Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!

The Emperor’s New Books

What, you can’t see them? There a stack right there, just above these words!

Another slow week for acquisitions here at the Library. No new reading material, which allowed me to catch up on some work, reading, and quality time with my honey (the last of which is NONNA YA BIZNIZ!)

Yesterday afternoon I finished Ted Kooser‘s Local Wonders, and it was, as Jim Harrison wrote in his cover blurb, magnificent. And I have just finished Christine Rhein‘s beautiful and sorrowful poetry collection Wild Flight. The two books together have further rekindled in me the writing itch, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, as well as an impending significant uptick in my available writing time, I have high hopes for the rest of the calendar year.

I have just started reading Marlon James‘ novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I am one chapter in and already hooked. As this book is something over 600 pages long I expect I will be finished around the end of the year, with shorter works interspersed as time and attention span allow.

The Last Day of Summer, 2019

The cover art seems apt for the eve of the darkening of days toward the winter solstice. This is the trade edition of I Am the Abyss, the Kickstarter-exclusive edition of which arrived here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey a few weeks back. Dark Regions Press has turned out a truly excellent product with this book which, given the difficulties they had with various printing and distribution resources, is quite an accomplishment.

In reading news, I finished A Hero Born and 45 Thought Crimes a couple of days ago. Both were excellent reads for entirely different reasons. A Hero Born was loads of fun, full of exciting battles, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprisingly complex story line for an adventure novel. 45 Thought Crimes was energetic and angry, pointing out at the multiform cruelties of the 21st century here in the USA – economic, social, racial, gender-based, sexuality-based, and class-based. Sadism is, more and more, the national hobby.

Currently I am reading Ted Kooser‘s memoir-ish Local Wonders, as I need to let my brain cool off a little. I love Kooser’s writing – close to the earth, humble, insightful, and seasoned with a sly and wry humor which comes from a lifetime spent paying attention to the small details of the world.

In poetry I just started Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, though I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or another.

Only forty days remain until the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month. I was not sure if I would participate this year, but recent events have freed up some time and brain space, and I will give it a shot, though I do not yet know what I will write, nor whether I have a chance of reaching 50,000 words in thirty days. Time will tell.

A Break in the Drought

Oh it’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks, but to make up for the stress of work, work, and, uh work, we received a refreshingly large pile of reading material here at the library of Winkelman Abbey.

Top left is the latest issue of Dreamforge. Next to it is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, which means I will probably soon be ordering a few more books, based on the reviews in Rain Taxi. Third is The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, which I picked up from Amazon on a whim. Last in the top row is the latest Tensorate series book from Jy Yang, The Ascent to Godhood.

Bottom row left is She Had Some Horses by newly-installed Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this is the first of her poetry I have read. Next is the Ted Chiang’s newest collection Exhalation. Second from right is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This one has been on my radar for some time, and in anticipation of its arrival I have watched several of Kendi’s lectures and interviews on YouTube. Dude has some seriously powerful things to say about institutional racism.

Rightmost in the bottom row is the newest book from my Patreon subscription to Apex Books, Ration by Cody T. Luff.

I haven’t had much time to read this past week, what with work hours and the run-up to the release of the next issue of The 3288 Review. I am about 30 pages from the end of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, and about a dozen poems from finishing Lynn Breedlove’s  45 Thought Crimes. After that, the next thing on my reading list is sleep.

Late-Summer Doldrums

The first day of September 2019 dawned gloomy and wet, and the city seemed hung over after a night of desperate carousing at the end of the beginning of the Labour Day weekend.

Our hero, John Winkelman, looked over the stack of books which had accumulated during the last hectic week of August. The stack was short, consisting of a single volume — This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Two Lines Press.

Oh, well, thought John, it’s not like I don’t already have a thousand unread books in my library.

“False!” shouted the Imp of Unpurchased Volumes from deep in Winkelman’s limbic system. “You have a mere thousand unread books in your collection. No serious antilibrary is so sparse that a single person could possibly read its contents in a single lifetime.”

Thus Winkelman was both shamed and enlightened.

I wish I could say that a slow accumulation of books makes for more reading time, but that just ain’t so. The frantic pace of the past couple of weeks has slowed my reading to a crawl. I did finish Kamau Daáood’s The Language of Saxophones, which was extraordinary, and immediately started The Hammer by Adelaide Ivánova, which I picked up at City Lights Bookstore at the same time I purchased the Daáood collection. So far it is very good; angry and pointed and occasionally surprisingly subtle.

I am almost finished with Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna, which has some good bits but is overall leaving me somewhat less than impressed. The writing is quite uneven and in places repetitive. The manuscript could have used another couple of rounds of editing. That said, the story — an odd mix of high-tech post-apocalyptic and fantasy — is interesting, and I would like to see a revised edition of the book at some point in the future.

 

 

Entering the Home Stretch of Summer

Yes, Summer doesn’t technically end until September 20, but this is the last week of August, so it’s the last week of Summer.

Not a lot happened this week, library-wise. I received the newest issues of Jacobin and Poetry (two great tastes which taste great together), but no new books.

In reading news, I finished A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, whose stories are wonderful and weird and strangely satisfying. Châteaureynaud has an interesting writing voice which feels like it came out of the late 1900s, even in his stories set in contemporary times. I am not entirely sure how much of this is Châteaureynaud’s own aesthetic and how much of it is a quirk of the translation process. I expect it would read much the same in French. Recommended for anyone looking for an unusual collection of short stories which skirt the edge of genre; like, say, Ivan Turgenev writing episodes of The Twilight Zone.

I am about half an hour from the end of Daâood’s The Language of Saxophones, and will likely finish it tonight. And I just started Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, which arrived here a couple of weeks ago from Apex Publications. Only a few pages in, but I like it so far.

Namaste, yo.

Barry Hughart

On August 1, Barry Hughart, author of Bridge of BirdsThe Story of the Stone, and Eight Skilled Gentlemen passed away. He was 85 years old.

I regret to say that I did not discover Hughart or his work until about ten years ago, when Subterranean Press announced that they were publishing a hardcover omnibus of the three novels in Hughart’s Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox series. There had been a thread on a website somewhere which had something to do with under-appreciated works which readers wished other readers could have a chance to read, and Bridge of Birds popped up enough that publishers began to take notice. Somehow I think I first became aware of all of this from a post on John Scalzi’s blog, which is a great place to be inspired to spend a lot of money on books.

I would like to say I read the entire collection in one sitting, but at over 600 pages, that was just not reasonable. I did, however, read it to the exclusion of all other reading material as well as a significant amount of sleep. Several times. All three novels are wonderful — full of action, adventure, wonder, humor both sharp and gentle, and above all a deep sense of empathy and compassion.

Subterranean’s was not the first omnibus version of Hughart’s novels. The books had been collected and published previously by The Stars Our Destination, a Chicago indie bookstore which closed back in 2003. This collection was their only publication.

(There’s something both melancholy and inspiring about this story, in the way the books came and went quickly, reappeared in an omnibus, disappeared again, then came back yet again, skipping like a stone over the surface of public awareness.)

Other than a rudimentary website, there isn’t much information about Hughart available on the internet, due likely to his relative obscurity and the fact that his writing career ended before the web really took off.

In the introduction to the Subterranean Press omnibus, Hughart described how he finally found the heart of Bridge of Birds:

… the first draft of Bridge of Birds didn’t really work and I couldn’t see what was wrong, so I dumped it into a drawer for a few years. Then one day I read Lin Yutang‘s The Importance of Understanding and found the prayer to a little girl that I mention in a footnote in the final version. It made me realize that while I’d invented good things like monsters and marvels and mayhem the book hadn’t really been about anything. I opened the drawer. ‘Okay!’ I said to myself. ‘This book is going to be about love.’ And so it is, and so are ones that followed.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hughart.

Scaling Back the Input, Apparently

Yes, I admit that over the past few years I have acquired a vast pile of books, which I am unlikely to ever read to the end. On the one hand, I will never lack for entertainment and enlightenment. On the other hand, that rate of acquisition is expensive to the point of being unsustainable. Also books take up room. Not as much as, say, beanbag chairs or motorcycles, but at a certain point any serious collection will begin to outgrow its space. And since my partner now lives with me, space is even more precious.

I am being more careful with the books I buy. The acquisitions will continue but not at the same pace as before. I might eventually get down below 100 new books and journals a year, but that will be difficult. I’m going to let some subscriptions lapse and perhaps not do quite as much impulse-buying on Kickstarter.

Or I might snap under the pressure of making decisions and bury myself under the complete run of Discworld. In hardcover.

Only one book arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey this past week – Glory and its Litany of Horrors by Fernanda Torres, from my subscription to Restless Books. I must say, that’s a hell of a title.

In reading news, I took a break from more heady stuff to burn through the three books of the Bobiverse by Dennis E. TaylorWe are Legion (We are Bob), For We are Many, and All These Worlds. They are light, compared to 19th century Russian romantics, but they are good, fun, fast reads. Taylor has a wonderful imagination, a good eye for detail, and treats his characters with humor and compassion. Well worth checking out.

Once through the Bobiverse I picked up one of the acquisitions from City Lights, The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism. I have read the first two essays therein, and need a break before the next two. If you thoughts Russian romantic novelists wrote dense prose, they ain’t got nothing on Leftist academics and social commentators discussing and deconstructing the effects of social media and incipient AI on the cognitive landscape of capitalist society.

See what I mean?

Post-Travel Post

And just like that, we’re back! San Francisco was wonderful. We stayed in the Warwick, which is right in the middle of everything, and we ate ALL THE FOOD, which is all I will say about San Francisco in this post. We visited City Lights Bookstore, of course, and more San Francisco stories will accompany the photo of my haul from there.

Just one book arrived when I was out; A Punk Rock Future, from a Kickstarter created by the excellent Steve Zisson. For the general public, the book is available for pre-order at Amazon and will hit the shelves in October.

This was extra-EXTRA-special for me because my friend Steven (not Zisson) has a story in the collection, which I only discovered when I scanned the table of contents. I love when my friends win!

On the reading side of things, the week leading up to the trip was hectic and didn’t allow for much quiet time. I did burn through Mary Robinette Kowal‘s short story collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. I have long enjoyed Kowal’s novels and podcasting, but this was my first foray into her short works. And they are great! Highly recommended.

Once vacation started, things settled down. The plane ride was about four hours each way, which gave me something which I very seldom have any more: big blocks of uninterrupted reading time. And who, historically, has written books meant for readers with big blocks of uninterrupted reading time? The Russians! Specifically, Ivan Turgenev. I brought with me the collection First Love and Other Stories, which I picked up in August of last year. Eight hours on a plane was just about perfect to read the six stories therein.

I like Turgenev’s writing. He has a deep understanding of how young men think and how they react to love, heartache, and stress. That said, the main characters are not particularly likable. They tend to be of a type. “Wanker” is, I believe, the clinical term, though Turgenev treats them with empathy and compassion, rather than as the butt of jokes. Not that there isn’t plenty of humor herein, of the satirical and sarcastic variety.

And that is how, early in my fiftieth year, I completed a reading assignment handed to me by my Russian Studies professor in January of 1991. I suppose I should let Dr. Rydel know I’m finally done.

A Winner Is Me!

So there I was, waiting for the holiday to begin and SUDDENLY OUT OF NOWHERE* there appeared an ARC of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born. The publisher ran a sweepstakes thing a few weeks back and I entered, as one does, not expecting anything to come of it. This just proves that hope is real.

The other two books in the top row are the latest from Deep Vellum Publishing – a collection of the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Blood Sisters, a newly-translated novel from South Korean writer Kim Yi-deum.

The bottom row consists of my rewards from a Kickstarter campaign I backed back in fall of 2018. Zombies Need Brains LLC publishes anthologies centered on various subjects and topics. Last year they announced Portals, Temporally Deactivated and Alternate Peace. I submitted a story to Portals, which was rejected, though it was a personalized rejection so I didn’t feel too bad about it.

ZNB just announced the themes for the 2019/2020 collections: Apocalyptic, Galactic Stew, and My Battery is Low and It’s Getting Dark. The submission window will open when the Kickstarter launches the first week of August. Keep an eye out, and warm up your pens!

In reading news, I had a great, relaxing few days over the Independence Day weekend and dove into some science fiction from Patrick TomlinsonThe Ark and Trident’s Forge, which I picked up (and got signed!) at ConFusion a couple of years ago. Now I am about a third of the way through Rebecca Roanhorse‘s Storm of Locusts, the sequel to her excellent Trail of Lightning.

To keep myself on task I have begin transcribing all of the poetry sitting unattended in my (over 25 years of) journals. A lot of it is already in Google Docs, but the exercise of re-writing it by hand is useful for seeing where the poems can be improved and also gives me a sense for how my style and sensibilities have changed over the decades.

And maybe I’ll submit something to somewhere sometime.

* actually delivered by a postal employee