been trying to steer myself away from. It was Milton who presented the biggest challenge there.

Another time, I was hosting a party at my house, and my friend Ian burst into my living room, all livid and trembling, because he’d read PARADISE LOST that afternoon (one afternoon!) and was a’quiver with occult knowledge. He’d had some kind of numinous encounter with that book, some sort of near-enlightened state. I don’t remember anything he said, but I remember talking to him for what seemed like hours about that book. I got more out of that discussion at a party, than I had over the course of two or three weeks of english classes. Was I a little jealous that he’d had such a profound encounter with that (or any) book? Maybe a little. That’s what happens to non-readers (I’m assuming here) sometimes when they encounter some amazing written thing.

Me, I wonder sometimes if I haven’t just filled my brain up with too many words, or too many not very interesting or well thought out words. Ultimately, I’ve never really bought into the idea that reading for the sake of reading is a good in itself. It does actually matter what one reads. That doesn’t stop me from reading some simply terrible stuff, sometimes, though.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

If any part of Milton’s work changed me or my way of thinking about the world, it was that one.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

OUTSIDE THE GATES OF SCIENCE: WHY IT’S TIME FOR THE PARANORMAL TO COME IN FROM THE COLD by Damien Broderick

Click on the image to get more info about the book.

I’m a sucker for incredibly long titles + subtitles.

I’ve long been fascinated by occultic, paranormal, fortean… stuff. Even though I mostly suspect it’s complete hokum, it generates some fantastic stories and perspectives on things. Also, those first few years of the 21st century were so deranged in so many ways that I found my reading roaming in strange places.

The premise of the book–if I can drag it successfully from some dusty corner of my mind–is that there are things outside of what the body of science formally recognizes as real or likely, and that the only ones exploring those things are paranormal researchers, BUT their research methodology is so poor that even if they might discover something, no one else can ever replicate it.

I remember reading the book, and even maybe enjoying it, the most interesting thing being the descriptions of the various paranormal experiments and the stories of the quite eccentric …scientists devoting their time to them.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

WIELDING A RED SWORD by Piers Anthony

Click the picture for info on the book.

In retrospect, I prefer Terry Pratchett’s Death.

In retrospect, even I don’t believe that I read so many Piers Anthony books.

Of all of his various series, Anthony’s INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY series is probably the one that felt coolest to me, when I read it in 6-7th grade. I remember my friend Luke raving about these books, and that was enough for me.

The premise to the series is that there are these essentially immortal godlike… ideas that are more like job functions than characters, because various mortal human beings inhabit those job functions throughout all of time. So you’ve got things like Death, Love, Good, Evil, and War. The coolest thing about the books (apart from Death driving around in his “pale horse” that could turn into a sweet car) was their interconnectedness. The books weren’t entirely sequential, and often overlapped in their plots, which meant that certain inexplicable actions by some characters were clarified in later books when you could read the same scene from a different perspective. (In retrospect, reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS series, actually.)

To my mind, the first book in the series, ON A PALE HORSE, was the best and coolest, with probably the most likable character. The one about Time was pretty sweet as well.

WIELDING A RED SWORD is all about the incarnation of War. I remember very little of this book, otherwise, unfortunately. I’m pretty sure Death makes an appearance.

What’s amazing is that Piers Anthony is still alive and, as far as I can tell, still writing! As for his Xanth books, I’m sure I’ll get around to writing about at least one of those at some point soon. I did read so very very many of them…

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

THE DRAGON LORD by Peter Morwood

Click the image for more info about the book.

This was not a good book, which, I think, will not surprise you.

I got this book as a birthday present from someone (I don’t remember who) when I was about 10, I think.

An alarming book, for a couple of reasons. I didn’t realize until midway through it that this book was NUMBER THREE in a trilogy, and I was reading it first! The horror!

I like to think I’m a little less of a compulsive completionist, but as a child, I took it as an immense failure if I didn’t complete a book, for whatever reason. This compulsion included series of books as well. To be reading the last book in a series first was very troubling to me. Very very troubling.

And so I found myself on the horns of a dilemma. I felt compelled to finish the book, but I was reading the series out of order. I ended up just reading the book and feeling bad about it the whole time.

At some point, I managed to track down the first book, THE HORSE LORD, but I never did find Book 2: THE DEMON LORD.

Oh yeah, the rape scene was pretty alarming too, which is pretty much all I remember about this book. And there was a dragon in it.

That’s 3-5 hours I’ll never get back… (Or however long it took me to read it.)

The funny thing is, I held onto this book for a long long time, even though I didn’t enjoy reading it, but I think because I kept hoping that I would find Book 2 at some point.

I’m glad I stepped off that completionist train a while back. Mostly.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

A MASSIVE SWELLING: CELEBRITY REEXAMINED AS GROTESQUE CRIPPLING DISEASE AND OTHER CULTURAL REVELATIONS by Cintra Wilson

Click the image for info about this book.

I’m almost certain I read this book of essays for its title alone. I don’t remember the cover at all, but maybe I was sheepishly hiding it on the bus while I read it.

One thing I’ve learned about this little project of mine is how very very little I seem to remember from most of the books I’ve read. I recall emotional tone, some scattered details, and occasionally a plot summary. It’s sad really. Or maybe not. Were I still the kind of person who lies awake at night thinking thoughts like: Where are all these words going that I’m shoving into my cranium? I’d probably think thoughts like that. (If I had an editor making editorial notes, it would read: Just wait, just wait. –Ed.) Good thing I can think them in the harsh, soul-crushing light of my computer monitor instead!

So, I don’t remember the contents of this book, but I do remember reading it on the bus, and in the lunchroom at work. I remember laughing out loud. (I do this while reading sometimes. A bit awkward on public transit. I mean, I’m a little weirded out when someone laughs out loud to themself* on the bus…) I remember it being a bunch of essays about the silliness of “celebrity” and whatever that means. Mostly, after the amusement, I felt a sense of relief that my life doesn’t relate in any way whatever minor errors in judgment some celebrities somewhere might happen to be making in sight or sound of ten million eyes and ears.

I should really see if she’s written anything else…She has! Go go gadget browser!

*intentional!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

TINTIN AND THE PICAROS by Herge

Click the image for more info about the book.

Ah, Tintin. He and his little white dog (and Captain Haddock and Thompson and Thomson and Professor Calculus…) were my first real taste of comics, and after that first taste, I was hooked.

Tintin also represented a jump in sophistication in the types of books I was reading. Up to that point, I had been reading books about talking animals, fairy tales, and those books that straddle the uneasy line between full-blown picture books and more text-heavy stuff. TINTIN AND THE CIGARS OF THE PHARAOH cannonballed into that sweet and gentle (and dull) pond.

What a rush! I remember trying to figure out how to read it: what order the speech bubbles went, whether Tintin could hear Snowy talk, and trying to figure out if Thompson and Thomson were twins or not and whether to pronounce the P, and if so, how?

I remember reading Tintin to my youngest sister on the couch, and trying to decide what type of voice Snowy should have (high and squeaky). I was so excited about it, I had to share. I don’t remember if she asked me to read it to her or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I approached her to do so.

As for TINTIN AND THE PICAROS, I mostly just remember the cover. Something about Tintin getting involved in some hijinks in South America somewhere. As there were at least one or two other books set in South America, they do blend together quite a bit. My memory of comics has always been spotty, but I suspect that PICAROS was less memorable for other reasons. It’s no EXPLORERS ON THE MOON, that’s for sure!

I’ve tried to read some Tintin to my own children, but nothing doing. I expect it’s something they’ll have to discover on their own. I’ve never responded well when people have tried to tell me what to read, either.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

OLEANNA by David Mamet

Click the picture for more info on the book.

I don’t think I had ever even heard of David Mamet before I read OLEANNA (and SPEED-THE-PLOW) in college. I thought it was pretty amazing stuff at the time, and for a long time after, too. His dialogue has this staccato, snappiness to it that’s mesmerizing.

OLEANNA is the story of a professor who gets a little too chummy with a student, who then goes on to accuse him of sexual harassment (or worse? I can’t remember). I’m not sure what I’d think of the play now, but at the time, as a freshman or sophomore in college, reading (and reading aloud scenes from) a play about such serious topics felt, in a way, like finally leaving childhood behind. It had a kind of elicit quality to it.

We watched the movie too, which I remember being impressed by, encountering William H. Macy for the first time.

As for myself, I’ve always felt stymied by Mamet’s dialogue, even as I’m impressed by it. The stops and starts and repetitions all flurry around and elude my understanding of them. It’s a stark, cerebral kind of dialogue, that some actors just fill up with emotion-juice. (See, for example, Alec Baldwin in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS) As for me, I’ve always felt left out in the cold, even as I stared in, marveling at the dance of language. A Mametian match girl staring in the Christmas window. If you will.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

THE MEMORY OF EARTH by Orson Scott Card

Click the picture for more info on this book.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a binge reader. I’m a sucker for authors with vast catalogs of books to their name. Orson Scott Card, whatever you may think about his personal opinions (failings?), certainly is no slouch in the book-writing department.

After my friend Lion handed me ENDER’S GAME, and after my Uncle Brian loaned me a copy of (I think) UNACCOMPANIED SONATAS, I was hooked. I read every Orson Scott Card book I could get my hands on, and thanks to my local public library, that meant pretty much all of them.

THE MEMORY OF EARTH has the somewhat odd distinction of being nearly the last book by Card that I read. (I succumbed to temptation when ENDER’S SHADOW came out, and, most recently, reread ENDER’S GAME for a book club.) It’s strange to have a falling out with an author, especially when it’s over their writing. (This was long before I became aware of Card’s unfortunate personal and political opinions. I marvel at how someone who writes with such sympathy and empathy for human pain and suffering could be so cold and callous toward others in his public life. I’m not going to get into it more here, and there are others who’ve written much more thoughtfully about this issue than I feel able to do.) I think it’s pretty impossible to read Card’s books without coming to the conclusion that he can’t stop writing about messianic figures. His deeply misunderstood protagonists are always saving the world in some fashion or other.

Not so much with THE MEMORY OF EARTH, though. This book is a barely veiled science fictional retelling of the beginnings of the Mormon religion. Which, I suppose I’m fine with, but I just started feeling weird when the characters start marrying multiple women… assuming I’m remembering this correctly.

Up to that point, I think I’d had basically two encounters with Mormonism, neither of them directly. The first were the vicious Mormons as described by Jefferson Hope’s tale in the Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet.” Let’s just say it doesn’t paint 19th century Mormons in a very flattering light.

The second, also indirectly, came about from all my time in evangelical churches, which, let’s just say, are not the biggest fans of Mormonism.

So, I stopped reading Card’s books. In fact, I remember standing in the library with THE CALL OF EARTH (book 2) in my hand, and setting it down again. Maybe it had to do with the Mormon thing. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I’d read probably twenty of his books up to that point, and had just gotten tired of his writing style. Maybe I was tired of reading about misunderstood messiahs. It’s tough to say, at this point, why I stopped reading his books back then. I’ll always be grateful for the tens (hundreds?) of hours of enjoyment I got out of reading his books, but…

Now… I just can’t bring myself to open up another one.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books

TRANSMETROPOLITAN v. 9: THE CURE by Warren Ellis

Click the picture for more info about the book.

For a while there, it seemed like Warren Ellis was putting out new comic books faster than I could read them. I mean, sure, there were already a bunch out before I discovered him, but for a while there he seemed like the Wolverine of comic book writers, just popping up everywhere. He seems to have slowed down quite a bit since. He’s moved into novels, and his comic output seems to have dwindled away. That’s fine though, since his novels are quite enjoyable too.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN is a bizarro dystopian future tale about a Hunter S. Thompsonesque-style journalist. In spite of its grim tone, this series has a shiny idealistic core. This is a story that believes in the power of words (and terrible terrible non-lethal weapons, i.e., the poop gun) to effect change.

Like all of the other comic book series I read, I only remember the broad strokes. I don’t actually remember what happened in this specific book. I mean, from the subtitle, I’m guessing… some disease and… a cure? I’m sure there was some wacky, grotesque humor, and some barely concealed political satire, as well as really just delightful dialogue.

I had a blast reading these TRANSMETROPOLITAN books. I haven’t read them in 10+ years though, so I’d be curious about how they hold up. I wonder if I would find them so gleefully gruesomely delightful. Oh, probably. Who am I kidding?

Still, this series is perfect for the outwardly disaffected (but secretly idealistic) “young adult”.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Books