Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Barely Making a Dent: October 2016 Books

In which our narrator tries to read his way through the endless stacks of books that are slowly overtaking both his bookshelves and his life.

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.

Recently acquired

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.

Currently reading

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.

Recently read

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.

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