2013 and The Year In Books

So I wrote all this stuff the last week of December. Brace yourselves…

I have decided to commemorate 2013 with a scathing review of its assets. Yeah, I know that the year isn’t over yet. But it might as well be. I mean really, what else is going to happen between now and then? (Cue the alien invasion).

So let’s start with…

Book It

The Year in Books

I read too much. So much so that my Kindle exploded (see: the Year in Terrible Things). This is the second Kindle to have exploded on my watch in two years. I am currently borrowing a brain shattering Kindle Fire until I can swing a new e-ink number, so I can achieve my reading goal of 150 books. Yes I intended to read 150 books in 2013, and with only three more books to go, it appears I might just make it.

When I say I read 150 books, I am not talking board books or shitty romance novels. So far this year, I’ve read Faulkner, Woolf, Bronte, Stoker, Dr. Michio Kaku, Homer, David Levithan, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, J.M. Coetzee, A.S. King, and so on. And on.

Some tomes of note include:

Angelfall and World After by Susan Ee
This story is messed up. And I loved it. These are the first two books in the post-apocalyptic YA horror series “Penryn and the End of Days”. Here, our protagonist is a teenage girl with an un-medicated schizophrenic mother and paraplegic little sister, trying to stay alive while angels wage war on mankind.

Of all the dystopian, apocalyptic series I’ve been privy to, this is the most sophisticated in character disillusionment of any of them. As far as Penryn is concerned, keeping her tattered, tortured family together is the only thing keeping her sane; the only thing that matters. Even when good things happen, she never once fools herself into thinking that the humans will survive, or that anything other than the end is nigh. She harbors no false hope, and exists in a state of reality. For a novel aimed at teenagers that’s sort of amazing.

There is a strange dynamic between the two leads, the archangel Raphael and Penryn, and while the storyline pushes towards a possible romantic climax, you can’t forget for a second that this series is horror. It’s not Caitlin R. Kiernan, but it’s very dark, and pretty graphic. Dismemberment graphic. Mutilated children graphic. And even the ‘romantic’ aspect of the plot is more affection than anything. Raffe sees Penryn as a pathetic human, a lower creature. Penryn sees Raffe as a monster, and the means to an end. So don’t worry. If you read this you won’t throw up. Or at least, not for the sugary, unrealistic, teenage romance reasons.

So check it out. And don’t let the angel thing turn you off. In this story, angels don’t know if god exists either, so it’s not religious schlock being shoved down your throat.

Still With Me by Thierry Cohen
I was sort of excited to read this book, it seemed like an interesting idea: A young man commits suicide on his 20th birthday after his best friend/lifelong love rejects him. And that, it would seem, would be the end of that, except he wakes up the next morning to find that it is now his 21st birthday. His life has moved on without him, a full year, and he has no idea what he did during that year or how he got to this new stage of his life. Every morning he wakes up and it’s another year and another birthday, and he is lost like someone suffering with DID. As the years (days) pass, he sees his soulless self gain everything in life he ever dreamed, only to selfishly and tragically lose it all. The story is part science fiction, part spiritual redemption. And I suspect it would have been pretty great too, had I been able to read it in its original French. Instead it reads almost emotionless – bland, flat. Seeing as this was a national bestseller in France and in other markets, and has been translated into fifteen languages, I think the problem is with this particular translation.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I had to read this one for a class I took over the summer. Everyone hated it. I loved it.

To the Lighthouse follows a family as it hosts friends and neighbors at their summer home on the sea. They’re 1920s-ish, upper middle class white folks, who have fancy dinners and keep some degree of society. But that’s not what turns people off about this book. It’s not simply a book of rich white people on vacation; it is a complex study of human relationships, and entropy. And it’s told in what is called stream-of-consciousness writing, which briefly became popular around this time with authors like Faulkner, but which Woolf (arguably) perfected.

Stream-of-consciousness writing follows the thought process of the writer or the character. Imagine you’re walking down the street and you’re thinking about how tired you are and how much work you have to do and what is going on with your best friend and how come they haven’t cal – oooh! A Squirrel! That’s stream-of-consciousness. Many people find this too confusing to read. But it’s how we, as humans think, how we take in information, and so if you read it, and give it a chance, it not only makes sense it makes the story more believable.

So this particular story looks at every character like threads in a tapestry. Their lives, their thoughts and feelings interweave, and over time they fade and fray, separate and come loose. We see exactly what happens when those threads are picked apart, when some are removed, how the tapestry unravels in some places, how it becomes stronger in others. And time  – like I said, entropy – is another character here. Time passes and you feel it.

I love this book. So read it. And after you read it, check out Virginia Woolf’s biography. She was pretty awesome.

A Gay and Melancholy Sound by Merle Miller
This book is just… downer doesn’t really cover it. The entire book is a man dictating his life story into a tape recorder, in preparation of his upcoming suicide. Yep. Rosy. So much so in fact, it became one of those situations where I only finished the book at all because I have this thing where I have to see it through. I finish every book, no matter how shitty it is. When I’m in, I’m all in.

The book is set and was written during the late 1950s/ early 1960s. So in that aspect it’s very interesting, very much of it’s time. And it’s beautifully written, don’t get me wrong. I just genuinely didn’t like this book, because I genuinely didn’t like the lead character. He is miserable and sad and blames everyone around him for the fact that he is an asshole living the life of an asshole. He doesn’t do anything to fix things or to take ownership for his situation in life – which by the way isn’t so bad. He’s a completely successful individual career-wise. And you know, maybe that’s what the writer was going for, and maybe that’s was Miller’s motive in writing the character. But as a reader it did nothing for me.

And trust me I do not look for sunshine and rainbows and happy endings. Not at all; that stuff is in no way realistic. It’s just if I wanted to read whiny self pity from over privileged apathetic people, I’d give a shit about Twitter.
In related book news, Gaiman released The Ocean at the End of the Lane this year, to much acclaim. Even though I have it, had pre-ordered it, even, I haven’t read it yet. BECAUSE IT’S TOO DAMN PRETTY AND I DON’T WANT TO WRECK IT. It’s autographed in green ink, for cripes sake. The second I open to the first page, the spine is going to crack I’m going to crease and then tear the first page and spill gravy on it. And I’m a vegetarian – I don’t even eat gravy. BUT THAT WILL HAPPEN.

Aside from the books I’ve read, I’ve also acquired some real doozies this year. My great aunt had been slowly liquidated her late husbands’ books to me ever since I found a deposit of them she was unaware of in a closet in her spare room. They are mostly in the ‘little snippets of knowledge vein’ or are novels very specific to his tour in Morocco in WW2. They have awesome titles like What Happened in History (I was flipping to the back page to see how it ends, when my aunt came over and said “Oooh, see how it ends!), and I Never Met an Arab Like Him. Yep. Never.

This same uncle, John, was also fond of marking his dictionaries, and as I grew up I’d find things stuck throughout marking the words he looked up. He liked to write the word he was trying to learn over and over again on snips of paper, or use dental floss to mark pages. Yesterday there was a grand ransacking of their apartment (see: the Year in Terrible Things), and I finally took the dictionaries home with me. I also found a smaller, pocket dictionary I’d never seen before. It too was full of snippets of paper. But when I read them they weren’t just words he was trying to read: there were things in his life he was trying to remember. Like how earlier that day the Boston Globe had a picture of him in a major article on Veterans who served in North Africa. He didn’t save the article, he just wrote about it. At least he listed enough information that I’m sure I can find it.

The Guide To Reading

I also found a gorgeous little volume at a flea market called The Guide To Reading for $2. And it literally is what the title implies: a list of what books to read, what passages, in what order, and even on what day of the week. It’s a rather presumptuous little thing, really.

The Guide to Reading Content

So that’s it for The Year in Books, but I’m not done with 2013 yet. Gird your loins for The Year in Music.

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Typewriters and Canscer Scares

So I have somehow inherited (if this is the proper word for it) the typewriter of a beloved and popular uncle. By inherited I mean, I posted on Facebook how I wished I had a proper, old-school manual typewriter (as opposed to my much beloved electric Smith-Corona) and a cousin told me that he wanted to give me my uncles’ typewriter which was rescued from the rubbish when they cleaned out his house after he moved away from the old neighborhood.

I don’t know much about the typewriter, other than my uncle loved it. He was a letter writer apparently, and he took very good care of the instrument while it was of interest to him.

Sufficed to say, although the typewriter I had in mind was a turn of the century Remington, I am much obliged for this specimen. With every tap of the keys my Smith-Corona slams the hammer against the paper with enough force to pierce it – and indeed on occasion it has. It is an angry thing and quite appropriate for my artistic purposes. Am curious to see how I will fair with this new noise; it seems a might bit tamer than the bitter THWACK! of my old electric. Now all I need is ribbon and I should be all set. I am looking forward to penning another chapter or short story on it in the future.

Typewriters of Famous Writers

Once I have done something to facilitate the accessibility of mine hovel (to some degree of efficiency) I shall commence with the disparate and fictitious nonsense such is my literary career. Which are just fancy words for ‘once I get all my ducks in a row, I shall shoot them’.  Every time I manage to get some of the crazy out of my head and on paper all I get is a stomach ache for my reward. I have a few people I force to read my crap and ask for advice, but I don’t know. Not that I don’t trust them, it’s just maybe I need a wider sample? Or better yet – no sample at all?

In other news, probably more pressing, my surgical endeavors were successful. Thus far at least. Phil has been removed and is living somewhere off the grid. My foot has a badass scar, and as we all know, chicks and hotties dig scars, so perhaps this will all work out in my favour one of these days. I am healing nicely, the stitches, bandages and the boot (I had to tromp about in a boot of doom and keep my foot otherwise elevated) came off after three weeks.

The biopsy revealed no canscer – Phil was just a freeloading asshole. I had hoped at least for teeth and some hair, just for fun, but nope. The nerves in the area will be a bit raw for a while, and I have to keep an eye out for unusual colorations or swelling, but otherwise I was sent away from podiatry with a clean bill of health. So huzzah for me.

Like I have mentioned before, this is not my first cancer scare. This is like, my fourth in the last decade. So, although I should be more upset that this keeps happening, there is nothing more I can do. I eat crazy healthy, I even try to grow my own non GMO food. I try to exercise. It’s just how it is I guess.

In fact, the day after the stitches came out I had my annual intestinal probe. They found another giant adenoma, like they did during my first cancer scare. With my intestinal disorder I have a seriously elevated risk of colon and other cancers of the digestive tract. The first time was like Defcon Five around here, everyone in a panic, me keeping everyone together. Then I got a big speech from the gastro-doc informing me that although I don’t have cancer now, the polyps he removed were an early form of cancer. He told me I basically had stage zero cancer and that there wasn’t much that they could do other than be more vigilant. So my colonoscopies went from every three years to annually, with intermittent testing in between, and my cancer risk has gone from ‘elevated’ to one-in-three or one-in-two chances of getting ill.

So that’s going to be fun.

My biggest issue with getting sick is everyone else around me; these things freak everyone out more than me. So if it seemed that I was nonchalant about Phil I wasn’t trying to be coy; I was just trying to downplay it and see how things turned out before reacting. Or overreacting, rather. My family is populated with amazing, giving people. But it’s also populated with worriers – as in ‘worry-myself-sick’ worriers – and people who make other people’s misfortunes their own personal tragedies. Plus, since the dawn of e-mail and Facebook the rumour mill is alive and well and surprisingly even more ill-informed than ever.

So my colon is clean – yet angry, and my foot is sore but healing.

I didn’t get to go to Blick after all, because I am TOO BROKE, but I did manage a copy of The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas for one of my classes. It was really good and worth it. I was surprised and not surprised at the same time that my library didn’t carry it, and that in fact none of the libraries in this part of my STATE had it. So maybe when I am through with it I may donate it. Maybe.

I am a selfish bitch.

Flail Maces and Your Local Library

It’s small but it’s fierce!

So I haven’t been on the blog yapping away dutifully as I should have been this week. I was having trouble writing something that didn’t involve my Mum being in hospital, politics (which I promised myself I wouldn’t discuss here), or being sick all week. At some point I started a little essay on my writing, which is something I do and have done and all the other tenses too.  But I got all bogged down and tired so I was like, no. They’ll get to hear me whine about my imaginary Hugo Award some other time.

I should probably leave something here to, you know, look like I know what I’m doing with a blog. So here it is:

Today I took my dog to the library. Because my dog likes to be driven around in cars with his head out the window, and rocketing over to the library is as good a cruise as any. On the way over the subject of guns came up, as it tends to do.  Technically the subject somehow was on the topic of raccoons, which led me to regale BB with the details of a Nature documentary I had once seen on pest species that are rocking it in human inhabited areas, which led to a conversation on how one state was being overrun by white tailed deer and the various methods they were trying to thin the herds, which led to a conversation on hunting laws, which led to a definition of ‘primitive weaponry’, which BB felt I needed since he thought my idea of ‘primitive weaponry’ would be a mace, but I had to correct him because my definition of ‘primitive weaponry’ would be a rock, and I would categorize a mace as ‘awesome weaponry’.  (How was that for a run on sentence? Suck it fifth grade grammar!) Overall it became a conversation on gun control because, I’ll put it right here – Guns Are For Chumps. This is my campaign slogan. Feel free to chuck it around some.

So this should be enough to rile feathers and I don’t care. Guns are for chumps for no other reason than the fact that they are too easy. There is no skill in killing something you can’t get face to face with. Sorry. You want to make it fair, you want to make it skilled, you want to have a show of strength be it in war or in a battle betwixt two nerds next to a station wagon, guns aren’t going to cut it. What will? I’m glad you asked. Swords, betches. Swords. And maces. Flail maces especially. Knives. Brute strength. Big rocks. I’ll go as far as to say bow and arrow is acceptable, but crossbows aren’t.

But bnpqoe, isn’t there skill in shooting a gun? Not really and I’ll tell you why: a gun was made to kill something from a far distance. Unless you are a mob hitman or a sadist you typically don’t go for the eye contact in shooting someone. It’s a cowards weapon, a drive by weapon. Knock on my door with an epee and a grudge and I’ll respectfully let you in, sir.

But how would you know? You probably have never fired a gun before, you probably don’t know how hard it is to aim and shoot some of those things! You’d be wrong there again, chum. I have indeed fired a gun, more than one more than once. And not at a fair or carnival game either.

But bnpqoe, doesn’t all this talk of swords and maces just mean that you’re a huge medieval faire nerd, or at the very least into LARPing? No. Because my list also includes lasers – but only if you build them yourself, from scratch, and even then only if they are rolled into the field of battle, and not shot from afar. And the only time I would go to a medieval faire would be if I were dressed as Doctor Who (or one of his compatriots).

But doesn’t that count at LARPing? No it doesn’t. Shut the hell up.

See, there’s method to this madness. At the library I continued my rant and expounded on the virtues of a good flail mace. It was agreed that it was a respectable weapon, especially when you consider that one chuck at someone’s noggin was just as likely to come back and literally smack you in the face as it was to crack your enemies skull. I left my local library heavy with books and a pretty good idea that I’ve scared the shit out of my librarians (yet again).

I love my local library. And I am very sure my library is very happy that I use their online service to reserve the books I want to read, so I don’t spend any time looking around for them and making small talk with patrons and staff.

Support your local library folks! And remember: Guns are for Chumps!

This is Cobble driving to the library. Usually his mouth is WIDE OPEN like an alligator. I think maybe he’s swallowed a bug (he has that look of one who has inadvertently swallowed a bug).

A brief side note:

In the parking lot an extremely elderly couple that had been leaving the library while I was going in were in their car blocking the library entrance. They were revving the engine like mad and looking around at each other completely panicked. It took me a second to understand what was going on – the elderly man had his foot on the accelerator and didn’t realize it. They were panicking because they thought the car was exploding or something.  I just stood there as I couldn’t get their attention to help them and I didn’t want to cross either end of the car in case they decided to suddenly put the car into (or knock the car into) gear and run me over. I was always supposed to die by being backed over by an off duty ambulance;  I’ll be damned if I let these two get to me first.  Suddenly he pulled his foot off the gas pedal and they sat back and looked at each other for a moment before driving off out of the lot. To run over folks in front of a shopping center, I suspect.