Archive for January, 2012
My previous post did me so much good that I’ve decided to keep going. It is time to be honest about books, to get real about what I am going to actually, honestly want to read. My reward will be bookshelves that can breathe.
Aqueduct Press (www.aqueductpress.com) always snags my interest with their classy offerings. I have two from their Conversation Pieces, a short story collection by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Aliens of the Heart, and a Sue Lange novella, We, Robots. I also have a a third from them, Eleanor Arnason’s Tomb of the Fathers. Each one is clearly worthy of my time and effort. As to why I have not gobbled them up yet, I have to think it’s the form issue. Two of these slender volumes are novellas; one, a short story collection.
Novellas and story collections can be treated as stepchildren, simply not big enough to count as “what I’m reading now.”
Reading has been my principle, number one, way to relax for as long as I have known how to read. Science fiction, kids’ series (The Black Stallion, The Bobbsy Twins), historical fiction, fantasy, detective fiction, lit fix, satire…but mostly novels. Novels of between 200 and 550 pages are the most approachable size. (Note that, if you substitute calories for words, you could say that a novel is a nice, dinner-sized plateful of reading.) 1085 pages (Against the Day) is too much reading-food; 93 pages (We, Robots) is too little to make a meal. So, while I’ve always liked short stories and novellas, they are more like a side dish or appetizer, not my main course.
This is, of course, ridiculous. Literature is more that its word count. I can remember short stories that have had as much effect on me as any full-length work. And I’ve always maintained that the novella is the perfect length to adapt for stage or film, a length at which you don’t have to leave out plot lines or characters.
So, what about these three?
Tomb of the Fathers, is blurbed as a “…witty romp of planetary romance…” I have read Eleanor’s romps in the past, and they are wonderful. She may be the most carefully intelligent writer I know. She is able to make me believe nearly anything, because she has set it up so well, and because she has so clearly thought out all the implications. Of course I’ll keep this.
Aliens of the Heart is a short collection of “…stories of the heartland.” The heartland is something of a mystery to me, socially, politically, and spiritually, and Carolyn is another wonderful writer (Halfway Human) who I expect will illuminate it. Keep.
Sue Lange is a writer I don’t know. I must have purchased We, Robots because of the the subject matter: the story of robots becoming more intelligent than humans. I have a similar issue as a subplot in the novel I’m working on; I need to read this.
Uh oh, I’m sounding like those folks on Hoarders.
Another sweep of the shelves last night revealed two more titles from Aqueduct: one more each from Eleanor Arnason and Carolyn Ives Gilman. Ordinary People is an Arnason short story collection, and Candle in a Bottle is a Gilman novella. And yeah, I’m keeping them all. All five books go back on the shelf. Well, they are skinny.
Well, okay, this second post on unread books hasn’t helped me get rid of anything. What it has done, however, is bring these books to my attention once more. These slender trade paperbacks were overwhelmed by larger volumes around them. That shouldn’t happen to any book.
Maybe I’ll give them their own special corner of the top shelf, so they won’t get lost again.
My three shelves of unread books taunt and shame me. I mostly had such high hopes for each of them when they came into my life. Mostly.
A couple years back, my husband gave me Shadow of the Hegemon, by Orson Scott Card. It looks to be the sixth book in the Ender series. I had read Ender’s Game and one or two of the sequels; knowing that I had, Mike was making a thoughtful choice. What he could not know was that, although I enjoyed Ender’s Game and one or two sequels, by the time I received Shadow of the Hegemon, c. 2002, I was over Ender. Not disliking it, just over it, and on to other stuff. Unfortunately, that makes the prospect of reading Hegemon a bit of a chore.
There is an additional problem with this book. It is part of a series of which I have not read the middle parts, and am not motivated to do so. This, and another Card book, Prentice Alvin, will leave the to-be-read shelves and take up residence in our local used bookstore at the library.
Another gift book, Against the Day, by Thomas Pynchon (almost out of picture, to the right of the orange and yellow tome on the far right of the second shelf) has been teetering on the brink for some time.
I wasn’t that thrilled to unwrap it. It is so BIG, to begin with. A huge commitment, and not, I suspect, an easy read. I watched my husband struggle through Gravity’s Rainbow years ago, and it did not look like fun. I did enjoy The Crying of Lot 49, but that was a nice, short length. For decades, I have read book blurbs calling Phillip K. Dick “…the poor man’s Thomas Pynchon.” From my standpoint they have that the wrong way around. It could be I am the “poor man” here. If I am, so be it.
Against the Day, will not go off to the library bookstore, however, the reason being another occasion of gift-giving. Our daughter has developed an interest in steampunk. Being only modestly familiar with the sub-genre, I Googled the term, in order to give her a steampunk offering under the Christmas tree. I settled upon Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest, which was on the Best Of lists of several reviewers, but also noticed that several reviewers listed Against the Day as a great steampunk work as well. I had not known this, and this does pique my interest in the book. I will give it a try, but not just now.
One category of the to-be-read I find troubling are those books I was really, really excited about when I purchased them, but which have, in subsequent months and years, lost their luster and have, time after time, with each book-choosing, been passed over for something else, something newer and shinier. Our Ecstatic Days, by Steve Erickson, falls into this category. I’m not certain why I was attracted to it, although the back cover description says “…a lake appears almost overnight in the middle of Los Angeles…,” a lake which a mother believes means ill toward her young son. It sounds like good stuff.
But the first thirty pages are italics. I don’t like italics, except for book titles and the occasional emphasis. In big blocks they are difficult to read and offer me nothing. I look upon them as something to be gotten through, but not part of the actual story, which I am anxious to get to. Italics are overwrought. I don’t like overwrought. Further on, there are a number of portions written in non-standard paragraphs, as in poetry, and also non-standard capitalization. This is fine, at poetry length. At novel-length, I don’t have the patience.
This may be a great book; it may be my loss, but I know in my heart I never will read it. I have (approximately) two dozen unread books I know I’m more likely to get to, and I’m always buying new books that I know will slip in ahead of this one. The odds of my ever getting to this one are pretty close to zero.
Oh my goodness. I believe I just talked myself into donating it to the library as well.
I’ve always been grateful for my overflowing to-be-read shelves. Some might want to stash gold–just in case–to get them through tough times. For me, it’s books. The world may end, but at least I’ll have something to read.
A time comes, however, when the books that excite me are overshadowed by books that, for one reason or another, have been there too long. It is time to let them go. May the space created by their leaving create a breath of fresh air rather than emptiness.
We have these bookcases. Five of them, scattered about the house. Four are the tall ones from IKEA. I, my husband, and our daughter all have e-readers as well. Over the years, I have repeatedly declined invitations to join book clubs, because I really, really don’t need additional reading assignments.
Three shelves of one bookcase are designated for books I have acquired but not yet read. Unread books are accumulating in my e-bookshelves as well, although I’ve only half a dozen or so there. When I finish one book, I decide what to read next, and sometimes, it is a difficult decision. In a later post, I’ll dive into the mass of the Waiting-to-be-Read; for now, I’ll consider only the most recent additions to that pile.
My husband gave me Then Again, Diane Keaton’s biography, having read and enjoyed it himself. A family story that his uncle and Keaton’s father had worked together in Orange County, California, way-back-when intrigued him. He hoped for some confirmation of the claim, but there was none. If his uncle and Diane Keaton’s father ever knew each other, it didn’t make it into the bio. Nonetheless, he liked the book a lot. He had read it as an ebook, and but bought the hard copy for me, in order to provide the tactile sensation of opening a new book on Christmas morning.
As to what I plan to do with the book, I’ve already read it. Diane Keaton’s autobiography is very good–near the top of the celebrity autobiography category. She weaves in her mother’s journals, and her mother’s life, with that of her own improbable (as she sees it) rise to fame. The result is a wonderful look at two interesting women of two generations, and just enough gossipy tidbits of Keaton’s movie star life and relationships to add a little spice. She does not go into lurid detail, or rake anybody over the coals here. Classy.
I asked for China Mieville’s Embassytown, and my daughter gave it to me as an ebook. I have not yet read it, as I require a certain mental energy to read a Mieville book. My three favorites of his so far are (in order) The City and The City, Perdido Street Station, and Un Lun Dun. I liked The Scar and Kraken, but simply could never get into The Iron Council. I may very well read Embassytown next, now that I am more or less recovered from the holidays.
I am in the middle of Game of Thrones, also given to me by my daughter, but not specifically requested by me. I was glad to have it; George R. R. Martin’s series has become the new hip pop culture geek reference, and I love to be in the know. Once I was past the first thirty pages or so, I found it easy to keep the various family lines straight, and the book reads quickly. For the first few days of being in the book though, I found my sleep disturbed. Martin has the trappings of high fantasy, but without what we have come to expect, which is that the good guy will defeat the bad guy and the natural order restored. It is full of political intrigue, the kind where the pure of heart are delay with harshly.
A commentator on the Emmys commented on the “interesting historical period” of Thrones. I laugh, but while I deplore her ignorance of the genre, (and of history) she may have had a point. The Seven Kingdoms seems quite close to what it was like to be of the peerage in feudal Europe. It may not be of a historical period, but it certainly is historical, and the political intrigue and moral dilemmas are very much of the present.
Finally, my sister in law gave our whole family the Michael Slater biography, Charles Dickens. I do not know when I will read this. Scholarly biographies–even popular biographies–can be dry, rough, going. There was a time in my life when I would have forced myself to read the book, thinking that if it’s more difficult, it’s better for me than Thrones or Keaton’s book, but I’m past that. Books don’t have to be “easy reading,” but I do expect to be entertained. Real lives, unlike fiction, do not have to be interesting. Usually they are, but not all the way through.
I will definitely try the book at some point, because I could be cheating myself if I don’t. Case in point: A couple years ago, my sister-in-law gave me Beatrice Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear. I was rather mystified (I had never had any special interest in Potter) and, as I later found out, Anne only got me the book because she couldn’t find the Dickens book. Nonetheless, I found myself picking it up and looking at it.
It was fascinating. Beatrice Potter was a woman of the nineteenth century who wanted to do things women didn’t get to do in those days. Besides being an artist and children’s author, she was an enthusiastic amateur botanist, specializing in fungi that grew where she lived. Now, this was fine, a suitable pursuit for a lady, but when she discovered that lichen were the product of algae and fungi (as I recall, one or more botanists on the Continent had proposed the same thing), she was going against the doctrine of the time. When she wanted to present evidence of her findings to the folks at Kew Gardens, she ran into quite a bit of resistance, and could only get an appointment with the help of a male relative. Fascinating stuff.
I am grateful for what I received, and I am grateful for what I didn’t receive. No coffee table books, no books I’ve already read, no self-help, no political pundits’ books, no junk. A good Christmas book haul.