Reading

FORTITUDE: Recommended Reading

fortitude 1

All is right in the world once again. Personal favorite television show Fortitude is back for its second season in the US (totally jealous of UK fans who got to watch the new season a few months back). I was a bit nervous that we wouldn’t get to continue the complete insanity that is Fortitude as the network that co-produced and broadcasted it stateside when under in the fall.

It returned on Friday! For those who don’t know anything about it, you can watch both seasons on Amazon; I’ve also include the season 1 trailer at the end. We would have to sit here for a while for me to explain what exactly is going on, but briefly, a quiet Arctic Norwegian village is disturbed when a series of brutal death/murders pop up…and that is only the beginning.

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This show ticks so many boxes for me: a chilly, remote climate, difficult characters, mysterious thrills, happenings, and crimes. But it is so much more. It captures the strangeness of it all: prehistoric mammoths, parasites, sketchy Russians, death by polar bear, ghost murder, shamans, Dennis Quaid, British people pretending to be Norwegian, reindeer scientists, the list could go on…

I am also a fan of books that take place in cold places. It is very rare that you will find me reading or writing anything that has a tropical locale. Here are a few reading suggestions for fans of Fortitude or general ice terror.

The Terror is inspired by the ill-fated trip of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, two ships that were tasked with finding a way through the Norwest Passage. However, in The Terror men are not only devoured by disease and starvation, but an unknown monstrous creature stalking them from out on the ice. I’ve read recently that this book will be adapted into a television series. For history buffs, the once lost Terror was found last year and a video of it was filmed by the Arctic Research Foundation.

The North Water is brutal and captivating. Moments can be so visceral and intense in this novel, and it was one of my favorites of this past year. I am baffled by the fact that it was not moved from the long list to the short list for the Man Booker Prize. I am a complete evangelist for it and I think everyone should read it (don’t get put off by the human murder, bear murder, and venereal disease). Two men are aboard a harpooner: one a medic, the other a murder and then a horrendous discovery is found.

Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History delves in to both animal cannibalism and human. I generally stay away from deep dive cannibalism (unsurprisingly, I find it disturbing), but this book offers a lot on interesting animal behavior, including misconceptions (re: praying mantis and pet hamsters). It also, of course, explores the fiasco that was the Donner Party. Spoiler alert: Men are much quicker to starve to death than women.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is Edgar Allan Poe’s only known finished novel. The writing can be a bit stiff, but it’s worth a read as 1. it’s short and 2. it was influential to other nautical works that came after (Moby-DickAn Antarctic Mystery). It’s has all of the makings of a nineteenth century nautical misadventure: calamity, mutiny, people eating, a dog, an enigmatic snow monster.

Has anyone else watched Fortitude? Appreciate the chilly thriller genre? Here’s the aforementioned trailer for season 1.

On Being Annoyed at Donna Leon

I am annoyed at a writer I have never read and have only heard of in the past days as I randomly listened to past episodes of The Guardian Books Podcast (“Writing crime with Donna Leon, Duncan Campbell and Barry Forshaw” from May 2016.)

Overall, the episode, including Donna Leon’s segment, was highly interesting. My annoyance didn’t come until later when she was asked why her novels weren’t translated into Italian. But before I continue, let me first add, the long-running series of detective novels by Donna Leon are set in Italy and feature an Italian police commissioner (and I assume, many other Italian characters). Leon writes in English but has lived in Italy for many years, and the novels have been translated into other languages as well–just not Italian.

It’s not as if the Italians are not interested in them, but it comes down to the strange vanity of the author herself. She insists that they not be translated and the absurd reasoning is quoted all over the internet.

I don’t want to be famous. I don’t like being famous and I don’t want to be famous where I live. I just don’t like it. It doesn’t do anyone any good to be famous. I have enough. I don’t care. See this is what people find so confusing. I don’t care. I don’t care if the books get published in America. I don’t care if they get published. I just don’t. I have enough. I’m not interested — the idea of more has no importance to me. I don’t care.

Yes, all of the Italian publishers would kill to have them. I don’t want to be famous. I am spotted on the street by German, Austrian, French, Danish, everything… at least 3 or 4 time a day[.]

From a 2003 interview

I find this whole notion to be ridiculous. Unless you are Stephen King or JK Rowling, no one is spotting you 3 or 4 times a day.

Unlike some other European countries, English is not widespread in Italy and I deduce that her avoidance to have them translated into Italian alleviates the possibility that she would be critiqued by Italians. That she might be called out for aspects of her series that she wish to be hidden in the cloak of unreadability for an Italian audience.

Granted, yes, this is all speculation on my part as someone who hasn’t read a Donna Leon book. But still I became incredibly annoyed as she kept on insisting. As an avid reader, I often get bummed when an international book I’m interested in is not available in English or if an author has one book translated but not anymore from their oeuvre.

Some light Googling led me to a quote in The Independent,

“There’s the risk of falling into stereotypes, and Leon, despite the bonhomie of her Commissario Brunetti, is not exempt. It’s not for nothing that she doesn’t want her books translated into Italian,” wrote prominent Italian reviewer Ranieri Polese. 

I made the mistake of reading further into the aforementioned 2003 interview, and her answers to various questions carried on in the annoying vein. Perhaps, I am concentrating on minutiae, but really Donna Leon was very annoying.

 

A Couple of Bookish Apps for Literature Lovers

I found these two literature loving apps recently. I wanted to try them out for a little bit before sharing my thoughts (I don’t use my phone for more than telephoning, twittering, audiobooking, and spotifying, so there was a near possibility I would lose interest).

Serial Reader

This app’s mission is to help you read those classics you always wanted to crack, but the idea of dedicating huge swaths of time to conquering Moby-Dick is a hard one to overcome (although, I am an evangelical for the greatness of this novel and now that US publishers insist all novels be 500 pages, this great beast is not so monstrous anymore).

You choose which book or books you are interested in reading and everyday the app delivers a short nugget of the text. Each section is called a serial and besides easily digesting these 9-13 minute sections, the experience is akin to the way readers used to experience fiction when books were serialized in magazines.

Serial Reader is free, but there is a premium version with a few nifty extra features. Once I read through my first book, I’m sure I’ll ante up the $2.99, if anything as a donation to the creator. The app itself is stable, easy to figure out, and crisp. I really appreciate the lack of fuss.

I’m currently reading The Castle of Otranto, which is perfect for serialization. It is an overwrought, glorified soap opera of a novel and receiving daily short chunks is making the reading experience even more engrossing. I can also see Serial Reader’s advantage with texts that have more difficult language; it allows the reader to focus on a portion instead of being overwhelmed by several hundred pages.

COMPLETELY RECOMMEND


 

Litsy

It would be reductive to define Litsy as Goodreads meets Tumblr. Although, it does crib general ideas from both platforms. I love Goodreads, I find it very useful to keep track of what I’m reading and how long it takes to finish a book. Occasionally, I appreciate its algorithmic recommendations. With Tumblr, I am less enthused. I still don’t understand its appeal and consider it a sewer.

So, going in to Litsy I was skeptical because of the latter.

Its user base is not nearly as large as Goodreads, but still has a plentiful base, which includes both individuals and well-known publishing houses. The snippet sharing that is common on Tumblr is far more enjoyable on Litsy. Many of the users have interesting and helpful thoughts about books and for this, the app succeeds at being a venue for finding new reads.

It’s not entirely easy to find new users to follow and can be a little clumsy when it comes to user interaction, but overall, an enjoyable bit of literature love. In the very least, it’s a suitable time waster and it is filled with content that far exceeds the ephemera that makes up Tumblr. It’s not a super-platform like Goodreads, but this isn’t really the intention. It does, however, serve as another place for readers to find recommendations for books that might otherwise elude Goodreads’ algorithm. Also, because the user base is smaller, it’s easier to tame the reviews for a book that would otherwise have thousands on Goodreads.

(It’s free and brought to you by the people behind the Out of Print clothing company.)

RECOMMEND

 

 

The Ghosts of Winter

Ghost stories are grand any time of year, but they’re particularly alluring during the wintry months. Days are darker and shorter, colder and crisper. Our eyes start to close more easily in winter. This is the perfect time for tales of hauntings and ghouls.

The Dead of Winter This is a children’s book that the algorithmic gods of Goodreads thought I would be interested in and those gods were right. I don’t normally have a chance to read children’s literature and when I do, my adult-reader-brain has trouble squaring the lightweight plots and writing. True, this novel will feel breezy to a grownup, but it was still really enjoyable to read a children’s book that was well-written and clearly influenced by Gothic literature. Of course, we will see the moving parts of this ghost story, but hopefully children will get chills while reading of this haunted house.

Ghosts: A Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof You know you have a good roommate when he or she buys you books and an even better one when they gift you books about ghosts. This gem was sent by an excellent past roommate one Christmas and I can’t recommend it enough for the avid reader. It’s non-fiction that will appeal to both lovers of fiction and non-fiction, alike. Roger Clarke is a witty and astute writer, and he humorously serves up historical ghost stories and reasonings. Clarke is a believer, but he is extremely skeptical.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places You might be quick to lump this title and the aforementioned Ghosts together, but besides the umbrella theme of ghosts and haunting, they are very different. The writing here is a little more “academic,” for lack of a better term (but still pop enough for a general audience). American readers, certainly, will be familiar with a bunch of what’s being investigated (American History, is in the subtitle, of course), but Colin Dickey does bring in new info. For example, he proffers an aspect of the Salem witch hysteria that is lesser known: land disputes. Families were in business dealings and disagreements with each other over properties, and certain people were fingered as witches when they weren’t playing nice with the others.

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What are you reading during these wintry months? Any ghost stories in your pile?

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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Since writing Monday’s post about the mediocre year in book publishing, I finally have a winner. Three cheers and all that!

I read Ruth Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood earlier this year and even though it was so completely preposterous, I thought it was great. Reese Witherspoon even scooped it up for an upcoming film.

Ware’s writing was great and she certainly knows how to keep a reader turning pages, so I was extremely excited when her newest was released. I read this one in two days. I couldn’t put it down and read it into the night to see how it finally ended.

Its premise was reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes and 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christiein that a woman–an unreliable narrator for a number of reasons–witnesses a crime that no one believes. There is no body and the more and more she digs, the more the other characters disbelieve her. She is labeled hysterical.

There have been more of these novels–that I dub the women who know too much–probably since the popularity of Gone, Girl. It was a fine read (I was certainly like everyone else on the subway that summer with my nose in the book), but it is the lesser of them all.

Crime and thriller are genres I enjoy when done extremely well. It’s unfair to see excellent books pigeon-holed into a genre ghetto instead of celebrated as literature. Why are we punishing financially successful books?

With that said, there are PLENTY of crap crime books and thrillers. Like all genre, some times the plot synopsis pitch is more interesting the actual composed sentences and for some reason, it is sadly a genre inundated with terrible writing. If a reader is able to find the gems, they will surely be rewarded.

I argue that all books are mystery books. If there is no question the author proposes that needs to be investigated in some way, what’s the point?

Besides The Woman in Cabin 10, I devoured Megan Abbott’s newest title You Will Know Me. Abbott is a stunning writer and I reviewed her book The Fever here a couple of years ago.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 follows travel writer Lo Blacklock on a week-long luxury cruise. She is invited for the maiden voyage, along with other people in the business: writers, photographers, investors. The idea is that they will drum up publicity for future voyages. After her apartment is burgled the previous week while she was inside, her nerves are shot, she’s not sleeping well, and when she’s assigned next to a room on the ship that is supposedly empty, everything really goes sideways.

She speaks with a young woman in cabin 10 that no one on the ship seems to know exists. Late one night, Lo hears a loud noise and then what she presumes to be a body go overboard. Blood is smeared on the veranda glass door, but when she returns with the head of security, it’s gone. Of course no one believes her, because, you know, she’s an hysterical woman.

I don’t know how Ruth Ware did it (or how Megan Abbott does it in her novels), but the writing is spot on and the story makes you forgo sleep.

This one was far less absurd than her debut novel. One thing that I’m able to track in these novels is that the authors are able to believably hold back information. They don’t withhold just to withhold and the information, when revealed, doesn’t feel like a convenient bombshell. Also, like aforementioned, they’re actually good writers.

Has anyone else read The Woman in Cabin 10 or any of the other mentioned books? I’m always looking for recommendations. Tana French was once recommended, and while I enjoyed her first book In the Woods, when I went on to her second book, I couldn’t finish it because it was truly awful. Thoughts?

 

A Year of Mediocre Books

A photo by Lacie Slezak. unsplash.com/photos/yHG6llFLjS0

True, the year is still not up, but I have concluded long ago, that the publishing schedule for major houses was a dud. Yes, there were a few good reads, but when I look back at my reading list, I find that many were did not finish. I have been told in the past, however, that I can be hard to please when it comes to reading, but I mostly believe that, my reading preferences aside, this year marked a year of mediocre books.

I haven’t written much on the blog these months, sadly, and I owe this mostly to 1) I am working on a wonderful project with a co-editor: a literary magazine that we are so very proud of and 2) the books that I have read have been uninspired.

To remedy this, I’ve received a couple of imaginative galleys, chucked everything dull to the side and took out a huge stack from the library, and also, ordered a couple of books from the UK that are not available or won’t be available stateside for a while.

I am very excited for these reads! How has your year of reading been? Hopefully, better than mine. I find that my brain is more stimulated, I feel less anxious, and my writing improves when I am reading a great book.

Here are some that I have on deck:

FROM THE UK

His Bloody Project
“A brutal triple murder in a remote Scottish farming community in 1869 leads to the arrest of seventeen-year-old Roderick Macrae. There is no question that Macrae committed this terrible act. What would lead such a shy and intelligent boy down this bloody path? And will he hang for his crime?”

FOXLOWE
“Foxlowe is a crumbling old house in the moors—a wild, secluded, and magical place. For Green, it is not just home, but everything she knows… At Foxlowe, the Family shares everything. Outside, the Bad is everywhere. At Foxlowe, everyone in the Family is safe…”

 

FROM THE LIBRARY

ARTHUR & GEORGE
“As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.”

THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES
“An atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.”

THE BOOK OF NIGHT WOMEN
“It is the story of Lilith, born into slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation at the end of the eighteenth century. Even at her birth, the slave women around her recognize a dark power that they- and she-will come to both revere and fear. The Night Women, as they call themselves, have long been plotting a slave revolt, and as Lilith comes of age they see her as the key to their plans.”

THE SELLOUT
“A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality―the black Chinese restaurant.”

Hauntingly Beautiful: Ghosts, Ghouls, & Good Books

Christmas is almost upon us and for some reason the spooky feeling we all crave during October somehow vanishes beneath all of the holiday card glitter. But not for me, I say! (and I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that agree; I might not be commenting lately, but I’m still reading my favorite bookish blogs; I know what you people like.)

I’m one of those people that always has many tabs open in their browser. I can’t quite close the two that show this pseudonymous photographer’s new work of derelict houses called Hauntingly Beautiful. I saw a quick clip on the BBC that’s worth a watch, along with a few of his photos on his website.

 

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Although, Nina at Multo (Ghost) has fantastic folklore and spooky content year-round, she has been posting her annual Winter Tales: ghosts, haunted houses, and creatures abound. She kicks off this year’s with Number Ninety

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The graphic novel Three Shadows has been sitting on my night stand for far too long, but I’m hoping that the long weekend will free up some time to give to it,

“Three shadows stand outside the house – and Louis and Lise know why the spectral figures are there. The shadows have come for Louis and Lise’s son, and nothing anyone can do will stop them. Louis cannot let his son die without trying to prevent it, so the family embarks on a journey to the ends of the earth, fleeing death.”

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Many thanks to everyone who read and recommended some really great podcasts from my last post. I immediately began investigating (and subsequently binged listened) all of the ones listed. Even after listening to the creepy podcasts recommended, I did some internet sleuthing and loaded up my podcruncher with even more based on the comment recs. Here’s a quick rundown for those interested,

  • The Black Tapes Podcast
  • Tanis
  • Limetown
  • The Message
  • Knifepoint Horror
  • Criminal
  • The Leviathan Chronicles*
  • Imaginary Worlds*
  • Wormwood: A Serialized Mystery*
  • The NoSleep Podcast*
  • 99% Invisible (okay, maybe not exclusively spooky, but Helen recommended the Ouija episode)

*These are queued up but haven’t had a chance to listen.

***Also, for Spotify users, did you know they have loads of audiobooks, radioplays, etc. I recently listened to Christopher Lee read Dracula.

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I am sure everyone has a Goodreads account that is ever growing and shaming you for not being even close to catching up to it. I’ve recently added 3 titles.

Short blurbs excerpted from Goodreads,

  • The Girl From the Well: A dead girl walks the streets. She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
  • The Screaming Staircase: When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts.
  • The Ghost Hunters: Welcome to Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England. The year is 1926 and Sarah Grey has landed herself an unlikely new job – personal assistant to Harry Price, London’s most infamous ghost hunter.

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Woohoo! I think I am officially tapped out of spooky offerings for deep December. For those, who are too full from eating to even consider reading–really?–there is always the horror-comedy Krampus.

Reading & Chatting at the Bridge Series

bridgeYesterday was all rain and chill in New York City. So what better way to spend a damp evening than to go to The Bridge Series event hosted by Goethe Insitut. The Bridge Series “is the first independent reading and discussion series in New York City devoted to literary translation.”

I was pleasantly surprise. I can be a tough critique when it comes to readings (meaning, normally they are incredibly boring). But these translators chose mighty fine selections and their discussion after the reading was quite interesting. The translators included Ross Benjamin, Isabel Fargo Cole, Tess Lewis, and Tim Mohr. All four are working from German to English.

The standout of this whole event was how exciting all of the selections were. If they are not already released, the novels will be available very soon this year in the US (the UK already has some available in translation). Also, for any Kafka aficionados out there, Ross Benjamin is currently working on a translation of Kafka’s complete Diaries.

There were two questions that most peaked my interest. The first being, what happens if the author includes a blatant error in the original. An example given was an author writing about New York City had listed Gansevoort Street as being down near the World Trade Center (when in reality, it is over west in the Meatpacking District). The original author did this because he liked the sound of the name. It was convenient that he is a contemporary author because the translator was able to discuss this point with him and it was subsequently corrected in the translation. But whether or not such a mistake should be corrected was discussed further with one of the most notorious errors: Frank Kafka putting a sword in the hand of the Statue of Liberty in his work, Amerika. 

The second question was about how contemporary German literature (and foreign lit as a whole) has changed recently and how does that apply to translating. The translators hit upon the fact that many references are no longer solely Germany/Austria/Switzerland based. They also incorporate many North American trends and concepts. The translators didn’t weigh on whether they thought this was a good or bad thing but they did note that they didn’t have to look up as many culture reference anymore.

All in all, I was delighted to go to last night’s Bridge Series. I recommend it. Not only do they cover German literature but other languages as well. You can visit their website for more information.

Renata Adler! The Center for Fiction! Books…Books!

adlerBack in January, I declared, “You must read this book now. Right now. This very second.” Renata Adler’s book, Speedboat, is one of my favorite books of all time. I always nominate this book when people ask for recommendations, but then it would pain me to add but it’s out of print! But not anymore. Grab up a beautiful copy from the New York Review of Books where they are having a special discount of 20% off right now.

But anyhoo, I was one of the lucky souls that was able to grab a seat at the incredibly packed Center for Fiction last night. Adler was there to read a few excerpts from Speedboat and Pitch Dark, followed by an interesting Q&A where she discussed writing the two novels, her time as a staff writer at the New Yorker, amongst other topics. Adler was quick and witty and the entire audience loved her. I even brought a couple of lovely friends who were visiting from Germany who had heard all of my fellow New York writerly friends and me kvell about Renata Adler and Speedboat. Beforehand, we all bought books. I have never read Pitch Dark and I can’t wait to get started. My German friends are so excited to begin Speedboat.

After the talk, Renata Adler signed everyone’s books. I told her about the class I taught a few years ago to undergrads and how much they enjoyed her book. She wanted to know what other books were taught in the class, too. When I told her Philip K. Dick, she replied back saying she really needed to read him.

If you were unable to attend yesterday evening’s event, the Center for Fiction posted a recent interview they conducted with her. A favorite snippet is when she talks about the process of writing her novels (which are not in any traditional structure),

Oh, I always shuffle. And there, the computer is just a disaster because the only thing I’ve ever been compulsively neat about is typing. I type with two fingers, and so I would always make a mistake near the end of the page, and since White Out is no use, I would throw the thing out and start again at the beginning. Then along came the computer and I thought it was going to help because you can move everything around all the time and you can change every sentence 50 different ways in seconds. But that’s exactly what I don’t want, because then what was doing? If the computer can shift everything in a split-second, then what am I doing here? That’s what I used to do so carefully. One of the things that’s almost comically a problem is AutoCorrect, and what AutoCorrect thinks I’m saying.

Free Podcasts from the Writers Guild of America, East

Through iTunes, the Writers Guild of America, East has made available many free podcasts.

Here’s Boardwalk Empire showrunner Terence Winter discussing the merits of premium cable with Denis Leary,co-creator and star of Rescue Me. There’s Tony Award–winning playwright John Guare explaining the challenges and rewards of adapting work from stage to screen. From 90-second clips to hour-long panel discussions,WGAE’s iTunes U site provides entertaining and educational media for any artist, writer or aficionado.

While perusing through their listings, I noticed podcasts discussing such topics as Writing NY: How the Big Apple Inspires and Informs the Movies, Reflections on Adaptation, and many other components of writing. Although, these podcast have more to do with television & film writing, I thought this could be quite interesting. They offer podcasts on mistakes to avoid, marketing yourself, and chat with successful playwrights and screenwriters.

Also while clicking around in iTunes, I came across some other free podcasts that might be of some interest,

  • Film Forum, not solely writing but can offer some interesting discussions from filmmakers
  • University of Warwick, hear writers read their own work along with discussions and notes