So things have been a little quiet around here lately with some travelling, a pseudo-vacation (working vacation?), and a strange arm malady that has made typing painful (how can I be a writer when I must dictate email responses at my cell phone?! oh, why cruel world?!?). But enough of my complaining. Sometimes when you are benched, it’s a perfect time to get some reading done and eat frozen yogurt. But anyhoo.
While on my beach vacation, I started with David Sedaris’ newest book. I’ve been a big fan for a long time and have even listened to all of his audiobooks. With the exception of Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, I’ve loved them all. I was so excited to get my hands on his newest, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls.
Unlike his past essay collections, this one is uneven. There were moments that I absolutely loved it. I noticed that he excelled–like he always does–when writing about his family. I was less enthralled with his time visiting dentists in France. I couldn’t help but feel let down when I read a passage that had that absolute gut-busting Sedaris humor and observation because unfortunately the collection has some lackluster essays as well.
This collection is marked “Essays, Etc.” That et cetera is sometimes satirical “short stories” or a long poem closing the collection. They, of course, had humor but they served as a way for the writer to vent his frustrations with certain aspects or individuals in the United States. Although, sometimes very funny, I found myself hoping for their end so I could move on to parts about his father or what other strange mischief Sedaris got into as a child.
Although somewhat missing the usual Sedaris pizzazz, there were still essays that were a pleasure to read. When the audiobook comes out, I will still listen to it. David Sedaris, no matter what, is an exquisite story teller.
Below, is a short video about the title of the book.
The past week has been filled with a beautiful snow-covered mountain landscape, a continuously roaring fireplace, a gigantic oversized sweatshirt, and the inability to stop sneezing! One of the few good things about having a cold is the opportunity to be incapacitated with only the ability to catch up on all the television you’ve been missing and highly addictive plotty page-turners that usually fall to the sideline. Below, is an overview of what I’ve been up to for the week that I was sick.
Kate Atkinson has a good many books under her belt, whether it be her award winning fiction to her incredible popular detective series featuring private dick, Jackson Brodie. Case Histories is the first in the series featuring the aforementioned sleuth. Like the title suggests, this novel is all about case histories, three to be exact. The cases span the past three decades but all seem to end up on Brodie’s doorstep. Atkinson’s narrative gets really involved with these twisty turny plots and I rather enjoyed reading about each case history and then finally getting the real truth in the last third. Atkinson had a way of propelling each story forward and weaving the three cases through the present day narrative.
Thanks to PBS and Carole Barrowman’s rec, I googled Peter Robinson and found a whole slew of books featuring DCI Alan Banks. The British-Canadian novelist has been going strong with this series since 1987! Aftermath was brutal, not my usual fare, but I was completely hooked. The book was structure interestingly: the culprit or culprits have already been captured for their crimes and now the rest of the novel proceeds in the aftermath. Like I mentioned, the crimes were brutal and stark (I’ve never been a fan of shows like CSI; too much disembodied sperm, disembodied limbs for my liking) but the plot had momentum and the narrative was written quite well. This book was smack-dab in the middle of the series and Robinson did a good job incorporating vital past info without making the story cumbersome. Robinson also writes about the background and inspiration for the story on his website.
I should admit that I haven’t yet finished Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman but I will! I am a latecomer to the Scandinavian lit that is all the rage these past years and Nesbø’s thriller is certainly an interesting one. It unfairly suffers from coming right after my Peter Robinson read that was so enjoyable and of course it is a hard act to follow. I do have to say it took me a few chapters to get into the groove of The Snowman (which might have been due to a shaky start with the English translation) but once I did, it started to move forward. Out of the three, this seemed the most cinematic. I am curious to know if he was writing this with movie deals in mind. The Norwegian landscape in the novel is bold and a huge part of the setting. Nesbø does a really good job of taking an everyday image–a snowman–and making it horrifying. The reader knows something is afoot whenever the narrative lens takes a turn toward this image. I’m looking forward to finally having a chance to finish it up. There is also a 6 minute audio clip at Wikipedia from Bookbits radio featuring Jo Nesbø talking about the book.
Yes, I have been particularly scattered brain, lazy, anxious, procrastination-prone, etc. etc. Maybe not the best way to start off a new year? However, being on a pseudo-vacation for the next month, away from NYC, in a tropical environment, is an excuse, right?? I am not one to get into “New Year’s Resolutions,” but I do like the occasional stimulation, especially, when it comes to books and writing. So, for my much delayed post of the new year, I have created more of a list of things I hope that will help me focus and be a more productive and better writer.
- Read more literature from overseas. In the US, we have a huge publishing market, but, alas, only three percent of books published in the US are those in translation. We are quite anemic when it comes to foreign literature. If you have an suggestions, both contemporary & classic, please feel free to leave a rec in the comment section.
- Don’t spread yourself too thin. I have the unfortunate tendency of taking on too many projects. This can result in not finishing something one has started. Recently, I was given the advice of setting up a superfluous deadline and if I am no longer interested in the project, drop it and move on to something I am interested in and passionate about. Hopefully, this will help me focus and not waste my time.
- Let it be a fantastical year! Besides including foreign literature, I shall also try to read more fantasy, sci-fi, myth, fairy tale etc. I am working on a side project now that is very much in the genre realm with elements of the fantastic and sci-fi. A great blog that I look to for works of horror and fantasy is Multo (Ghost). There is always something good happening over there.
- Sayonara book reviewing. Well, maybe not completely. Writing reviews professionally is really not an interest of mine. I do it more for the small amount of money it gives me to buy groceries. When you are a writer of no importance, you tend to take on projects you normally wouldn’t want to do for little to no money. Some people like book reviewing, but it’s just not for me. I’ll probably still pick up a book or two, but keep it to a minimum this year. It also can cut into my own work.
- Get this blog in to gear. For a chunk of last year, I was out of the country and traveling around. For the most part, I had no internet or reliable internet, so my posts count did drop severely. I hope I will be able to post more interesting things in the coming weeks. My write-ups have been a bit more scarce (whilst on vacationing I am always unmotivated to turn on a computer), but, hopefully, I can provide some more interesting topics to read and exciting books to share.
Well, here’s to a fantastic year at Acid Free Pulp. Enjoy!
Before Revenge, I had never read any of Stephen Fry’s fiction. I did read the wonderfully engaging The Fry Chronicles which details his time at Cambridge and in the early years of his career. I absolutely love Stephen Fry and wish that we could get more of this funny Englishman in the US. So, I will have to be happy with just gobbling up his books.
Revenge was completely enjoyable. It was both “literary” and “plotty” (two labels that, unfortunately, seem to be mutually exclusive in the past years)–a well-written thriller to be exact with heaping spoonfuls of Fry’s wit and humor. It is a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Crisco, a book I have yet to read (so pardon my ignorance to any parallels made to the Dumas classic). I read this book as pure enjoyment.
The novel starts in the very early 1980s, with the ever-handsome seventeen year old, Ned Maddstone. He leads a happy life with Oxford on the horizon, but his peers are having none of that. In a nasty plot gone awry, Ned is whisked into a strange and twisted cover up that results in his decades long imprisonment.
I wanted to know everything about Ned and the mystery and the REVENGE! I highly recommend.
Now that I am back in the States, I have many stacks of books to get through, so look out for some upcoming reviews.
Any suggestions or opinions on your favorite thrillers?
While travelling recently on a train from Berlin, I found myself totally enamored with Scarlett Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y. It had been recommended while I was visiting Austria and I immediately snagged it when I saw a lone copy at a bookstore in Germany. I really couldn’t put it down. When I wasn’t reading it, it called to me.
The book is about a PhD student, Ariel Manto, who is researching a 19th Century writer, Thomas Lumas, with a mysterious background and an equally mysterious end. After a strange catastrophe that makes her university office uninhabitable, she takes a stroll into a used bookshop where she finds an incredibly rare copy of Lumas’ infamous book, The End of Mr. Y. The book-within-a-book is strange, to say the least, making Thomas’ novel strange in that best possible way.
The novel is filled with logistical conundrums, philosophical quandaries, thought experiments and other adventures that remind me a little of Being John Malkovich with a dash of Dark City. As someone who can barely add or subtract, the science and math involved never felt like a burden. In fact, it enhanced the mystery. Ariel was quick and intelligent and ever the wit–a fun character to accompany.
It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book so much. It was a disappointed when the novel came to a close!
While on a recent trip to Austria, I grabbed a copy of Amor Towles’ The Rules of Civility. My brain was a bit fried from so much German, that I popped into an international bookshop with not much of an idea of what I would find. I perused the shelves and didn’t really see anything until I came upon it. I remembered the title from a then-recent post over at Literary Man. So, I snapped it up and was happy to have a new book to read as I next traveled to Berlin.
It is more than an ode to New York. The main character is the 25-year-old native New Yorker, Katey Kontent, who on New Years Eve in 1937, meets the enticing Tinker Grey. What comes is the next year of Katey’s life as she moves around the city with new jobs and new friends. The dialogue is snappy and the author makes sure to add an authenticity to the story by dappling the text with vogue establishments and trends of the time. One of my favorite lines was,
“Doesn’t New York just turn you inside out.”
It is repeated a few times and that is exactly was happens throughout the novel. The Rules of Civility was a real page turner and great relief to my brain which has been thinking German for too long. I popped in to a bookshop today with an international section. I won’t reveal what the novel is yet but it is British and it’s incredibly addicting.
post script Many apologies for my horrid grammar and syntax; I’ve been losing my language skills recently but this book is a must read!
Regardless of one’s personal opinion about John D’Agata, his book–About a Mountain–is truly gripping. I couldn’t put it down; in my first reading session, (which lasted about an hour) I read approximately 100 pages.
John D’Agata terms himself as a “lyric essayist” opposed to a “non-fiction writer.” He sees a difference and it’s up the reader to either put their qualms aside and enjoy or have a conniption and dismiss his book. To dismiss and disregard would be a shame.
The book is focused on environment and suicide in Las Vegas. As D’Agata is helping his east-coast mother move to this strange city, he finds himself enthralled with the horrific topic of nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain. He writes about his own experiences and the opinions of local residents; D’Agata delves into facts and politics surrounding the proposed storage facility.
At the same time, he is also interested in the extremely high suicide rate in Las Vegas (perhaps, the highest in the country). He focuses on a sixteen-year-old named, Levi Presley, who committed suicide by jumping from the Stratosphere Tower. Recently, I attended a talk which featured D’Agata. What first made him interested in all of this was when he was staying with his mother in Las Vegas and had volunteered with a suicide prevention hotline. One night, he had a hang up and the next morning, Levi’s death was all over the news. He convinced himself that it must have been Levi who phoned him. Although, it had not really been Levi, this was the impetus for penning About a Mountain.
After reading this book, I can see how D’Agata refers to himself as a “lyric essayist.” He seamlessly moved between much different topics–environmental issues and suicide–and somehow has made them connect. The prose is clear and crisp and the book is long-lasting.
Hester Among the Ruins is one of those fantastic books that sat atop my mantle for about a year. I’ve wanted to read but it always got pushed aside by other less-fantastic books I’ve been obligated to read.
This book was both “literary” and a “fast read” (I find this division between what is literary and what is not, very peculiar) . The marketing person behind the book cover design should be given a swift kick to the pants for leaning towards “chick lit.” Unfortunately, the author gets stuck with these fuzzy lens photos–often of women’s legs–quite often and much to her chagrin.
Hester is a fortyish academic from New York City who travels to Munich after the reunification but still during the era of the Deutsche Mark. She begins an affair with the German professor whom she is researching and writing a book about. But she is determined to find out the real story about his background, mostly surrounding events during WWII & Nazi occupied Germany. Interspersed with Hester’s narration, she puts snippets of academic texts, memoirs, and strange love letters that the German professor writers to her (awkward English and all).
Hester is attractive, smart and no nonsense. She has a quick wit and black sense of humor. If someone like Jonathan Franzen wrote Hester, I’m sure the publisher would put the title in big bold capital letters (à la Freedom).
But enough of my complaining. The book was fabulous and I very much enjoyed all of the little observations about the very specific quirks of Germans (example, not crossing the street until the pedestrian light comes on even if ABSOLUTELY NO cars are coming).
Let’s not discuss why I was reading a Nancy Drew book–a series written for elementary school children–and instead, talk about how totally rad Nancy is!
The first book was published in 1930. Of course, reading this book as an adult, I could easily point to the silliness and absurdity of the plot but that doesn’t stop me from waxing fondly about my favorite childhood heroine. I used to live across the street from a children’s bookstore and they would proudly line their sidewalk display with the yellow covers of the Nancy Drew series.
I’m definitely not in the know when it comes to what the youth are reading these days except for books that involve vampires and love triangles, but I do hope that they are gobbling up the pages of Carolyn Keene’s series.
Nancy is resilient and quick thinking. She does right by the underdog and always gets her man. In The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy helps her fellow neighbors in times of need, fixes a flat tire, attempts to pick a lock after being shut in a closet by a criminal, and doesn’t get intimidated by anyone.
Of course, the narrative is written simply but it has some great “plotty” stuff that kids should appreciate. In The Secret of the Old Clock, Nancy is in search of a possible second will of the late Josiah Crowley. If only Nancy could find this missing document to help the poor friends of Mr. Crowley who were left out of the first will! It was a real pleasure revisiting Nancy and I hope I get a chance to do it again.
“In a flash Nancy’s detective instincts were aroused and her heart pounded excitedly. ‘It must be Josiah Crowley’s will they’re talking about,’ she reasoned.” –Nancy Drew
Someone should really slap me across the face for taking such a long hiatus from Ambrose Bierce. His writing always proves entertaining. I first came across him in college when we were assigned to read a handful of his short stories for a literature class on the Civil War. Of course, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was included (perhaps, his most famous story; don’t read the Wikipedia page if you don’t want spoilers). I branched out and read The Devil’s Dictionary and Fantastic Fables, the former, being re-published with illustrations by Ralph Steadman.
The Parenticide Club is a short work that is composed of four stories, each with a narrator that kills at least one parent. The book grips you right from the beginning,
Having murdered my mother under circumstances of singular atrocity, I was arrested and put upon my trial, which lasted seven years. In charging the jury, the judge of the Court of Acquittal remarked that it was one of the most ghastly crimes that he had ever been called upon to explain away.
Bierce is always a great study when you want to see how a master has crafted plot and suspense. Much of his work, including The Parenticide Club, is bizarre and haunting. This short collection is a fascinating example for a writer who is interested in writing a first person narrator who is far from being a saint. These stories are not gory but can be labelled disturbing in the psychological sense.
I always find Bierce to be an interesting character. Besides being a top notch writer/journalist and wit, his life was supremely intriguing: he was a Union soldier during the Civil War (much of his more famous writings take place during the war period) and when he was in old age, he went down to Mexico to hang out with Pancho Villa during the Revolution. No one heard from him again.
In 1962, a short film from France was adapted from the story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. It was then shown on the Twilight Zone. Below is the Twilight Zone episode with accompanying Spanish subtitles for your convenience.