It’s been 84 years…

Yeah I haven’t been doing too much blogging here, have I?

I guess the Death Of The Blog is a thing that people have talked about recently. I’ve exchanged blog reading (and writing, lol) almost entirely for twitter and an ever-growing succession of TinyLetters. Maybe someday I’ll do a roundup of my favorites.

In the meantime, I wanted to write a bit about some books I’ve read lately.

Earlier in the year I set my Goodreads challenge to 200 books (I’m back on Goodreads now that they allow you to track re-reads, a feature they’ve needed forever) but between personal grief and the slow decay of our national psyche, it became abundantly clear that 200 wasn’t happening. And it was a silly goal in the first place – I’ve never gone that far over 100, and why would I think that the first year of The Circumstances would be any different? So I’ve set it back down to a reasonable 100 and am over halfway there, with 59 books read. I don’t want to write about every book I’ve read since the  last time I wrote about books (*checks date* *screams*) so working backwards, here are some Recent Reads.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan 

I got this for Christmas the year it came out, I believe, and I can’t believe I waited until now to read it. It’s completely charming – Clay, the protagonist, is a refugee from the tech industry who gets a job working the night shift of the titular bookstore. There’s a secret society, code-breaking, a few terrifyingly plausible startups (including one devoted exclusively to the anatomically accurate rendering of breasts in video games) and a definite adventure vibe. Despite one or two quirks of writing that began to drive me bonkers every time they appeared, I found myself racing through the book with a smile on my face, happy to be in this world of books and bookstores and the weirdos that love them.

HHhH by Laurent Binet

IMG_2922This I picked up in Prague, in the train station before I left for the medieval town of Česky Krumlov. I’d seen it on a bunch of lists when it first came out, so it had been in the back of my mind, but I decided to pick it up and ended up reading nearly the whole thing on a train. I read the rest in a restaurant by a river, in view of a four-hundred year old castle. Around this castle is a moat, and inside the moat there are bears, one of whom is named Katerina.  HHhH is a book partially about the difficulties of writing books, a schtick I worried would get really, really old, but didn’t. The other part is about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (the main architect of the Nazi Final Solution) by two Czech resistance fighters, Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčik, in a military operation called Operation Anthropoid. These two subjects – writing and Nazi assassinations – don’t have too much to do with one another on the surface of things, but Binet (writing in French, with translation by Sam Taylor) asks a valid question which ties the two together: how does a writer tell a true story? How do they tell it in a way that is believable but compelling, interesting but true to the facts? How do you honor someone you know little about, especially when you know so much about the man he killed? I took quite a few photos of favorite passages in this book; here’s one of my favorites:

To begin with, this seemed a simple-enough story to tell. Two men have to kill a third man. They succeed, or not, and that’s the end, or nearly. I thought of all the other people as mere ghosts who would glide elegantly across the tapestry of history. Ghosts have to be looked after, and that requires great care- I knew that. On the other hand, what I didn’t know (but should have guessed) is that a ghost desires only one thing: to live again.

It was heartening to read a story of resistance, even if it didn’t end well for Kubiš and Gabčik, who committed suicide in the basement of a church, surrounded by five feet of water pumped in by the eight hundred Nazis outside, trying to get in. You can still see the bullet holes on the outside wall of the church.

IMG_3084

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them by Elif Batuman 

Full disclosure: I’ve never read any of the Russian greats. Actually, that’s a lie; when I was 16 I read all the peace parts of War & Peace but I have no memory of it. (I also saw Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 twice, but that’s different.) Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot, writes about her relationship with Russian, Russian writers, and grad school with humor and insight and even for someone who knows nothing about the canon she’s referencing, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

 

Anyway, that’s a little recap of some of the things I’ve liked recently. I have a lot on the docket that I’m excited about; N.K. Jemisin’s THE STONE SKY, last in the trilogy; FLAME IN THE MIST by Renee Ahdieh; and THE BEST OF CONNIE WILLIS which I picked up at the Nebula Awards.

Until next time!

Advertisements

Recommendation: J by Howard Jacobson

I just finished reading J by Howard Jacobson. That little strike through on the J should really be two lines, as per the book, where any word beginning with “j” also has the letter stricken through. But I can’t figure out how to do it on WordPress.

J is set in a world where something Has Happened – WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, is never clear in the book and is always referred to in the hypothetical. But whatever it was has caused society to turn to a great forgetting, a turning away from memory and identity so that whatever happened won’t ever happen again. This great societal effort is failing, though, and strange outbursts of violence are seizing the country anyway – we are aware of this from the beginning as Ailinn Solomons and Kevern Cohen begin their strange, tentative relationship.

It’s a love story, and it’s a dystopian novel, and it’s a novel about anti-semitism, but nothing is ever addressed head on. In J there aren’t any grand revelations or explosions, there is no courageous resistance against an oppressive government. WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, was a collective act of violence so great that to speak of it is an act of unimaginable illegality – the genius of the way this illegality is structured is that nothing is banned, so much as just not done. This elliptical style might turn some people off but for me, it made for a disorienting and almost elegiac reading experience; a sense of sorrow for things barely remembered, the knowledge that we as a society have done things that we shouldn’t be proud of and for which we should apologize, suffused every page.

So, I highly recommend! Go buy it and read it. And then tell me what you think. 

 

 

Where are you coming from?

Somehow in the last week I’ve received 144 queries. I’ve certainly had three-digit weeks before but that’s a lot. At any rate I’m delighted. In the past few days I’ve read some projects I’m very excited about. But seriously, where are you coming from?

A few links to some exciting things afoot in my client’s worlds –

Mark Tiedemann’s novella “Miller’s Wife” appears as an exclusive ebook reprint in this month’s issue of Lightspeed Magazine! Here’s the link. 

And ARCs of Ren Warom’s debut novel ESCAPOLOGY, out from Titan in July, are out in the world! Linked because I can’t get the tweet to embed. God, I’m so excited for this one.

I have no other news, at least none that I can remember, because my brain doesn’t work. I’ve had family visiting this past week and, as always happens when my mother is in town, theater tickets magically appeared, so in the last week I’ve seen five shows: Her Requiem at LCT3, Eclipsed on Broadway, Women Without Men at The Mint, Nice Fish at St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Steve Martin & Edie Brickell’s bluegrass musical Bright Star on Broadway. They were all fabulous, and I am now exhausted and suffering from brain drain.

Editing the new Shipping & Handling episode while Bridget & I figure out a date to record. Looking forward to being on the airwaves again! Well, the downloads. You know what I mean.

Haven’t been doing too much personal reading – I did finish THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS and THE LIVING UNKNOWN SOLDIER, for which the phrase “just fuck me up” has never been more applicable. The reviews of the book I’d read said that the translation was somewhat clunky, but either I’m a philistine and didn’t notice or the translation was absolutely fine. Still, if you can get your hands on a copy of this gem and are at all interested in this kind of thing, I highly recommend it. And even though I am supposed to not be buying books right now I still managed to walk out of Barnes & Noble on Sunday with a copy of NUMERO ZERO by Umberto Eco and TO HELL AND BACK by Ian Kershaw. Who knows when I’ll get to them!

 

 

Emma Newman release day & link roundup

Hi all! It feels weird writing here and then not tweeting about it. I wonder if I can figure out a way around that. EDITED TO ADD: I can have it automatically tweet this from the WordPress app without me having to go to Twitter/Fb/tumblr! Yay!

Anyway, earlier this week the re-released editions of Emma Newman’s first three Split Worlds novels came out! Diversion Books has done a fabulous job with these covers, and in related news, I cannot WAIT for everyone to get their hands on Book 4 in the series- A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE, coming in August 2016. 🙂 Here are the links to her website, with buying links for all three:

Between Two Thorns
Any Other Name
All Is Fair

Seriously, check them out! Currently, the first book is on sale for .99c! And if scifi is more your thing, there’s always PLANETFALL. 😉

Oh, and edited to add her awards eligibility post!

I’m editing the most recent episode of Shipping & Handling and that should be up soon. Remember to submit any questions/comments/concerns/suggestion to us via our ask box on tumblr, via email, or via twitter!

Reading wise, still making my way through SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, and started THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS for my train-reading. So far, so good. And then there’s this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 8.36.52 AM

Yes, I did buy a book about a guy who after being released from a German POW camp in WWI couldn’t remember his name or where he was from because he was so shell-shocked.  Fight me. (And yes, I bought it from Amazon, but only through the marketplace because I am p sure this book is out of print.)

 That’s all for now. More soon!

News Roundup

Being off of social media has been harder than I expected and I have missed a lot, I know. BUT here are some cool things that have happened that I *do* know about!

First, here is Emma Newman’s awards eligibility post for 2015! In addition to PLANETFALL (ahem) her podcast Tea & Jeopardy is also eligible for nomination.

Second, I’m participating in the #DVPit event on April 19, 2016. The marvelous Beth Phelan of the Jenny Bent agency put it together. This is what it’s about:

#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.

I haven’t been doing a lot of pitch contests recently but I’m very excited to participate in this one. Follow the link above to see how to participate. You can read this Salon piece by Paula Young Lee to see why this is an exciting, necessary hashtag.

Third… I’m sure there’s a third. I finally finished Alexander Watson’s RING OF STEEL, an 830 page book about Germany & Austria-Hungary in WWI that I’ve been reading since December, and it was fine. I gave it 3 stars because I finished it, but the author never met a pertinent fact he didn’t want to include. It didn’t *need* to be 830 pages, let’s just put it that way. Now I’m on to THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS by Eugene Rogan, and also half-heartedly participating in the Tumblr Reblog Book Club discussions of SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, and also gazing balefully at Dorothy Dunnet’s THE GAME OF KINGS and thinking I should put it up again.

Fourth, I’ve figured out my con attendance for the year:

RT Booklover’s Convention – Las Vegas, NV April 12-17
MidAmeriCon – Kansas City, MO August 17-21
Sirens Conference – Denver, CO October 20-23
World Fantasy Convention – Columbus, OH October 27-30

I’m only taking pitches at RT.

Anyway, I think that’s all! Happy reading. IMG_2598

Marieke Nijkamp’s THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS can be found on the “What Teens Are Reading Next” table at most Barnes & Nobles!

Umberto Eco

I know that as an American I should be mourning the passing of Harper Lee, and I am, but another literary death has me sitting at my desk, staring into space, trying to grapple with the realization that another great author has left the world.

Umberto Eco died this week, at the age of 84 – only five years younger than Lee, and surely both of them have lived long lives. In contrast to Lee, who died in the nursing home that she had lived in for years, Eco died at home, in his apartment in Milan. his newest book, NUMERO ZERO, came out last year.

It’s a silly exercise to contrast these two authors on a larger scale. Lee produced one masterpiece; Eco seemingly couldn’t stop writing, putting out seven novels, several works of theory and probably a bajillion academic things that I haven’t read. An they certainly didn’t write in the same genres.

But on the small level of my personal reading life, Eco’s work held sway over me in a way that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD never did. And since they’ve died within a few days of one another, I can’t help making the comparison. Eco is one of my favorite authors. I’m actually a little angry at myself that I didn’t include THE NAME OF THE ROSE or THE ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE in the post I made at the end of 2015 talking about some of the books that shaped my reading. THE NAME OF THE ROSE was one of the first books I read where I felt that sense in the back of your mind of things expanding – of being given a glimpse into a world of meaning that you’d previously only guessed was there.

And then after that I read everything else he’s written, including the mammoth FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM (which I have in hardcover, and which weighs approximately a thousand pounds) and the claustrophobic, dreamlike THE ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE. Of his novels, there are only two that remain unread: BAUDOLINO and his latest, 2015’s NUMERO ZERO. Baudolino I made a stab at when it came out, but I just couldn’t get through it. (Sorry, Berto!) Even the books of his that just didn’t work for me on a structural level (Looking at you, MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA) or because I couldn’t get past how awful the protagonist was (PRAGUE CEMETERY, in which the anti-semitic protagonist literally invents the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) resonated for me long after I put them down.

These mammoth, ridiculous books, with their dense layers of references and allusions and twisty, complicated, baggy plots are some of the earliest books that rationalized the eclectic nature of my reading habits. I grew up in a one-genre family (two, if you count mysteries) and my bookshelves at home are covered in many genres and nonfiction of all stripes. Which sounds a bit like one of those “I’m so quirky and weird” complaints, a humblebrag of originality, but when I was in middle/high school I genuinely felt weird for my reading tastes, that even though the rest of me was weird I couldn’t conform in this one area, either.

Anyway. This is all to say that though Lee looms larger in the American literary consciousness – especially given the controversial publishing of GO SET A WATCHMAN last year – Eco’s death is the one that is with me today, looking at my bookshelves, wondering what he would have written next.