8th of '08


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.

    a day

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....

    two days

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.




  1. For some reason I always find it interesting how little our reading tastes overlap. I really enjoyed Atonement a lot, so maybe I'll have to check out this one. I did recently read a book that was primarily about sex, but it was nearly 500 pages and got rather tiresome. One of my favorite recent non-fiction reads was "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the Civil War". It has over a hundred pages of endnotes, so it's definitely got academic cred. :)

  2. I tried to listen to 20th Century Ghosts on tape, but apparently when it comes to the nerve-wrecking I need to read the book rather than listen to it due to speed issues. I just dang well have to figure out what happens next.

    That's probably also why I reread books a lot. I go through them quickly and then reread and savor. Interesting, but true.

    Thanks for all of the interesting reads.

  3. Yeah, "I am the President of Ice Cream" was a lot of fun to write but must be a little unsettling to read. I'm glad you bought it, though. Comic Relief has the small ones, right? I'm coloring the big collection right now, so it will be prettier, but I'm afraid that it's never gonna make much more sense...

  4. And all of a sudden the Winchester recommendation make sense. (For the record, The Professor and the Madman has been sitting on my shelf for months.

    Also, if you attempt to read The Hot Zone--I can't tell you exactly how unwise it is to read and eat at the same time. (Something I normally do--but with that book--boy howdy! BAD IDEA)

  5. .

    I'm sure I will enjoy the Hot Zone, but I'm also sure it will be unsettling. Not that reading Biohazard (about the Russian's bioweapons) has been a good tangent....

    Geoff! Thanks for stopping by. You certainly found me quickly. Rereading my post, I mostly talked about what I thought Lady Steed would think about the book instead of my own reactions. Although strange strange strange does seem pretty accurate....

    I have been avoiding Civil War books for reasons I haven't been quite able to nail down. I'm thinking I might take The Eloquent President off the shelf next, so maybe that will be my gateway drug....

    Also, I don't know, Foxy, that we can say our reading tastes don't overlap as our actual reading doesn't overlap much....

    I 'read' Stephen King's Cell on cd as I drove, but I did end up sitting in the car a lot after arriving in my destination, so I think I know what you mean, Miss A....

    I sure do love ellipses!

  6. Funny, I have to remind myself to read nonfiction. Do you want recommendations?

  7. .

    Sure. Although I'm terrible about following them if I don't already happen to own the book. Otherwise they go on my mental list and wait for me to find them at a library sale. Usually. Othertimes I can be possessed by the idea of a book and hunt it down immediately. I'm very unpredictable.

  8. Hmm. I guess working in a library has its advantages in terms of having easy access to new, random books. Anyway, here are the last 10 nonfiction books I've read that I liked:

    Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books / Azar Nafisi

    Discarded science : ideas that seemed good at the time / John Grant

    How to cut a cake and other mathematical conundrums / Ian Stewart

    IQ : a smart history of a failed idea / Stephen Murdoch

    Lost languages : the enigma of the world's undeciphered scripts / Andrew Robinson

    The amazing book of mazes / Adrian Fisher

    Einstein's dreams / Alan Lightman (this one isn't technically non-fiction, but it's science-influenced short stories by a physicist, so I think it counts)

    Everything is miscellaneous : the power of the new digital disorder / David Weinberger

    The Annotated Alice : the definitive edition / Lewis Carroll ; Martin Gardiner (the book isn't nonfiction but the annotations are)

    Boggs : a comedy of values / Lawrence Wechsler (this last one I think you'd especially enjoy. It's about an artist who draws fake money and tries to spend it as a form of performance art. Very postmodern)

  9. .

    Not bad! I have three of those and have only read one (Einstein).

  10. How on earth do you have books you haven't read? The concept is foreign to me. I own probably fewer than five books I haven't read (not counting reference books, and I've read even some of those cover to cover).

    What are the other two you have?

  11. That list is exciting to me. I could use some nonfiction that is less depressing than Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee yet more down to earth than Mademoiselle against the World.

  12. .

    I also have Boggs and Reading Lolita. And the secret is simple: obtain more than you read. And it's not that I'm not reading.

    Ask my wife: I have a problem.

  13. th. - Oh, I'm glad you have Boggs. It's fab. Also, people's reactions to the premise of the experiment were really interesting. Some people just thought it was cool and some people were really annoyed by it. :)

    German butterfly - There are plenty more where those came from, so let me know if you ever need or want any more. (And who says I don't do reader's advisory?)

  14. .

    Whoops. I guess it was obvious, but I made that comment attributed to Lady Steed.

    I first saw something about Boggs on ... PBS, I think. Anyway, picked up the book at the Progressive Book Sale. Unfortunately, this edition's design makes it look unpleasant to read. I've been meaning to soldier into it anyway, so now I have more immediate impetus.

  15. There was a thing about Boggs on Nova a while back. (It was a show about counterfeiting, generally.) That's how I first found out about him.

  16. Sorry, took me a long time to notice your comment -- that's not my blog over there, it's the blog of an artist society of which I am a member. I usually post at:


    and am not really familiar with blogger yet.

    Anyway, I've done five 24-hour Comic Days so far, and finished them all (In 2005 I did 16-panel pages, which was crazy). The issue you have of Prez was all done in 24 hours, but it was substantially redrawn and in some places elaborated -- I think at the end about ten strips had been added and two or three deleted or combined.

    Have you done 24 hour comics? I find it's great for this sort of thing.

    I think Katya would be shocked by how many books I own that I haven't read. I'll be lucky if I get through a tenth of them in my lifetime... =)

  17. .

    I'm always meaning to, but I haven't yet. I teach school (ending in two weeks); maybe I'll finally do one this summer. Just need to get rid of the kids for a few days.....