|Now would be a good time to turn around, followed by a better time to run.|
Monday, October 31, 2016
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
I've always been a big fan of Nick Hornby's regular feature in The Believer, "Stuff I've Been Reading." I used to read it regularly but have fallen off in recent years. Still, writing this reminds me I need to check it out again. It also reminds me that I need to read some more of Hornby's books too, always having loved High Fidelity and the few other books of his I've read. Herein lies my problem: when I discuss writers or read articles on or interviews with authors, my first thought is usually, "I need to read more of his/her work." You can imagine how this will lead to acquiring many books, while exponentially growing the stacks of unread books in one's house, can't you?
So I'm starting another regular feature here and calling it "Barely Making a Dent" because that seems right on the nose. I'm usually barely making a dent in my various reading piles. I work in publishing, which includes the perk of free books—either from my own office or from other publishers, at festivals and conferences. I also write the occasional book review online so I'm sent the occasional review copy. This is how I amass some newer or recent books in my collection. Then there are the books I pick up at used book stores or sales, you know the kind: three old paperbacks for a dollar. This is how I often acquire old musty trade paper editions of classic science fiction novels like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (read it), Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (haven't read it yet), or Triton by Samuel R. Delany (read it), to name only a few. Then of course there are books, both old and new, that I buy at bookstores or online. I still try never to pay full price if I can help it, because when you read as much as I do you need to be frugal about it, after all. Still, I'll pay full price for an affordably priced book to support a local business, no question. And I'm a big supporter of the local library, so that never fails to add more books to the pile, even if only temporarily.
So the stacks are high and wide, spread across various rooms in our small house. At times I think my wife feels like they're crowding in on us, almost as if they're sucking up the oxygen we need to live. She's as avid a reader as I am (and a much faster one too), but does most of her reading on a tablet now. I like reading on a tablet too, but I feel peaceful with so many books around. They give a home a real lived in quality. That said, I cannot deny the fact that I have a lot of books. The main stress that derives from this is that I can't seem to read them as fast as I'd like. And by constantly finding new stuff to read, books are always leapfrogging each other in the "to read" piles. Speaking of Sam Delany, who I mentioned earlier, I've had a copy of his science fiction masterwork, Dhalgren, sitting on a shelf for at least five years now. Maybe more. I fully intend to read it. In fact whenever I spot it on the shelf I get excited, my heart skips a beat, because I know this will be a time consuming and immersive read. The best kind! But, you know, I just need to find that time in between reading all of the other stuff.
This feature will be my attempt at something similar to Hornby's column. From time to time, I'll list the books I'm reading, the books I've just read, and the books I've either acquired recently or plan to read very soon. Chances are good that at least 50% of the books I plan to read soon will in fact not be read soon at all, but instead will be read several years from now. I need a better system for organizing my reading piles, certainly. In the meantime, I'll just muddle through with my current system, which is to have no system.
Heller's Catch-22, Dave Egger's Zeitoun, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, China Mieville's Kraken, and Stephen King's It.
Yes, It is somewhere around 1,200 pages long. Having read a lot of Stephen King in my lifetime, it's probably the most popular King novel I haven't read yet. That book will be a monster (har har) to read and I'm looking forward to every minute of it. Only problem is, when do I bite the bullet and start it? Because doing so requires me to mostly set aside everything else I'm reading for at least a few months, I'd guess. I used to have more time to read than I do now (you know we have twins, right?), so a novel this long may take me a while. I'm thinking I'll start it soon because the anticipation is killing me. Plus I haven't read a King novel since earlier this year and I'm finding myself itching to get back to his pulpy yet authentically honest prose. A late, great former coworker of mine used to describe particularly exciting works of popular fiction as "ripping yarns," and I think that's as succinctly apt a description of King's work as I can imagine.
William Gibson's Neuromancer. This is one of those science fiction books I've long wanted to read yet for one reason or another never got around to it. It's terrific so far. One thing that's become apparent so far is that The Matrix was heavily inspired by this book. The cyberpunk jargon can be hard to follow at times, but much easier when I get into a good groove and read thirty or forty pages at a clip. Last season on Halt and Catch Fire, I spotted Gordon reading a copy and now it all makes sense why he'd read this, the first cyberpunk novel. That reminds me, I need to on-demand the third season of Halt. Damn I love that show. See, this also happens to me with television. Or movies. Or music. Apparently I'm highly suggestible.
Sequart, whom I write for now and then, also publishes some incredibly thoughtful and thoroughly researched tomes on sequential art. My editor kindly sent me a PDF of their latest, The Best There is at What He Does: Examining Chris Claremont's X-Men. I'm about 100 pages in so far and Jason Powell is to be commended for this important work, which explores and contextualizes Claremont's unprecedented seventeen-year narrative on the X-Men. I'm at the point in the book where Powell's looking at the post-John Byrne years, when Dave Cockrum returned as artist and the Alien-inspired "Brood Saga" was the dominant story arc. Powel's examination of "The Dark Phoenix Saga"—my favorite comics story of all time, as well as one of my favorite stories across any form of literature—reaffirmed what I love about the definitive X-Men story while also shining new light on aspects of it that I hadn't considered previously. Powell's book is absolutely essential reading for any serious X-Men devotees.
The Flash by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar. This is a library find and it's fantastic. Classic Morrisonian Silver Age riffing with the quintessential Silver Age character, equal parts mind-bending science fiction and epic superhero adventure.
Sinner Man, by Lawrence Block. This is the latest from Hard Case Crime, a wonderful imprint specializing in stories you'd classify as pulp, noir, and crime fiction. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll enjoy this one. My full review is here.
Monday, October 24, 2016
October is horror movie month, with an assortment of marathons running on several cable channels at any given time. I realize the kids these days stream everything (get off my lawn!), and while I also stream most of what I watch now, there's still nothing quite like stumbling upon a random horror movie on cable during the lead up to Halloween. I spend an inordinate amount of time every October wondering when cable will start broadcasting the Halloween movies over and over again. I can't wait to plunk down on the couch and bliss out to the elliptical line readings of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis. As should be obvious based on my eternal and gushing love for Elvira, I also love Halloween and all things horror. I love it so much that I write about cult classics—including a good number of horror films—at The After Movie Diner. What follows is an informal list, one that is not meant to be definitive; instead it's simply a very small sampling of some of my favorite horror films. These are a few of the movies I most look forward to viewing this time of year.
|Don't rest now, Laurie.|
|Blowing off steam behind the scenes of Re-Animator.|
|Shelley Duvall deserved an Academy Award for her performance in The Shining. There, I said it.|
|Abel Ferrara''s moody and intense meditation on the vampire film.|
|John Carpenter certainly deserves two spots on this list.|
Friday, October 21, 2016
The United Nations declared today, October 21, Wonder Woman Day. They've recognized the Amazon as a fitting representation for female empowerment. In these harsh political times, that's something we can all get behind, right? Um, maybe not. Familiar cries of "But she wears a bathing suit!" and "She's not a real person!" are echoing 'round the Internet. In this other New York Times piece from yesterday, Vanessa Friedman argues:
On the one hand, allowing girls to revel in their physicality and femininity is a good thing. I am not saying they should dress like nuns or adopt a pantsuits “r” us mentality. They should own their womanhood and all that is special and different about it. You can argue that refusing to apologize for or hide your body under a sackcloth is a feminist act.
But most women, I would guess, would not choose to display their allure while wearing a star-spangled maillot and cape, which is to say an outfit that no one could actually wear to work, unless she were working as the impersonator of a comic book character.
I lean towards arguing that refusing to apologize for your body is a feminist act, myself. Friedman's reasoning that most women likely wouldn't choose to dress as Wonder Woman does seems to be besides the point. Women can love what Wonder Woman stands for—empowerment, compassion, strength, intelligence, to name just a few—but not desire to dress like her. I think admirers of her are able to simultaneously love Diana and choose not to replicate her fashion choices. Because, you know, she's a fictional comic book character residing in a highly exaggerated fictionalized world where garish and uncomfortable-looking costumes are the norm. Why is everyone so focused on what she wears, as opposed to what she stands for? I realize you can show concern for the former while still appreciating the latter. But I think trying to fit Wonder Woman within the framework of reality is a mistake. She's a fictionalized representation of the best qualities in all of us, or at least those qualities we aspire to possess. To me, that means she's held to a higher standard and needn't be reduced to her clothing choices.
Besides, today she's being portrayed more often within the comic book world (and in the upcoming film starring Gal Gadot) as wearing more of a figure-flattering armor than a bathing suit. Arguing about her classic bathing suit costumes seems retrograde and reductive to me in 2016. Then again, while I'm a feminist I'm also a man and its likely my perspective on this isn't one anyone really cares to here. That's fine. Personally I'm just happy we have Wonder Woman in the world for my daughter—and son—to discover soon. She's a popular culture icon who is awfully important to so many people, generation after generation, that she'll endure no matter what she's wearing.
Monday, October 17, 2016
Not surprisingly, I find myself more excited about Halloween than any other holiday. The first posts of the month here were Elvira-related, definitely in the spirit of the season. Interestingly enough, because of that post I may (I emphasize may) have the opportunity to review her new "coffin table" book. It goes without saying that would be a blast, so let's hope it winds up happening. The plan would be to review it for a website but I'll definitely link to it here. If it happens. Please, Pagan gods of Halloween, make it happen.
Outside of reveling in Halloween-related activities and watching as many horror films as I can this month (which admittedly with two toddlers around is not nearly as many as I'd like), I've also been working on another post for quite a while now. I started it in the summer and it just keeps growing and morphing into something bigger, something more sprawling yet more intimately personal than anything else I've written here. Its scope encompasses the last five years (and occasionally farther back than that), but its taken on the shape of a nonlinear present-tense journal, almost. It seems close to finished and now I'm struggling with the fear of sharing it here. That's because I'm not exactly good or comfortable with exposing my feelings—and I mean really exposing them, not my usual approach of revealing bits of myself through humor and cynicism. We'll see what develops, and how brave I'll be about sharing it. Part of me thinks its too navel-gazing and narcissistic to share here, while another part of me thinks its just therapy through writing. And really, isn't all writing some form of therapy?
I feel the need to write about something incredible that I read recently. Sunday while the kids napped I spent some time reading this amazing author profile of author Ursula K. Le Guin at The New Yorker. I haven't read much of Le Guin's work, in fact I've only read a short story or two and her seminal novel The Left Hand of Darkness during college, but this piece made me vow to seek out more of her work and even reread The Left Hand of Darkness. Julie Phillips has what seems like unfettered access to Le Guin (she's writing a biography on the author) and this leads to an incredibly insightful and thoughtful profile of the living legend. She hates being called that, but I'm going with it anyway because it's the truth. Through discussions with Le Guin and analysis of her work, Phillips does a fantastic job of expressing what makes Le Guin so special. Her work is concerned with taking a hard look at ideas surrounding gender, humanity, freedom, isolation, and politics. She does what all of the best science fiction writers do: she explores the very core of human emotions through dazzlingly creative and inventive metaphors and motifs. I can't recommend this profile enough, so please set aside some time and read it slowly. At 87, Le Guin seems like an amazing person, one who is aware of not only our collective shortcomings but also her personal ones, and her writing is an attempt to make some sort of sense of it all. I'm definitely adding some of her books to my wishlist.
In the meantime, I'd love to fill this space with more Halloween and horror writing as the month rolls on. If that doesn't wind up happening, blame my utter lack of free time. Never fear though, I'll still be enjoying the lead up to Halloween, which is a good thing because it helps ground me while engaging with the sort of memories and emotions I'm wrestling with every time I take a crack at that other, more personal and long-simmering post. Stay tuned.
Friday, October 7, 2016
This photograph warms our horror-hosts-loving hearts: Rhonda Shear and Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson, together. For kids in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, Elvira was our foremost educator in the school of cinematic snark as host of Elvira’s Movie Macabre, while Rhonda continued our education during the '90s with USA Up All Night! Rhonda and Elvira are, without question, two of the most formative ladies in the childhoods of pre-adolescent and teenage geeks during those years. Those of us with encyclopedic knowledge of bad movies, sarcastic senses of humor, and a serious appreciation for low culture, wouldn't be who we are today without these two women.
Joe Bob Briggs, host of Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and later MonsterVision, and Gilbert Gottfried, Rhonda's Saturday evening counterpart on Up All Night!, were also important to our developing bad movie aficionado tastes. To young boys like me, though, there was something special about Rhonda and Elvira. I'd had plenty of young pop culture crushes as a kid—Chrissie Hynde, Bailey from WKRP in Cincinnati, and even fictional women like Jean Grey from Marvel Comics—but Elvira was definitely one of the first that seemed approachable. She was talking directly to us, bringing us in on the joke of it all. Rhonda brought that same approachable sense of humor to her hosting duties, meaning they've both endeared themselves to legions of Gen Xers, to this day.
I've written about Elvira quite a bit recently, including right here and elsewhere, so you might ask, why more? Well, this photograph was simply too good to pass up an opportunity to comment on and archive here. If you'd shown thirteen- or fourteen-year-old me this photo, my head would've exploded. It's also wholly appropriate that my second post of October is more gushing about famous horror hosts like Elvira and Rhonda. This time of year, with Halloween right around the corner, it's worth remembering the legends that made celebrating horror movies such a blast for so many of us growing up.
|Elvira, Mistress of the Dark|
The After Movie Diner is now running my appreciation for the one, the only, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. I'm excited to be included as part of their "Horrortober" series this October, and doubly excited that I got to write about the Queen of Halloween herself. It's been thirty-five years since actress Cassandra Peterson first donned the bouffant wig and low-cut, high-slit black dress and became Elvira, our most cherished of horror movie hosts and icons. Through Peterson's good humor and easy charms, Elvira has become a national treasure. I was originally intending to simply share the link to that article, but Elvira is so iconic that a little more fawning from this fan is not only warranted, but practically necessary. How can you ever say enough about Elvira in just one article? I can't, so here's a little bit more for the truly devoted.
|But you love guys without hairy chests too, right?!?|
Asking for a friend.
|Elvira, speaking for legions of horror fans.|
|Elvira is our guide through the darkest depths of horror every October.|
October has long been my favorite time of year for a number of reasons, including the crisp, cool, and comfortable autumn air; all manner of pumpkin treats; and the countdown to Halloween that begins October 1 and intensifies as the month progresses and horror movie marathons start to dominate cable TV. It's during this time of year that Elvira is most in the popular culture spotlight, and this October Peterson is releasing a thirty-fifth anniversary celebration "Coffin Table Book" titled, fittingly, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. It appears to be an over-sized monster of a book, containing more than 350 photographs, including various pieces of art and ephemera. It will look splendid on your coffee table, right next to that enormous art history tome you like to leave out to impress guests. You'll separate the wheat from the chaff with Elvira's book: people with a good sense of humor, who enjoy pop art that takes the piss out of life, will nod in recognition at a fellow connoisseur of culture. Others will be appalled, and hopefully these visitors will never darken your door again. The folks who get it are in on the joke that Elvira has been in on for thirty-five years now: life is too short to take all of its accompanying nonsense too seriously. Long Live Elvira!
|Frighteningly great: The back cover of Elvira's new book.|