040) 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill, finished May 9
- I didn't expect to read more than a couple stories from this collection when I checked it out from the library -- just a nicely packed collection of silly horror stories, I presumed.
Boy was I wrong.
First, not all the stories properly belong to the category Literature of the Weird, and even fewer count as out-and-out horror stories. He's more like Neil Gaiman than the artless boo!ers we so often dismiss horror writers as. I hate to overuse an often overused word, so I won't (yet) and I'll just say this was a good book. I love me a fine short story collection.
Here's a breakdown, story by story:
Best New Horror is a classic horror set up with classic delivery. And manages to claim irony without needing to be ironic.
20th Century Ghost may well be the most beautiful ghost story ever. (Hey! Why not make grandiose claims?)
Pop Art blends humanity and absurdity in a manner exceedingly easy to be jealous of.
You Will Hear the Locust Sing is a cross between Kafka's Metamorphosis, 50s atomic terror and Columbine.
Abraham's Boys -- Just what kind of person was Van Helsing? This is a more terrifying and satisfying read than the pasty original ever was. And nary a vampire in sight.
Better Than Home is an excellent nonweird story about a boy with issues and his dad, an MLB manager.
The Black Phone? Eh. Okay story about a boy and his serial killer.
In the Rundown is like a happier version of a depressing story by T.C. Boyle or J.C. Oates. Although by "happier", don't assume that it doesn't have a psychotic knife-wielding mother in it.
The Cape. I keep finding this wild reimaginings of superhero tropes. I like them.
Last Breath and Dead-Wood are more sketches than stories but good at what they are: "serious" larks.
The Widow's Breakfast is not weird, nice, too short. The idea-to-heart ratio is off.
Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead may seem to have a really pedestrian title, but it works on several levels and is actually a really terrific title. This is one of the few stories to really tap into the vulgarity characteristic of Hill's father. And, also like his father, it has a human beauty that flowers out of that vulgarity. Who knew such things could happen to zombies on the set of Dawn of the Dead?
My Father's Mask is a near perfect story of the strange, an off-kilter fall into a world that must not exist, with no sense or answers but with a certain reality. Speaking of Gaiman, you could compare it to Coraline. And, speaking of me, it's about a perfect example of why I feel Hill is writing the fiction I am writing, only better edited and in book form. Which is a pretty substantial set of differences.
Voluntary Committal -- Christopher Golden, who wrote the book's introduction, had this to say: "'Voluntary Committal,' the piece that closes this collection is among the best novellas I have ever read . . . I confess I am the victim of inner turmoil as I struggle between elation and the urge to beat the crap out of him [Hill]. 'Voluntary Committal' is that good." Now, I don't know if it's that good, but it is pretty good.
Scheherazade's Typewriter is hidden away in the acknowledgments, which is really a pretty appropriate place to hide it. It's the tale of a father haunting his typewriter and the relationship his daughter forges with that typewriter. And it's quite nice except for . . . but I won't tell you. I'm sure you'll know what I mean.
one work week
039 I Am the President of Ice Cream by Geoff Sebesta, finished May 4
- I bought this for Lady Steed from Comic Relief when I was there on Free Comic Book Day (I didn't think any of the free comics would appeal). And, great title or not, I'm not sure this one will either. You can read the whole thing at the link above. It is a strange, strange piece of work.
038) On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, finished May 3
- I've sat on this book over a week before writing about it, in large part because I couldn't stop thinking about it. But now I need to write about it, ready or not, because I've finished this five.
Because this book is, on one level, entirely about sex, I'm going invisible. Ready?
I guess you are. Welcome to the sexzone.
On Chesil Beach is about a young newlywed couple in 1962---
Let me just quote the first couple sentences:
They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.
True. For every person like my sister-in-law for whom night one of sex was a delight, there are plenty for whom it isn't.
The first sentence of the book (quoted above) could be read as snide -- ah those Fifties Prudes! -- but the second sentence belies that interpretation. One irony of our sex-talk-ually liberated times, is that talk about sexual difficulties gets, if anything, even more difficult. We may have the vocabulary (and words like penis and labia are easy enough to pronounce), but when every fourteen-year-old kid knows that sex is violent and quick and fun and instinctual and accompanied by cries of yes!yes!yes!, admitting you're not quite sure how the pieces hook together or simply being nervous -- to say nothing of downright dread -- seems impossible and embarrassing. It's no accident "virgin" is an insult these days. Who could dare to admit they are lacking knowledge which is so obviously ubiquitous.
Anyway, I'll try to avoid ranting as I talk about this book because I genuinely loved it. It's beautiful. Beautiful like . . . like The Sundays' Static & Silence is beautiful. Poetic and true, lovely and possibly painful.
The basic (chronological) story is of their wedding night from the evening meal on. But much of the book is actually spent in flashback -- on how they met, they wooed, and made exchange of vow. It's a sweet tale of two kids in love in love in love so very much in love.
But love isn't just spirit and emotion. We reside in tabernacles of clay and clay likes to get dirty.
And this is where Edward and Florence split. And here I'm delivering a spoiler warning. Don't read between the asterisks if you don't want me to ruin anything.
Edward thinks about sex all the time. He thinks about Florence all the time. These two things go together.
Florence is terrified of sex. By saying Florence is terrified of sex, I don't mean to imply that Edward isn't scared himself. He is. He doesn't want to screw things up, haha. He wants this night to be perfect for both of then. He's horny, sure, but he loves Florence and he wants things to be just right.
And so does Florence. But to her, that suggests she will suffer sex for her love's sake.
I don't even know how to write about this without talking about the brilliance of the solitary pubic hair or the moment she touches him. Every note is played exactly right, but summarized it becomes vulgar and something completely Other.
I posted recently on the propriety of sex in writing, but I didn't get much into it, but this book proves every point I never got around to making.
This book is so beautiful. But not even in the spoiler section can I tell you what the final effect upon reading it it. I wouldn't take that away from you. It's 203 short pages. Just read it for yourself.
I was interested in this book because of a couple reviews, and I had been feeling it was time to read this McEwan fellow. I'm glad I have. I think I'll try Atonement out next....
037) The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester, finished May Day
- I've been feeling a little over-fictioned lately, and the need to get more nonfiction in my diet -- I keep neglecting it. This is the first step in redeeming that part of my soul that wants to learn about Interesting Facts.
It's a stretch, but I suppose you could call this a sequel to The Professor and the Madman, Winchester's book about the self-mutilating paranoid who helped James Murray build the Oxford English Dictionary (and which I enjoyed about six or seven years ago). This book is about the OED itself, from conception to "completion".
It was good, it was fun, it had lots of obscure words, I liked it. But I don't feel satiated. Somehow this lexicographic entry into my nonfiction snackings wasn't what I was looking for. I don't quite know why . . . but maybe the next one will meet my needs.
I gotta craving and it's gotta be filled.
I'm thinking I'll finally read The Hot Zone next, but I have a feeling that will leave me similarly dissatisfied. I think maybe I need something hardcore academic.
Well, it's something to think about anyway.
Speaking of anyway, I liked this book very much. Totally worth reading. You can borrow it if you like. It's on the bottom shelf of the fourth bookcase. Anytime.
almost two weeks
036) The Drifting Classroom Vol. 1 by Kazuo Umezu, finished April 30
- So. My second fully manga book. This one I quite liked, but there are at least 11 volumes of this classic work (1970s), the most recent having been released this month, and the ideas of a) spending $110 on them, b) wrangling them in order from the library system, c) trying to read them in our newly chairless BnN, are all horrible to contemplate. Which is a shame, because the opening bit was compelling, and what I've since learned about the author intrigues me.
It's a shame manga can't be casual. If it didn't require an entire change of lifestyle, I'ld be more willing to give it a shot.
035) The Complete Peanuts 1965 - 1966 by Charles M. Schulz, finished April 29
034 Nextwave: Agents Of H.A.T.E Volume 1: This Is What They Want by Warren Ellis et Stuart Immonen et al, finished April 29
033) Batman: Hush, Vol. 2 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 29
032) Batman: Hush, Vol. 1 by Jeph Loeb et al, finished April 28
031) Chéri by Colette, finished April 17
030) Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, finished April 13
029) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished April 8
028) Macbeth by William Shakespeare, finished April 7
027) On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell, finished April 4
026) The Great American Citizenship Quiz: Can You Pass Your Own Country's Citizenship Test? by Solomon M. Skolnick, finished March 23
025) Long After Dark by Todd Robert Petersen, finished March 23
024) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, finished March 21
023) Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, finished March 10
022) The Complete Peanuts 1963-1964 by Charles M. Schulz, finished March 9
021) Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters, finished March 7
020) Unorthodox Practices by Marissa Piesman, finished March 5
019) Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta, finished March 4
018) A War of Gifts: An Ender Story by Orson Scott Card, finished Leap Day
017) Watership Down by Richard Adams, finished February 26
016) Old Boy Volume One by Garon Tsuchiya and Nobuaki Minegishi, finished February 25
015) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, finished February 18
014) Ultimate Spider-Man: Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, finished February 15
013) Trusting Jesus by Jeffrey R. Holland, finished February 11
012) Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall by Bill Willingham et al., finished February 11
011) Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach, finished February 4
010) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, finished February 3
009) American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, finished LDotFMotNY
008) Zombification: Stories from National Public Radio by Andrei Codrescu, finished January 22
007) Marriage Lines: Notes of a Student Husband by Ogden Nash, finished January 22
006) Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, finished January 20
005) The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time by Douglas Adams, finished January 14
004) Lord of the Flies by William Golding, finished January 10
003) Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, finished January 7
002) The Marketing of Sister B by Linda Hoffman Kimball, finished January 2
001) Animal Farm by George Orwell, finished January 1