Here’s what’s on my nightstand:
• Supersense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable by Bruce Hood (Beyond culture and the handing down of beliefs, Hood thinks there is something inherent in our nature that makes us believe the unbelievable.)
• The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (An adventure in an alternate world, where people really–I mean, *really*–value literature. What kind of drugs is this author taking?)
• The Great Fables Crossover by Bill Willingham. (Latest installment of maybe the best comic/graphic novel series ever!)
(If you’ve been following this blog, you may be interested to know that Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land is no longer on the nightstand!)
And what has been taking up Miss Kitty’s time?
• No Going Back by Lyndon Stacey (An ex-cop and his retired police dog solve a crime.)
• Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth (It’s about our relationship with food.)
• The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (A modern-day woman discovers she has a connection to the Salem Witch Trials.)
Plus, Kitty says she’s so fed up with this weather she’s getting ready to read a Christmas romance: Scrooge and the Single Girl by Oklahoma’s own Christine Rimmer.
OK, now it’s your turn. What have you been reading this hot, hot season?
Hmmm… with all these titles, I wonder how many categories I should tag? Let’s see…
(Young Bill Young here. I don’t typically read fantasy. I count myself firmly in the sci-fi camp when it comes to speculative fiction. But finding myself at Half-Price Books recently, with a gift card in hand, I stumbled upon this remarkable novel by Steven Brust)
Knowing how a story ends can ruin the reader’s experience, but not when you’re talking about a powerful mythological story like the revolt and fall of the angels. As Joseph Campbell noted, “myths are public dreams.” They are dreams that we revisit, retell, reexamine, and reanalyze to find meaning.
Heavily influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost (and doubtless other retellings of the great fall), Brust’s To Reign in Hell is still remarkably original. In his book, Satan is sympathetic but indecisive, while Yaweh is loving but gullible. These two, and the five other “first born” (Lucifer, Michael, Raphael, Leviathan and Belial) arose from the chaos (cocoastrum) and fought to retain their shape and order (illiastrum). To survive, they created Heaven as a refuge from the chaos. But cocoastrum cannot be denied for long. Subsequent “waves” from the chaos led to the creation of the archangels and the host of angels, as well as the deaths of many angels and new forms for Leviathan (a giant serpent) and Belial (a winged dragon).
When Yaweh concocts a plan to create a new heaven (a globe) that will forever protect the angels from the chaos, the stage for revolt is set. For this plan will also result in the deaths of many angels. Should the angels have the right to decline participation in the new creation? Or should they be forced to work and risk their lives for the great good that will be accomplished? Enter Abdiel, a manipulative, ambitious archangel who uses the controversy to further his own rise at the expense of Heaven.
On his Dream Cafe website, Brust has this to say about To Reign in Hell: “I didn’t have an outline as I was writing it, and I remember getting about 4/5 of the way through it and saying, ‘Geez, Satan is going to win. That’s interesting.’ I shrugged and kept writing to see how it came out.”
We know how this story ends. We’ve known for generations and across the chasm of time. But it’s the telling of the tale that really matters.
Young Bill Young here, stealing a piece of Kitty’s online real estate one more time.
I’m not a librarian, but I play one in real life for my friend Ralph. Ralph is in the third age of life, and he’s embarked on a mission to re-read many of his favorite books and authors. Since I work in a library, guess who gets to do some of his Interlibrary Loan requests?
During the past year, I’ve borrowed books by George V. Higgins, Henry Kuttner, Lewis Padgett (the co-author pseudonym for Kuttner and his wife C. L. Moore), and illustrator/author Karen Wehrstein to help him in his quest. Most recently, he’s been rereading British novelist and mystery writer Nicolas Freeling.
Freeling was a popular, award-winning writer best known for his Van der Valk series, which was adapted for British television. His Henri Castang mysteries were not as celebrated, even though some critics believed them superior to the Van der Valk works. Freeling enraged his fans when he killed off Van Der Valk in 1972′s A Long Silence. The outrage over the loss of their favorite crime detective proved too much for his fans in Sweden and France, and both countries stopped publishing him.
But enough about Freeling. This post is really about how hard it is to find some of his books. I’m working down the list of Freeling’s two detective series so Ralph can read them in order, and so far I’ve struck out on finding two of the Castang novels: A Dressing of Diamonds and The Night Lords. They’re simply not out there on WorldCat to borrow through Interlibrary Loan.
Now I know that there is limited space on library shelves, that books are weeded due to disuse or bad condition, and that some books can’t be replaced because they are out of print. And, yes, the public is fickle and ever-changing. What’s popular today may be tomorrow’s cast-off. Still, it’s disappointing to find the works of a such a celebrated author disappearing from our library shelves and from publishers’ print schedules. Even a visit to amazon.co.uk reveals that many of Freeling’s works can only be purchased in used condition since they’re officially out of print in England.
A library colleague tells me it used to be hard to find books by Oklahoma’s own Jim Thompson. There wasn’t much demand for his dark pulp fiction, and his books were out of print. When a new appreciation for him emerged, some of his works were adapted to the screen (notably The Grifters, and After Dark, My Sweet), and he became even more popular than he was during his lifetime.
“We talk about immortal literature, but the vast majority of books are as mortal as we are.”
I wonder… will future generations come up with “no results” when they search for a John Grisham novel on WorldCat? Will they ponder the work of a forgotten author named Dan Brown? Will children still be reading Captain Underpants?
All is vanity.
Young Bill Young here. I cut my adult reading teeth in junior high on Agatha Christie mysteries. With a few exceptions, I left the genre behind once I entered high school and college. My sister, however, remains a big mystery fan, and when she told me she had just finished one of the best mystery novels she’s ever read, I was intrigued. Especially since the book was The Girl with the Dragon Tatto. This book had already been on my radar screen because it has sold like hotcakes and received excellent reviews. The story of author Stieg Larsson, who submitted the first three of ten planned “girl” novels before his untimely death, has only added to the mystique of the book.
Well, I just finished reading it. And, yes, I loved it. Here are my top ten reasons for loving the girl:
1. Protagonist Lisbeth Salander has to be the strangest heroine to ever grace the pages of a whodunit.
2. Protagonist Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist with principles. This is especially refreshing in an age where talking heads and dueling propaganda masquerade as news.
3. It’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. (I was never really sure what that saying meant, but I think I have a better understanding since reading this book.)
4. It’s not just a “murder” mystery, it’s also a financial thriller. And a good one.
5. It’s a parable for our times. Every Wall Street speculator who fueled the Great Recession should have to read this book and then give a “class report” to the nation about what they learned.
6. It gives new meaning to the term “dysfunctional family.”
7. It takes us to far off places. Not only will you get to knock around Sweden with Lisbeth and Mikael, you will also travel to Australia and Switzerland.
8. It takes you into the underground world of hackers.
9. It reveals that misogyny is alive and well in progressive Sweden.
10. It’s a love story.
The popularity of the book has led to a movie in Sweden. It will probably be making the foreign film circles in America soon, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time before an English or American movie is made. But don’t wait for the cinematic adaptation. We all know the book is always better than the movie. And this is a good book, indeed!
Young Bill Young here. English classes in my high school were broken up into four different nine-week sessions. One of the sessions I attended was on the Short Story, and each student had to read x-number of stories and do brief reports on each. We turned our collected reports in at the end of the session, and I’ll never forget my teacher’s written comment on my report folder. Next to the letter grade, she wrote: “You read weird stories, Bill.”
I still read weird stories. Case in point: Pastoralia, a collection by George Saunders. For me, this author’s talent is addressing both the insanity of modern life and the heartbreak of the human condition. In the first two stories, the despicable (inept corporate managers and a narcissistic self-help guru) are depicted with some of the best fall-down-laughing prose I’ve read in some time. Meanwhile, the protagonists struggle with real hurt and isolation, looking for a ray of light that never arrives on the horizon.
Two other stories are more hopeful. In Sea Oak, the matriarch of a hardscrabble family returns from the dead. She is no longer her sweet self. The dearly departed has some unfinished business, and she goads her family to work toward a better life. In The Barber’s Unhappiness, an unattractive middle-aged man finally has a chance at love, despite his obsessive emotional ruminations and unrealistic expectations.
You don’t leave Pastoralia feeling uplifted. In fact, you feel a little dirty and disoriented. Perhaps this is because the author’s perverse picture of America is closer to reality than we would wish.
Read an excerpt from Pastoralia
Young Bill Young here, writing on Kitty’s blog once again. (Thanks for the space, Kitty!)
About a year ago, I realized that much of the recent geeky entertainment I’ve been enjoying touches upon a common theme: Identity. Indeed, what is a person?
Let’s start at the beginning with the reimagined Battlestar Galactica television series. The cylons (robots) of the new series had evolved to look like us. When they died, they downloaded into new bodies and retained their memories. They laughed, cried, slept, loved, killed, nurtured, sulked, experienced joy and understood complex ideas. Were the cylons truly alive? Did they have souls? It’s ironic that the very first line of dialog in the series is a cylon asking a human this question: “Are you alive?” Ironic, because the humans struggle throughout the series asking that very same question about the cylons.
I was intrigued by the show enough to read a couple of pop culture books that discussed the issues presented on my television (including those issues of identity and what it means to be “alive”): Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy: Knowledge Here Begins Out There and Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica. Heady stuff, with a number of references to Ray Kurzweil’s idea of the coming singularity, when humans transcend their biological limitations in order to relate to superintelligent AIs. Really heady stuff!
Over this past year, I’ve found myself exploring this subject in other books and shows. For example, I’m watching Josh Whedon’s Dollhouse. Persons who have their memories erased are called dolls. They are imprinted with the memories of others and sent on missions. Does a doll actually become this other person? Is the doll still the person they were before their memories were removed, or is a person a collection of ongoing memories?
Then it was on to Robert Venditti’s graphic novel The Surrogates, in which people use humanoid remote control vehicles to interact with each other. This is similar to the idea used in James Cameron’s movie Avatar, except in Cameron’s work, the “remote” is actually a biological entity.
Even my most recent guilty pleasure, Jenna Black’s series on demon exorcist Morgan Kingsley, addresses the horror of real identity theft during possessions.
Now I’m reading David Brin’s Kiln People. In this future, people can download their memories into clay duplicates (dittos) that are sent out to work, to party, to accomplish menial tasks, or to perform a mission that would be dangerous to a biological person. The ditto has all of the memories of the original person (the rig) up to the time of downloading. Dittos are short-lived, lasting only about a day. Dittos must get home in time to download their memories in order to continue “to exist.” When the rig downloads the ditto’s memories from the day, those memories become part of the orignal’s experience as well.
There is a slightly chilling scene where a ditto awakens and observes “his” rig, and you realize that, at the point where the two sets of memories diverge, a new person has been born. Dittos may be shortlived, but that doesn’t stop a human rights movement promoting the idea that “Dittos are people, too.”
I suppose this obsession with identiy and personhood in recent science fiction could all be a natural extension of themes ignited by Willliam Gibson’s groundbreaking Neuromancer, as well as the real science and technology that is evolving around us. I don’t expect to live to see Kurzweil’s singularity, but if I do, I wonder if I will wake up some morning and ask, Am I me?
Young Bill Young, here. I’m working with the Oklahoma Center for the Book, arranging an event in Tulsa to celebrate Oklahoma’s romance writers. Obviously, we wanted to invite authors representing different genres within romance: i.e. Christian romance, romantic thrillers, historical love stories. It was interesting that our invitation list did not include any African American romance authors who call Oklahoma home.
During my search, I did come across some interesting information. For example, the incoming president of the Romance Writers of America is African American. In fact, RWA will have its second black president this decade. The news comes from Angela T and her blog, Saving Black Romance. Angela T is also a contributer to Romancing the Blog, and she offers this recent column on the marketing of African American romance novels. (Be sure and read Angela’s related posts and the comments to get a better gist of this issue.)
Love stories are universal, and they are relevant in all cultures and times. Michigan’s Beverly Jenkins (whose book “Captured” illustrates this post) specializes in African American romances set during the 19th Century — a time rife with all kinds of political, social and, er, lustful possibilities. And just think about the kinds of black romance novels that could use Oklahoma history as a backdrop, a history that includes black slaves coming to Indian Territory, the movement of black families into the Territories, the Green Corn Rebellion, the lunch counter sit-ins. No matter the times, places or situations, love finds a way.
So does this white boy want to read a steamy black romance? Maybe. I could always use a break from my sci-fi stories and geeky graphic novels. My Twitter friend Literary Nobody in Tulsa is a writer who’s always looking for different subjects and issues to address. Hey, LN: want to write us a love story?
And, of course, if you’re a black romance author in Okieland, or you know one, I’m depending on you to set me straight!
Young Bill Young here, filling in for Kitty a few days.
I read lots of science fiction and speculative fiction. Because of that, I really wish I was a teenager right now. The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) is joining forces with Newspapers in Education at The Oklahoman to sponsor Read Beyond Reality this October, which is Teen Read Month in our great state.
Classroom teachers and school libraries can sign up to participate at Newspapers in Education. Public libraries are participating through ODL. The school and public library whose young participants log the most pages read during the month will each receive $250 worth of new books! Individual readers can win prizes ranging from premium tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game to an iPod Nano. (See why I want to be a teenager right now?)
Even if you’re not a teen, you can have lots of fun and learn more about Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror by visiting this Teen Read Month site. What are you waiting for? There are whole worlds out there for you to discover.
Young Bill Young here again for the out-of-town, but on-the-job, Kitty Pittman. An interesting thing about working in a library, is that some friends expect you to become their personal librarian. And that’s OK. Gosh, after all, that’s what we’re all about in the library world — connecting people to information, resources and books.
A good friend of mine has decided to rediscover the works of novelist George V. Higgins (1939-1999), and he has solicited my help in tracking down some of the titles no longer carried in his local library. This is easy to do with a service called Interlibrary Loan. He could easily have requested these books via ILL at his local library, but, ya know, I’m his personal librarian, so I was happy to oblige.
My friend is such a fan of Higgins, he believes the author should have won a Nobel Prize. Sounds like I need to find out more about this Mr. Higgins. So, lets. . .
The New York Times‘ Featured Author Page on Higgins
The Google Book Search Page: Books by George V. Higgins
Info on the George V. Higgins Collection at the University of South Carolina
The Who’s Dating Who Page for George V. Higgins (Looks like no one has been dating this dead guy.)
The proverbial Wikipedia Page on Higgins
And, finally, here’s a photo of the gentleman:
Any of you out there Higgins fans? Drop us a comment!
Straight from Marcia Preston this morning,
I wanted to let you know that my new novel, The Wind Comes Sweeping, has now been released. It should be available through any chain or independent bookstore, and of course through Amazon.com. This one’s set in my home state of Oklahoma, on a failing cattle ranch that has become a wind farm. I’ve always been fascinated with those gigantic wind turbines, haven’t you?
This book involves a long-hidden crime, and in that way resembles my early suspense books.
Here’s the book trailer.