Archive for the ‘bookish’ Category

The Folly of the World

Published by SGJ on July 29th, 2013 - in bookish

The Folly of the World is about the most hilarious book I’ve read. If not ever, then, I don’t know, at least since my last Christopher Moore, maybe. Folly is . . . it’s got a mouth like Deadwood, a plot like a Coen Brothers movie, and it looks for all the world to me like Hagar the Horrible. Better, even, it’s set in fifteenth-century Holland. Which, trust me, before reading this, I thought that was all . . . I don’t know what I thought it was, really. Just some place I’d never thought about. But now it’s as real to me as any place I’ve been. And maybe even better. As gritty and exotic and rollicking as Folly is, though, really, it’s the writing that hooks you. Bullington’s prose. No, his precision. I read this on Kindle, and, being a perpetual gunjumper, I always swipe to the next page a few words too early. Like, those words still register, but they don’t go through my brain, so much, if that makes any sense. Anyway, with Folly, I kept doing that, of course, but then I kept paging back. Just to luxuriate in the word-choice, in the on-the-noseness of this or that verb, and: the vocabulary. Bullington is never showing off with it, but—how in the world does he know all these maritime terms? Is ‘maritime’ even the right word for a drowned city? And do you know what baby eels are called? It’s in Folly of the World. And so much more. You know  . . . → → →


Published by SGJ on July 15th, 2013 - in bookish

First, to get the associations out of the way: the two movies this title kickstarts in my head are Strangeland and Adventureland. Anybody else the same? And that’s not bad. Anything that brings Dee Snyder to mind is a good thing, I say. But, of those two, Joyland‘s a lot closer in content to Adventureland. Except, where Adventureland was all nostalgic for the eighties (and expressing that through music that wasn’t my eighties), Stephen King’s Joyland is set in — I’m guessing here, as the first thing I did when I finished with my copy was loan it out — 1973. And, to get something else out of the way: yes, when I was asked what book I’d like to be buried with, it was It — could there be any other? — but, too, when people ask what my favorite King novel is, it’s always Lisey’s Story. So, this was of course cool: Anyway, to finally talk Joyland: needless to say, it’s solid. The last decade or so, King’s been writing with a sureness that never quite leans over into that kind of authority that a lot of writers assume late in their career. Which, I mean, no, nobody’s had a career like him, so comparisons are tricky, but still: Updike, say. He was king of The New Yorker set, yes? And you could tell by the way he wrote that he knew that. I never feel that same sense of presumption, reading Stephen King. Or listening to him speak, either. It’s not just nice,  . . . → → →

The Car What Evil Drives: N0S4A2

Published by SGJ on July 15th, 2013 - in bookish

The real test of a novel for me is if it sparks ideas. If it makes me stop reading, flip to the back of the book, and crib down what I think is a completely bulletproof, never-before-thought-of idea. Joe Hill’s N0S4A2 does that. I just got my copy back — loaned out the night of the reading at Tattered Cover in Denver — and, sure enough, in back and at all angles and in a hand I can hardly read are all these sure-thing best-seller pitches and immortal phrases and overheard-at-the-foodcourt loglines. Also, associated with the page-numbers of N0S4A2 are plenty of stars and checkmarks, for stuff I want to go back to, steal. The week I read this, a student turned in a paper on a clutch of books I’d assigned. A paper on Hill’s books. And the title of that, it was “Things I Want to Steal from Joe Hill.” It was pretty detailed list, too. I’ve added to it, of course. Anyway, this late in the game, everybody’s already read N0S4A2, so the premise is no secret: there’s these shortcuts through reality, and they exact a terrible price. And it’s especially cool for Boulder and Denver people to read, as a lot of the book happens here in our back yard. But what I want to call your attention to, it’s two things Hill does . . . or, not ‘does,’ more like ‘exhibits’: N0S4A2 has an ethical core. And that’s not at all like a novel having an agenda. And this  . . . → → →

The Word for Childhood is Ocean

Published by SGJ on June 28th, 2013 - in bookish

One cool place to read the second-to-last chapter of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is bleeding out at a donation place. A blood donation place. And, best place to read the last chapter, at least in Boulder, Colorado? Sitting in the bright bright sun in front of TimeWarp Comics. Also cool about this big little novel is that, in a very cool way, it feels like he’s been going toward it for a while now. I mean—my American Gods is packed away for the summer, so I can’t cite this or even use the right names (anybody?), but remember that chapter where Shadow stays the night with those two or three sisters, and one of them’s the moon? More than anything, The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminded me of that. But it also brought me back to that issue of Sandman, about how all the cats are trying to dream themselves back to being in charge of things. Or . . . isn’t there also a Sandman issue where people keep letting lost in the dreamspace of a desert, and a kitten saves one of them? That kitten is in Ocean, here. And wonderfully so. And, while this novel is for adults, still, it’s somehow also a sister book to Coraline. Not just because it’s Gaiman, either. It’s more like the same well’s getting tapped. Of mystery, of — of myth? It’s that fairy tale kind of tone that Gaiman does maybe better than anybody, right now.  . . . → → →

Dan Brown’s Inferno

Published by SGJ on May 22nd, 2013 - in bookish

The Matrix Syndrome. I propose that as both the name for Dan Brown’s next Robert Langdon thriller and as the condition he now writes under. Or with. Or is expressing symptoms of. Not that it’s hurting his sales or his celebrity, of course. Or, as many would have it, his infamy. Remember how the first Matrix so wowed us to such a degree that the second and third paled in comparison? That’s how it is for Brown now, I think: everything he does falls under the long shadow of (the success of) The Da Vinci Code, which, much like Foucault’s Pendulum, trod and retrod that fun old Holy Blood, Holy Grail territory. However, unlike the Eco, Dan Brown’s novel was actually engaging. And it took over the world every bit as much as Harry Potter, as Fifty Shades. Maybe even more, in that it became a point for people to argue, and take ideological sides over. And that it was built like a hybrid of a crossword and chutes & ladders definitely didn’t hurt, as that allowed it to showcase the frenetic pacing Brown does as well anybody, and had already been doing for a few books. All his work, it’s got that same pacing, those same sudden reversals, the betrayals, the twists and turns and little hidden lectures, the showing-off of obscure, kind of intrinsically cool facts, but none of those other books have sparked our imagination as much as Da Vinci Code, right? Neither did Matrix 2 or 3 reel in the same  . . . → → →

Shine Shine Shine

Published by SGJ on July 6th, 2012 - in bookish

I knew from the first time I saw the title of this book that I was going to have to consume it, and then I lucked onto an ARC, meaning all I had to do was steal some time from myself. Which, I can be particularly unwatchful when the reading’s good enough. And, here, it is, it was, it would be again. And, like me, I’d guess a lot of you are getting Amazon emails with Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine at the top of their lists. Deservedly so. There’s a wit here, a lightness of touch, and a continual mulling-over of story that’s compelling. And, rather than excising all my favorite passages, let me just show you how many of those favorite passages there are: That many stars, for me, it’s very unusual. Usually my endpaper notes are littered with question marks and ellipses (these being the ellipses of dissatisfaction . . .) and just plain old X’s. Here, it’s like I’m trying to draw the night sky Sunny’s looking up into, trying to find her Maxon: it’s all stars. Too, the good books, you learn from them, don’t you? You see the tricks going on and you try to steal them. And there’s a lot of stuff here to steal. Not just the way Lydia can flip a line the instant it starts to get sentimental, either. More the way she’s keeping the whole scope of the story in mind, with each scene. It’s good stuff, I’m saying. Also, the good books, you  . . . → → →

Cage Match II: Fiction & Non-fiction

Published by SGJ on June 7th, 2012 - in bookish

Just went to the most excellent lecture-discussion led by David Ulin, with Matthew Zapruder and Rob Roberge and Elizabeth Crane Brandt and Mark Haskell Smith and Tod Godberg chiming in—more people as well, but, you know, you lose track. Not of the talk, though. It was about John D’Agata’s About a Mountain, and the kind-of follow-up/undercut The Lifespan of a Fact, neither of which I’ve hit (so lost in Song of Ice and Fire). But I’m going to now. And, to ramp right off of the actual discussion into where and how it hit me: that other post, where I was talking about why I wrote Growing Up Dead in Texas? None of those were lies. But I realized, during this panel, that that wasn’t quite complete, either. To back up, I’ve had a lot of students and various unsorted people kind of shuffle up to me, and lead in their question or request or whatever with some version of “I know you hate non-fiction, but . . . ” Which is fair. I mean, I wouldn’t say I hate non-fiction, but it’s not what I do, and, starting about ten years ago, I got all highly sensitized to and more than slightly defensive about how non-fiction was encroaching on fiction. But, at the same time, I’ve read some really good non-fiction, and know there’s some great stuff out there waiting to change my life, and, yeah, I’m finally coming around to agree with David Ulin, that calling one thing ‘fiction’ and another ‘non-fiction’ is  . . . → → →

The Croning

Published by SGJ on May 15th, 2012 - in bookish

I’ve hit both Laird Barron’s collections, of course — if you’re going to play in the horror fields, his bloody square of grass goes for an acre or two — and, in the way of disclosure, he was kind enough to pen the intro for my first horror collection, and I know and respect him as a quality human besides, so of course I was going to hit The Croning, first chance I got. As for that first chance, though, it got lost in the void, evidently; not even a month before the book hit, one of my other publishers finally forwarded a longago request from Nightshade, to look at The Croning early. At which point it was already printed, ready to ship. So there was all that instant regret, the raging at the gods, I could have hit it then, wouldn’t have had to wait, but, still and all, that wait, it was so worth it. And, as a gauge: the book I read immediately before The Croning was the first in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Which, Charles McCarry’s Paul Christopher series aside — and maybe not aside — is looking to be my favorite series ever in the history of anything, also counting the future. Reading Martin, I don’t want to do anything else. Like eat, or move. Just Kindle me another, please, and it better get here in thirty seconds or less or I’m buying it again, and again. So, yeah, book 2 of that, it’s  . . . → → →

The Edge of Dark Water

Published by SGJ on March 5th, 2012 - in bookish

Way the Baptists saw it, that dunk in the river made it sure you was going to heaven, even if before or later you knew a cow in the biblical sense and set fire to a crib with the baby in it — Lansdale, this book When I’m pushing Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms on somebody, I’ll usually tell them that it’s in the same vein as To Kill a Mockingbird, kind of. Except it’s exciting, and has blood, and scary stuff. And those people, they usually come back and tell me, yep, that’s about the sum of it. And: where can I read the rest? Which means they’re ready for A Fine Dark Line, Sunset & Sawdust, that line of books — they evoke the region better than anybody else writing, and they’re also snapshots of a particular time, but they’re never that kind of nostalgic that whitewashes the era or gets all syrupy with sentimentality. And, though Lansdale does tend to stick to the East Texas he knows, that’s not at all to limit him to being a ‘regional’ writer. Even (just) a ‘Texas’ or ‘southern’ writer. No, the issues he’s dealing with, always, they’re big, they’re human, they concern us all. What he’s always dealing with is how to be a good person in this world. And, sure, there’s blood, there’s killing — the imagery in Leather Maiden‘s far from pretty — but there’s always a kind of ethical boundary in his work, too. It doesn’t make you feel safe — that would be an insult (to Lansdale)  . . . → → →

Z is for Xombie

Published by SGJ on February 6th, 2012 - in bookish

Don’t get me wrong, I love Demon Theory, I’m forever lost in it. But still, I always wondered what a novel written with that kind of syntax might look like if somebody took out the footnotes. And then what if they also took out the screenplay language stuff? What would be left? Just straight-up story? Zombie Bake-Off, pretty much. To back up again, though: the big hurdle for me and graduate school, at the MA level anyway, it was that I had this big prejudice against dialogue. I felt certain you could tell and novel and tell it wonderfully by simply paraphrasing all the dialogue. Yet there are conventions, there are norms, there was, evidently, stuff to be hammered sidewise into my head, whether I wanted it to be there or not. And, no, Lord of the Barnyard hadn’t been published at the time. Had it have been, I’d have held it up as my standard, my proof, my defense: 402 beautiful pages, and never a quoted line of dialogue (no unquoted, either—all paraphrased, indirect). But, as things went, I reluctantly started letting my characters actually speak on the page. Complete revolution for me. Then, a year or two later, I even started using actual real quotation marks. I was a complete sell-out of/to the person I’d been trying to be. But that’s growing up, too, I kind of suspect. If you don’t have any regret, any secret fondness for the way things might have been, maybe even should have been, then you’re still lucky enough to  . . . → → →

© stephen graham jones