You Don’t Tug on Superman’s Cape

supermans_capeI don’t imagine everyone dreams exclusively of a full-time job doing whatever it is they love best. There are probably plenty of artists who want to make art on their own terms, in their own time, thank you very much, and are happy to work at something completely unrelated in order to pay the rent. Doing something for fun and doing something for money can be two very different animals.

But not always. I’ve been the news editor at Library Journal since the end of the summer, and the work agrees with me one hundred percent. I spend my days researching and writing and editing stories about public, academic, and special libraries—legislation and innovation, personalities and programs, news both good and bad. There’s no compromise involved; I’m not covering libraries until something better comes along. Rather, I believe in libraries with a geeky lefty fervor: what they do, what they could do, and the general promise they hold out for the world to be a better place. I got to write a positive story about the events in Ferguson last month, and a story about what worked right when a gunman shot three people in the library at Florida State University before Thanksgiving; I get to write about open access and homeless outreach and information literacy. It’s an awesome beat, and I generally consider myself the luckiest girl around.

Last week I wrote an article about a couple of documentary filmmakers who are making what’s eventually going to be an extremely cool film about public libraries. When I spoke to them, one of the two mentioned the Voltaire quote in the Like Fire banner. I was a little surprised that they’d found this place, but not unhappily so—after all, it’s my job to Google the hell out of them before we talk, so why shouldn’t they see what they can dig up on me? I was actually kind of pleased. Pleased… and then a little sad. Poor Like Fire.

I am trying so, so hard not to be that person who neglects everything else in the wake of a new job. My spouse, my pets, my friends, my already tenuous grasp of housekeeping, my ability to eat balanced meals on a regular basis—all of them have been getting shorted these past few months. The only thing that’s improved is my pleasure reading, since I spend a good two and a half hours on the train every day. Other than that, I don’t have much in the way of free time: up before six to walk with the dog—the only exercise either of us get all day, so it’s important—shower, dress, eat breakfast, pack lunch, so I can be at my desk by 9:30. Come 6:30 or so, depending what I’m working on, I pick myself up, go home, eat, play with the kitties, brush my teeth, and try to get my sorry self in bed at a reasonable hour. Not a lot of wiggle room. But, I keep thinking, surely enough.


I know this blog is my own project, to give up or keep on with as I want. Nobody is holding my hand to the fire here. But that’s kind of the point. I started it up with no real support other than some encouragement from friends, and kept it chugging along through day jobs, freelance work, grad school, work on a second website. Even when I felt stretched as thin as I thought I could get, it was always a relief to have a place to bring my thoughts, strut my stuff a bit, talk about what interested me. Not to mention the fact that all the work I did here, online, for free, is what turned me into a halfway decent writer and, eventually, got me this peach of a job.

And it’s not that I don’t have that same desire to trot out my opinions. But I’m realizing what some of the circumstances were that got me writing online in the first place: a nine to five job that was actually nine to five; that didn’t take up all my attention or acuity for all of those eight hours; and—most important—where I was seriously undervalued. I worked for a journal that published book reviews. But the few times when a reviewer punked out on us and I said Hey, how about I write the review?, my editor—an elderly and vaguely misogynist, old-school fellow who still had to be reminded not to call people’s assistants their “girls”—responded as if I were kidding. No “Really, you write reviews?” No “Well then, let’s see what you’ve got.” He reacted as if I’d said, “You know what, I found James Wood’s home phone number online—why don’t I give him a call and see if he’ll write us a book review for $100?”

LZ_Wonder_WomanGranted, I never pushed it. I didn’t feel like getting into it with him, for one thing. Plus that was a lot of what made the job tolerable—having a secret identity. I don’t dispute that I learned a lot editing under him, to the point where I could have written for him. But he didn’t deserve me. I was a superhero in my own literary life, changing into my spangled costume in the phone book of WordPress.

And now I have no secret identity. I’m recognized, professionally and otherwise, for what I can do, and it feels good. But is it lethal to my personal writing? If I’m not my own superhero, do I still get to fly? Jim Croce offered us the basic tenet of common sense that tugging on Superman’s cape and pulling the mask off the Lone Ranger were roughly analogous to spitting into the wind, and sometimes I wonder if I haven’t done something similar. Have I messed around with Like Fire?

Or am I just still in the process of getting a handle the work-life balance, of figuring out how to allocate my energies the right way so I can do both things: write about libraries during the day and write about things literary at night? (Or at 5 in the morning? Don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind.) Maybe things just need to settle out a bit.


I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, as a rule. My way of thinking is: I’m either doing something or I’m not doing it, and if I want to do it I should just shut up and, you know, do it. I understand the desire for accountability, but that’s usually not my thing. I’m accountable to myself; that’s enough. I’m not lazy, I’m not self-deluded, and I have never once failed when I set out to do something.

But this once, I’m going to publicly resolve—at the very least—to be resolute. Shit or get off the pot. Blog or not blog, but not go around feeling this weird, inchoate, wistful pull that bumps up, night after night, against sheer exhaustion.

Maybe Like Fire just isn’t feasible, in which case I’ll figure that out and bow out gracefully, really I will. But I also have a sense that there’s something that might need to settle into place. Like one of those dreams where you discover an entire extra wing in your house—maybe that energy is there, and I just have to discover it. Maybe it’s like parallel parking, a skill that eluded me for years until one day the concept just clicked, and I’ve been happily parallel parking in the tightest of spaces ever since.

If anyone has any great ideas, please feel free to offer them up. And please, give up big props for Terry, who’s been saving Like Fire‘s dignity with her wonderful Sunday Links.

2014 was a hell of an interesting year. 2015 should be another. We’ll see.

(Wonder Woman image is a commercial laminated 184 mm. bookmark, illustration by George Perez, produced by One Stop Posters in 1987.)


Sunday Links, December 21, 2014


 The longlist of nominees for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced.

The winners of the Rhysling Awards have been announced by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

The Folio Prize long list has been announced.

What to Read Next has done its usual splendid job in laying out the monthly releases in science fiction and fantasy.  The list comes in several subparts, so be sure to find your favorite subgenre’s listing and make sure you haven’t missed a book you’d love to be reading to ring in the new year:  fantasy, science fiction, paranormal romance, urban fantasy and horror, and my favorite category, genre benders.  A different blogger lists all the British releases for the month.

Kirkus picks through the avalanche and lists the best bets for December in these genres.

Barnes & Noble also lists the best science fiction and fantasy for the monthMy Bookish Ways displays covers of SF/F/H being published this month, and it’s a somewhat more complete listing because it includes horror.

io9 has its own suggestions about what SF/F books you shouldn’t miss in December.  Barnes & Noble’s suggestions for December SF/F are up at  And The AudioBookaneers has a list of the SF/F coming out in audio in December.

BookRiot lists five favorite feminist books, none of which this particular feminist has come across before. It’s an interesting approach to feminism, in that the books aren’t really about feminism, but written by feminists and with a feminist sensibility. The Third Wave, perhaps?

The Guardian suggests ten books to read once you’ve finished The Hunger Games series.

Author Gail Carringer lists ten books to read when you need a good cry.

BookRiot lists the best biographies of dead writers.  What surprises me here is the absence of Hermione Lee’s biographies of Virginia Woolf and Penelope Fitzgerald, but perhaps they felt they could only list one book per biographer (Lee gets mentioned for her work on Edith Wharton).  I’m generally fascinated by biographies of writers and poets; I always think maybe I’ll figure out the secret to being a great writer.  It hasn’t happened yet, but hey, I’ve got a whole bunch of years left.  I hope (and now I’m looking around for some wood to knock on).

Best Fantasy Books lists the best modern young adult fantasy.  They have a number of other “best” lists too, should you be more inclined to a different sort of fantasy.

Horror Novel Reviews lists the 100 scariest novels of all time — just in case you want to frighten yourself out of your skin while staying up waiting for Santa Claus.

Listly suggests 100 Canadian novels to read in a lifetime.

FlavorWire lists genre books that should be classics.  Of those listed, the ones I’ve read brought me a great deal of enjoyment, and I’d have to agree with the assessment that they should be considered classics by thoughtful readers.  Pick one and give it a go!

The Huffington Post lists the best dystopian novels.  Start with Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery — you won’t be sorry.

BuzzFeed suggests some books by women that you might experiment with by suggesting that if you liked this book by a man, you might well like this book by a woman.  It sounds like a good way to find new voices you may have missed.

Want even more diversity in your reading?  BuzzFeed recommends 19 must-read books by women of color.  I’m going to be looking at this list pretty closely, as there are a number of books here I haven’t even heard of — and some others that I own but haven’t read yet.  Give one a try!

BookRiot recommends three works in translation being published during December.

Amazing Stories lists one book for each of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Masters, and suggests you read at least one this winter.  Some of the books will be hard to find, but others are still in print after many years; there’s bound to be something to your taste.

If you’re tired of reading epic fantasies sent in a vaguely medieval vaguely English countryside, try one of these quite different epics, instead.  I’ve started The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, and I can vouch for the fact that it is very different from any other fantasy I’ve read this year — and excellent, to boot.

A.C. Wise has accumulated a number of links from authors listing the work they had published in the past year.  Look up your favorite and see if you missed anything!

Best of 2014

So many lists!  You can find a list of favorite books of the year in virtually any genre whatsoever.  This is just a sampling of the many available lists; as I’ve mentioned before, the best place to go for a complete listing is Large-Hearted BoyPenguin Random House also has a list of the best of the bests lists.

Paste lists the top 25 comics of the year, and / has a list of graphic novels that would make good gifts.  I’ve got a few of these on my shelves already, and am especially eager to read Saga and Through the Woods, but these lists added quite a few items to my ever-growing wish list.  And I cannot recommend Locke & Key highly enough — these are just excellent work by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.  Those six volumes you should buy for yourself as well as for your favorite people, and you can all enjoy reading them together next to a toasty fire.

The Washington Post lists 50 notable works of nonfiction; the top 50 works of fiction; the five best fantasy and science fiction books of the year (a very odd list that most SF/F readers wouldn’t recognize); the top 10 graphic novels; the five best thrillers; the five best romances; the five best audiobooks; and the 10 best books of the year.

NPR has a lovely display of the covers of the best books of the year in all genres.  When your cursor hovers over a particular cover, you get comments on the book and links to full recommendations.  It’s one of the best ways of making a list I’ve ever seen on the internet.

The New York Times lists 100 notable books of the year.

BuzzFeed lists the 24 top novels and short story collections of the year.

Library Journal lists the best books of the year in multiple areas:  best genre fiction; romance; graphic novels; nonfiction; e-book originals; the top ten books of the year; and a catch-all category entitled “More of the Best.”  There are some odd choices here that I haven’t seen elsewhere, so it’s definitely a series of lists worth looking over.

Kirkus lists the top nonfiction of the year; the best fiction; the best children’s books; the best books for teens; the best books put out by independent publishers;

GoodReads lists the best books of 2014, as chosen by its members.

Huffington Post lists its best books of 2014.

Notes from Coode Street has a voluminious list of the best science fiction, fantasy and horror of the year.  The entry is denominated as “Part 1,” though there’s no Part 2 as yet; you might want to keep an eye out, because this is a phenomenal list.

Publishers Weekly has a long list of year’s best books in numerous categories.

Entertainment Weekly lists the ten best fiction books of 2014.

Oprah and her various organizations and publications list their best books of the year.

The LitReactor staff lists its best books of the year.  There are some interesting choices here that vary from the publishing industry’s general agreement.

BookRiot asked its contributors for their favorites, too.  Once again, the choices are often unique.  Isn’t it fascinating that individuals seem to pick different books that organizations do?

My Bookish Ways asked a number of SF/F/H writers to list their favorite books of the year:  Daryl Gregory, John Horner Jacobs, Gemma Files, Teresa Frohock, Jason M. Hough, and David Nickle.  There’s some very cool stuff to be found here, as the choices are as idiosyncratic as the writers themselves.

The Book Smugglers celebrated “Smugglivus” by asking SF/F/H writers to list their favorite books of the year:  Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Hall, Fiona Wood, Catherine F. King, Rin Chupeco, Deborah Coates, Charles Tan, Kate Elliott, Y.S. Lee, Susan Jane Bigelow, Octavia Cade, Robert Jackson Bennett, Kate Milford, and Erin Claiborne.  If you take a look around the site after reading these wonderful columns, you can also find guest posts by bloggers, reviewers and others for more tips.  And one of the Smugglers, Thea James, writes in a panic about great 2014 books that she hasn’t gotten to yet.

The Millions did much the same with a wholly different set of writers, though the question here was what the year in reading was like for each writer, so there are plenty of books discussed that are not 2014 publications.  There are columns by:  Emma Straub, Thomas Beckwith, Tess Malone, Rachel Cantor, Jean Hanff Korelitz, William Girardi, Bill Morris, Julia Fierro, Caitlin Doughty, Scott Cheshire, and Molly Antopol, Anthony Doerr, Eula Biss, Stephen Dodson, Jess Walter, Karen Joy Fowler, Blake Butler, Janet Fitch, John Darnielle, Leslie Jamison, Ben Lerner, Matthew Thomas, Garth Risk Hallberg, Laura van den Berg, Celeste Ng, Mark O’Connell, Nick Ripatrazone, Jane Smiley, Phil Clay, Tana French, Emily St. John Mandel, Philipp Meyer, Edan Lepucki, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, Jayne Anne Phillips, Maureen Corrigan, Caitlin Moran, Lindsay Hunter, Eimear McBride, Walter Kirn, Porochista Khakpour, Tiphanie Yanique, David Bezmozgis, Dinaw Mengestu, Rabih Alameddine, Rebecca Makkai, Gina Frangello, Hannah Pittard, Michelle Huneven, Lydia Millet, Ron Rash, Darcy Steinke and Tom Nissley.  There are also columns by staff writers for The Millions, publishers, editors, and other associated with books; the comprehensive index is here.  I may spend New Year’s Day reading these columns and drawing up lists to guide my own reading — and then diving into the columns from past years, as I never knew these existed before.  They look delectable.

A number of other writers have written blog posts about their favorite books of the year.  A few of the best are by Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jeff VanderMeer.

SF Signal asked a different set of authors for their best books of the year, and put them all together in a MindMeld post.’s reviewers listed their favorite books of the year.  Once again, there are some genuinely unique choices with good explanations for why those choices were made. also polled its readers by Twitter to learn their favorites.  While most selections are predictable (these are the readers who cause books to show up on bestseller lists, after all), there are some unusual selections that I didn’t expect to see here.

Powell’s Books has numerous best of the year lists:  cookbooks, kids’ books, nonfiction, fantasy and science fiction, Young Adult fiction, and fiction.

The Globe and Mail lists the 100 best books of the year.  A number of the books listed here won’t show up on this side of the pond until 2015, so this will give you a start on your new year’s wish list.

The New York Times asked all of the authors of its Bookend feature, which appears in the book review each Sunday, to list their favorite read of the year, new or old.  Almost no one listed a book first published in 2014, which I find rather fascinating.

Barnes & Noble lists the best anthologies of the year.  I’m a short story lover myself, so you won’t be surprised to known that I own most of these — but I’ve very glad to know about the ones I missed.

BookRiot has a lengthy guide to the best books published by independent presses in 2014.

Slate recommends 2014 books that have been largely overlooked, but that are worthy of your attention.

Holiday Shopping

Kirkus has a holiday gift guide for the science fiction nerd in your life.

CBS Connecticut lists the best books to buy as gifts based on the preferences of your intended recipient.  You’ll find books for cooks, bakers, music lovers, baseball fans, and many more.

Tips on Life and Love has suggestions on books to buy for boys to get them away from those videogames for a while.

/Film suggests the best movie and television book gifts of the year.  I’ll bet there are books here you’ve not even heard of, but that would be perfect for the movie lover on your gift list.

The Los Angeles Times suggests gift books for every interest.

The Sydney Herald suggests gift books for the lover of science fiction and fantasy.

The Nerdist has suggestions for the booklovers on your list that aren’t actually books.  Love the Batman book shelves, impractical as they are.

Powell’s has a good (and amusing) graphic to help you find the right book for the toughest person on your list.

And the best place to do your book shopping?  Your local independent bookstore, says Huffington PostBustle agreesSlate disagrees (though that article is a few years old).  In any event, independent bookstores should be having a very merry Christmas indeed, given James Patterson’s gift of $473,000 to their coffers.

Looking Forward to 2015

A Locus Roundtable features writers, reviewers and critics discussing what books they’re looking forward to in science fiction, fantasy and horror.  I know I say this a lot, but really, I want one of each.

Would you like to challenge yourself to read differently, more diversely, with more forethought in 2015?  BookRiot has some ideas on how you can do that.  I printed out the list and am going to give it a go myself.

Thinking about Books

Brain Pickings tries to figure out what makes a book great.

The Los Angeles Review of Books, through the scholarly pen of writer Nick Mamatas, looks at whether the canon — and the universe itself! — can survive the influence of H.P. Lovecraft.  Mamatas takes what may be a controversial question in some quarters:  whether Lovecraft is a bad writer or simply a difficult writer, and plumps for the latter answer.  LARB hasn’t been around for all that long, but it has definitely established itself as an important periodical for the literate.

BookRiot says that the Bechdel Test alone isn’t sufficient to judge whether women are properly represented in our literature.  Maybe the Mako Mori test will do it?  Or maybe — just perhaps — it’s the responsibility of readers to insist that women be portrayed accurately.

Kids read a lot more than the conventional wisdom would have you believe.

BookRiot talks about five book culture heroes of 2014.

Author Kameron Hurley gives us some insight into what it’s like to be a professional writer these days.  It certainly doesn’t sound like one halcyon day after another, does it?  But still, to see your name on the spine of a book; could there be any greater thrill?

The Business of Books

ABE Books lists its 50 most expensive sales in 2014.  I wonder who would spend $40,000 on a book ordered off the internet?  Wouldn’t you want to see it in person before laying out that sort of cash?

Hachette has purchased Black Dog & Leventhal, the latest in a string of purchases that seem especially designed to strengthen their backlist.  In the internet age, those older titles are more valuable; you can make them available virtually forever at almost no cost, so any sale is a win.  That makes me happy, because I hate it when books disappear.

Publishers Weekly talks about a new approach to writing for science fiction and fantasy:  crowdfunding.  I’ve donated to a number of wonderful anthologies and magazines through Kickstarter, but seeing this through the eyes of the traditional publishing industry is interesting.

Publshers Weekly also looks at the future of self-publishing.

Author Tobias Buckell suggests that Kindle Unlimited isn’t a good deal for anyone but Amazon.

Fun and/or Funny

Thought Catalog lists eleven things you should know before you start dating a bookworm.  We all know these things, of course, but perhaps it would make our lives easier if we simply printed out this post and handed it to potential suitors to avoid misunderstandings.

LitReactor has some suggestions for Stephen King about what he should write next.  It’s a more thoughtful article than you might immediately suspect.

Some Grace and Beauty to Cap Off Your Reading Year has listed all of the free fiction it posted during 2014, with links to each story.  With the right software (I’m using Readability), you can transfer all those wonderful stories to your ereader and curl up in your favorite chair to read them one right after the other, like the best box of chocolates you ever saw.

Strange Horizons did the same thing, and links not just to the stories but also to the podcasts of those stories.  It’s enough to make you think of fireplaces and hot buttered rum and a snowstorm that “forces” you to stay inside and read and read and read.

BuzzFeed gives us a look at the most beautiful book covers of the year. gives us photographs of the most fashionable villains in fantasy and science fiction film.  I’ve always thought that Spike (from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show) was gorgeous, so he really does belong here, but if he’s not to your taste there are plenty of others to feast your eyes on.

BuzzFeed lists the 51 most beautiful sentences in literature.

These photographs of fairy tales come to life will make your eyes very happy.

Those photographs led me to these 1914 Scandinavian fairy tale illustrations by Kay Nielsen.  Aren’t they amazing?

And those, in turn, led me to these 1919 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by illustrator Harry Clarke.  There is a sensuality to them that makes them all the more terrifying.

A body painter has turned humans into absolutely beautiful animals.

I hope these links keep you warm, dry, safe and happy over the holidays.  I wish you all the best, and look forward to giving you more good stuff to read in 2015.


Sunday Links, November 23, 2014


The winners of the National Book Awards have been announced.

The winners of the World Fantasy Awards have been announced.

The winners of the Anthony, Macavity and Shamus Awards have been announced.

Best Books of the Year

Amazon has published its lists of the best books of the year in myriad categories:  science, science fiction and fantasy, comics and graphic novels, literature and fiction, mystery, thriller and suspense and many more.  Its choices for the best books of the year regardless of genre are here.

The New York Times lists its Editors’ Choice books for the year.

Kirkus lists its best books of the year.

Waterstone’s asked some of its favorite authors to list their favorite books of the year.  Only one book is listed by two different writers:  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  I’ve heard a lot of talk about this book, leading me to think that I should move it up higher in my TBR list.  Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog similarly asked a long list of celebrity authors to name their favorites.

The Toronto Globe and Mail lists its 100 best books of the year.  We haven’t seen some of these in the United States yet, so this list could also be used as a guide to next year’s reading.

Australia takes a different approach, listing the 50 favorite novelists of the year.

BookRiot links to the top ten literary TED talks of the year.

Want more “best of the year” lists?  The Largehearted Boy is once again aggregating links to all the online lists he can find.  I could get lost for days just looking at the lists he’s listed so far, comparing, buying, reserving at the library, disagreeing, agreeing — and I’ll bet you could, too.

What to Read Next

Kirkus suggests the six books you should read in the last six weeks of the year.

My Bookish Ways lists the highlights of the books being published in December in science fiction, fantasy and horror.

BuzzFeed suggests 12 cookbooks every booklover needs.

The Guardian lists the top 10 books about reading.  As this is one of my favorite categories of books, I was surprised to learn that I knew of only a few of those listed.  Naturally, the others went right onto my wishlist!

Flavorwire lists 50 dark books to read during the dark days of autumn and winter.  And the wishlist got even longer.

BuzzFeed counters the darkness by listing 21 books that could make the world a better place.

BookRiot makes us even more optimistic by listing more than 30 books about bad guys gone good.

Who’s up and coming these days?  Here’s a list of 20 writers under 40 you should be reading.

Bustle suggests 11 memoirs every woman should read while she’s in her 20s.  My own opinion is that these memoirs would be great reading at any age, for men as well as women.  Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle is an amazing book, for instance, and I read it in my 50s.  BuzzFeed has its own list of 12 memoirs that will get you through your 20s, and there’s surprisingly little overlap.  So

Writers and Readers

Watch this video of this year’s recipient of the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, Ursula K. LeGuin and marvel at what a national treasure she is.  Then go and read her books!  You can start with A Wizard of Earthsea.

In honor of Margaret Atwood’s 75th birthday, BookRiot lists 75 reasons why Atwood is awesome.

Nicola Griffith writes about why branding isn’t such a great idea for writers.  It is a long, well thought-out essay that deserves attention.

I love to go to bookstores (and other forums) and listen to writers read their work.  Flavorwire lists 50 writers you should really hear live.  Neil Gaiman is the only one I can cross off that list, having heard him read and speak several times, but otherwise I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve even made much of a dent.

Dan Meadows writes a great piece about library book sales.  He scored a copy of Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, one of the best collections of odd, sometimes horrific, sometimes lovely stories published in this century so far.  It would make me jealous if I didn’t have a copy of my own.  Seriously, get your hands on this one.

Genre Wars

The New Yorker, of all places, offers a new way to think about reading genre fiction in a piece by editor Joshua Rothman.  And follow the hyperlinks embedded in the article for some more good reading on the subject by Lev Grossman and Arthur Krystal.  Flavorwire follows up with its own take on the article suggesting that the so-called genre wars have ended in a truce.

Lady Business explains why women should read comics despite the industry’s, um, shall we say, odd history in depicting women.  And non-whites.  And anyone who isn’t a heterosexual.  And…

Adults should be reading Young Adult fiction, says Jeyn Roberts.  I agree!  Cristin Stickles of BookRiot takes it a step further and lists 23 things she’d rather be doing than reading yet another essay about whether adults should read Young Adult fiction.


At long last, Amazon and Hachette have resolved their dispute.

The Wall Street Journal says the library is still better than Amazon’s “all you can read” program — at least for now.

The Seattle Weekly writes of the perks, pitfalls and paradoxes of publishing with Amazon.

Ursula K. LeGuin thinks that Amazon has too much control over what books are published.  There’s a lot more to the interview in Salon that I’ve linked here, and it’s all worth reading.

Books versus E-books

io9 tell us why books are still one of the most enduring technologies.

The Little Red Reviewer suggests one way to read e-books.  (I go for categorization and spreadsheets to keep track of my ebooks; which do you think is more likely to work?)

Alison Flood of the The Guardian is entranced by the ability to highlight passages in the books she reads on her e-reader — and to see what others have highlighted as well.

Fun Stuff

A new television series debuts on December 7:  “The Librarians.”  How is it possible for any book person to resist this one?

Most of these 15 acronyms are likely to be familiar to you, but I’ll be there are one or two words included that you hadn’t realized were acronyms.

Electric Lit imagines that strangers talk to everyone the way they talk to writers.

No one ever buys books for me for Christmas — they’re always afraid I’ll already have whatever they pick.  (They can always just check my LibraryThing page or my Amazon wish lists, but apparently that takes the joy out of it — so I’m told.)  That means that a list like this one, of cool book-related items of jewelry, socks, book rests and other book-related gift items can come in handy.

LitReactor lists seven things to expect when you’re dating a reader.  The “moving is absolute hell” is doubled when both of you are readers; last time my husband and I moved (about 3-1/2 years ago) we had 350 boxes of books or thereabouts, as well as close to 50 bookcases.  (We tipped our movers very well.)

Happy Thanksgiving to all!  May you find plenty of time to read during the four-day holiday weekend.


Pocket Review: The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

Margaret-Thatcher_MantelThe Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: Stories
Hilary Mantel
Henry Holt & Company, 2014

The worth of a book is in the reading, obviously, but there’s also a value to the conversation it creates. To the Lighthouse, Ulysses, On the Road—the aggregate comments they generated took on a life of its own. And a book doesn’t even have to be challenging or classic to be worth talking about; you may not have cared for The Goldfinch or Freedom, but they were good for a significant amount of small talk over their respective summers.

More than due to any one story, Hilary Mantel’s new short fiction collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher will probably stick in my mind because of a rollicking good discussion I had with a couple of friends about unfinished work. In particular: why looking at an artist’s sketches is so often fascinating and informative, but reading a writer’s drafts is generally… well, neither. Don’t get me wrong—I love Mantel’s writing, find it muscular and often wildly greater than the sum of its parts. There were sentences and paragraphs in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies that were written with some kind of authorial sleight-of-hand that I could never totally figure out no matter how many times I read them over; her fiction, when it’s on, is more alchemy than craft.

But The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher is not quite that. The writing is wonderful in places, but the stories have a slightly raw feel to them, and as a collection it doesn’t quite jell. Another friend said it felt like a placeholder, to give Mantel’s loving and infinitely patient fans something to read while they wait for her to finish the third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy. There’s an underbaked feeling to the book, and as much as I enjoyed it—and I did—I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was reading Mantel’s equivalent of a sketchbook.

Look, I love being able to see an artist’s work in its raw form. I’ve spent good money on reproductions of sketchbooks by painters and illustrators and designers I love, and once called in sick to a former job two days in a row so I could linger in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s when they came to the Met. But when it comes to writing I don’t really want to read drafts, or notes, or juvenilia. The difference being, I suppose, that writing is iterative: one version replaces the next, rather than builds on top of it, and the precision of a writer’s final choice of words is a different kind of decision from an artist’s giving primacy to one gesture over another. I could be wrong about this; the conversation isn’t over. But that’s my take on it right now.

Still, even inchoate Mantel is good stuff. The stories here are dark—sometimes overtly so, as in gothic tales like “Winter Break” or “Harley Street,”—but more often they’re quietly menacing, and these are the most successful of the collection. The opening line of “Sorry to Disturb,” about a persistent stranger-turned acquaintance whose odd sense of boundaries plays off the narrator’s chronic discomfort, sets the stage pitch-perfectly: “In those days, the doorbell didn’t ring often, and if it did I would draw back into the body of the house.”

And maybe as befits a somewhat sketchy collection, it was the phrases I loved more than the stories themselves—the way Mantel describes a neighborhood consisting of “semidetached houses of blackening pebbledash, where the dustbins had wheels but the cars were stacked on bricks”; or the smell of a bed and breakfast: “tar of ten thousand cigarettes, fat of ten thousand breakfasts, the leaking metal seep of a thousand shaving its, and the horse-chestnut whiff of nocturnal emissions.” Every landscape, every interior in this dimly lit world of Mantel’s is—if not quite threatening, then impending. Fly strips hanging in a heat wave are “a glazed yellow studded plump with prey,” and you’re almost forced to reread in alarm in case she’s actually describing something to eat.

The best stories in the collection trade on her gift for indeterminacy as well. “Comma,” which features the abovementioned flytraps, is a great, dark little tale of inner and outer defects. And “Sorry to Disturb” makes an art out of the protagonist’s and reader’s mutual discomfort. One—I’m not saying which, because the reveal is what makes it fun—will suffer from American readers’ unfamiliarity with the legend of Elizabeth Báthory, and that’s a shame. Taken together, these stories are definitely worth reading, especially if you’re a fan of Mantel’s wonderfully precise prose. But as a unit of work, the collection wants a little more polish, a bit more finish.

Still, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, even without the provocative title, generated a good conversation about books and art. Sometimes you can’t ask for more than that.


Sunday Links, November 9, 2014


Richard Flanagan has won the Man Booker Prize for The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a “timeless depiction of war,” according to the jury.  The novel is about Japan’s use of prisoners of war to build a railway in Burma under brutal conditions.

The Guardian awarded its Not the Booker Prize to The Visitors by Simon Sylvester.

The finalists for the National Book Award have been announced.

George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones, and publisher Tom Doherty were awarded Brown University Library’s first Harris Awards.  The awards celebrate the influence of literature in pop culture.

StorySouth lists the nominees for the Million Writers Award for the best short fiction published in online journals and magazines during 2013.  Readers will be delighted to know that the list of nominees links to each story.  If you enjoy short fiction, this list will thrill you.  I find myself inclined to download all of them and engage in an orgy of reading; anyone want to join me?  It appears that storySouth appreciates excellent stories regardless of genre, so there’s bound to be something for everyone here.

The first-ever winners of the newly-established Kirkus Prize have been announced.

Kirkus goes further and lists the award-winning novels of 2014, regardless of prize.

Here’s some sad news:  the awards for translations of science fiction and fantasy have been shut down.  I’ve always thought we needed to read more translated SF/F/H, not less, and I was happy these awards were around to encourage that.  Alas.

What to Read Next

Publishers Weekly is getting the jump on everyone else by being the first to publish its lists of the best books of the year.  Start with the top ten, and work your way on through the various genres.  I find the list of science fiction, fantasy and horror. . . surprising.  I don’t disagree with anything on the list — how can I?  I haven’t read any of them — but I’m very surprised at the failure to include a number of books I thought were excellent, like Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin or Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor.

Amazon wasn’t far behind in the race to list the year’s best books.  Its selections in science fiction and fantasy seem a bit more in the mainstream of those genres, and include a number I’ve read and enjoyed myself, like Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and Lock In by John ScalziThe list of the top 100 books of the year is a fascinating mishmash, with something for every taste.

Kirkus suggests eleven great debut novels.  I’m a sucker for first novels myself, so I’m a bit startled that I only own two of the novels on this list.  Looks like I’ll have to pick up a few new books!

Bustle lists seventeen Young Adult novels that will tempt adults as well as teens and kids.

Brain Pickings offers seven must-read books about time.

My Bookish Ways suggests the must-read science fiction, fantasy and horror being published this month.  A new Stephen King novel is always a good thing, but I’m also interested in The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini — probably, in large part, because of that amazing cover art.  In fact, I’ve just talked myself into buying it — and click, it’s done.  (Computers make that much too easy, don’t they?) has done its usual magic in rounding up the month’s releases in the subgenres to science fiction and fantasy.  The list of November releases in fantasy is here; science fiction is here; genre-benders, probably my favorite category, are listed here; paranormal romance is here; and paranormal/urban fantasy is here. also has a list of the new releases in British fiction for the first part of November.

Flavorwire lists 50 of the greatest debut novels since 1950.  There is much to love here, and it’d make a dandy list for anyone looking to catch up on modern mainstream fiction.

My Bookish Ways has its own ideas about the best new releases in science fiction, fantasy and horror in November, as well as the best new releases in mysteries, suspense and mainstream fiction.  I’ll take one of each, please.  (I’ve said that before, haven’t I?  And yet the books never simply appear on my doorstep.  Something has gone awry in the universe.)

Esquire lists the 80 books every man should read.  I do not know why Esquire makes this list only for men; and I do not know why only one of the 80 books was written by a woman:  A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor.  Seems like a fairly strange project all the way around.

Salon tells us why science fiction comics are better than science fiction movies. I didn’t know that Grant Morrison had a new title, Annihilator; he’s one of my favorite writers, and I’m definitely going to have to check it out.  CNN, of all places, jumps in to name the masters of comic book horror.

I’ve loved metafiction from before I even knew there was a word for the type of fiction that features a book-within-a-book or otherwise calls attention to the fact that you’re reading a book.  So this list of seven metafictional books had me running to my favorite purveyor of the written word for copies of the books listed.

Another theme that always makes me look at a book twice is the “Groundhog Day” scenario — so named for the wonderful movie starring Bill Murray, who lives the title day over and over again, until he gets it right.  Hmm, might be time to rewatch that one.  In any event, I especially recommend Ken Grimwood’s Replay, which is excellent in every way.

SF Signal hosts a mind-meld of writers and bloggers about the single author collections that should be in every library.  Part One is here; Part Two is here.  So many terrific suggestions here!

Laird Barron lists new horror writers and recommends a few specific books.  He says that wasn’t too tough to do, given that we’re in a renaissance of sorts for the genre, especially through small presses.  I don’t suppose anyone will be surprised to know that I own all six of the books Barron mentions, as well as his new anthology, Year’s Best Weird Fiction.  Barron’s own work is astonishingly good; try Occultation some night when you don’t care if you get any sleep.

Read the best book ever written in your state!  Though I have to say I question some of the choices made here; those for California, for instance, ignore John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury, to name just two.  I’ve never even heard of the two books chosen for the State.  Anyone else have trouble with the book chosen for their place of residence?

If you’re really out of ideas, you could always read a book recommended by your chosen cultural icon.

For some of us, the idea of being locked in a bookstore overnight is glorious.  But if you were locked into a bookstore with two hours to kill until someone came to let you out, what should you read?  This article will prepare you for such an eventuality, should you ever be lucky enough to experience it.

Young Adult Fiction

Can Young Adult fiction go too far?  Has it become too violent and too depressing?  Claire Hennessy’s long essay on the issue recaps a discussion panel at a literary festival, and provides some insight from writers, editors and readers.

Author Laura Ruby is sick and tired of hearing and reading that Young Adult novels are not serious, challenging fiction.  Her rant was brought on by a piece posted on The Mary Sue, calling those who read Young Adult fiction “cretins” and explaining that she only reads Young Adult work for its entertainment value.  Sarah Arboledah, the writer of the latter piece, seems to have been trying to defend Young Adult fiction, but it offers the ultimate back-handed compliment to the genre.

Ebooks vs. Paper Books

Reading is good for you in any form, but it’s especially good for you if you read paper books instead of reading from a screen.  Reading print helps with comprehension and retention of what you read.  It improves your sleep and makes you more empathetic.  I guess this is why I keep buying paper books, even though I have thousands of books in my Kindle Cloud.  Or maybe it’s just a matter of love!  At any rate, these results might perhaps help explain why print books outsold ebooks in the first half of 2014This graphic shows the difference in sales even more clearly.

Adobe has been quietly gathering “extensive” data on those who use its ereader.  I’d consider this a bit scary if it weren’t for the fact that I’m quite sure Amazon monitors everything I read on my Kindle, whether I bought it from Amazon or received it as a review copy.  I genuinely don’t know if I should worry about this or not.

Does your ereader weigh more when it’s loaded with books?  “In principle, yes,” says John D. Kubiatowicz, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley.  The increase in weight isn’t likely to weigh you down much, but it’s still a cool concept.


Salon says the Hugh Howey’s defense of Amazon in its dispute with Hachette and other traditional publishers is indefensible.  Worse, it’s selfish.  The article is more than an indictment of Howey, though; it’s a bitter tirade against Amazon.

Simon & Schuster has reached an agreement with Amazon — apparently over the same issues as to which Hachette is still holding out.  The details of the deal have not been made public.

Ben Branstetter thinks that publishers should cease selling books to and through Amazon at all.  The question is:  is the publishing industry more dependent on Amazon than Amazon is dependent on it?  It would be interesting to see what would happen if publishers decided to pursue other internet outlets and boycott Amazon.  Independent and chain bookstores are already refusing to stock books published through Amazon’s CreateSpace, a print-on-demand program.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman makes a strong case that Amazon’s monopsony is not okay.

The website Dear Author says that books are not special snowflakes, but merely another type of commercial good that can be sold in the same manner as a toaster or a widget.  The essay seems to be siding with Amazon and against Authors United, though its focus is mostly on the latter organization without pushing the former.


Sophia McDougall writes an excellent piece about the trope of the “strong female character” in New Statesman.  I hadn’t realized how one-note our “strong female characters” are until reading her piece.  I’d argue with her that we do have a few female characters these days we can look up to for reasons in addition to their toughness, like Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter novels or Lucy, played by Scarlet Johansson in the movie of the same name.  But McDougall is right that most of our female heroines get noticed only for being able to hold their own physically.  I hope that McDougall is working on a book on this subject, because I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

Zoe Marriott writes about Mary Sues and Sarah Janes, and the challenges of writing a female character — and how impossible it is to write a realistic character who won’t be criticized as one or the other by readers.

Michael R. Underwood thinks academically about genre fiction.

I didn’t know quite where to post this item, but it’s more or less about criticism, so here you go:  Chris Roberts writes very weird and vicious reviews on Amazon in great quantity.  Many of them are in verse.  He often signs his reviews as “Chris Roberts, God.”  Is this an extended practical joke, as the comments suggest, or a genuinely troubled man?  Perhaps time will tell.

Paul St. John Mackintosh suggests that the New Weird is the New Wave of the early 21st century.

There’s a canard that women do not write horror, or that if they do, they contaminate it with icky romance stuff.  Nightmare Magazine recently did a crowd-sourced issue called “Women Destroy Horror!”  It was guest-edited by Ellen Datlow, who is one of the foremost editors of horror working today, if not THE best.

Young Adult writer Marie Lu wonders why, in this day and age, people are still so reluctant to read science fiction and fantasy written by women.

One academic thinks that he and his colleagues should stop writing in impenetrable prose and start writing listicles.  Now there’s a unique approach!  The professor’s own listicle, explaining why his colleagues should follow his advice, is here.

If you’re interested in the history of science fiction, this archive of the feminist fanzines Janus and Aurora will lead you down many interesting paths.

Fan fiction may have some virtues that snobbier readers (in which I include myself, I fear) tend to ignore.  According to this article in the New Statesman, it gives women and marginalized groups a chance to subvert the mainstream perspective.  Definitely food for thought.

Damien Walter suggests that transrealism is the first major literary movement of the 21st century.

One of the judges responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature, Horace Engdahl, suggests that western literature is endangered by creative writing programs and grants for writers.  It is his opinion that this system turns writers into a bunch of hothouse flowers (my words, not his) who are separated from society.  Instead of driving a cab in order to earn the money to eat, while writing in every spare moment, writers are locked up in the ivory towers of various institutions that choose to support them.  His remarks are bracing.


Yes, it’s that month ago:  the month in which people attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a single month.  The idea isn’t to write a great novel, but to get the whole damn thing out and onto the page, just to prove that you can do it (which is more a matter of persuading oneself than of persuading anyone else, so far as I can see).  A lot of published novels have ultimately come out of NaNoWriMo novels.  Here are some resources to get you through your own attempt.  I’m thinking that next year might be the year I do this myself.

Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier offered their thoughts on how to approach NaNoWriMo a few years ago, and last year published a guide to all of their blog posts on the project, one for each day of November.

If NaNoWriMo doesn’t interest you, maybe NaNoGenMo does:  the month in which you teach your computer to write a novel.  It’s an interesting exercise, but I’m not so sure I’d want to read what a computer wrote, would you?

If you’re writing a novel this month, good luck!  Keep going!


Amazon continues to find ways to help eager writers publish their works without editing — and, possibly, without even publication.  The new Kindle Scout program doesn’t sound like much of a good deal for authors, according to Jim C. Hines, who has taken a close look at a sample contract.


How long until the majority of books are self-published?  The answer may shock you.  But what does it mean to say that most books are self-published?  Is it an increase in the absolute number of books published or a turning-away from the traditional system of publication — or both?

Some refuse to read and/or review self-published books, and I am among them.  I need the gatekeeping that the tradition publishing industry offers me — and even then, I run into quite a few clunkers.  Chuck Wendig defends the article here, as only he can.  (Another of his pieces, about whether writing is magic, deals with some ideas that are an offshoot of his piece on self-publishing, and it’s hilarious.)

zero sum gameS.L. Huang self-published so that people could pirate her book.  Um, what?  The idea is that it will earn her more in the long run, as some writers claim.  We’ll see.

Cool Stuff

Laughing Squid offers maps of real United States cities drawn by Stentor Danielson in the style of J.R.R. Tolkein in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  If you click through to the artist’s website, you’ll find you can buy prints on Etsy, here.  I’m holding out for Chicago; he’s bound to draw it sooner or later!  In the meantime, though, you might find a Christmas gift for someone special among the drawings Danielson already has available.

Brain Pickings features authors describing their daily writing routines.  I always hope something will rub off on me when I read an article like this; but alas, the routines are as diverse as the books written by the featured authors.

Ever had a book take over your life?  The Huffington Post helps you figure it out, with a list of 22 warning signs.

Why do old books smell so good to us bookworms?  Open Culture explains the chemistry with a terrific infographic.

Sometimes books are recommended to readers for entirely the wrong reasons.  Bookishly Witty lists eight book recommendations that totally miss the point.

Flavorwire shares with us 30 of the most beautiful science fiction covers ever devised.  Given how terrible so much cover art for this genre is, it’s a joy to see the good stuff.

Watch this video to learn how to make a lovely holiday wreath out of old books.  Except for the part where you have to destroy a book, it seems to me like a lovely way to show your bona fides to your neighbors.  I’m definitely tempted, even though I’m all thumbs.

Your brain has a biological response to getting wrapped up in a good book.  The neural changes suggest that you pretty much get transported into the body of the protagonist.  It’s a small study, but wow, isn’t that cool?

I know some folks who have made it a practice to get to visit as many ballparks as they can during their lifetime, sometimes even planning a vacation to add a ballpark to their life list, or adding a day to a business trip to get a game in.  But I’ve yet to hear of anyone visiting bookstores the same way.  I may become the first one to try such a thing, using this list of 44 great American independent bookstores as my guide.  I’ve been to 11 of them so far.  Let’s see how many I can add by the end of the decade; I’ll let you know.

Georges Perec has some suggestions on how to organize your bookshelves.  I never thought this was a particularly difficult problem until I met my husband, who organizes our library to a fare-thee-well (with frequent reorganizations to attempt to solve the problem of too many books in too little space).  Actually, I think he just enjoys playing with the books.

Some television series seem to have a literary sensibility, and I’ve always thought that “The Twilight Zone” fell into that category.  That means I don’t think any excuses are needed for offering you this article about Rod Serling and “The Twilight Zone,” entitled “101 Masterpieces.”  It’s an appropriate description for this venerated series.  I wish we had something equal to it showing today.

This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with books, but it’s pretty cool anyway:  900 classic arcade games are now available to play on your own computer.  I can play Q-bert again!  You can find the Internet Arcade here.  Armchair Arcade has some advice on how to use the archive.


Halloween Links, October 31, 2014

It’s a special, spooky edition of links to read after all the trick-or-treaters have come and gone, after you turn all the lights out and snuggle up with the leftover candy.  Enjoy — and don’t be frightened!

Here are some engravings of the Great Pumpkin Patch done in the style of Gustave Doré.  It gives the whole idea a brand new gravitas, doesn’t it?

Kirkus has 12 excellent horror reads for your scary pleasure.  I have a surprising number of these in my TBR pile — though right now I’m reading Stephen King’s It, which is frightening me out of my wits.  If those books don’t suit you, you could try this additional list of nine more books Kirkus says will trick and treat you.  And here are still more, this time offered up by John DeNardo, a real connoisseur of all things science fictional, fantastical and horrific.

Even the Great Cthulhu knew:  H.P. Lovecraft was a racist.

A.C. Wise offers a list of women who write weird fiction.  I strongly recommend Caitlin Kiernan’s The Red Tree, which is one of the most terror-filled books I’ve ever read.  It put Kiernan’s name on my list of authors whose next offering I will read, no matter what it is they’ve come up — it’s that good.  And The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, edited by Laird Barron, awaits my eyetracks across its pages, especially including stories by Wise herself, along with Sofia Samatar, Livia Llewellyn, Maria Dahvana Headley, Anna Taborska, Anne-Sylvie Salzman, Kristi DeMeester and Karin Tidbeck — not to mention plenty of fine authors of the masculine persuasion as well.

Remember those books that scared you silly when you were a kid?  They still will.

Need something scary to read by the fireplace tonight?  Try one of these eighteen free stories, from authors ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Stephen King to Kelly Link.

If you’d like a hair-raising novel to keep you up all night instead, try one of these ten novels.  I especially recommend Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls.

Take a look at these gorgeous, bookish, carved pumpkins.  I’m especially fond of the representation of Cthulhu himself, though I hope the Dark God doesn’t take his portrait amiss.  You can find even more great pumpkins here.  And this may be the most amazing pumpkin of all:  the Rosetta Stone appears on the side of a pumpkin.  Wow!

What are the ten best ghost storiesLauren Oliver answers that question, leading us to such classics of the genre as Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House — which she caused me to purchase for my own Halloween scares.

A terrific mind-meld from SF Signal lists the best female horror writers out there.   Your list of things to read is going to grow substantially as you work your way through these recommendations.  Shirley Jackson gets a couple more mentions, suggesting that yes, you really do need to read her novels.

Flavorwire lists the 50 scariest stories of all time.

Want to get really creeped out?  Spend some time with these photographs from abandoned insane asylums.  There are dozens of horror novels in those pictures; maybe the inspiration at midnight tonight will be yours!

Stephen King’s new novel, Revival, is due out soon, but in preparation you might want to look at this website, collecting people’s comments on faith, tragedy, disillusion, addiction, curiosity, obsession and death.  Not much that scarier than real life, is there?

More recommendations of horror reads can be found at this website with the whimsical name Ginger Nuts of Horror (there’s got to be an amazing story behind that name).  The links provided are to the United Kingdom’s version of Amazon, but you can switch over to the U.S. website and find these books there.  I did, and I bought them.  Yes, for me the scariest part of Halloween is the bill for books that follows.

Jeff VanderMeer writes about “The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction” in The Atlantic.

Looking for some good scary comics?  This list will help you out with four that might appeal, but how could they leave out Hellblazer, featuring one of my favorite fictional characters, John Constantine?  And where’s Swamp Thing?  Who forgot Zatanna?

Inc. calls Cemetery Dance the spookiest little publisher in the world.  Take a look at their catalog sometime and see if you don’t agree.

If you are of a blood-quaffing persuasion, The Huffington Post has a guide to cities that are the best for vampires to live in, based on number of cloudy days, bar hours, number of blood banks and blood drives, and houses for sale near cemeteries — so that you don’t have to walk to far from your grave to your house when you rise for the night.



Happy Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt readingToday is Dylan Thomas’s birthday, and Sylvia Plath’s, and Zadie Smith’s… the book blogosphere is practically melting from all those virtual candles. Happy birthday to those literary lights, and thanks for all the good writing.

But Theodore Roosevelt was also born on this day, 156 years ago: police commissioner, governor, president, soldier, naturalist/hunter, explorer, one of those larger-than-life personalities whom everyone carries around as a caricature in their head. I worked for a couple of years at the American Museum of Natural History, where Roosevelt loomed large in the corporate culture—his father was one of the museum’s founders, and TR did a whole lot of shooting and killing so that we can gaze fondly on the taxidermized fruits of his labor today. He’s got an entire smallish wing of the museum to himself, and a statue out front.

He was also a serious man of letters—maybe not, canon-wise, up there with his fellow birthday celebrants, but he wrote and he read. He read a lot. Two or three books a day, legend has it.

I’ve never been able to wrap my head around how people can do that. Like hearing that John Wayne smoked four packs of cigarettes a day—what, exactly, are the mechanics of it? But then I’m not a particularly fast reader, so I just think of someone like Roosevelt as a different breed of animal and leave it at that.

One thing he did have, however, was a reading philosophy, and that makes the sheer numbers a little more comprehensible. If you’re going to indulge in feats of literary consumption, you might as well have some theory behind it. This past summer Book Riot re-ran Roosevelt’s top ten rules for reading, and they pleased me so much I remembered them today. It’s nice to see that all this anxiety that seems to be prevalent lately—about which books to read, and how many, and what you’re reading that you shouldn’t be and what you shouldn’t be that you are, isn’t unique to this age of Goodreads and blogs and literary forums. Number one, for instance:

The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.

And my favorite, at the top of the list:

The room for choice is so limitless that to my mind it seems absurd to try to make catalogues which shall be supposed to appeal to all the best thinkers. This is why I have no sympathy whatever with writing lists of the One Hundred Best Books, or the Five-Foot Library. It is all right for a man to amuse himself by composing a list of a hundred very good books… But there is no such thing as a hundred books that are best for all men, or for the majority of men, or for one man at all times.

I don’t much like neuroticism any which way, but especially when it comes to books—reading outside of work or school is supposed to be fun, freeing, and relaxing even if it’s challenging. Whenever I see people treating it as a kind of rarefied sport, or stressing over the size of their to-be-read piles, it makes me uncomfortable. They’re just… books. They shouldn’t make a body unhappy. I’m not 100% a fan of Teddy Roosevelt’s bully-bully bravado, but I like his take on the reading life.

And since we’re in the season to invoke Edgar Allan Poe (you didn’t think I was going to miss a chance, did you?), I leave you with one more:

Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls “the mad pride of intellectuality,” taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.

Happy birthday, TR.

(Photo of Theodore Roosevelt reading a book with his dog Skij on his lap in Colorado, April 1905, courtesy of AP.)


Fifty Scary Short Stories from Flavorwire

halloween2014_poeI am not, as a rule, a big fan of holidays—especially the ones with stuff. The thought of having to get things down from the attic and out of boxes and put them all around my house and then put them back in the boxes and take them back up to the attic in short order does not excite me, to say the least. It’s enough of a daily challenge to get out and put away the things I actually need. The thought of making more work for myself, for reasons that don’t even come close to aesthetic, doesn’t really appeal.

On the other hand, I have no objection if other people want to get out their holiday stuff. Which is why I kind of like Halloween—it’s good-natured and usually a bit goofy, and doesn’t take itself seriously as, say, Christmas (which has every right to take itself seriously, don’t get me wrong). And Halloween has a great tradition of literature—it’s a holiday that lends itself to storytelling in a way that the others just don’t. Christmas and Easter have the one big story apiece, with everything else paling in their wakes; Thanksgiving, New Year’s, the Fourth of July have limited narratives as well. And who—even the most genre-deficient among us—doesn’t love a good ghost story?

I realize I’ve been leaning a bit heavily on Flavorwire in my very sparse posting mode lately. But they’re pretty good pickers, and I’ve been short on time to do much picking of my own. So without much in the way of regrets I offer you Flavorwire’s collection of 50 of the Scariest Short Stories of All Time. They range from good old classic tales like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which creeped me out when I read it in grade school, to Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” which creeped me out in high school (Flavorwire’s link is no good—try this one), to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which creeped me out in my 20s, to Karen Russell’s “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis,” which creeped me out when I read it last year, to Robert Coover’s “The Babysitter,” which I read last night and almost wish I hadn’t.

That’s a whole lot of creepiness to last you through Halloween night itself when you’re sitting home, waiting for little kids dressed as zombies and Batmen and Minions, and trying to distract yourself from eating all those individually wrapped chocolate bars because you’re never going to give them all away anyway. Might as well immerse yourself in some good scary fare, so that when the doorbell finally does ring you jump about a foot and answer the door a little sweaty and out of breath, and none of the parents in the neighborhood let their kids come to your house next year, which means more individually wrapped chocolate bars for you. Win-win.

In the meantime, read these babies with the lights on.


Sunday Links, October 5, 2014

7 SecondsAwards

The 2014 Utopiales European Award nominees have been announced.  This award is given to a novel or collection by a European speculative fiction author that was published in French during the literary season preceding the Utopiales festival.  The award ceremony will be held on November 1, 2014.

The 2014 Kirkus Prize finalists have been announced.  The Kirkus Prize is one of the biggest in the world, with $50,000 awarded to authors of fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature.  Six books have been nominated in each of the three categories.  The winners of each category will be announced on October 23.

The winners of the Sunburst Awards for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic have been announced.

Halloween Reading

Horror Novel Reviews lists the 100 scariest novels of all time.  It’s simultaneously disappointing and exhilarating to find I’ve only read 25 of them; I wish I had a better base, but look at all the great reading I have ahead of me!  I own more than 30 of those I haven’t read yet, so I have somewhere to start.  That’s assuming, of course, that horror readers generally agree with this list.  What are your thoughts?

The List Challenges website lists 45 top horror novels, and it’s interesting to note where there is overlap and where there isn’t.  For instance, I agree with this list’s contention that Dan Simmons’s Carrion Comfort is terrifying (though why neither list contains Song of Kali by that author is a mystery to me — it may be the most frightening novel I’ve ever read) — but I’ve yet to read Simmons’s Winter Haunting, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m missing.  I’ve read 18 of the books on this list, a much better percentage!  And I own another 15, so again, I’ve got a place to start.

What to Read Next

If horror isn’t your preferred genre, never fear:  October still has plenty of goodness in store for you.  Kirkus lists its top science fiction and fantasy releases for October, as does BuzzFeed (though the latter also includes horror; Kirkus promises horror titles next week).  There’s a surprising lack of overlap, so check out both lists.

FlavorWire lists 10 must-read books for October.

David Bowie lists his 75 must-read books for Brain Pickings.  It’s a fascinating list with a great deal of variety. has done its usual great job in rounding up all the different genres of science fiction and fantasy that are being published in October.  Here are the various lists:  genre-benders; science fiction; fantasy; paranormal romance; and paranormal and urban fantasy.  I’ll take one of each, please.  (I say that a lot, don’t I?)

Hachette v. Amazon

This story never ceases making news.  FlavorWire reports on famous authors speaking out against Amazon, provides some data I hadn’t seen before:  Amazon wants 30% of the sales price of any ebook sold, with the publisher and author to share the remainder.  That seems like an enormous profit for a retailer, and I can see why Hachette might not be too thrilled about that offer.  The really interesting part, though, is that the Hachette’s authors (and those of the other big publishers) seems to be hanging in there with Hachette, even though they’re getting hit in the pocketbook pretty hard.  Janet Fitch’s letter to Jeff Bezos — to which he never responded — is especially eloquent on the subject.  Lee Child dives in on J.A. Konrath’s blog, responding to those self-published authors who are on Amazon’s side.  The New York Times reports that Amazon is selectively selling Hachette titles, and not solely based on popularity — it seems to be taking political sides.  Damien Walter uses alternate history to suggest that Amazon may not be the bad guy after all.

Of Interest to Readers

Can you really read a 110,000 word novel in only three hours?  Rob Boffard tried, and was left in agony.

Helen Lowe is bemused at the fact that we’re still arguing about genre vs. literary fiction.  She makes a point with which I agree:  so-called “literary fiction” is just another genre, with its own distinctive tropes.

Charlie Jane Anders has a great essay in io9 about irony in science fiction.

We lost Lucius Shepard earlier this year — it’s been a bad year for science fiction and fantasy; we’ve lost too many shining lights.  Locus hosted a roundtable on Shepard and his work that I found fascinating.  So much so, in fact, that I wound up buying a copy of Trujillo, a collection of Shepard’s novellas that I’ve wanted for some time.

Cool Stuff

October 2 was National Poetry Day in the United Kingdom.  To celebrate, Anglophenia put together a collection of 10 British actors reading poetry.  I swooned for Alan Rickman’s reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, my favorite of all Shakespeare’s sonnets.  You’re bound to find something that suits you here, too.


The Birth of the Trailer

The history of book trailers dates back to the arrival of broadband Internet access and personal computers, for good reason—how else would you watch them? But there were a few outliers: TV spots for mass market blockbusters back in the early days of cable, and, apparently, some on film as well. Remember those odd shorts produced to fill time before the movie started? Most of them were cartoons, or newsreels, or weird little comedies, but at least one, as it turns out, was a proto-book trailer.

In 1973 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt put together a promotional film to market its newest edition of the American Heritage Dictionary, and it’s… weird. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About: Sects, Sets, Sex, prefix, frankforts, Waldorf, idle, American, peanuts, gin, Heritage, cabbage, Dictionary, Rasputin, bassoon, cohort, rum, putty, rotor, usage, coquette, alfalfa, zipper, Mississippi, … etc.: But Were Afraid to Axe!! is definitely a child of the ’70s, halfway between hokey vaudeville and unhip psychedelia, something both your grandparents and your teenagers would have rolled their eyes at.

It begins with a strange French horn soundtrack and couple of people in white rabbit suits—a nod to Grace Slick?—and spends the next 16 minutes discussing pronunciation, meaning, usage, and spelling via a series of skits filled with bad puns (“the abominable cavity contains the bowels, of which there are five: a, e, i, o, and u”), painfully dated jokes about secretaries, butlers, and Brooklyn accents, and a DIY sensibility that’s almost shocking in these days of Photoshop and iMovie—by the end of the decade Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update would have shown us how to fake a newsroom decently with minimal resources, but the newsroom here has cutout paper letters saying “NEWS CENTRAL” glued to the wall, the ubiquitous teletype sound effect, and not much else.

Still, everyone’s clearly having a fine time—it was obviously a welcome break in the workday for the Houghton Mifflin employees who made up the film’s cast—and it’s good dumb fun. I was ultimately won over by the man-on-the-street feature analyzing the correctness of “bit” versus “bitten”:

“Our usage panel, consisting of Margaret Mead, Truman Capote, Katherine Anne Porter, and the like, voted 88-42 that the boy was bitten by the dog.”

“I don’t think its right, I don’t care what the usage panel thinks. Dogs shouldn’t bite people.”

I’m not sure how many people got up after their showing of The Sting or The Exorcist or Mean Streets or god only knows what it preceded and ran out to the nearest bookstore to pick up a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary. Then again, how many people are going to buy the books advertised in this year’s batch of trailers, which probably don’t even have a person in a slightly tatty bear costume walking off with a chair when asked to take a seat? Or a secretary calling the doctor to report that her boss swallowed a dictionary and she can’t get a word out of him? It’s a dying art, I tell you.