One on writing, one on reading

Theordora Goss:

The story should never stop, not in a ballet, not in an opera, not in a story. When the story stops (in a ballet, an opera, whatever), all that’s left are technical exercises.

Christopher Barzak:

The more you consistently read in such great quantities, though, the harder it is to be caught in a story’s spell. You learn the tricks and see the hands moving…this is also one of the signs of a story that gets its spell off and holds its reader: you never see what’s coming, the trick retains its secrecy and mystery, it remains magical despite your best explanations.

Books of 2008

My favorites are, in the order they were read:

  • The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan — Never as good as The Omnivore’s Dilemma (his follow-up, which I actually read first, in 2007), and I don’t think Pollan quite proves his central thesis, but the book is never dull, full of valuable insights and interesting facts.
  • The Terror by Dan Simmons — A book I was genuinely sorry to put down when I was finished. Which, given the length, is saying something. Easily the scariest book I read all year.
  • Spaceman Blues by Brian Franics SlatteryMatt Cheney called it “songs of all sorts, entire arias and symphonies, and it sings visions, and the visions are both full and fulfilling…” He ain’t wrong, that’s for sure.
  • Logorrhea edited by John Klima — I have never really understood the mass appeal of spelling bees. I remember participating in one or two back in grade school, but the recent fascination with what’s essentially just a trick of good memory has me a little dumbfounded. Maybe I need to get around to finally watching Spellbound on DVD. I was skeptical of John Klima’s anthology — each story inspired by a winning word in the Scripps National Spelling Bee — but the stories speak for themselves. Most are fantasy or science fiction — not surprising given Klima’s background — and almost without exception excellent.
  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon — I don’t think Chabon’s disappointed me yet with one of his novels. His short stories and novellas are sometimes a tougher sell, but he’s in top form here.
  • Grey by Jon Armstrong — Delightfully weird.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman — This could have easily been a one-joke book. Many of the real-world superhero stories we’ve seen since Watchmen have been. But Grossman’s novel is by turns both funny and touching.
  • The Trouble with Poetry by Billy Collins — Outside of Kaleidotrope submissions, I don’t read enough poetry. I’m really glad I picked Collins’ book as my first step in remedying that.
  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee — Makes me wonder why I’ve not read more of his books. I wonder if I still have my copy of Waiting for the Barbarians lying around anywhere…
  • The King’s Last Song by Geoff Ryman — A sweeping story of Cambodia’s ancient (and more recent) past. I’m particularly glad I picked up the Small Beer Press edition, which includes Ryman’s sources and notes on where his story by necessity diverged from historical fact.

And the biggest disappointments of the year:

  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole — Ultimately, I think it’s just too dated to still be really funny.
  • Wanted by Mark Millar et al. — Misognyistic and at least borderline racist, it’s little more than a repellent power fantasy that ruins what could have been an interesting “what if we killed off all the superheroes?” story. I didn’t much like the movie either.
  • You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem — Ultimately a lousy book by a terrific writer; “lesser Lethem” might be the most charitable description. But as Donna Bowman wrote for the AV Club, “The man [was] due for a letdown.”
  • Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis — A little like watered-down, or warmed-over, Ellis. It’s not awful, but I didn’t see anything in it to suggest Ellis has a career as a prose novelist. It’s a story that might have worked considerably better on the comics page. (I also wasn’t too impressed with his graphic novel Blackgas, though.)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle — I think if I’d read this growing up, it might be a cherished childhood classic. Then again, maybe not. It was a quick read, but I’m not in any rush to read the remaining books in L’Engle’s quartet.
  • Farthing by Jo Walton — Likable characters and a quick read — I read this on the plane ride to LA in August — it’s only up here because its alternate-universe premise is pretty shallow, and the whole thing sort of falls apart in the end.
  • Man in the Dark by Paul Auster — For a novelist who used to be among my very favorites, Auster’s had a whole lot of disappointments lately. This reads as very slight, barely qualifying as a story (much less a short novel), and it makes pine for earlier (much better) Auster novels. The so-called political twist, like so much else in the book, is barely examined. I don’t know what’s a more worrisome thought: that he just isn’t trying anymore…or that he is, and this is the result.

Let’s have Patrick Swayze Christmas, one and all!

So, Christmas. That was nice, wasn’t it?

I’d like to say I spent the day recovering, but the holidays weren’t too stressful this year, all things considered, and I was off the entire week before then, with another week still to go. I spent today, mostly, just lying around. I read a little, on my shiny new eBook reader — about which more later — and watched some new DVDs and DVR’ed television. (I’m really enjoying TNT’s new show Leverage, whereas the MST3K riffing of Bloodlust is on pause right now.) I also played with the dog a little, indulged in a few leftover Christmas cookies, and sent out a happy holidays note on behalf of Kaleidotrope to various and sundry — enough various and sundry, apparently, to get my sending privileges temporarily disabled by GMail. (I promise, my intention was not to spam.)

We went out to eat on Christmas Eve — me, my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my sister Catherine and her now fiancé Brian — who I gather spent most of Wednesday afternoon sitting in traffic, driving in from Maryland. I’d spent most of the afternoon reading Kaleidotrope slush and sending out some acceptance e-mails. (I couldn’t bring myself to write rejections on Christmas Eve.) After dinner, we all came back to the house for coffee and cookies. Of course, I think we were too stuffed after dinner to make much of a dent in the cookies — much less the enormous apple pie my aunt and uncle brought with them — but it was a very pleasant evening all the same. I spent the last couple of hours before bed capping holiday fare and wishing everyone over there well.

Then it was Christmas. Luckily, my sister seems to have outgrown the habit of waking us all up at the crack of dawn to open presents, and I managed to sleep in a little. (She hasn’t outgrown the habit of playing our parents’ Holiday Sing-Along with Mitch Miller CD, but that’s another story.) We had an early dinner at another aunt and uncle’s house, since they’re moving to North Carolina at the end of December, and much fun and many presents were had by all.

Among mine was a brand new eBook reader.

I’m really impressed with it so far, even if I have spent more time figuring out what to load onto it than actually using it. (Many thanks to Heather for suggesting…as well, actually, as the reader itself.) I think when I get back to my regular daily commute the second week of January, I’ll get more of a chance to use it on a regular basis. It really seems very intuitive, looks easy to read, and doesn’t feel at all weird in my hands. There’s some heft to it, but considerably less than you’d find in a larger hardcover book. And I find the idea of loading Kaleidotrope slush onto it — rather than printing that slush out or reading it on a computer monitor — incredibly appealing.

I probably should finish the ink-and-paper book I’m currently reading — Dracula, which I’m almost surprised to be enjoying so much — before taking on anything else. And then there are the books I got for Christmas — Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Kim “Howard” Johnson’s Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday among them — that I really want to check out. But I’ve got to say: the eBook reader really looks cool.

There really could be something to this electronic publishing thing.

My sister goes back to Maryland on Sunday, although Brian had to head back early this morning for work. No immediate wedding plans yet, but I think they’re hoping for late 2009 if possible. (His sister is getting married in July, apparently.) I don’t know if this puts more or less pressure on me to be next, but I’m very happy for them

So that, more or less, was my Christmas. Hard to believe there’s only a week left until 2009.