Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Book Links

October 23, 2013

9 Books to scare the hell out of you. A good list with some I didn’t expect. I still have a hard time seeing lists like this with an array of newer titles while leaving anything by King, Rice, Matheson, etc. off. I know The Shining can only be on so many lists, and newer works deserve (and need) the exposure, but it’s still a bit weird for me. Nice seeing Shirley Jackson get some much deserved love, though. Despite her greatness, I think she gets overlooked at times.

 

Irma Boom: objectification of the book. I love books as physical objects, and Boom takes this to wonderful places. If you don’t know her work, check it out. You will enjoy it.

 

Libraries of the Rich and Famous.  I love the clutter of Keith Richard’s library, but I think Woody Allen’s tastes would most mirror my own. If I was filthy rich, that is.

 

We don’t read as well as we used to.  A new study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that American adults had a lower reading proficiency than their counterparts from twenty years ago.  It’s a bit of a thing that “young adult” books are becoming increasingly popular with adults, that it is common to see someone with some salt in their beard or grey in their hair lugging around Twilight or The Hunger Games, and it’s always assumed it’s because young adult fiction is becoming so well done. Maybe it’s because more and more people can’t handle more difficult reads.  This isn’t to say young adult novels are bad, but they are not really difficult, either. Anyway. There is my moment of fire in a crowded theater for this post.

Finally, David Bowie has a list of 100 must read books.

Book (and one audio) links

September 27, 2013

Here’s a collection of JG Ballard covers done up by James Marsh.  I have still yet to make the leap to ebooks, and this is part of the reason. While I know ebooks still have “covers,” an electronic cover is far from the physical thing in your hands. The book cover is one of the primary ways to attract a reader to a book, being literally the first thing the reader sees.  Looking through these covers and I know that if I was roaming through a bookstore, and saw these covers on the shelf, I’d have to pick at least one of them up and look through it. They’re just interesting and engaging, they pull you in and  make you curious about what past the cover awaits your eye.  While I may, technically, be able to see the same “cover” on my ereader, I think it loses something when you remove its tangibility. It becomes just a picture, something to click through, something easy to be discarded. It is no longer tied to the text in any real way.

Which might be one of the largest problems with ebooks in general. While they offer great convenience, they also become less important because of their literal lack of weight. You don’t have to make room for the book on a shelf or on your coffee table. You don’t have its bulk continually taking up space, shoving itself before your eyes every time you glance in its direction. Ebooks can be forgotten, lost to the ether of ones and zeroes.  While ereaders may have pulled more people than before into the readersphere, they  have also helped for this appearance of a product easily ignored, easily removed from thought.

I’m a bit late to the remembrance, but Carolyn Cassady has passed away. She was the husband of Neal Cassady, the close friend of Beat legend Jack Kerouac. She wrote her own memoir remembering the Beat scene, that I’ve read bits and pieces of and encourage anyone who is interested in that time and place in American literature to check it out.  The whole Beat generation thing seems too often to be overly condensed to Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, with everyone else reduced to extraordinarily minor  spots – the women especially. Her voice is an important one for perspective on the scene. It shouldn’t be ignored.

And the British aren’t happy about the Booker Prize being opened up to American writers.  Not much to say, as I don’t entirely agree with the opening the Booker competition up, either. It’s okay for it to focus on United Kingdom born writers. I don’t see how it cheapens the prize by maintaining a narrow focus. If anything, I think it opens the prize up to a nearly impossibly deep well of applicants, where merely deciding on finalists from year to year will become increasingly difficult.  Also, there’s nothing wrong with some pride for the UK.

Finally, not book related at all, but you can no preorder a massive Bob Dylan collection. Two things are interesting with this. The first is that it is labeled as “volume one,” but it contains all 35 studio titles that Dylan has released, as well as 6 live albums, and another two disks called “side tracks.” Which leaves me to wonder when (or if) volume two is released, what will be on it.   It makes me wonder if maybe we will see the material Dylan has used to release his occasional “Bootleg Series” editions released in one measure treasure chest of B side and rarity goodness. It is something I would desperately want, but also be desperately unable to afford. The second curious thing about this collection, is that there is an Amazon exclusive version that is packaged as a harmonica…but has all of the songs on a relatively tiny USB drive.  And it’s a hundred bucks more than the conventional collection of CDs, hardcover book, etc. While I think the harmonica thing is cool, you’re also giving up a lot of nice extras – including the physical CDs to keep around as master sources for your own personal rips. I like the idea of the USB stick, but I don’t see how it is worth $365. I’d rather have the box set and all of the tangible swaggy goodness that comes with it.

Book Links

September 25, 2013

Bookstores…of the future!  Okay, maybe not of the future, but definitely a bit of a shift from what we’re accustomed to outside of a Barnes & Noble (or a Borders *sigh*).  Add a cafe, or a bar, or a children’s play area (maybe a Happy Meal, too, eh?).  A coffee shop I used to hangout at with friends in undergrad was attached to a Christian bookstore, and cafes have long been a staple of the national book chains. It’s also an idea the wife and I have kicked around in our more whimsical moments. “Hey, let’s open a bookstore!” “And then file for bankruptcy!” We even had a grandiose dream at one time of having a restaurant/bookstore/coffeebar. Yeah. I applaud anyone taking the leap of opening a bookstore and attempting to incorporate such things into their plans. I hope it works, and I would try to support your endeavor. That said, I think it’s a long haul through two feet of financial woe. Still, sell a good spice cake and I’m there.

Sticking to the UK, there is a massive piece in The Guardian centered on Stephen King. I’m an unabashed King fan. I have had a more difficult time getting into his newer stuff, which may in part be from my own reading interests shifting over the years, but King is the guy who got me back into reading when I was in middle school and came across Eyes of the Dragon on the school library bookshelves. to be honest, I’m still slogging through this interview, chipping away at it throughout the day when I have the opportunity.

And the BBC caught up with Bill Bryson who wants his cake…and digital books, too! He’s lobbying for publishers to package a digital copy with a normal printed copy, so when people buy an actual book, the digital book is packaged with it in some way. I get what he’s saying, and I’m not against it.  We’ve seen movies package a “digital copy” with their DVDs, and music CDs are so easy to rip that a digital copy isn’t necessary (especially since it seems most music is bought digitally – maybe they should start packaging CDs with each download?). Something I’d be curious about is a digital subscription to my favorite publishers. For ten bucks a month, let me “join” Penguin and be able to read a selection of their library.  Sort of like a Netflix for books.  They could limit what was available, though if it is too limited no one would have any interest, and control the distribution/downloading. Also, they would have an opportunity for a treasure trove of information about their readers likes, dislikes, and habits.  it would almost be enough to get me to buy an ereader.

 

Book Links 5-9-13

May 9, 2013

Stuck in an elevator with Rushdie (and a host of of other interesting people)

Barnes & Noble is considering selling Nook to Microsoft. I think this is B&N getting ahead of the curve here, actually.  It’d be nice if they could keep getting some sort of share of sales of ereaders, but I don’t think there is a huge future in them. With tablets becoming more ubiquitous and more powerful, and the screens getting better, needing a dedicated reading device is going to become more and more unnecessary. At that point, does B&N have the infrastructure to be a player on the global tablet market against the likes of Apples, the various PC tablet makers, and Amazon? I don’t think so, and I’m guessing they are seeing that writing on the wall. They have been able to use Nook to keep afloat, to weather the storm of the initial push into the digital age, and now they need to find a way to establish themselves as booksellers in this market rather than technology sellers.

It’s at this point that finding some sort of partnership with MS makes a lot of sense. MS is big enough to run with the hardware end, and the software end comes naturally.  Also, B&N can become a bit of  a gateway to content for MS, depending on where B&N wants to take itself I’m a bit under the weather and my head is still pretty cloudy from lack of sleep, sickness, overmedication, and coffee, so it is a bit difficult to get my thoughts organized about this. However, it seems MS wants the next xbox to be even more of a media hub. Part of that is print – books, magazines, whatever. B&N seems to be a natural gateway for that. If they can find a way to scratch eachother’s needs, it could be hugely beneficial to them.

Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, and here is something he wrote about it. I’m a Murakami fan and a Gatsby fan, so this was pretty much up my alley. A good read.

Okay, I don’t have as much to talk about as I thought, so I think I’m ending it here.

 

Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross – Review

May 2, 2013

This is going to be short, but I feel like I need to get back on the horse a bit with this blog. It’s supposed to be about books, writing, etc., and I think the last two or three posts is about me wrestling with a toilet. This is probably going to continue, as my life changes my interests and responsibilities shift, but I’m not going to abandon the lit thing entirely. so, on to Mr. Peanut.

For one, it’s a good novel, especially a first novel. At the same time, I couldn’t read the whole thing. It bogs down in the middle where I just lost interest. I ended up literally skipping pages because nothing was really happening. This sounds horrible, and I know it might turn people off entirely, and that I don’t like giving negative reviews (and sort of promised not to, especially for new authors, etc.) but it’s still a good read. It’s still worth picking up, and it might just not be up my alley as far as style and genre goes.

So, what is it about? It’s about a husband and wife, the trials of being married, and each trying to find happiness, purpose, etc. The husband tries it through secretly writing a novel about a husband secretly wishing his wife was dead and devising ways for it to happen but not be culpable. The wife eats a lot, and then tries to change that. there’s also a story about a detective whose past mirrors that of the main character’s current life in many ways.  The wife, of damn near everyone, ends up dead, and unraveling the hows and whys make up the last 3/4 of the novel.

As I said, I just got tired around halfway through and started skimming/skipping. Part of the problem was the novel, but part of the problem has also been the amount of time I’ve been able to allocate to reading.  It was read in twenty minute bursts, and it made reading it drag out. at the same time, I feel that probably a hundred pages or so could have been cut off and it would have been all the stronger for it.  It drags. It repeats. The bit with the detective/doctor is labored. There are times where it feels like Mr. Ross had two ideas for where the novel could go, and instead of picking one and running with it, he tried to fuse them together. it just didn’t work for me.

anyway, not a glowing review, but I encourage anyone to check it out.  It at least tries to do something, it’s a bit risky with its form, and it’s a decent read.

Go buy Mr. Peanut from Barnes and Noble.

The Miniature Wife: And Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales – review

February 17, 2013

this is going to be undeservedly short because I was racking up fines on my copy and had to return it. Perhaps it is because of the hurried nature with which I had to reach the last few stories, but the collection dragged a bit at the end, and I wasn’t overly enthralled with the final story, “Escape from the Mall,” which is sort of like Dawn of the Dead II: Let’s Get The Hell Out of Here.  There are also a handful of orbits/bibliographies sprinkled throughout the collection that didn’t work for me.  It felt like Gonzales was aiming for something similar to Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas or just the general oddness of a Michael Martone work, but they just weren’t interesting enough for me to really care about.

Which are the negatives. The positive is that the rest of the collection is a good read. The first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer,” is a gentle wading into the literary lake Gonzales put together. It is told through the eyes of the unnamed Writer aboard a plane hijacked by the pilot and forever circling in the air over Dallas thanks to a briefly mentioned perpetual oil. It’s something that makes for a nice short story,but also begs to be pulled out, expanded upon, to a novel about the drudgery of such an existence. This might be the biggest complaint against the collection – none of the stories feel solid, singular, as if they are one contained piece that says something. I don’t think this is something that is peculiar to Gonzales, but is fairly spread around contemporary short fiction.  A lack of definition seems to be in vogue right now, leaving stories open to radical interpretation or maybe meant to reflect the undefinable nature of modernity, though a lot of that hits a hollow chord for me, a noise that reverberates but doesn’t resonate.

The cover story is probably the most fully realized story that works best. In it, a man who works somewhere that specializes in miniaturizing things (literally shrinking fullsize objects down to much small scales) accidentally miniaturizes his wife. We’re then treated to a timeline of escalating violence between the two before we are given an ending where the man has apparently shrunk himself down to journey across the house to his wife’s “territory” with the desire to throttle her.

Maybe my favorite story in this collection is “Life On Capra II.” I might just be way off in my interpretation, but I swear it’s a story about a video game told from the perspective of the main character in the video game. There is a soldier on a wildly hostile planet with swamp creatures and robots, and endless supply of weapons and ammo that the soldier is amazed he never runs out of . The reason for being there is bland, characters seem to re-spawn with each new “level,” and the destruction doesn’t seem to affect some characters (such as the love interest) at all.  Maybe this wasn’t what Gonzales was shooting for at all, but it’s what I took from it, and I think the openness of the style works very well with the idea of a never-ending, continuously re-spawning video game world of fighting robots and swamp monsters, while seeing your fellow soldiers do wildly stupid things, get blown to bits, only to be there again at the next level.  Another direction I was curious about is if the name of the planet is in any way tied to the director Frank Capra. I can’t really find it, but maybe it’s there. It also closely resembles Caprica, the homeworld from Battlestar Gallactica. Maybe it’s a play on that, too.

This review ended up sounding far more negative than I intended it to. The thing is, despite the flaws that come up now, when thinking about it in retrospect, I enjoyed reading it more than the George Saunders collection I recently reviewed, The Tenth of December. Saunder’s collection was better, unquestionably better for my money, but it wasn’t as enjoyable. So, check this guy out.  It is a very good collection, he is a very good read, and it is most certainly worth the time and effort. Hell, I even accrued library fines because of my desire to finish it. And I’m a cheap bastard, so that’s a pretty big deal.

As always, the B&N link to the collection is below and I collect no monies from my suggesting/whoring them.  B&N Miniature Wife: And Other Stories

Book Links 2/10/13

February 10, 2013

From time to time I gripe about the length of some books. I enjoy reading, I would say I love reading, but there are also times where I wonder where the hell editors have gone to help reign in authors and tighten books up  a bit. Galleycat has a nice little article up with a graph showing how a handful of fantasy series have grown and shrunk over their lifespans.  I have a hard time wanting to invest myself in a series of books if the shortest comes in around 700 pages.

Here’s a couple of articles about Amazon. The Seattle Times has an article up about Amazon’s inability to gain much market penetration in China, despite massive investments. At the same time, Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen has an article about Amazon and their possible foray into used ebooks. Given that one possibility of Amazon diving into the second hand business is to further weaken publishing houses  and push a larger market share back to their own servers, I don’t really mind seeing them have a tough time in China. There really isn’t anything new to say about Amazon and the publishing industry with either of these articles. The responsibility for saving their rears still rests largely with the publishing houses themselves, and the only way we readers can really help is by not shopping through Amazon – something the majority of people seem wholly unwilling to do if  it saves them a buck fifty. So it is what it is.

What author had the largest fingerprint on 19th century literature? Apparently, it was Jane Austen.   #2? Looks to be Sir Walter Scott. Not much more to the article.

Alright, that’s what I have for now.

Book Links 2/7/13

February 7, 2013

Alright, I’m trying to get back on the horse and start posting again. I have three or four reviews partially written, and I’ve been accumulating links in my bookmarks. The past week or so has just been a mess for me, though. Partly it’s an actual, physical mess.  The apartment is a random jumble of papers and detritus. We’re in the midst of a hopeful soon move, trying to buy a house on a short sale and waiting for a couple of banks to sort their stuff out. So an impending possible move just sort of looms in the background, along with an assortment of partially filled plastic totes and milk crates.  I’ve also had maintenance lounging about my bathroom for the past few days, tearing out about a two foot square section of bathroom wall to fix some plumbing and then trying to put the wall back together again. They need some more knights and men to help them, though. Just took a look at the job after the maintenance guy went on lunch, and it’s a lot of grout held together with some porcelain.  I think the guy is trying really hard to make it look decent, though. I get the feeling he doesn’t have a lot of experience with tiling. Anyway, some links…

Barnes & Noble has been getting some attention this week. Atlantic has up what is essentially a love letter and plea not to leave. Please evolve with the times but also keep all of your brick and mortar stores open! Yeah, I hope they can, despite not enjoying their stores as much as I enjoyed Borders, but I think it’s unrealistic. I think our hope has to be that B&N can keep a fair amount of stores open in the majority of urban areas, but not be a ubiquitous presence. At the same time, Forbes is playing the role of guy with a placard beside the road foretelling the end is nigh. They close with the oft repeated, “innovate or die.” It’s true, it’s necessary, but I really just don’t want to read doom and gloom pieces for awhile. It’s probably my own version of the confidence fairy, but I worry that our prognostications will have a bad habit of making themselves come true. In the meantime, go and shop at brick and mortar stores. It’s worth it. I just bought a collection of Jules Verne stories the other day, and it’s a pretty book and my kid likes it. It’s just far more enjoyable to pick these things out in person than to order it and have it show up in the mail.

The LA Times has a google hangout video with George Saunders up. I’m not a huge Saunders fan, though it’s changing a bit with his latest collection (more on that later this week)(hopefully), but this interview is enjoyable. If you’re fan, or if you’re not, give it a look.

Finally, flavorwire has 11 of the coolest museum libraries. In my dreams, my house would have all of them contained within its walls. My house would be a museum library.

Book Links 1-30-13

February 1, 2013

This week’s Comics World podcast is just wonderful to listen to.  I wanted to sit here and say this or that particular part was my favorite, but the whole thing is my favorite. I’m a recent convert to this podcast, so I might be a bit behind the times here, but check it out.

The Millions has an article on Ayana Mathis’ novel Twelve Tribes of Hattie and the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. Okay, it’s mostly about Oprah’s book club, but it’s still a good read. I never followed Oprah, or her book club, but I never understood the flak this whole enterprise took. Here was a megawatt celebrity with a ton of sway across America saying, “Hey, go pick up this book and read it!” and people actually did it,  yet “serious” people still want to complain about it? Are you nuts? I’m going to leave the whole gender angle alone, Millions wades into it very well. I think it’s just painfully stupid for anyone involved in writing or publishing, whether they’re a writer, editor, publisher, whatever, to complain about someone not only shilling for the profession, but doing it effectively. She sold books. She probably got some people to read who wouldn’t have read before. And once you get  people to buy one book, and enjoy it, you probably have someone who will buy a second book. Oprah can go ahead and push whatever book she wants.

And the Guardian has a short piece about lit mags. It’s quick, but not earth shattering. If you have a free minute or two, you could probably scan through it.

 

Alright, that’s what I have right now. first group of links in a long while, but just haven’t found much that I think have been overly interesting.

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson – review

October 25, 2012

I enjoyed Tau Zero, an old hard scifi book about people journeying past everything and back, but it’s also not the most entertaining read in the world. This is going to sound a bit harsh, but what I found most interesting was the book itself. From the library, it is a first edition hard cover from 1970 with wonderful cover work done by Anita Siegel. I hauled the image to the right from the novel’s wikipage and, if everything went right, you should be able to go there for a plot synopsis and other things by clicking the image. I’ll try to stay away from talking much about the actual happenings and goings because there really isn’t much to say that wouldn’t kill what plot the book has.

When saying it is a hard scifi novel, it means it focuses a good deal on the science and less on the people. I’m sure there are hard scifi books out there that do a great job hitting on both, but I don’t know what they are. The effect with Tau Zero is that I found the science a  bit hard to plough through while the characters were a bit hard to care about beyond their rather thin construction.

Which sounds like a devastatingly negative review, I know, but it’s not. It’s still an enjoyable read, perhaps made more enjoyable (at least for me) by getting through it quicker. While the characters really don’t matter a whole helluva lot, it makes up for it at least a bit by where they are going. What it really suffers from is just a general lack of vision. I think Anderson has a clear, strong grasp of the scientific aspects of his novel, and he goes into loving detail about tau – a detail that I just found dense and cumbersome compared to the lack of details he goes into with his characters, settings, and work.

In fact, he seems to go out of his way to not give details about the lead character, Reymont. The captain of the ship is shunted off. The other characters are either nearly as cold as Reymont, aren’t really delved into, or are even shown  as weakened a bit by their emotions.  It really seems as if Anderson just didn’t want to fill his novel out with anything but a framework so that he could talk about the science behind the idea of his story.

Which is a shame. While I wasn’t a big fan of Adrian’s The Children’s Hospital, it shows what can be done by cramming a bunch of people into a small area and just observing them and reporting back on what you see. Stephen King makes use of such a theme in story after story after story, trapping people in everything from vampire infested small towns to psychotic monorail trains to under a big invisible dome. However, this is also old scifi, which never really seemed to put an emphasis on the story. That was left to their fantasy tale spinning cousins, I guess.

If you like old scifi, or hard scifi, I think Tau Zero could be up your alley.  If you just sort of go walleyed and feel a tight clenching in your bowels by the idea of having to slog through some mathematical formulas about time dilation or having to keep track of a host of vaguely similar and thin characters, this is probably less for you. As I said, the most interesting part for me was the book itself. An artifact from 1970, its coverwork is distinctly scifi in its oddness and openly interpretive meanings in relation to the work. On the last page there is still a library card in the little paper slot, a single date stamped onto it (May 7 1970), though there are a host of Date Due stickers on the back cover, the most recent being 11-26-01.  Perhaps the best part is the brief synopsis on a little sticker on the cover page:

A space adventure which takes fifty people to the end of the universe, infinity, and the beginning of a new eternity.

Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.

Tau Zero at Barnes and Noble

Poul Anderson at Wikipedia and GoodReads

Anita Siegel’s archived NYT obituary at Legacy and a google image search. There is startlingly little I could really find on her.