reading

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

 

 

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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

the-woman-in-cabin-10

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.”

The Strings of Murder by Oscar de Muriel

I must admit, I’m a sucker for period deduction, whether it be on TV or in fiction (even the odd non-fiction book). So, I was immediately intrigued by The Strings of Murder, the first novel in a series by Oscar de Muriel featuring the particular English inspector Ian Frey and his rougher colleague Detective McGray.

strings of murder

London is caught up in the Jack the Ripper murders, but the accomplished Inspector Frey has been dismissed from his post at Scotland Yard, his fiancee dumps him, and his family seems to nag him about everything. Finally, he is exiled to Edinburgh–a place he views as being inhabited completely by uncouth Scots–to assist in a murder investigation that might be similar if not identical to the Ripper killings.

What initially drew me was the premise of the murders: a violinist is found eviscerated in a locked room with possible occult signs. The violin, too, is reportedly having once belonged to the Devil and any subsequent owner meets an untimely and disemboweled death.

Promises of the strange and Satanic whet my appetite. The novel also starts out with an enigmatic and gruesome slaying of a family (some of the details drip out later in the plot). The opening is entirely intriguing, but it seems to not have much to do with anything; I’m curious if more information is vital in the subsequent pieces of the series.

I found myself flying through the book following along with the two “odd couple” inspectors. The initial crime is propelling enough and the fact that any other owner of the violin soon perishes is most interesting. However, about midway through, this reader felt as if she were tugging at a rope and not much more came out. The story and characters were, sadly, flat, which is disappointing as the story began so compellingly. It was as if the author cooked up an interesting few ideas in his creative mind, but never really did much with them or connected them. It is a hard task these days with so much top notch period detective entertainment.

With that said, the book wasn’t a disappointment. I don’t think I would carry on with the series as the characters didn’t develop much and the entire book felt like a never-ending series of witness and suspect interviews. What initially piqued my interest (the locked room, Devil violin, and occult) were never wholly formed.

This is a strange case to be sure, because I’m sure there will be plenty of readers who will love this book. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t one of them and just wanted the final page to come regardless the solution.

 

 

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

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

Thanks to Rory at Fourth Street Review, I was made aware of this titillating reading challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. It runs for the months of September and October. The initial concept is for readers who share “Autumnal predilection for the works of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Bram Stoker and other authors contemporary and classic who captured the spirit of Gothic literature” to come together for a mighty read.

Peril the First

I have never participated in a reading challenge but I thought this would put me right in the mood for Autumn (I am on a self-imposed writing retreat far away from New York in a tropical locale filled with palm trees, beaches, and HEAT and am certainly not feeling the lovely affinity I have for Fall with its orange leaves and hot spiced beverages).

There are a few different levels of the challenge, I have chosen Peril the First which is to read at least four books that fit into the criteria. But take a look at the website if you plan to join in the fun. There are various challenges. Here are the categories to choose from:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above. That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.

As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:

1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

I also thought this would be the perfect opportunity to finally sit down and read some moody classics that have been on my radar for some time. Here are my selections and I hope you join as well!

ripRosemary’s Baby, The Monk, The Private Memoirs of a Justified Sinner, Salem’s Lot

it’s a bird? it’s plane? nope, just me; i’m back.

After a lovely time abroad, I have returned to the Big Apple. With suitable jet-lag still in tow, I found myself awake in bed at 5:30 this morning trying to finish my engaging airplane read (perhaps, a review soon?). Even though I have been gone for only 2 weeks, I feel very behind in my life in Manhattan (I was chastised for not realizing The Hunger Games film had come out).

A few weeks ago, I was at a book festival promoting a book that has a literary translation I worked on and a piece of original fiction. It was the first time this writer of no significance felt like a 10%-big-shot. In total, I participated in 4 readings/panels/etc. I then took a much needed vacation in Prague for a week where I received a surprising tan.

Sitting in my small bedroom next to my giant pile of undeclared Czech chocolate bars, I am making a to-do list for the near future:

1. find travel grant to return to Europe.

2. find a new part-time job, ideally in a small bookstore, perhaps? I have much in the way of bookish expertise!

3. translate translate translate

and most importantly…

4. write write write

Looking forward to catching up on all of my favorite writerly blogs!

Medieval cellar where I participated in a reading.

John Barth at Books & Books

For the frequent readers of this blog, you know that I’m located in the Big Apple. Because I live in NYC, I’m lucky to be exposed to many great cultural shenanigans–especially, writerly events. However, this post will be different.

I’ve noticed that many comments are from readers who wish they had something comparable in their home city.¹ Well, for those from South Florida, you’re in luck! I’ve been tipped off that John Barth will be reading and discussing a new essay from the most recent Granta. Quite frankly, I didn’t even know that Barth was still alive (many of his contemporaries have long been buried). The works of his I’m most familiar with are Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera.

I’ve been to Granta readings in the past and I’m sure the one in Miami will be enjoyable also. Here are the details:

Feb 7 2012 8:00 pm

John Barth reads and discusses his essay “The End?,” muse-inviting rituals and writing ‘nothing’ with writer and art critic Chauncey Mabe.

Granta 118: Exit Strategies (Grove, $16.99) is the latest issue of Granta, the magazine of the best new writing from around the world. This issue explores personal and political exit strategies with new work from Aleksandar Hemon, Claire Messud, John Barth, Susan Minot and more.

265 Aragon Ave | Coral Gables, Florida | 33134
¹I would still like to compile a list of book festivals, etc. that are outside of NYC and the United States. Please drop me a line if you have any info pertaining to this: acidfreepulp [at] gmail.com

The Adventures of Mao on the Long March

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a six hour marathon reading that a friend organized. It was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March by Frederic Tuten. Many writers gathered at the Jane Hotel to read it in its entirety; about a page or two per author.

I came two hours into it so I had missed Tuten’s opening remarks and some of the readers. A secret that most writers barely admit is that 97% of the time we actually don’t enjoy public readings and we have to go to so many of them. We go to support our friends or see a writer we admire and to sample the free wine & cheese that usually accompanies these events. So, I went because my friend had invited me (I must plead ignorance–I really know nothing of Long March beyond the fact that it has been labelled avant garde) and to see the inside of the Jane Hotel. It was beautiful and ornate and gave me a reason to wander into the establishment without being interrogated by a bellhop or forced to buy a $12 glass of wine.

When I walked in, the organizers gave me a pamphlet with some interesting information about the novel and author, along with the list of readers. I also snagged a few buttons with Mao’s illustrated face from the book cover. However, I don’t where I would pin them, so they might be retired to my mantle.

There had to have been hundreds of people there. The room was packed on both levels. I stayed for about an hour and caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in awhile. I knew I had to make my exit when a puppet version of Mao came out and the puppeteer read in some strange voice.

The Jane Hotel | 113 Jane Street | New York, NY | 10014-1797