Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite books read in 2015

1. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Heartbreakingly good.  A true classic.

2. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Almost mythic in accomplishment.  Made for the better movie than the above.

3. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
The best new book I read this year.

4. It's Superman! by Tom De Haven
A truly excellent prose interpretation of the famous superhero.

5. Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
Genius experimental fiction.

6. Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster) by Dave Barry
The reliable humorist in top form.

7. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Surprisingly, better than the movie.

8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Proves to be as deft a writer as his old man.

9. Bitter Bronx by Jerome Charyn
A truly excellent collection of short stories from the literary master.

10. State of Fear by Michael Crichton
Works as fiction and nonfiction.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Adding King Back In

Previously I talked about the horror of discovering that the end of the book backlog was in sight and my efforts to scramble.  Elsewhere I discussed how I helped stave that off with a bargain sale at Lisbon Falls' annual Moxie festival, and now, happily, I have further replenished it with some Stephen King, who was hit badly in a 2013 purge (because I stupidly believed I would get money for hardcovers at a used book store, let alone for an author like Stephen King, who surely is already well-represented in such venues).  So I stocked up on some of his more recent works, with the exceptions of The Dead Zone, which assuredly is an older work, and The Dark Tower, which concludes the seven-volume epic in controversial fashion (because apparently a work of metafiction that has bled into numerous other King novels can't end with King himself popping up).  The newer books begin, appropriately, with the Dark Tower tangent The Wind Through the Keyhole, continue with the Hard Case Crime effort Joyland, and conclude with Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining.  Additionally, I picked up Horns from some guy named Joe Hill.

I'm feeling less panicky about the book situation nowadays, not because of all the ones I've gotten in the last few months, but because, well, changing up how I read maybe isn't such a bad thing after all.  I already anticipate slowing down the pace next year (I used to read about a book a month, an average that was accelerated a few years back), and there's always the novelty of actually being able to join in with more recent releases as they're actually being released, a luxury I haven't had in a long time, with a few exceptions.  Some of those exceptions are coming up in rapid succession.  First, there's the fourth book in the Millennium Trilogy (written by somebody else), the third Cormoran Strike (written by someone other than who it seems), and a novelization of a Doctor Who adventure (written by someone adapting Douglas Adams), all of which should be great fun.  I also want to read Go Set a Watchman, because I hate to believe that its reputation should be governed by controversy rather than whatever it accomplishes on its own.  First there was doubt that Harper Lee wrote it at all.  And then there was the uproar that Atticus Finch turns out to be different than he once seemed.  But then, isn't that always the case?  To have a different take from Lee herself is remarkable, in the best possible way, and I think adds to the legacy and significance of To Kill a Mockingbird.  But that's exactly the kind of intellectual conversation I never see...

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Reader's Nightmare

Just a few years ago this would have been inconceivable.  But if you look at my Reading List, you will be looking near the bottom of my personal library.  Yeah.

How does that even happen?  A purge (The Purge), that's how.  Two years ago I was forced to undertake a massive reduction of my personal property, including thinning my music, movie, and yes, book collections.  I had one of those book collections that sprawled throughout my entire available living space.  Naturally, most of it I hadn't read.  That was the whole point of the Reading List originally, to give some semblance of order to all the books I had waiting for me.  And because there was so much of it, and not only The Purge was necessitated, but I would soon move as well.  I've moved before.  This time I'd been living in the same place for six years, all the while amassing as many books as possible, especially while I was working at Borders, and buying a bunch of cheap books when it went out of business.

Maybe the worst part of The Purge was foolishly thinking if I could just sell as many as possible to area used book stores, the hardcovers would fetch the most money.  Learned differently very quickly, by the way.  But among other things, that meant the loss of several Stephen King books I hadn't read yet.  There's some King I think is really good, and coincidentally I followed in a lot of his footsteps growing up and in school, so I've developed a reasonable interest in his work.  After getting rid of most of my collection, he was the single greatest victim.

All of which means, two years after The Purge, I'm suddenly looking at a reader's nightmare scenario.  This weekend I started to panic and went to buy more books.  It's sad, because out of all the places I've lived Lewiston, Maine, is perhaps most deprived of bookstores.  It's gotten so bad that I've even seriously considered buying a Kindle.  I've got a bunch of books downloaded to a Kindle PC app, but other than a lot of L. Frank Baum material, I can't begin to vouch for the quality of the stuff in that collection, and I've learned over the years that I am definitely the kind of reader who greatly values the quality of the material.  The thought of reading just for the sake of reading...That way lies madness.

Because I currently have a poor ability to access all of my books, there are a bunch still in plastic crates, so I may have a few more than I'm currently thinking.  I've still got a bunch of classics, which will represent the next batch of material I'll read (including the complete Shakespeare), and books I bought at the 2014 Moxie Day festival over in Lisbon (it doesn't look like I'll be attending this year's), but after that...

It's an astonishing development, it really is.  Part of the problem is that I've been pretty heavily chronicling my reading experience at Goodreads for a few years now (which is what Hub City was originally meant to do), including setting yearly goals.  Combined with graphic novels, the stuff from my Reading List so far this year has reached nearly three-fourths of a one-hundred-and-one goal.  Next year I don't think I'll try and be as lofty.  Maybe I've just been spoiling myself, right?

We'll see.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cephalopod Coffeehouse January 2015

For this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse (hosted by Armchair Squid), I ended up reading an author I'd forgotten was a favorite of mine: Michael Crichton.

I tend to read differently than I did in the '90s, when I was a teenager.  In fact, that whole formative library was dismantled years ago and has since been replaced with authors I discovered and grew to cherish far more than anyone I read in adolescence, which would have been unthinkable for the young Tony Laplume.  (But, the young me read a lot of Star Trek books, and it wasn't a much older one who finally discovered...a lot of those really aren't very good.)

But I read a string of Crichton in those days, including the requisite Jurassic Park and The Lost World, as well as Congo and Sphere.  My father, when he caught me reading Crichton, told me how he'd read The Andromeda Strain when he was younger.  Michael Crichton remains the only independently mutual discovery we have, so there's a certain amount of worth right there.

State of Fear was originally published in 2004, and it was one of those things I knew was of immediate interest, but for one reason or another never got around to reading.  Finding it in a used book sale years later brought it back to my attention (actually, I'm not a hundred percent sure that's how I ended up with a copy, because even at that point it still waited a long time to be read).  Rediscovering Crichton's relevance at a later point in my reading life was one thing, but actually reading him again turned out to be another thing.

First of all, after the dalliances of my youth, I have tended to veer away from popular fiction, except with authors like Rowling and King.  I don't read a lot of thrillers, either, because compulsive reading is usually equally lazy writing.  These books tend to delve deeply into a subject but steer clear of exploring any other facet of storytelling.  I stuck a toe into these dangerous waters with Brad Meltzer a few years back, and was satisfied with the results.  So I had to at least suspect Crichton couldn't entirely disappoint the older me.

The main reason for my interest in State of Fear, however, wasn't Crichton at all, but his subject matter.  Hey, so you've heard of climate change, right?  Except, and I fully support environmental responsibility, but I've been wondering how much of what a lot of people have been fixated on for the past few decades has been a little less than completely legitimate.  Crichton famously filled his book with actual reference material, one of the very rare public dissents with a topic most people might have thought was legitimized once and for all by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth only a few years later as incontrovertible.  Anyone who doesn't agree must be either wildly naive or swayed by moneyed interests, right?

Except step by methodical step, Crichton outlines a completely different case, all the while throwing a set of characters into familiar turmoil.  It's quite fascinating.  I wondered if he could truly pull it off, and after finally reading it, I think he did.

I'm not trying to open up a debate.  Like Crichton, I think there needs to be a lot more rationality and far less sensationalism in such a discussion, but that is rarely if ever the case.  And the Internet especially is no place for nuance.  But State of Fear reminded me that Crichton was a rare instance of the younger me getting it right.  This was a writer worth reading.  And I think he'll endure.
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