September was as good a reading month as I had hoped it would be. I read a number of wonderful things on my long flights and during my travels. Much of what I read was on Kindle and on my iPhone. I do have a rant below about format, simply because some major publishers don’t seem to care about format at all. Which is odd, because they care about the format of their print books.
Not as much magazine reading, but a lot more novel reading.
Out of all the reading I did—and it was a lot—here are the writings I recommend.
Clark, Rod, “Voice Over: Of Pencils and Piracies,” Rosebud, Summer/Fall, 2010. Thirty years ago, only the people who lived in Madison, Wisconsin, and listened to WORT radio knew Rod Clark’s wonderful commentaries. Then they were political. Occasionally they still are, but now they’re available in the magazine he edits, Rosebud, and they’re my favorite part.
This month’s installment is a reminscence about growing up and about learning to write poetry. I love the opening paragraph. Here’s this sample:
“But sometimes looking back decades later, you can catch tantalizing glimpses of worlds that no longer exist, and you realize that all the years you were looking for it, life was pressing thick around you like an ocean of pea soup through which you paddled blindly, a pencil clenched in your teeth.”
Great. As usual.
Dowd, Maureen, “A Girl’s Guide to Saudi Arabia,” Vanity Fair, August, 2010. I read this article just before I headed off to Germany. Dowd went to Saudi Arabia. It was her second, or third, visit, and she writes about the culture shock from a female perspective. It certainly gave me some perspective as I headed to another country that’s remarkably similar to mine, comparatively speaking. Germany doesn’t make women wear burkas (whether they’re Muslim or not) and it doesn’t require us to have a male relative drive us around and, and, and…
She has a lovely line in there that the plane took her back to the 19th century, but really, I think it took her back farther. The cultural differences are extreme.
Science Fiction writers really don’t think about the cultural differences between human beings, making the cultures in their stories too similar to our own. (In fairness, when I’ve written about futuristic cultures, particularly in the Retrieval Artist series, a few folks always complain that “we” wouldn’t “tolerate” the things that happen in those books—yet we tolerate a lot worse from our allies in the 21st century, on Earth. So sometimes I think that other writers are reacting to readers like that, and letting them constrict the writing.) SF writers should read this article and others like it then extrapolate outwards.
Even if you’re not an sf writer or reader, you’ll find this article fascinating. I did, just from the perspective of woman who likes to travel…alone. I guess that’s really not possible in some parts of the world.
Ewan, Chris, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, St. Martins Kindle Edition, 2010. The first book in Ewan’s series featuring thief Charlie Howard. Howard also writes books about…a thief. The book has a touch of metafiction to it, but in no way does that interfere with the mystery, which is twisty and fun. So are the characters. Recommended.
Ewan, Chris, The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris, St. Martins Kindle Edition, 2008. First, a complaint: this electronic edition is a mess. I think St. Martins/Macmillian photocopied the book and uploaded it. Or something. Because you couldn’t change font size without losing the words entirely. You couldn’t jump between chapters. And there were all kinds of copy editing errors (“alright” instead of “all right”). I expect some copy editing errors, but it was extreme here, so much so that when he wrote “heroine” chic, I couldn’t tell if it was a pun or a mistake.
Rant over. I liked this book a lot more than the first, and the first inspired me to buy this one. Maybe I liked it better because I’d been to Paris and I got all of the in-jokes (which I suspect I missed in Amsterdam) or maybe because the book is just that much better. It starts with our hero being rather dumb, but he’s drunk and aware that he made a huge mistake—right away. So the book works, the characters work, and I couldn’t put this down. I immediately ordered the third (and so far last) in the series, and the Kindle edition of that one is improved, so we’ll see. But get your hands on this book. It’s a lot of fun.
Grann, David, “City of Water,” The Devil And Sherlock Holmes, Doubleday, 2010. Underneath New York City are a series of tunnels that keep the water supply moving. Some are small, some are huge, and then there are the main tunnels, developed nearly a century ago, and not maintained. At least they weren’t maintained when Grann initially wrote this piece in 2003. They couldn’t be. Whoever designed them hadn’t thought of maintenance. So in the 1970s, NY decided to build a new tunnel. They’re still building it, with completion set for 2020.
Entire generations have worked on this tunnel, including generations within the same family. Grann looks at these sand hogs, and goes into the tunnels with them. He also explores the entire water system. This essay was fascinating, both for the personalities, and for the alien environment in which they work. This essay alone is worth the price of the book.
Grann, David, “The Mark of a Masterpiece,” The New Yorker, July 12-19, 2010. So while I’m reading Grann’s book, I’m also reading this article. The article deals with art forgeries and with the people who make money off “verifying” unsigned (and signed) artworks. Fascinating stuff, using fingerprint analysis that might—or might not—be bogus. The personalities involved are fascinating.
Grann, David, “Stealing Time,” The Devil And Sherlock Holmes, Doubleday, 2010. Ricky Henderson had a heck of a career in the majors (baseball), but after he got released from his team, he went to the minors. Then he went to the bush league, still trying to play. At the time Grann wrote the article, Henderson was in his forties, hoping to be called back to the Bigs. A lovely essay about aging, hope, and the power of sports. I’ve often wondered how it feels for a powerful athlete to give up the game; this essay explores that very theme.
Grisham, John, “Casino,” Ford County Stories, Dell, 2010. Grisham likes to write stories about revenge—the kind that’s served cold. This is one of those stories, only this time his hero isn’t a lawyer at all, but a somewhat nebbish guy who thought his life was perfect until his wife surprised him with a divorce. Our hero doesn’t even show up until halfway through the story. The story’s told in a distant rather ironic tone, more literary than suspense thriller, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
Kaftan, Vylar, “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno,” Lightspeed Magazine, Prime Books, Kindle edition, June, 2010. A good sf story using scientific concepts to discuss love. The ending doesn’t quite work, but that’s a small complaint which keeps a good story from being great. Still, worth the read. Good characters, good concept, and nicely done.
King, Stephen, Blockade Billy, Storyville, 2010. I love baseball stories and I love King’s work, so of course, I’d like this story. King loves baseball more than I do, and it shows in every word. This is not a supernatural story. It is dark, but full of love of the game, and love of the characters who play the game. It’s not great King, but it’s good King. And good King is better than almost everyone else writing these days.
Lewis, Michael, The Big Short: Inside The Doomsday Machine, W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Michael Lewis explores the 2008 economic crisis, not from the side of the guys who caused all the troubles, but from the perspective of the men (and they’re all men) who foresaw the crisis—and betting into it. They made millions of dollars by selling short against the crisis.
Lewis doesn’t write about money; he writes about people. And these men are all outliers, people you wouldn’t normally trust with your funds because the men are not socialized well. Which allowed them to see what was going wrong, but didn’t enable anyone to heed their warnings. Some of the lack of understanding was obtuseness, but a lot of it was that the guys in charge simply didn’t want to know what was going wrong.
Scary and well written book. If you want to understand the financial crisis, this is the book to read. It’s written in English, for one thing, not financial jargon, and for another, it’s about the way people think. Good stuff.
Lightspeed Magazine, Prime Books, Kindle Edition, June 2010. This is the first issue of a new sf magazine. The quality is uneven, but holds great promise. I managed to read it on one of my many plane flights, and enjoyed the entire issue. I particularly like the author interviews. I’m also glad to see an editorial leading off each issue. (I have all the other issues and have already read the editorials.) Worth picking up.
McDevitt, Jack, “The Cassandra Project,” Lightspeed Magazine, Prime Books, Kindle edition, June, 2010. I love McDevitt’s work, particularly his short fiction, and “The Cassandra Project” doesn’t disappoint. It deals with the space program, also a love of mine, and a secret that the US and Russia have held since the mid-1960s. Great stuff. Excellent story. Worth the price of the entire issue.
Quinn, Julia, On The Way To the Wedding, HarperCollins, 2006. I started this on the flight to Germany and finished it while there. It’s a tribute to Quinn that I couldn’t put this book down, even though I was distracted by travel. She begins with our hero, Gregory Bridgerton (yes, this is in the Bridgerton series), running into a church to stop a wedding. She ends that chapter with an incomplete sentence and an em-dash. Then she jumps back in time to show us how Bridgerton got to that point, and returns us to that moment chronologically—and surprisingly—two-thirds of the way into the novel. Surprise after surprise, and in a good way. Read this one. It’s a stellar novel.
Shayne, Maggie, Kill Me Again, Mira, 2010. Sometimes romantic suspense books devolve into complete stupidity. This one doesn’t. (Although it does strain credulity that our hero can run around as much as he does with a head wound—but I’ll give Shayne that one detail.)
The characters are interesting, the situation scary, the pacing excellent. Professor Olivia Dupree looks forward to the arrival of her favorite (reclusive) novelist, Aaron Westhaven, for a book reading. Instead, she gets called to the hospital where a man lies unconscious, without i.d. He’s been shot. He has her business card in his pocket.
That’s how the book starts and it ramps up from there. Olivia is a good heroine, tough, with a few secrets of her own. I liked this so much I ordered the earlier and the later books in the series. I hope they’re as good.