books

Brain on Books

So busy. So very, very busy. Barely able to read a lick of text. I do hate when everything gets chucked to the side. I don’t feel very much like myself when I’m not reading or writing, and there has been way too much of that lately. However, I’ve been getting back into a routine and I’m writing writing writing (excitement!). Sadly, though, I’ve become one of those people that doesn’t read. How is that possible?! (wait, let me backtrack, I have been able to listen to a few books via audiobooks).

How does one unplug their brain? The galleys are stacking up and the publicists are chomping at the bit. While I try to figure out how to unplug my brain from the Matrix, I leave you with this photo of a skull on a pile of books. Odd, yet somehow fitting.

skull on books

Celebrating Irish Women Writers

If you haven’t been following The Irish Times’ celebration of Irish women writers, what are you doing here?! Head on over. They have a whole slew of articles in praise of various authors, along with other literary interests.

Their most recent one–as of this typing–is about designing a new “Irish Writers” poster (does anyone else recall these from libraries or other places of scholarly gathering? I do.). If you notice on the original one, it was terribly outdated and not a single female scribe.* For your delight and enjoyment, the old poster has been updated to feature a handful of talented authors, which can be downloaded gratis; just click the image below.

writerposter

 

 

 

 

*Also, for fellow Jeopardy! fans, there was only one clue last night about women writers in all of the British Authors category. For shame.

5 Things Alice in Wonderland Reveals About the Brain

I’ve been mildly obsessed with the BBC – Future & Earth sites since a friend posted an excellent (and entertaining) article about octopus mating–seriously, you must read it. Somehow, this led me to a recent article about “Lewis Carroll’s popular tales contain some hidden truths about the human brain that are still inspiring neuroscientists to this day.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Today’s article features different moments and imaginative peculiarities from Carroll’s books that have inspired neuroscientists:

Memory, language, and consciousness: long before we had the technology to map the brain’s Wonderland, Carroll was already charting its contours with his playful thought experiments. “It explores so many ideas about whether there’s a continuous self, how we remember things from the past and think about the future – there’s lots of richness there about what we know about cognition and cognitive science,” says Alison Gopnik at the University of California, Berkeley.

Telescoping or “Alice in Wonderland syndrome,” dream shape shifting, and impossible thought, just to name a few. Enjoy!

Nabokov’s Real Lolita

Perhaps, it was a strange choice to read this long essay over breakfast (cold cereal and tea, for those who are concerned with such matters), but I’ve been in a reading, writing, blogging, everything rut. I have a bunch of deadlines for reviews coming up over the next two weeks, then I must begin writing an essay for which I’ve been commissioned, but good news arrived this morning, that a bit of flash fiction I wrote last year will be published in the autumn. I’m very happy for that, because it is a piece I am particularly fond of.

But anywho, this morning’s breakfast was accompanied by a long form essay (bully for a now oft-deprived discipline). It is an essay I’ve been saving for well over a month, but I thought this gloomy morning was a time to forsake the news and just read one thing: “The Real Lolita” by Sarah Weinman (11/20/2014, Penguin Random House Canada/Hazlitt Magazine).

Has anyone else read this essay? Even if you haven’t read Lolita, I’m sure the story itself is particularly interesting. The subtitle is certainly astute in what it proclaims: The story of 11-year-old Sally Horner’s abduction changed the course of 20th-century literature. She just never got to tell it herself.

Enjoy!

lolita

Hilltop Rain and Robert Frost.

california rain

In California where it rained all weekend. [a view last evening from the rainy hills]

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Final stanza from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

 

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Emily Carroll’s illustrated book Through the Woods came into my life just at the right time. Well, any time would be great, but I’m particularly interested in the uncanny and what spooks us for a few projects I’m working on.

through the woods cover

Besides the engrossing illustrations, Carroll captures the straightforwardness of language that, even though it might appear simple, is in fact hiding the monster that waits beneath our beds ready to pull us by the leg. This book has teeth; large, gnashing teeth ready to eat the characters up.

There are five complete stories in the book and like many of the Grimm fairy tales before it, concern themselves with children protagonist and/or the invasion of the home from an uncanny force. The English name “fairy tales” always seems misleading. In German, these types of stories are labeled Kinder-und Hausmärchen, or children and house stories/tales. Not as fanciful sounding, but more correct.

The stories in Through the Woods do not have happy endings and have not been Disneyfied. It is hard to pick a favorite, but perhaps, if I had a huntsman’s axe pointed at my head, I would choose “A Lady’s Hands Are Cold.” A young wife joins her husband at his expansive home and is haunted by knocking coming through the walls. It’s a bit of a mix of Edgar Allan Poe and Rebecca.

Even though Carroll clearly has a style, she gives each story its own unique look and color scheme. They do not blend together, but reflect well on the story (in words) being told.

It was fortuitous that I finished this book and then the following night–with the lights turned off, of course–that I watched the film Stoker. I’ve been meaning to see it ever since it was released, but I have only now watched it. It clearly was inspired by Hitchcock films and Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. An uncanny presence (who doesn’t eat food) comes into the home. The film utilizes style, and the layering of images and scenes, overlapping events allude to a sinister unease. I enjoyed the film. Although, I absolutely did not like the final scene. Has anyone else seen this movie? I think the song used over that bit was totally ill-fit and knocked me out of sync with the rest of the film.

Anywho, it was an interesting pairing. I’m glad I finally read Through the Woods. It made 2014 a more interesting publishing year than it was.

This book is best read at night before you go to sleep with only a single nightlight or book light. One of the stories is available on the author’s website, along with further stories not collected in the book.

through the woods 1

 

TV Series: The Man in the High Castle

Yesterday saw the release of Amazon’s new pilots, including a one hour debut for the television adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle. According to their site,

Based on Philip K. Dick’s award-winning novel, and executive produced by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner), The Man in the High Castle explores what it would be like if the Allied Powers had lost WWII, and Japan and Germany ruled the United States. Starring Rufus Sewell (John Adams), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars) and Alexa Davalos (Mob City).

I watched it and liked what I saw. As a PKD fan, I hope they are able to make further episodes. Viewers in the US, UK, and Germany can watch it for free! Has anyone else watched it?

man in the high castle

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Perhaps, I am in the minority, but 2014 didn’t smack me as a great year for novels. There were a few that were personal favorites (most notably The Fever), but there were far more disappointments. I am a bit bummed that I let Julie Schumacher’s novel Dear Committee Members wait till four months after publication, but I am so happy that I finally read it and at an addicting speed, no less.

dear committee members

 

This novel will be especially appreciated by those who have swam through the sludge that is academic bureaucracy (and also anyone seeking out employment where references are required). The book is told entirely in the form of Letters of Recommendation, or LOR, written by a technophobic, vain and unpleasant professor of creative writing and literature at a university in Minnesota. The novel has all the components to steal my heart.*

Professor Jason Fitger has written over 1,300 LOR, a process that seems to be the primary reason for not penning a new book in more than half a decade (I’m not even sure when he would have to time to teach the classes he mentions). The letters he writes are funny, revealing, self-involved, and entirely inappropriate for so many reasons. Readers will love this book, but especially those who have had to deal with the ridiculous requirement of LOR.

Not only is Professor Fitger penning LOR for academic programs, colleagues’ promotions, etc., but also for his students who are applying for employment at RV parks, produce factories, and technology firms.

dear committee members excerpt

Over the school year, Fitger is one of the lone professors who has remained behind in the building housing the English department, which is undergoing vast (and crumbling) renovations. As a former English major, I feel it’s my duty to note the parallel between the department’s physical shambles and the never-ending breakdown of relationships Fitger has in his own life: his ex-wife and former girlfriend have formed a sort of alliance against him, former colleagues deny requests for assistance, and the majority of everyone else is aware of his membership in the pompous ass club.

The novel is, in short, hilarious. It is attuned to what is happening to liberal arts departments, the shunting aside of any course of study that is not part of STEM. It is also a fine critique to the obscene behavior universities deploy so they do not have to pay professor much of anything (employing mostly underpaid and overworked adjuncts, so as to refrain from paying out benefits and salaries).

Shall I dare to say that Dear Committee Members is genius? I shall. (It’s entirely unfortunate how this term–along, with epic, awesome, unbelievable-is splashed upon every article headline these days, but I will refrain from further curmudgeonry, lest I sound too much like Professor Fitger).  I really loved this book and in fact, I finished it in a single day.

 

*I am a sucker for epistolary novels; I’m looking at you, Dracula.

Storytelling Through Crime: “People Who Eat Darkness”

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been knee-deep in books that can be labelled in the true crime genre. I’m generally not an aficionado of murder as entertainment (the sensationalize plots, bad acting, and terrible cop lingo of police procedurals on television, which make me want to gag with a spoon).  Yet, what has drawn me to a few of these titles has been more about the storytelling and craftsmanship. For me, it’s less about the gruesome, vial acts that have occurred, but more how the writer chooses to unfold them.

This began with The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which discusses a mid-19th Century crime and the subsequent investigation during the early days of organized police deduction. I carried on with John Safran’s God’ll Cut You Down, whose voice and point of view is very crucial to the storytelling. Safran is an Australian who goes to Mississippi in the aftermath of an odd crime. In the mysterypod podcast, John Safran discusses his approach to writing his book and how it was not as clear cut as one would have hoped.

My ears perked up when he told the host that he didn’t consider himself a journalist but a storyteller. Safran, too, has a six-part podcast that is worth a listen. It’s titled True Crime and he discusses with famous true crime writers the approach they’ve taken when writing such books. In episode 4, he chats with Joe McGinniss who wrote the magnum opus of crime books, Fatal Vision, which in itself is a master class in how to unravel information through a timeline.
people who eat darknessI hope to wind down from crime books soon (honestly, my threshold for debauchery and violence is being tested). I’ve just finished Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat DarknessIn one word, it was stunning. It was stunning in the complexity of the world it created (Roppongi, a Tokyo district known for its night life), the people who lurk through it, and the “characters” (I use this word as a replacement for the actual real people portrayed). The people are complicated; like Safran’s book, nothing is quite so clear as we would like it to be and like Fatal Vision, answers are not satisfactorily answered like in an Agatha Christie novel.

The crime is brutal and inhuman. If a reader can move past that and read the book for its storytelling, a writer can learn a lot from Parry and the others listed above. They have all moved past the sensationalism of the crime itself and focus on the people, the order of invents, and the style of their writing.

Because I’m currently working on short stories that toe the lines of horror, the uncanny, suspense, and unnerving, when to reveal or withhold are very important. Letting go of too much at one time can undermined the atmosphere and story.

I have a few more on my docket, but these, like The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, are from events of years past. There is something about reading about contemporary crimes (let’s say last sixty or so years) that make these books particularly uncomfortable.

True crime can be a hard subject; I found In Cold Blood to be highly difficult to read when I read it six or seven years ago and I’m at my breaking point when it comes to anything Jack the Ripper related. Sometimes, cloaking true events in the guise of a novel can make it a little bit easier to deal with as is the case of the completely gripping The Murder Farm.

Does anyone else read these kinds of books? And if so, what do you make of them? Are they guilty pleasure imbibed in when you’re at an airport bookstore or go to reads when they’re published? It’s definitely been an interesting foray into non-fiction for a while. A different kind of reading experience for sure.

Armchair Detectives!

I am completely obsessed with the Serial podcast. I am a big fan of This American Life and general audiobookery (my iphone is begging for reprieve from anymore downloads). I especially listen to audio over reading books when I travel and since I was abroad for a couple of months, my iphone was really proving itself. I started to listen to Serial when I was in Austria for three weeks and had no idea that it was such a huge hit back in the States, but then I saw an article in Die Zeit (a large German newspaper) about the podcast and finally realized how hip everyone was to it. There is one episode left, which I am anxiously awaiting.

Last night, I stumbled upon–dare I say it–a completely interesting Buzzfeed article: 29 True Crime Books Fans Of “Serial” Should Read. Although, I generally avoid all things list and Buzzfeed, this one was actually good. I’ve only read a couple on the list, but the compilation got my TBR list kicking. Have you read any of these? Any to recommend?

serial