The Iron Will of Hesh Kestin, at Bloom

shoeshinecatsJust over three years ago, I reviewed what would prove to be one of my favorite books read in 2011. Hesh Kestin’s The Iron Will of Shoeshine Cats, aside from having one of the best titles of the decade, was a seriously fun hard-boiled noir coming of age tale set in 1963, featuring the Jewish Mafia, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights movement, Camus and W.H. Auden, and a whole lot more. I still have a soft spot for it a mile wide.

It turns out, as these things sometimes do, that the author didn’t start publishing fiction until he was in his 60s, which makes him—that’s right—a full-fledged Bloomer. This month I had the pleasure of talking to him about his long and eventful careers—as a journalist, an orange grower, a novelist, and a few other things to boot—and writing about him for Bloom. I learned many things: that cockroaches aren’t kosher, that you don’t wear a white helmet to a civil insurrection, and that a cigar may only be a cigar (more on that in the Wednesday “In His Own Words” feature), but a horse is never just a horse. See for yourself.


Good Chemistry at The Story Prize

StoryTrio2014Wednesday night’s Story Prize event was, as always, entertaining and edifying. There’s something about the chemistry of getting three very disparate short story writers together to read their work and talk about it—the distillery that goes into short fiction makes for some good, concentrated conversation among its practitioners, and three is a reasonable number for all sorts of things. This year’s finalists—Andrea Barrett, for her collection Archangel, Rebecca Lee, for Bobcat and Other Stories, and George Saunders, for Tenth of December—didn’t disappoint.

This was my sixth Story Prize event, and I think it’s time to make my ancillary Best Hair of the Evening subdivision an official thing; I was negligent last year in not explicitly giving it to Dan Chaon. This year, unsurprisingly, it went to Andrea Barrett—so sue me, it’s my award. Aside from that, it was a very well-distributed playing field.

Barrett read first, from “The Ether of Space,” Archangel‘s second story. The collection’s loosely linked five stories revolve around the blooming of fin-de-siècle scientific knowledge, and as I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years working with Charles Darwin and his cohort, the book hit a kind of anachronistically familiar series of thrilling and despairing notes for me. She discussed the process of weaving the stories together, once she’d ascertained that they were all pieces of a whole, and sympathized with her characters and their visions, no matter how ultimately off the mark—the “sense of great passion and love we will have for a theory that turns out to be completely wrong.”

Rebecca Lee then read from “Bobcat,” the knockout title story of her book that was fiercely funny and hugely discomforting at the same time. Lee’s deadpan reading ratcheted up the dark humor, and her admission that it took six years to write went a long way toward explaining how all the small parts fit together so seamlessly. She talked a bit how important her stories’ far-flung settings were to her, and admitted, “I like writing dinner parties … I guess I grew up reading The Dead.” And it’s true; people sit down to eat in Lee’s stories and things happen, not all of them good but every one of them extremely palatable.

“Tenth of December,” as read out loud, turned out to be a more compassionate story than I’d first thought, less cynical. Saunders, who had also been a finalist for The Story Prize in 2006, for In Persuasion Nation, managed to range far and wide on the subject of writing without seeming to ramble. He talked about his lack of any real desire to write a novel (“No, YOU write a novel”), of middle age manifesting in not killing off quite so many characters, and the art of letting the story take him where it wants—“that moment when the implicit condescension between you and the reader goes away.”

The second time must have been a charm for Saunders, and clearly Tenth of December had its own charms beyond his persistence; he took the Story Prize for 2013. But having only three finalists means that everyone is a star, really—or maybe, more seasonally appropriate this year, a snowflake, with no two ever alike. Congratulations to George Saunders, and Andrea Barrett and Rebecca Lee as well, and thanks—as ever—to the prize’s host Larry Dark, for bringing them together.


A Little Jousting at the Tournament of Books

soccermomThe Tournament of Books is off and running with a rousing opener, complete with intrigue, insults, and innuendo—who could ask for more? Each year the ToB opens with a pre-Tournament playoff round, a kind of throat-clearing to get readers in the groove, let them dust off their commenting IDs, and prepare everyone to sling a little literary dirt. This year, we had Geraldine Brooks weighing in on two hand-picked books, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life and Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely. No spoilers, but I will say that I think I may have finally been swayed over to the Atkinson, after months of staying away due to the excess of love heaped on it by nearly all my reading friends. Not to mention the fact that, due to Harold Ramis’s untimely death, I just saw Groundhog Day for the 800th time. But I’m not immune to suggestion, and Brooks’s reluctant pleasure in it is awfully convincing.

But wait, there’s more. Early in the commentary—and if you’re not reading the Comments section you’re missing much of the fun—someone turned up a Facebook post by Scott McClanahan, author of the opening round’s contender Hill William, in which he says:

I am resigning Hill William from the tourney of books. I am sorry to say so. But fuck me. Soccer Moms are still idiots. I have resigned from the judging.

Since McClanahan isn’t a judge in the Tournament, I can only guess he wants his book withdrawn. But since that round is happening tomorrow, and since Rachel Fershleiser, the judge in question, has not only gone and read Hill William but also Eleanor Catton’s massive The Luminaries—a significant investment of time and reading energy—I’m guessing it’s going to go ahead as planned.

But really, what exactly is his point here? Other than alienating most of the female childbearing population—he slings some shit at Oprah, too—I’m not quite sure what McClanahan’s trying to achieve, other than stirring the pot. The time to back out would have been, oh, three months ago. And if he’s angling at being the Tournament of Books’s John le Carré—is that a clever reference to Catton’s Man Booker win for The Luminaries?—he’s going about it all wrong.

If nothing else, this all guarantees a lot of hits tomorrow from dedicated ToB followers, if only to see how it plays out. If the book were up against something I liked less than Catton’s, I’d want to see it win just for spite—and being able to say that with a straight face is just one of many reasons to love this particular contest. But I do hope McClanahan speaks up. C’mon Scott, it’s virtual. You’re safe. Nobody’s going to run you over with her minivan, promise.


Sunday Links, March 2, 2014

maledictionThe 2013 final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards has been announced. I’ll be picking up a bunch of the nominees at the library this week. In addition, Stephen Jones and R.L. Stine have been chosen to receive Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The finalists for the Nebula Award have been announced. This link also provides you with links to the nominated short fiction in three categories. And just look at all the women nominated this year! The ballot has caused me to change my mind about attending Nebula Weekend; I’ll be there after all. I own copies of all the nominated novels, almost by accident. Lots of good reading to get to before the target weekend in May.

shattered pillarsThe longlist for the David Gemmell Awards has been announced.

The 2013 VIDA Count is out. Some literary outlets have actually started admitting more women into their ranks, which is the good news. The bad news is how many still haven’t budged, or have gotten even worse. It’s difficult to imagine that The London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books can’t find female reviewers to write for them, or books written by women that are worthy of reviews.

LagoonIf you’d like to fix some of this sexism yourself, you could do a lot worse than to start with this list of books of speculative fiction written by women. I want to read every single one of these — it doesn’t matter who wrote them, they just sound like great books.

Sophia McDougall follows my thoughts with this, writing that she doesn’t want to be a rare successful female writer; she just wants to be a successful writer. How do we break away from the paradigm in which “white, male” is the default for writers, and bookstores stock and publicize far, far more books by white male writers than by any other group? It’s the 21st century! And this is a lot easier than flying cars! Can’t we make this happen?

The Winner's CurseI’ve always been fascinated by the notion of fantasy that doesn’t use any magic or other extra-human instrumentalities (like precognition) or characters (like vampires) and yet is still unimpeachable fantasy. To me, the most typical of these is Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, which imagines a society that clearly isn’t — and never was — ours, but is a world that could have been under the rules of physics as we know them. K.J. Parker writes some of her novels, like The Company, similarly. This article points to a handful of young adult books in this vein, none of which I’d heard of and all of which I’m now looking forward to reading.

Ten writers speak on the magic of reading. There are some excellent words about reading here, and watching it will make any reader feel happy.

Lynn ShepherdLast week I linked to an article written by Lynn Shepherd, in which she urged J.K. Rowling to stop writing in order to let other writers have a turn. I thought it was silly and tasted of sour grapes, and that Shepherd should not have written it. I’m not the only one who felt that way. And one writer has written a hilarious open letter to Rowling asking her not to stop writing, though suggesting that perhaps he could buy her just a small castle. And Adrian Tchaikovsy writes that his genre, science fiction, doesn’t seem to have the same sort of infighting that Shepherd seems to think populates the mystery genre (though my experience has been that both genres have tightly-knit and very supportive groups of writers, for the most part). Still, it is unfortunate that Shepherd has been savaged on Amazon with a good many one-star reviews from people who are angry about her suggestion to Rowling — people who have not read Shepherd’s books. Perhaps it isn’t true that all publicity is good publicity.

I was dismayed to read this article about how Amazon treats its employees. Is it really better for a business, in any sense, to have ambulances outside a warehouse prepared to rush employees to the hospital after they suffer heat stroke than it is to air condition the warehouse? Really? Because it seems to me that’s a very fine way to lose good customers like me.

A Wrinkle in TimeHere’s a cool idea: books you should read now based on what you loved when you were a kid. I must have read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time dozens of times, so I’m definitely going to grab a copy of Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! at my earliest opportunity.

Do you pretend you’ve read books you haven’t actually read? If so, they’re probably the books that appear on this list. Me, I just admit to having read far less than any former English major should admit to — though I have read a good number of the books on this list. Just don’t ask me about Middlemarch.

Ellen Datlow“Before you write, you gotta read,” says the introduction to this article about anthologies every author should own. I particularly recommend the anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow, who is one of the premiere editors of our time.

In case you were wondering if io9 and I were off our rockers in suggesting that the television series “True Detective” is calling back to Weird literature, Nic Pizzolatto confirms that he has been inspired by horror writers, specifically naming Laird Barron, John Langan, Simon Stranzas and Tom Ligotti. I’ve read and very much enjoyed (and been scared and horrified by) Barron and Langa; I need to pull Stranzas off my shelf and give him a read. And perhaps I need to give Ligotti a second chance; though he’s never been quite my cup of tea, perhaps I’ve just made the wrong choices. (And if you liked the Pizzolatto interview, you might also enjoy this piece on arguing that the series is not genre fiction at all, but more a philosophical discussion of the nature and value of life.)

One thing that “True Detective” has reminded us of is that there is a vast invisible library containing all the books referred to in other books, but which do not actually exist — at least not in our world. A couple of enterprising bloggers have put together The Invisible Library, listing all those books and the novels from which they spring. You could spend days just browsing this list. And when you’re done there, you can spend a few more hours perusing this Periodic Table of Storytelling. Have fun!


Sunday Links, February 23, 2014

rupettaRupetta, a novel by N.A. Sulway, has won this year’s Tiptree Award. According to the Award Council, the Tiptree Award is given annually to “a work of science fiction or fantasy that explores and expands gender roles . . . seek[ing] out work that is thought-provoking, imaginative and perhaps even infuriating.” Rupetta is currently available on Amazon for the Kindle for a mere $4.99 (and yes, I did buy it). The Tiptree jury also assembled an honor list, of which I have read only Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler, but if that book is indicative of the quality of the selections, I need to read the others very soon (Sea Change was on my list of last year’s best books).

SawyerThe New England Science Fiction Association has awarded the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award for Imaginative Fiction, also known as the Skylark Award, to Robert J. Sawyer. The award is given to a person who exemplifies the personal qualities of E.E. “Doc” Smith, a beloved figure from the early days of science fiction.

The preliminary ballot for the 2013 Stoker Awards has been announced. Many of the books on the ballot are available for the Kindle at very reasonable prices, so this would be a good time to try some horror fiction.

28 booksList-making seems to be a recurrent pastime for those who keep blogs. I’ve seen a great many lists setting out those books I have to read in this lifetime, or that I must read to be educated, or otherwise demanding that I read certain books. The Millions takes a different approach, offering a list of 28 books you should read if you want to. And the list will surprise you in its nonspecificity. Go ahead, click! You know you want to.

What are the rules for reading? What makes one a “real” reader? Book Riot says that the only rule is that there are no rules. Sounds good to me.

amazonGeorge Packer has a long piece in the New Yorker about Amazon, asking whether Amazon is good for books. I can’t imagine anyone coming away from that article answering that question in the affirmative. In fact, it’s downright frightening for anyone who cares about a life of the mind. The New Republic goes a bit further, noting that no one in the book industry will talk about Amazon on the record for fear that Amazon’s huge marketing power will be turned against them.

used bookstoresI shop at Amazon far more than I ought to, especially now that I’ve read Packer’s article, but I still find myself patronizing used bookstores as well. Why? This ode to used bookstores answers the question. There’s a marvelous thrill of discovery in such places; just wandering their aisles is a distinct pleasure in and of itself.

Amazon isn’t the only instrument of the anguish in which the publishing industry now finds itself, though it is certainly aiding and abetting another of the attackers: self-publishers. Hugh Howey has been stoking these particular fires with a new website regarding authors’ earnings. Howey explains that he isn’t looking to get rid of traditional publishing, or even to take sales away from that avenue of distribution, but to make the pie bigger for everyone — to sell more books to more people. Some are attempting to be more critical about Howey’s numbers, separating what is clearly true from what is in doubt.

rowlingAnd then there are those who think that the best thing for publishing would be for J.K. Rowling to stop writing books. This sort of thing makes me cringe with something like disgust. Why should any successful writer stop writing? I find the suggestion that it would “give other writers, and other writing, room to breathe” to be just plain silly. Rowling’s success in the marketplace is not the cause of anyone else’s failure to thrive there. Write more! Write better! But don’t demand that others stop writing books that people want to read.

atwoodMargaret Atwood has some advice for writers. It’s funny how often a writer’s rules come down to “Write! Don’t stop writing!” I wonder how many “writers” out there produce fewer than a thousand words a month. I’m afraid I’m guilty as charged when it comes to fiction.

Here’s a charity we could all get behind: providing books for soldiers. It appears to be specific to authors providing signed copies for soldiers, but that shouldn’t stop you from filling your next CARE package with paperbacks nonetheless.

Movies and books: an uncomfortable marriage, at best, and the book is always better. But the best is the weird stuff the movies do to books in the hopes of garnering a wider audience.

This is just some silly fun with which to start your work week: classic video games reimagined as romance novels. Enjoy!


Wednesday Moment of Zen: Shelley Jackson’s Snow Story

Snow, huh
Good God, y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
shelley_jackson_snowSay it again

With all due apologies to Edwin Starr, I think this is how a good two-thirds of the country feels right now. No, really, I do understand the actual geo-meteorological necessity for snow, and why we need cold temperatures and snowpack in the wintertime—really, I do. But what is it they say, familiarity breeds contempt? Not to mention the fact that at this point just looking at those first few flakes makes a spot between my shoulder blades ache like a phantom limb before I ever touch a shovel. The thrill, if ever there was one, is gone.

And yes, of course spring will come eventually. But between now and then we have dirty snowbanks receding to reveal January’s garbage and slush frozen nightly, the world resurfaced every morning like the world’s biggest skating rink. What we need, between now and April, is something—anything—about this winter to love.

Sounds like a job for a poet, doesn’t it? And so it is. Shelley Jackson, a genre-crossing author, poet, and artist known for her hypertext fiction and Skin, a story written in tattoos on 2,095 volunteers, is in the midst of a short story called “Snow,” written in… snow. “Snow” is an Instagram work in progress, published a word or two each day. Readers should load all the images and start from the bottom up, but the piece also lends itself to an aleatory, Cortázar-worthy hopscotching. The necessarily cool palette, and Jackson’s lovely longhand, keep it visually cohesive and gentle on the eyes—there are many ways to take in this story.

But do take the time to read her words in order, as well; the gift here is a momentary shift in consciousness, away from the February mundanity of keeping your feet dry and your body vertical. As the story’s opening words remind us, “To approach snow too closely is to forget what it is.” And what it is—or at least what it can be, if you look at it just right—is beautiful.


Read and Be Well: The Novel Cure

novelcureI don’t care much for self-help books, but I love literature that masquerades as self-help—Sheila Heti’s genius title, How Should a Person Be?, or Sarah Bakewell’s wonderful How to Live (or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer). I don’t think novels, or even philosophical essays, are going to change my life (other than Joan Didion when I was 16, but that’s a whole other ball of self-help) Lord knows if it worked like that, I’d be a lot more evolved than I am. But it’s fun to imagine that they could, and how.

Apparently I’m not the only one. Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, a fine artist and writer, respectively, have recently written a book titled The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies, which posits that there is a remedy for every one of life’s ills, large or small, to be found in literature:

Are you weary in Brain and Body? Do you desire a Positive Cure for your Pessimism? Do you require Bronte to re-boot your Broken Heart? Do you despair of your Nose? Can Fielding open your Flood Gates? Or Pynchon purge your Paranoia? May we administer Austen to curb your Arrogance? Hemingway for your Headache? An injection of du Maurier for your low Self-Esteem?

This sounds a bit frivolous, granted. But as anyone who has determinedly sunk themselves into a book to avoid their woes—which I’m guessing is most of the people reading this—it’s not such a huge leap to imagine turning the idea of escapism on its head, and requesting that fiction do some slightly more proactive work. Berthoud and Elderkin advise that “Our apothecary contains Balzacian balms and Tolstoyan tourniquets, the salves of Saramago and the purges of Perec and Proust,” as well as a good sampling of contemporary authors, and they write with the authority of well-adjusted lifelong bookworms. It helps that they’re English, with that particular tone that is both authoritative and cheerful at their disposal—and that they have an actual outlet for their services, at something called The School of Life, in London. This is a real thing, and while its website makes it look, at first, like the kind of organization that dresses up as something else, like one of Dave Eggers’ storefront enterprises, this is exactly what it appears to be:

The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand, and where necessary change, the world.

It’s Alain de Botton’s pet project, and while its mission is clearly aligned with the kind of soul-soothing explorations he writes about, it’s not a bad idea overall. They give classes, publish books, offer business consultations, and produce videos, as well as “a range of objects & tools that will assist you in the quest for a more fulfilled life.” And, apparently, book therapy—for a (rather steep) price, you can spend an hour there with a “bibliotherapist,” talking about your troubles, at the end of which you will be prescribed the perfect set of novels to cure what ails you. Whether you’re in need of perspective, amusement, insight into the human condition, or a little compassion for others, it’s all there to be discovered in literature. While the general idea can smack of more than a little free time and privilege—The Grapes of Wrath probably won’t help you much if the bank is foreclosing on your house—when it comes to wrangling with issues on the less concrete end of the spectrum, novels can help. And there’s plenty of good pop science to back it up these days.

You can try it out for yourself at the book’s website, with a sampling of problems from Apathy (prescription: The Postman Always Rings Twice) to Zestlessness (prescription: Ragtime). They also take requests. The book’s introduction does note that

Some treatments will lead to a complete cure. Others will simply offer solace, showing you that you are not alone. All will offer the temporary relief of your symptoms due to the power of literature to distract and transport. Sometimes the remedy is best taken as an audio book, or read aloud with a friend. As with all medicines, the full course of treatment should always be taken for best results.

As far as I’m concerned, it has to be better than your average self-help book floating around out there. Plus I’m always a sucker for a good phrenology diagram, used well. Not to mention a good novel in times of need.


Sunday Links, February 16, 2014

tale for the time beingThe winners of the 2014 Kitschie Awards have been announced.

The finalists for the Aurealis Awards have been announced, celebrating Australian speculative fiction. Due the miracle of epublishing, a substantial number of these books are available to American audiences.

How is one to define “sword and sorcery,” a subset of fantasy, for the unlucky folks who have never encountered it before? Paul Kemp explains, with examples and recommendations.

The Edible WomanIf sword and sorcery isn’t your thing, you could read one of the top ten books about getting eaten.

Is the literary world elitist? Laura Miller wants to know if an author who uses the word “crepuscular” is to be criticized because not every potential reader of her book or essay will know it. She doesn’t think so. Neither do I. But it’s rather a more complex question than that, apparently, and readers become angry when they feel ignorant, and they feel ignorant if they have to look up a word. I’ve always thought that was part of the fun of reading — learning new words, new facts, new writing techniques, new ways of looking at things — but apparently not everyone agrees. Really, must every book be the equivalent of pizza, or can we sometimes dive into a ten-course tasting meal?

the recognitionsOn the other end of the spectrum, there are those readers who intentionally try to make other readers feel ignorant and make themselves look unbearably hip. It’s a silly college trick, but I’ve seen it done by professors, too — or, indeed, by anyone who feels an insatiable need to name check the mighty and the obscure to impress an audience. There’s a fine line between knowing your stuff and being able to spread the word, and being utterly obnoxious about it.

frank conroyEric Bennett argues at length in the Chronicle of Higher Education that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has flattened American literature into only a few categories. Perhaps that arises from its origins as a tool against communism — a CIA project. It seems the history of that Workshop is a lot more colorful than anyone might think.

two culturesAnother lengthy article about literary culture postulates that there are two of them now: the one that comes from writing workshops (and, more generally, from academe) and one that comes from New York, the center of the American publishing world. “Each culture has its own canonical works and heroic figures; each has its own logic of social and professional advancement,” writes Chad Harbach. “Each affords its members certain aesthetic and personal freedoms while restricting others; each exerts its own subtle but powerful pressures on the work being produced.” It’s an interesting thesis.

graphHugh Howey goes into considerable detail in discussing what authors actually earn, and comparing the earnings of those published in traditional publishing and those who self-publish. It’s a fascinating report for those who are interested in the business, not just the creativity, of writing.

Another viewpoint on the financial aspect of self-publishing demonstrates a good deal more anger at traditional publishers. I wonder if one of the benefits of the self-publishing revolution will be that the traditional publishers will have to up their game, and actually start editing and proofreading, not to mention marketing? Or will this revolution simply allow the Big 5 to cherry pick a few big writers and concentrate their resources there, without bothering to publish anything that isn’t going to be huge? Will midlist writers be their own agents, publicists, editors and proofreaders to an even greater extent than they must be today?

lackingtonsLackingtons is a new online literary magazine publishing speculative fiction and art. They’re looking for “stylized prose,” “prose poetry,” they say, which sounds interesting. It’s free to read online, or you can download a .pdf for only $2.99. I’ve not had a chance to read the inaugural issue yet, but I’m eager to do so.

Oh, dear. Sometimes writers really need to back away from the Twitter machine. Complex issues don’t take well to a 140-character medium, and no matter how good a writer you are, you can’t condense the entire Woody Allen mess into that little space.

procrastinationI am a world class procrastinator. Apparently that means I should be a writer, because they procrastinate a lot — or so says Megan McArdle in this month’s Atlantic.

We may already be past Valentine’s Day, but there’s no reason why that should keep you from looking for a sweetheart. Consider a bookworm, who has many advantages as a date, a love, a spouse, not the least of which is that we won’t smother you.

If you’re watching “True Detective” but you don’t know the work of a writer named Robert W. Chambers, you’re missing out on an important reference. I’m pleased to say I caught this one, and brought up “The King In Yellow” on my Kindle to get myself fully oriented. It’s free for the Kindle at Amazon, if you’d like to check it out.

GoldfingerMore television that I can’t resist sharing here: what if Doctor Who were American? Me, I’d be racing out to get any and all episodes featuring Gene Wilder’s Doctor. Wouldn’t that be absolutely perfect casting?

Art made from books seems like a growing commodity these days. Terry Border fashions books into objects that act out their plots. Clever stuff.


Sunday Links, February 9, 2014

Through the Evil DaysThe nominees for the Agatha Awards have been announced. These awards are for “traditional mysteries,” that is, mysteries with no explicit sex or excessive or gratuitous violence — mysteries like Agatha Christie wrote, where the puzzle is what matters.

Left Coast Crime has announced the nominees for its mystery awards in various categories.

The Secret of MagicKirkus gives us a list of the winter’s best bets for reading in all genres.

Just as I get chosen to speak on a panel at FOGCon on underrated fantasy, science fiction and horror writers, Omnivoracious does a column about underrated science fiction and fantasy. Thanks for the jumping-off spot, Amazon! I agree Paul Antony Jones that Tim Powers’s The Drawing of the Dark is worth your attention, which makes me that much more curious about other novels on the list.

MiddlesexWhy do we seem to enjoy lists so much? There are websites that seem to be composed of nothing but lists, and they drag me in with daunting frequency. Now Amazon has a hew list of the best 100 books to read in a lifetime. The list is quirky, to say the least, but at least it takes substantial note of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, instead of sticking to the so-called Great Books. I’ve read about a third of the books on the list, and am curious about a good many of the rest of them.

Infinite jestRachel Dorsey writes in Book Riot about how reading big books — the ones that clock in at more than 1000 pages per — helped her adapt to living abroad.

Neil Gaiman reads Green Eggs and Ham while looking like a homeless person. Definitely worth a watch.

The chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary speaks about the future of this institution. Work began on the third edition in 1994; it should be finished in 2037. At that rate, they’ll need to start on the fourth edition as soon as they finish the third!

bnI linked a couple of articles by Hugh Howey last week discussing ways and means by which traditional publishing can regain some of the territory lost to self-publishing. Publishers Weekly has a response that suggests that Howey’s ideas would work well in a world that still had bookstores, but that the loss of bricks-and-mortar might make things a lot more difficult all the way around.

Chuck WendigIn the meantime, it looks self-publishing isn’t going to slow down any time soon, and it’s not going to yield more high-quality reading material, either. Chuck Wendig, the author of several well-received novels, writes about why this is a problem. He sets out the reasons I generally avoid self-published stuff unless I know the author’s work and/or reputation in the field; there’s too much garbage out there, and I don’t have time to wade through all the garbage to find something worth my scarce reading hours. Chocolate and Vodka has some further thoughts on the topic.

Jodi MeadowsJodi Meadows writes a love letter to her rejections, which in a way is a comment on the articles about self-publishing. If you go straight to publication without the intervention of an editorial eye — even an editorial eye that rejects your work — your work won’t be as good as it will be if you keep working to get that acceptance.

I’ve been longing to take a serious writing course for a while now, one that will force me to write and make me write better. My particular grail is Clarion West, which is specifically for writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to take this intensive six-week course, but I’ll never stop yearning for it either, most likely. Why? Because you can learn a lot in a writing course. And the people who take them are likely your kind of people, the ones who read and love books. Hmm, maybe instead of just longing for Clarion I should think about a local college course and see what that does for me.

book blogsPolicyMic lists ten literary blogs every 20-something should read, but I see no reason why the list isn’t also useful for those older and younger. The Los Angeles Review of Books is especially wonderful, leading me to explore the others named.

It’s still a man’s world, writing dark fantasy and horror. There’s no reason why that should be so, but it is. And that’s what leads Teresa Frohock to offer some tried and true advice in the linked article, like using a gender-neutral first name or initials if publishing in those fields. Her bottom line? A career in writing is hard work, even harder than it used to be.

logoSimon and Schuster has finally named its new science fiction and fantasy imprint and given it a logo besides. I’ve no idea what that logo is supposed to represent; it looks like a goblet to me, and there’s no particular relationship between SF/F and goblets that I know of (though certainly they show up in plenty of fantasy novels). Look for the first novels to be published in this line in Spring 2015. I wish I didn’t have to wait that long for Ken Liu’s first novel, A Tempest of Gold — his short stories are so wonderful that I can’t wait to get my hands on his work at greater length.

crime and punishmentThere’s a website called “Upworthy” that frequently manages to catch my attention from the general din on Facebook with a headline that makes the accompanying story worth a click. The Millions has taken this concept to the next logical step and retitled books in a similar fashion so as to reap more readers. “Here’s One Weird Trick To Get Out of Paying Your Rent Forever” does rather have a ring to it that Crime and Punishment doesn’t.

Want to make your brain work better? Here’s how.


Sunday Links, February 2, 2014

SamatarSofia Samatar, the author of A Stranger in Olondria, has won the Crawford Memorial Award for best first fantasy novel, presented by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.

The finalists for the British Science Fiction Association Awards have been announced. The list this year goes beyond the usual white male complement, which strikes me as being enormously healthy for the field.

floraThe Newbery and Caldecott winners have been announced.

The 2014 Michael L. Printz Award winners for the best young adult fiction of the year have been announced.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is coming, and a record number of submissions have been made to the prize committee. There’s a good year’s worth of reading in this stack, but the judges only have a few months to come up with a short list.

comicGraphic novels are getting more and more respect. Omnivoracious makes note of highly anticipated graphic novels, including that the grand old man of comics, Alan Moore, has a banner year ahead.

There are a huge number of science fiction, fantasy and horror being published in February 2014. How do I pick only 10 titles — my average monthly intake — to read out of this embarrassment of riches? Tor offers a more curated list for fantasy readers, and My Bookish Ways has its own choices.

the sunThere’s a football game on today, right? Yeah, not a fan. Kirkus suggests ten ways not to watch the Super Bowl, with something to suit every taste.

If you don’t usually read SF, have all my links to science fiction articles, lists and sites caused you to wonder whether maybe you ought to give genre fiction a try? io9 has some suggestions on good entry points to the genres. The suggestions that make me giggle are those that refer to novels you may not have known were considered science fiction by us genre readers. Give it a try; you might find you like it.

haldemanIt’s a gimmick, but it’s one that works: writers write their writing advice on their hands. I was particularly taken by Joe Haldeman’s advice NOT to write what you know. Take a look and see what he means by that.

Being a book lover carries with it a lot of advantages. Best of all is that reading makes your brain work better. Or is the best thing that you’re never bored? Or maybe — well, take a look at the list and think about how reading makes you happy. Then take a look at this list of conundrums faced by readers. Just picking out what to read next can induce a terrible fit of indecision — but I think it’s worth it.

catcherTest yourself! Guess the novel based on its first sentence. I got 14 out of 17 right, which identifies me as an English major, but I have no idea which ones I missed. The test needs a key!

If that test isn’t sufficiently persuasive, try these identifiers of English majors. Yes, in fact, I am still waiting for my letter telling me I’ve been accepted at Hogwarts.