Current State of the To Be Read Pile, May 2014

I spent part of the weekend sorting and assembling my current reading list. I’m limiting myself to actual print books at the moment because my backlog is enormous, and because my ebooks tend to be fiction: short story collections and novels. Right now, I want to focus on reading to fill in the gaps in my education, support my academic research, and finish a bunch of reviews for books I’ve already read (which means going over them again).

Some of these are books I’ve had for a couple of years; a big group of them are from my recent excursion to the annual library book sale. I’ve sorted them by my goals, not by the order in which I expect to read them.

Literary Studies (aka, Carrie’s Build Your Own MFA Program)

The Aleph and Other Stories, Jorge Luis Borges
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer; trans. by Frank Ernst Hill (1932 edition)
The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain, ed. by Charles Neider
Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics, volume 1
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, Dennis O’Neil
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Virtual Unrealities, the Short Fiction of Alfred Bester
12 Classics of Science Fiction, ed. by Groff Conklin
The Best American Noir of the Century, ed. by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler
Bradbury Stories, 100 of his most celebrated tales
Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, Elleke Boehmer
A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, 2 volumes, ed. by Anthony Boucher
Black Noir, mystery, crime, and suspense fiction by African-American writers, ed. by Otto Penzler
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm
Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
English Literary Criticism: The Medieval Phase, J.W.H. Atkins (1943)
English Literary Criticism: The Renascence*, J.W.H. Atkins (1947)
English Literary Criticism: 17th and 18th Centuries, J.W.H. Atkins (1951)
An Age of Criticism, 1900-1950, William Van O’Connor (1952)
The Complete Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Future Imperfect, James Gunn
The Best of Judith Merril
Orbit 2, ed. by Damon Knight
Strangers in the Universe, Clifford D. Simak
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing, ed. by Tara L. Masih
Ellison Wonderland, Harlan Ellison
Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Female Man, Joanna Russ
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
Mindswap, Robert Sheckley
Stories From the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling
The New Weird, ed. by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
Horror, Filipino Fiction for Young Adults, ed. by Dean Francis Alfar, Kenneth Yu
Demons of the New Year, an anthology of Horror Fiction from the Philippines, ed. by Karl R. De Mesa, Joseph Frederic F. Nacino
The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebub Wristlet, ed. by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, ed. by Kate Bernheimer
Other Worlds, Better Lives, a Howard Waldrop Reader
War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Watership Down, Richard Adams
So Long Been Dreaming, ed. by Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan
The Age of Fable, volumes 1 to 4, Bullfinch
The Golden Bough, Frazer
Stars Fell on Alabama, Carl Carmer
French Realism: The Critical Reaction, 1830 – 1870, Bernard Weinberg (1937)
A Treasury of New England Folklore, ed. by B.A. Botkin (1947)
The Rise of The Novel, Ian Watt
The Art of the Novel, Critical Prefaces, Henry James
Beowulf and thee Finnesburg Fragment, trans. by John R. Clark Hall, preface by J.R.R. Tolkein (1911)
Intersections, ed. by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name, Richard Butner
Lost in the Funhouse, John Barth
Edmund Spenser’s Poetry, ed. by Hugh Maclean and Anne Lake Prescott

(and about 100 lit magazines)


Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Douglas Keister
Old Books & New Histories: An Orientation to Studies in Book and Print Culture, Leslie Howsam
Book History, Volume 14, 2011
An Introduction to Book History, David Finkelstein and Alistair McCleery
All In Color For a Dime, ed. by Dick Lupoff & Don Thompson
The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hajdu
How Pathogenic Viruses Work, Lauren Sompayrac
The Circus Age, culture & society under the America big top, Janet M. Davis
The History of Japanese Printing and Book Illustration, David Chibbett

To Review

The Future is Japanese, ed. by Haikasoru
Interfictions 2, ed. by Delia Sherman & Christopher Barzak
SuperNoirTural Tales, Ian Rogers
North American Lake Monsters, Nathan Ballingrud
Manila Noir, ed. by Jessica Hagedorn
MIND MGMT, volumes 1 and 2, Matt Kindt
Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2014
Project 17, Eliza Victoria
Now, Then, and Elsewhen, Nikki Alfar
Demonstra, Bryan Thao Worra
Mockingbird, Chuck Wendig
Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig
Through Splintered Walls, Kaaron Warren

*spelled as titled

Note: the DIY MFA list isn’t meant to be a recommendation, or all-encompassing. It’s the place I’m starting to read through a wide range of material. When I’ve finished a text, I’ll review it here, and if it’s something I’d suggest you read, I’ll add it to my DIY MFA page.


What I’ve Been Reading: Rickert, Burstein, Sharma, Tobler

This week’s reading was a collection of stories I randomly discovered online, either because someone recommended it, or because I stumbled it across it while looking for something else.

The Mothers of Voorhisvill”  by Mary Rickert, (novella)

5 out of 5 stars

There is a grandeur to Rickert’s work which is almost immediately obvious but not overwhelming. You begin to read the tale she’s written, sentences unfolding simply, with hints of strangeness, until a few paragraphs in you start to see the edges of the world she’s created — and it hits you. It’s never “let me tell you about every aspect of this setting for three pages before anything happens”. It’s not “this happened and then this happened and then this happened”. She understands her characters, where they live and how they move about in that place, so well that when she writes the story, it’s just you (the reader) and them (the fictional characters), having a dialogue.

Reading Rickert is like listening to the chatty neighbors you’d never noticed until they happened to be the most fascinating people you’ve ever met. You’ll find everything you’re looking for by the time it’s done.

The shape of this story is as a series of interviews conducted with various women who’ve, they admit at the beginning, done something terrible, or wonderful, and now they’re explaining why. There’s contrast between the things they’re admitting, the events they’re saying didn’t happen quite that way, and and the moments of “well, sure, it did happen, but she’s completely wrong about the way she describes it”. We read how the women see not only the events of the story but their own worlds so differently from one another. All the pieces of “Mothers”, not disparate but simply not the same, weave together until what you finally have is so large, so monstrous and beautiful and greater than you’d imagined, that “grandeur” is the best word to describe it.

There are definite hints of Witches of Eastwick, and Nightvale, but there are sensual details — the hundred scents, the beauty of light, of women, of creative arts — which swell as the women do, breaking free from other influences. Those details carry on as the story changes, gets darker and more desperate, breathing life into individual moments with the names of board games, the color of jam. It’s real without being weighted down; terrible in the way that it makes perfect sense. I continue to be in awe of Rickert’s ability to tell a complete story, full without going on for too long, like a ripe peach on the last day before it’s plucked and eaten.

Kaddish for the Last Survivor” by Michael A. Burstein, Apex Magazine.

2 out of 5 stars

A SF tale about Holocaust deniers? You might think it would be preachy, pointed, too invested in its message, and Burstein’s story is all of those things. It was also nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2001, and it’s worth figuring out why. (more…)

What I’ve Been Reading: Essays

So far in January, I have read:

Am I Black Enough For You? Rumpus, Retha Powers, January 2014:

“I was black. I wasn’t black enough. I was too black. Sometimes I was so upset there was nothing to do but sit down and eat a pack of Oreos—alone, of course. But for years I wouldn’t feel comfortable eating the crème-filled sandwich cooking without pausing for the fleeting impulse to turn and see if anyone was looking. Oh look, an Oreo eating an Oreo! (It’s still not my cookie of choice). I was being pigeonholed; and as Jessye Norman said, pigeonholing is interesting only for pigeons.

Not-Knowing, by Donald Barthelme.  Not Knowing: The Essays and Interviews of Donald Barthelme. Ed. Kim Herzinger. New York: Random House, 1997. Barthelme says, “Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing; a forcing of what and how.” It is, at least in part, definitely that.

Ethnography and Speculative FictionEthnography Matters, Claire Anzoleaga – explores speculative fiction from a communications studies and ethnography angle:

“For those of us who write ethnography, it is widely known that the truths we encounter and write about will never have a capital “t” in its purest, most-reducible sense. Ethnography written as speculative fiction fits smoothly into this understanding of interpreted truth-painting. It is an analytic approach which interprets data collected from the field and reimagines that data through narratives of fantasy, horror, and utopian/dystopian adventures with academic theory.”

Read it as part of the discussion on inclusion, diversity, and how/whether to write the “Other”. The rest of the site has a lot more to say about ethnography, which I studied as part of my History of Art degree, and keep in mind when I write fiction myself.

Biotechnology and Speculative Fiction, Brian Stableford – argues that writers have a moral obligation to write optimistic futures. Well, I disagree, but I think this essay gives a nice overview of biotech in SF pre-2000.

Frank Sinatra Has a Cold, Esquire, Gay Talese, April 1966 – this classic profile of a hostile subject is considered one of the best pieces of creative non-fiction ever published. Recommended because of the way Talese uses language, bringing color back into journalism to liven up a field of writing that had gone from sensationalist gossip to “just the facts” and was now edging into something reminiscent of literature:

“He wore an oxford-grey suit with a vest, a suit conservatively cut on the outside but trimmed with flamboyant silk within; his shoes, British, seemed to be shined even on the bottom of the soles. He also wore, as everybody seemed to know, a remarkably convincing black hairpiece, one of sixty that he owns, most of them under the care of an inconspicuous little grey-haired lady who, holding his hair in a tiny satchel, follows him around whenever he performs. She earns $400 a week.”

It also famously recalls an incident between Sinatra and Harlan Ellison; of note to SFF fans and historians. (more…)

Book Review: “Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind”

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Pros: If you’re struggling with creating a organized routine for writing, and you haven’t heard these ideas before, there are a couple of good thoughts here.

Cons: The book is about as informational as a collection of motivational posters, full of corporate speak (talking about talking instead of imparting facts), and four page essays which only loosely support a single idea. Could have been reduced to a bullet list of ideas – which the book does include, at the end of each chapter – and would have been just as helpful but a lot faster to read.

I make it a point to only review books that I’m recommending, and in this case, I really am recommending it, but only to a small group of people. If you’re having a hard time balancing your writing, your dayjob, your family commitments, and the pressure to be brilliant at all of it, and you haven’t already read a bunch of these books – or you’re the sort of person who needs a lot of outside reinforcement to make changes in your life – this book might be what you need. The highlights:

  • Get plenty of sleep. If you can’t decide whether to go to bed or keep working, go to bed. Start going to bed a half hour earlier than you think you need to – if you need the sleep, you’ve got the time, and if you don’t, you’ll naturally wake up earlier and you can use that time for getting things done instead.
  • Get something done for yourself before replying to emails in the morning.
  • Make a master to do list that you don’t see every minute of the day, and instead write your daily to do list on a post it note. Nothing bigger than that – if you can’t fit it on a post it, you probably can’t get it done in one day. If you do all of those things, you can always make another list partway through the day, so don’t worry that you’re limiting yourself. You’re really freeing yourself to focus on just the things you really need to do first.
  • There will always be negative distractions. It’s impossible to get rid of them all (though certainly, if you can cut down on some of them without losing anything good, you should do that) but what you can and should do is bring in positive distractions to balance out the bad. Hold on to the bright, loving, happy, sexy, funny, relaxing, refreshing, and inspiring things/people in your life, and schedule little blocks of time to enjoy them. You’ll go back to your writing with more focus and more enthusiasm for your work.

The full review: (more…)

13 Things About Me, the Writing Edition

Mercedes tagged me to reveal 13 things about myself few people know. So…

1. I rarely write love poetry because Octavio Paz did it so well. His work is sparse, yet passionate and rich. He says immense things in a simple way, decorated by lushness. Eroticism mixes with tenderness, longing straddles love and lies next to emptiness… Paz is a huge influence on my own prose, and I’d be thrilled if I wrote paragraphs or sentences that affected readers the same way he affects me.

2. When I read fiction I enjoy, with a strong voice, I tend to steal it for a little bit. The next thing I write will be flavored by what I just read. (I blame my previous career as an art forger.) I plan for this by starting a new story each time I feel especially influenced by another writer, so that I can scribble out 500 words or so to shake this other voice from my system. I don’t save those stories. Just write, exorcise, and delete.

3. I write a lot more than I publish because once I’ve worked out all the details of a story, I’ve told it to myself. Then, I know it, and don’t really want to hear it again. The problem is, that usually happens before I’ve finished writing it down. The biggest killer of my career is that if I don’t completely draft a story before I get bored of it, I usually won’t.