Recommended Reading List July 2009

I’m still behind in posted the recommended reading.  I hope to catch up by mid-October. Wish me luck!

I taught a weeklong workshop in July, reading a lot of excellent student manuscripts. But that took much of my reading time. With that and moving and my own deadlines, I felt like I hadn’t read much. But as with the past few months, what I have read I’ve liked a lot. And it shouldn’t work that way. I shouldn’t be enjoying myself because when I teach I get into critical mode so bad that I usually can’t see the good in a sunny day. Obviously, the things I found this month were spectacular, or I wouldn’t have liked them at all.

July, 2009


Armstrong, Michael
, “Following the Quarters,” Wild Crimes edited by Dana Stabenow, Signet, 2004. Dana Stabenow should edit more anthologies if for no other reason than she gets Michael Armstrong to write short stories. Michael, who got his start in science fiction and is a reporter for the Homer News in Homer, Alaska, writes the best mystery stories. Unexpected, filled with great characters and a marvelous Alaska setting. This one also adds compassion and a bit about newspapers that most folks don’t know. The best story in the collection. Find it if you can.

Beckett, Chris, “Atomic Truth,” Asimov’s April/May 2009. As usual, by this time of the year, I realize that I’m getting behind in my magazine reading. I’m not sure I’ll catch up, but I’ll give it a valient effort. There are some interesting stories in Asimov’s April/May issue, but the one that haunts me is Chris Beckett’s “Atomic Truth.” Some of it is the way that he presents the future, but most of comes from the viewpoints. He manages to write sympathetically about a schizophrenic—and make that man the heart of a compassionate story. One of my favorite sf stories of the year so far.

Boodman, Sandra G., “The Right Hospital For You,” AARP The Magazine, May/June, 2009. The May/June issue of AARP The Magazine is truly excellent, from the interview with Dolly Parton to the two articles I mention here. I’m filing this article with all of our medical information. It tells you the things to look for in a hospital as well as resources to find out which hospital is best for what ails you. I remember being stunned at 18 that my doctor in Northern Wisconsin couldn’t recommend a good doctor in my college town in Southern Wisconsin. Things are slowly starting to change—and this is one sign of it.

Butcher, Jim, Small Favor, Roc, 2008. A very compelling installment of the Dresden Files. I couldn’t put this one down, which I haven’t been able to say about the others, much as I enjoyed them. I’m not sure this book would be a satisfying read if you haven’t been following the series, but if you have, buy it now. It’s the best so far.

If you haven’t been following the series, then you might want to start a few back, with either Dead Beat or Proven Guilty. If you’re one of those anal people who must read a mystery series in order, then remember that—like most series—this one improves as it goes along. (And Butcher clearly visited Chicago after Book One.) It’s worth the time commitment to read them all if that’s your bent. I suspect the series will simply get better and better.

Child, Lee, The Persuader, Delacourt, 2003. Again with the first person. Most of the Jack Reacher novels are third person because of the complex story lines, but this one—which relies on duplicity and a lack of understand of the full situation on Reacher’s part—can only be told in the first person.

I seem to prefer the first person Reacher novels. The voice is stronger, as is the writing and the details. I felt everything, from Reacher’s confusion to his remorse to that freezing cold swim he takes in the middle of the novel.

Because this novel does rely on several reversals, I’m not going to say much about the plot. But I did like this one very, very much.

Gopnik, Adam, “Bumping into Mr. Ravioli,” Through the Children’s Gate, Vintage, 2007. I love this essay. I first read it years ago in The New Yorker, and was pleasantly reminded of it when I saw the title in Gopnik’s collection, which I ordered after reading Paris to the Moon. Then I reread the essay, and remembered why I loved it so much.

First, Gopnik’s love for his children comes through, but mixed with that knowledge that our children aren’t ours, really. They belong to themselves. His daughter who is three at the time of the essay has an imaginary friend named Charlie Ravioli. Only she never sees him. They keep making appointments to meet, or they occasionally bump into each other for lunch. Gopnik thinks it’s a very New York response to the world, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a very modern response. His daughter is only imitating what she sees around her, after all.

A wonderful essay, worth the price of the collection all by itself.

Kristof, Kathy, “How to Get Ready for The Worst That Could Happen,” AARP The Magazine, May/June, 2009. Another good article from the May/June, 2009, AARP The Magazine. This article, which I’ll also point out for you Survivor’s Guide folks, does make you examine your preparedness for serious emergencies. Check it out and analyze your priorities accordingly.

Silverberg, Robert, Dying Inside, first publication 1972, Fictionwise.com edition, 2002. I was recently invited to contribute to Robert Silverberg tribute volume. Even though I’ve read a lot of Bob’s work (and edited some of it), I had never read his classic, Dying Inside, and I’d always wanted to. This was as good an excuse as any.

I thought Dying Inside won every award in the business, but as is often the case with awards, what’s common knowledge isn’t quite true. Dying Inside had been nominated for every award in the business (quite a feat all by itself) and it won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. People talk about Dying Inside as one of the seminal works of science fiction—and while we might argue over whether or not the book is sf (I think it’s fantasy)—I think it’s a stunning work, that still holds up, decades later. (Yes, it has some dated passages, but then, the book was written in 1972 about 1976 [does that make it sf?] and Bob got most of the details right. The attitudes are appropriate to the character and the time period.)

I read the book quickly. The middle is a bit trippy—on purpose—and because I got interrupted while there, and because I’m not fond of LSD stories, I considered not going back. But it’s not fair to call Dying Inside an LSD story, and the trip is an essential part of the time period and the book itself. I went back, because I found myself thinking about the book even when I wasn’t reading it—something that doesn’t happen to me often—and I had to see what was going to happen next.

Not much happens in the book at all. It’s truly a character piece, and a good one, but I do wonder if it would be published at all as a new novel in today’s market. As a mainstream literary novel, yes. As sf, probably not. And that’s a shame, because this is a powerful work, resonant and wonderful.

From what I’ve seen, the book will be reissued in the next year. That’s a good thing, because right now, Dying Inside is out of print, except in electronic version. I ended up reading it electronically because we’re reorganizing our book collection—and although I know we have more than one copy of the book, I couldn’t find any of them. It was fun to read an old sf novel on an sf tablet (my Kindle). Kind of trippy all by itself.

One response to “Recommended Reading List July 2009”

  1. Annie Reed says:

    I started reading The Dresden Files novels with Small Favor. Got hooked right away. Went back to book one, since only Small Favor and the first four books in the series were available as audiobooks at the time. It’s been an interesting study for me on how Butcher built and expanded the series and the world in which it takes place. Plus, really cool stories. *g*

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