I don't think I'm finishing that Hemingway book tonight, so without further ado, THE 2015 BOOKS raaaah yessss:

The 2014 Books, late )

#1 -- Tessa Gratton, The Lost Sun
#2 -- Francesca Forrest, Pen Pal
#3 -- Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja, Who is AC?
#4 -- Jo Walton, The Philosopher Kings (ARC)
NOT #5 -- Karen Lord, The Galaxy Game
#5 -- Tessa Gratton, Strange Maid
NOT #6 -- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant
#6 -- Eva Darrows, The Awesome
#7 -- Gwenda Bond, Lois Lane: Fallout
#8 -- Erin Bow, The Scorpion Rules (ARC)
#9 -- Paolo Bacigalupi, The Water Knife
#10 -- Patrick Ness, The Rest of Us Just Live Here (ARC)
#11 -- Rae Carson, Walk on Earth a Stranger (ARC)
#12 -- John Green, Paper Towns
#13 -- E.K. Johnston, A Thousand Nights (ARC)
#14 -- E.K. Johnston, Exit, Pursued by a Bear (ARC)
#15 -- Emil Sher, Young Man With Camera
#16 -- Kate Blair, Transferral
#17 -- Amy Alward, Madly
#18 -- Sean Michaels, Us Conductors
#19 -- Rainbow Rowell, Carry On
#20 -- Cassandra Rose Clarke, Our Lady of the Ice
#21 -- Sarah Rees Brennan, Tell the Wind and Fire (ARC)
#22 -- David Mitchell, Slade House
#23 -- Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky (ARC)
#24 -- Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon
#25 -- Christopher Barzak, Wonders of the Invisible World
#26 -- Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
#27 -- Robert Charles Wilson, The Affinities
#28 -- Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Illuminae
#29 -- John Lorinc et al, The Ward
#30 -- Naomi Mitchison, Travel Light

Notes on which: I was working way too workaholically to read very much this year, but definitely made up for it in the back half -- #18 onwards is just from the beginning of November. I've found the part of my brain that can focus on a book again, and missed it pretty desperately.

Trends! A lot of this is YA, which seems to be what's interesting me lately. There's an ability to layer -- to speak to the 14-year-old reader, double-voiced with something for the 35-year-old reader -- that I'm finding really craft-interesting and rewarding lately. It also seems to be where the science fiction that moves me right now is showing up. SF is fairly trope-bound; the YA-directed stuff is just different enough to make me not feel like I've seen this song and dance before.

Stuff I loved and will handsell at work, or have been handselling: Illuminae, Transferral, The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Scorpion Rules, The Awesome.

The Ward collection I ate in bits and pieces, but I'm finding myself valuing it very much. It's a good shot of perspective about how our city works and has always worked in some ways, and lent some serious perspective for tackling the Hemingway letters.

I wanted more from Slade House but I understand why, and that's between me-the-reader and that book and what I generally get out of Mitchell novels. I wanted more from The Philosopher Kings but I'm still going to pick up the third book and see how it all comes out.

Best read of the year? I'll reserve special mention for Pen Pal, which absolutely astonished me. It is the best self-published piece of writing I've ever seen: inventive without being self-conscious, hushed, kind, spilling off the page, diverse, vivid, relevant, real. It is rough and special. 99% of you probably haven't read it, but: seriously consider doing so.
I missed this post last year, in what was admittedly a haze of work and Friends and Boyperson Quality Time. But I also missed having it: To refer to personally, in the bookstore when handselling, in general. And keeping up with the trends and ebbs in my reading is a worthy goal, so:

The 2012 Books, late )

The 2013 Books )

The trends and currents of this exercise are even more visible, maybe, with two years' data in the hopper:

I'm reading a lot more YA (which started as basic research, since Above sold as YA and with On Roadstead Farm, I've had to deliberately write one; and ended up continuing out of a certain comfy enjoyment thereupon. I seem to like the YA books that pick fights with tropes and trends in the bracket more -- Sarah Rees Brennan's Unspoken and Untold; Rainbow Rowell in general -- and the ones that are just plain well-made, like Brenna Yovanoff's Paper Valentine.

I read a lot more of Philippe's books, the old Heinleins and the graphic novels and the Banks, because they were books and they were where I was. I don't always do well with them: He has a taste for a very old-school SF that's not precisely my taste.

I read a lot more in draft, and by people I know already.

I read a lot more hardboiled detective books, because basically they are awesome. They're simultaneously windows into this mourned/idealized/generalized 1940s American world, and condemnations of same, and rife with class politics, and fascinating puzzle-boxes. And everyone's always getting concussions. The stack of Ross MacDonalds up there were bought on clearance at my local used bookstore, who had $20 trade paperback versions, acquired on remainder, for five bucks or so each. They got me through a lot of things this year.

I read a lot of books that were highly imperfect but deeply ambitious, and have gained a serious appreciation for that. I really do prefer books that aim high and fall short than books that stay home and execute their staying home well.

And...I didn't read a lot of books.

On Roadstead Farm has been a hard haul for me, and this year has just been consumed in the thing. There were months at a stretch where I didn't read, this year, because I couldn't hold other books and that one in my head together, at the same time. I want that to be different for 2014; it's one of many places that I would like to build a better balance.

I'm not going to pick out anything specific to discuss this time around, but if there's anything you want to hear about?
It's a testament to what the last week and a half has been like that posting this took...well, a week and a half. But right now I am sitting home with the distinct impression I'm about to get completely fluey and dizzy and sick (ugh), so. Book blogging.

What I read this year )

Also, I watched some movies and TV and stuff )

Interesting continuing themes this year: I'm still reading a lot of CanLit -- the Giller list, the Booker list, Coach House Books titles. I'm now reading a lot of graphic novels, which I used to borrow but never buy. And interestingly enough? Last year I started reading a whole lot more YA, and a lot of nonfiction.

Nonfic is funny territory for me. I used to not read it because I was in school, which is basically five courses of nonfiction all the time, and then it took me a bit to get into the habit. But I think the most impactful books this year, if not the most loved, were nonfic titles.

Books I flipped out over and would have handsold were I still working in the bookstore: Among Others, Room, Essex County, Lighthousekeeping, The Big Sleep, Redemption in Indigo, The Incident Report, The Many Revenges of Kip Flynn, The Sisters Brothers, Half-Blood Blues, both Blank Slate books, Monoceros, and Anna Dressed in Blood. Lost at Sea is very, very imperfect, but I am weirdly fond of it. There was very little I couldn't actually finish, and very few rereads, which is kind of new for me.

I still have yet to find the kind of hard SF that makes my brain whir, but I'm not even sure if I actually care anymore. It's been years. I might be over it.

This year looks to be shaping up much the same, considering what's on my to-read table (yes, it's a whole little table): Laini Taylor, Geoff Ryman, Zoe Whittall, China Mieville; a bunch of nonfiction on topics from etymology to urban planning to 1920s history, etc. etc. etc.

I am sadly not very insightful on all this: There weren't really any major revelations about the state of fiction or of my own reading habits this year. Just a lot of mostly satisfying books. Which is nice.
And that is a book report. But I find I have something to say.

This year's books, so far... )

#92 -- Patricia A. McKillip, The Bards of Bone Plain

First thing: I have had an uncomfortable situation with reading McKillip these past couple years, and it has to do with getting older. I've had a theory about this: That when I started reading her books I was very, very young, and they were, and are, very special to me. The Riddle-Master of Hed is what I read when I am viciously sick, because it's sort of like a warm blanket wrapped around you. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is the only book to ever make me sit upright in my bath, where I was reading it, and sob because I knew what was about to go down and I couldn't find a way to stop it. Those books imparted truths, and I have thought for years that part of why I loved them so much is because I was young and didn't know certain things, and then they told me. And that's been why some of her more recent stuff, I haven't loved as well: because now I'm older, and I know some more things, and really this is nobody's fault but all the same it's rather sad.

Second thing: I finished this book this morning. I stayed up to finish it. Yes, until seven in the morning.

Third thing: It is taking an unholy beating on Goodreads.

And y'know? I object. Not because I've suddenly changed my tune on books and taste and the right of everyone to have different opinions on different books. But because I have finally figured out a thing, and in the dim winter dawnlight that's filtering through my window, it's absolutely brilliant.

The crap The Bards of Bone Plain is getting mostly has to do with repetition: People are not happy that she is writing about bards (again), or music (again), or a scholarly grad school environment (again), and so forth. The pertinent comment was "feels like a re-run", and I can also feel the list of familiar elements from past books: mysterious ancient harpists who are not what they seem; a plain that exists in two worlds, and likewise the tower upon it; greatest magic, keeping pigs; music; poetry; riddling contests; a mentor figure who is actually inexpressibly old; figures of legend having dwelt quietly beside you in real life; digging through old libraries for history; schools of knowledge and magic; princesses who have different ideas on pricessing, and their rather indulgent fathers; the ghosts of past powers, trapped in stone; language, and its power.

I could go on.

But here's the thing, and here's what I just figured out about McKillip and her work, now that I'm older still: What she's doing isn't repetition. This isn't a case of reusing the same themes because an author's run out of new things to talk about, or of the reader growing out of the wonder that they originally derived from the author just doing their thing. That's what I thought before, and maybe there was something to it, to that twist of the relationship between the reader and writer, but that's not what ultimately is going on here.

McKillip writes about music. She writes about riddles, and she writes about poetry.

What those repeating, interweaving, slightly-different ideas and images and symbols in every single book she writes really are are motif.

As in the musical sense. As in a perceivable or salient recurring fragment or succession of notes.

She's making music, guys. And making it over the space of years, over multiple novels, dropping fragments of ideas like theme and variation so you hear it and remember, half-asleep, soft dark rooms and pages and where you were those many years ago, and flesh those ideas out yourselves without her having to say the words. So that all these little actions, or set pieces, or thoughts take on this unholy heft and resonance, just like thoughtful Telemachus, or the wine-dark sea, or þæt wæs god cyning. Every repetition, every mention, they build, until they build a hum like the earth moving.

She's writing music, and epic poetry, and the whole of her output is the poem.

And here's my proof:

There's a point at the climax of The Bards of Bone Plain where a character we know has access to magic shouts, and it's mentioned later that people heard a shout and the wall of a stone colosseum cracked. And there's a point in the middle where there's an altercation and neither of the POV characters there are quite sure what went on: just that an inn door was blown off its hinges and all one heard was the low note on a harp string. Later, and earlier, where the low note on a harp string is used to snap another harpist's instrument and blows the top off a tower.

And I knew exactly what was going on. Because I know what a Great Shout is, and I remember the harp string pitched so low it shatters swords.

Neither of these things were mentioned in this book. And they didn't have to be.

I have read the rest of the poem and I kept up.

And thing is, I should have seen it sooner: I've been wondering for years if the riddle Morgon of Hed tells, or is told, about the woman who took in a small black thing and fed it, and fed it, until it grew to fill the whole house and stalked her room to room was some adulterated story about Sybel and the Blammor, somehow hopped across book-universes, passed down, embellished, half-forgotten, until it nested in another story as nothing more than a riddle.

It's happened before. She's done this for years. And twice is coincidence, but three times (or more!) is enemy action.

The funny thing? She's told us exactly what she's up to. You can't expect to read an author who talks so much, and so lovingly, about the secret meanings of ordinary words; the power held in languages; that words are outright magic to not at least try something like this, and to hide it right in plain sight.

So. Dear Patricia McKillip: I have finally, finally caught you. I see what you did there.

Hats off. I am impressed as hell, and smiling.
I am running a little late with these posts this year: there was some stuff to sort out around New Year's Eve and yesterday, the sorting of which left me le tired, and now it is January the second and I have not made my year-end posts. But clearly the way to deal with delay and opposition is to just do it when you do it, so I give you:

What I read this year )
I also watched some movies: )

I said last year that I'd revisit this notion that I'm drifting away from genre books, rather than that the genre hasn't been putting out books that have me as the target audience of late; okay, it's a fine difference, but there's the question of which one's in motion. Looking at this year's booklist -- and it's been influenced by a couple practical things like available storage space in the Treehouse; what's stocked at the Dayjob library, where I get books for free, free, free; and interestingly, the bookstore having moved from Queen West up into my neighbourhood in November, and note the sudden uptick in genre titles near the end of the year -- I'm starting to think it's a little of both. But mostly actually me.

Most of the genre books I read this year are the books of friends or acquaintances (The Bone Palace, The Executor, The Gaslight Dogs, Corambis, Finder, A Book of Tongues, etc.); I picked them up in a large part because the author is someone I know and like. This isn't actually a slam on the marketability and/or quality of said books. I tend to have friends who write very good books. A lot of the other genre books on the list are ends/middles of series books I've been already reading (the Carrie Vaughn, Bujold, and Mike Carey entries). And while that is reading genre, that's not exploring it actively.

What I am exploring these days seems to be "classic" or Canadian literary fiction and historical nonfiction, with a sprinkling of YA and small press genre books. And, looking at what's on my bedside table right now (which is where the To Read stacks live), that's set to continue.

You people have yet to write me some good hard SF. Seriously, hop to. :p

Books my head exploded over and I would have handsold by the crate at the bookstore for this year: Red Harvest, A Book of Tongues, Finder, Bitter Seeds, High Fidelity, Stanley Park, Bottle Rocket Hearts and Persuasion. Darin Bradley's Noise could belatedly make this list, but I'm still sort of rolling it around in my head; it's a dense, odd little book and either there's something down there in its middle that I just haven't gotten down to yet or there's nothing and I wish it was there, but I have to think a little more to be sure either way. The Howard Shrier detective novels don't feel like my Toronto or my Judaism and those things jar, but they have a soul I really like. I did not fall in sloppy love with Jack Graham's Caribou, but it was tiny and neat and well-made, and for a little self-produced first or second outing, that impressed me. Here's his micropress. Go look.

I am very structurally disappointed in Kraken and Pegasus, and I am disappointed in people (marketing departments, publishers, whoever) who don't tell me in the book that a book is Book 1 and not just Book, and leave me structurally disappointed in things. The space between my index finger and the end of the pages shapes the reading experience, consciously or not. Please remember this.

I didn't find The Hunger Games as mindblowing as everyone said it was, but I suspect coming in after reading that much hype just didn't do the reading experience many favours and I'll still probably read the second. I kind of pushed through Blackout and I am kind of pushing through All Clear, and there is not a lot of hope for it at this juncture. I am saying these things because well, they are true, and because these are books and authors who I'm pretty sure can handle one raised eyebrow on the Internet without damage to their hearts or careers.

For 2011 I would like a pony some hard SF. And some literary fiction that's clear as a clean wineglass. And dense, chewy, slightly breathless fairytales. And to read about the First World War. I'm aware that I may have to write some of this myself to get it. But y'know, if you have some? Hook a buddy up.
A lot of my days are spent revising things right now (well, the parts that aren't spent working the Dayjob). Yesterday was primarily devoted to revising a new episode of Shadow Unit, which debuts next week, I think; the default position is revising Above.

Today, though, was Word on the Street.

It was a really good day for it: sunny and cool and bright. The whole thing felt a little smaller than last year, and my haul was proportionally smaller:

Words Written Backwards, Gemma Files
Temporary Monsters and The Ash Angels, Ian Rogers
Greentopia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto, Alana Wilcox, Christina Palassio, and Jonny Dovercourt, eds.
HTO: Toronto's Water from Lake Iroquois to Lost Rivers to Low-flow Toilets, Wayne Reeves and Christina Palassio, eds.
Your Secrets Sleep With Me, Darren O'Donnell
Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, Shawn Micallef
Witness to a City, David Miller and Douglas Arrowsmith

Those last two are signed. The mayor of Toronto said I have a lovely smile while he signed my book. Squee.

Saw a lot of the usual crowd: the CZP peoples, Merril peoples, Stephen Geigen-Miller and Greg Beettam, [livejournal.com profile] cszego, [livejournal.com profile] delta_november, [livejournal.com profile] davidnickle, Claude Lalumiere, Madeline Ashby, horror writers, etc. and et al. I stayed most of the afternoon, and walked home as it was starting to cloud over.

Tonight has been for using up the farmshare. The radio's on, there are cabbage rolls in the oven and potato-leek soup on the stove, and the rest will go into some red curry tomorrow. Dr. My Roommate has made cranberry-honey sauce and beef stew. We're chipping away at a bottle of apple cider.

I went outside earlier to take out the (massive quantities of) organic waste and recycle that happen when we get into cooking fits, and there's the smallest bite of winter in the air.

I think I'll leave it there. There's a massive satisfaction to the sharpness of that smell, and the double handful of leaves already underfoot.
I'm going to try to do this [livejournal.com profile] mrissa-style this year, in hopes that it'll keep me a little better about actually doing it. Because really, 12-odd posts in a year shouldn't be onerous.

#1 -- Margo Lanagan, Black Juice

Confession: I haven't really read short stories for pleasure in a really long time. I think years of slushreading have killed the urge in me a little, or at least put it to sleep. But I had heard a lot of good things about Margo Lanagan's stuff, and [livejournal.com profile] msagara put the book in my hand, and I figured if I didn't like them I could just stop.

I really liked this book.

It's in how she puts language together so each story has its own language; how the implications in the way those words are shaped show us the shadow-world just off the page, and how each of those words is a fully developed thing. And it's the Australianness: these remind me around the edges of Katherine Mansfield, who was a New Zealand writer, in the worldview. It's the quiet apocalyptic feel; the unpresumptuous apocalyptic feel.

So yes. I liked these a lot.

#2 -- Elizabeth Bear, The White City (in draft)

This is in draft and pre-publication, and so I shan't comment in detail. I will say that it made me want to go out and get some of those glass Russian teacups and blackcurrant jam.

#3 -- Mike Carey and Peter Gross, The Unwritten #1-5

Picked up after recommendations from two people whose taste on such things I trust.

This is pretty much writerporn. If you're involved in making or breaking or shaping stories, this is pure narrative kink direct to your brain. It starts off a little rough -- and maybe a little precious -- but things get interesting fast, and I get all the genre in-jokes, and there's good movement to the plot. I'm going to be picking this up in trades, I think, and it really does take a lot to make me buy comics. Not out of any feeling against them, just out of a knowledge that a comics habit is about as cheap as a heroin habit, and so I treat them both with the same caution.

#4 -- Dashiell Hammett, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, and Selected Stories

Dashiell Hammett is so awesome.

I admit I didn't make it through The Glass Key; too much New England politics and not enough detectiving and calling people you're tailing birds and hard-boiledness. But I loved the Continental Op stuff, and now I am sad that this man and his fabulous white Pinkerton hair and his tight, muscular, seriously expert prose are dead.

#5 -- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

...this was a decidedly odd book.

It's my first Vonnegut (yes, I know; I have holes in my education) and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I can tell that he's doing some serious riffing off the same material that Eichmann in Jerusalem dealt with a couple years later. I'm honestly not sure here whether everything was really just on the surface of this one -- no subtext necessary, thankya -- or if I'm missing the subtext entirely. Because I'm halfway not sure what the point was, and I'm not sure if that's because I'm looking too hard or not hard enough at all.

#6 -- David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars

I didn't expect all that much from this one, but ended up liking it. It's less a portrait of people than a portrait of a community, and what the segregation of Japanese-Americans in camps during WWII does to that community. Another one for the Examining the Effects of a World War Like Cracks in Plate Glass subgenre.

#7 -- Sheila Heti, Ticknor

On the other hand, sometimes when I really can't see the point or subtext, that's a bad thing for the book. Because I am kind of an educated reader, in several modes and contexts. And I'm afraid I hadn't a clue why this book was here; not what it was about, I caught that much. I just don't know why we had a book about it.

#8 -- Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest

Hee. Continental Op. Mining town corruption! A taste of the Old West in industrial form! Gangsters! Attempted assassinations! Moonshine!

Nobody at all in this book is sympathetic, including, in this case, the protagonist. I love how Hammett closes off the Op's narration when he falls under suspicion of murder; doesn't confirm he did it or didn't do it. It's not even a hugely obvious thing, just...a tightening of the POV, of the language, that both keeps us right out of the loop and communicates the kind of internal tension in the character. Actually, that would make sense as an experimental run on the kind of objective POV tricks he pulls in The Maltese Falcon.

Oh, Mr. Hammett. I hope someone kept your brain in a jar somewhere for when we have the technology.

#9 -- Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

You, sir, are no Dashiell Hammett.

The kind of shocking and interesting thing to me in dipping my toe into Chandler is realizing just how fifties it is. Hammett's protagonists live in flats in urban centres, eat in restaurants in that pre-war bachelor way where single men were not expected to know how to cook. They have associates or partners whom they work with and rely on. They have very objective, practical, sometimes ruthless sensibilities towards their work, what it's worth, and who they are at the end of the day. They are, in dialogue, frequently of few words. The women they hang around with are just as wise to the ways of the world, if not wiser.

Whereas Philip Marlowe lives alone, but lives in a house in the burbs. His pasttimes, when he's not sulking (honest) are recreating chess games and taking pride in his coffee-making skills. Occasionally he went drinking with Terry Lennox, in the early parts of the book. He's a lone wolf to an almost exaggerated degree: he actively pisses off and alienates anyone who's kind to him or cooperative. He doesn't even have a secretary. He speechifies to an obnoxious degree about how nobody else is tough but thinks they are. He does his case in a decadent gated community full of writers and people of wildly inconsistent characterization, and speechifies more about the class-based chip on his shoulder.

He is an emo kid with an anger problem.

And after reading the Hammett, this feels like some fairly unsuccessful, projective, head-shaking fanfic.

#10 -- Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Read in one sitting. This has cartoons in it here and there -- the protagonist, Arnold/Junior, is a cartoonist -- and they really add to the book's whole feel of simultaneously laughing and crying and despairing and hoping, and not making a big deal out of any of that, but just living it. Authentic emotion.

It's very much that breezy YA style and deals with a lot of stuff that I'm sure will have some people's parents screaming bannination, but this is a very honest book through and through. Recommended. I'm picking up the rest of his stuff.
Despite my inability to get it through my head this year, I have most of my gifts put together, there is a chicken in my fridge for the big New Year's Eve dinnerstravaganza, and it is time to do this post. I'm leaving the Grand Metrics for tomorrow, since I do plan to write a bit tonight.

So here is what I read this year: )

There are a couple notable trends this year: one is that I reread a lot of already-owned books this year. This is what I do when I'm stressed. You can pretty much pinpoint the months I was having a rough go of something by those clusters of rereads.

The other is that I rarely read anything new when it came to genre fiction. This year, I read backlist. I read literary novels. I read Toronto books by Toronto authors about Toronto. I read graphic novels. I read WWI and 1920s research books. But I didn't especially read new genre fiction.

This is the second year in a row where I've been feeling like I am just Not The Target Audience (tm) for most of what's coming out in genre: I'm not especially fond of either paranormal romance or military SF, and those seem to be where a lot of energy is focusing -- and not wrongly, since the paranormal romance makes money and we all like having that. A lot of my favourite genre authors didn't have books out this year, the hard SF section felt exceedingly thin, and that odd, niche style of fantasy I like didn't make much of an appearance, either. When it did it was spectacular -- see: The City and the City and The Manual of Detection -- but it was pretty far between.

It is also, methinks, possible that my tastes are just changing. I may be becoming more of a literary reader. But that's something to revisit next year, to see if it bears out.

Stuff I loved gibberingly and unabashedly, and would handsell like an evangelist at Rapture time if still at the bookstore: The Last Hot Time, Pattern Recognition, The Manual of Detection, The City & the City, Girls Fall Down, Freedom & Necessity, The Maltese Falcon and weirdly enough The City Man, which I didn't think much of right after finishing and then had grow on me slowly and steadily. I had good luck, by and large, with the Coach House Books list: even the stuff which made me occasionally roll my eyes and I didn't so much love gave me some take-home value.

The to-read shelf is decently stocked at the moment, although it's mostly with more Dashiell Hammett, literary novels, essays, and nonfic, and hopefully once I'm through that some of the 2010 books I'm looking forward to will be available. Or I'll discover a rich vein of criminally-neglected backlist. Or someone will have written me some goddamned hard science fiction already.
[livejournal.com profile] cristalia (8:09:14 PM): Dashiell Hammett has solved my plotting problem.
[livejournal.com profile] cristalia (8:09:17 PM): There is nothing he can't do.
[livejournal.com profile] matociquala (8:09:55 PM): He's like Chuck Norris
[livejournal.com profile] stillsostrange (8:09:57 PM): Can he fix my scene?
[livejournal.com profile] cristalia (8:10:01 PM): I'm sure he could.
[livejournal.com profile] stillnotbored (8:10:14 PM): Can he finish my book while I work?
[livejournal.com profile] cristalia (8:10:33 PM): (Dashiell Hammett's tears cure cancer, but he's written in omni objective so you never know if he's crying on the inside.)

I read The Maltese Falcon this week. I am not over the ways in which that book is completely fucking awesome and I hope to never be over it. And yes, I picked up The Thin Man this afternoon.

This has been not a book report, but a *glee*.
Today I am off to scenic Minesing, Ontario, a place without even its own wiki entry (although apprently with both a public school, a slo-pitch tournament, and a swamp) for my first offsite committee with the Dayjob.

I'm leaving in 20 minutes to make the bus on time. And it is still pitch black out.

Terrible things I do for this Dayjob.

Also, an interim book report:

This year's books, so far... )

#57 -- Emma Bull and Steven Brust, Freedom & Necessity

This started somewhat slow, and I wasn't sure about it, and I kept reading anyways because sometimes you just do. And once the plot kicked in? It was like a Jane Austen novel married a spy thriller and had a baby, and then the baby saw its parents gunned down and became the Batman.

So ostensibly this is a period epistolary slightly-magical spy thriller. Really, what I think it is? Competence porn. It's getting to watch people be stupidly competent at things and/or on the learning curve to such without getting that feeling of Suedom, and the great thing about competence porn is that when you really have it going, the stakes matter. The stakes are everything.

The other thing this is so far (I'm not yet finished) that I'm really appreciating is a book where a Dangerous Man (tm) is clearly infatuated with and interested in the protagonist, but it's because she is so freaking competent. He keeps looking at her and shaking his head like, "Geez, does everyone underestimate you or am I the only idiot in the house?" instead of looking at her like a Dark Highlander does some kind of prey. And this? Makes the Dangerous Man/Our Heroine romance trope actually believable, for once in its life. It makes me respect the heroine, consider that the Dangerous Man is worthy of respect (after all, good reason to have a crush, man) and feel the legitimacy of the potential romance.

That's cool. More books should do that.

And now, I'm off to Minesing.


Sep. 27th, 2009 06:59 pm
leahbobet: (gardening)
Just home from a literal full day at Word on the Street, which was fun and interesting and happy-making as usual. I got to see a whole bunch of people (partners in book-festivaling [livejournal.com profile] ksumnersmith and [livejournal.com profile] thesandtiger; occasional partner in on her lunch break [livejournal.com profile] dolphin__girl; [livejournal.com profile] cszego and Lorna Toolis at the Merrill Collection table, and Allan Weiss beside it; [livejournal.com profile] delta_november and [livejournal.com profile] jo_etal for the first time since Worldcon; [livejournal.com profile] jack_yoniga, [livejournal.com profile] kelpqueen, [livejournal.com profile] davidnickle, and Claude Lalumiere at the Chizine Press table; Stephen Geigen-Miller and Greg Beettam for like the first time in forever). This is good, because I have been hermiting like a hermiting thing since Worldcon and it was good and refreshing and fun to see my peoples.

There was Eggs Benedict and vanilla rose white tea for late lunch. And there were books.

The haul:

Utopia: Towards a New Toronto, Jason McBride and Alana Wilcox, eds.
The City Man, Howard Akler (For my small-yet-growing collection of books set in Toronto.)
Lemon, Cordelia Strube (Because hey, I like about 75% of what Coach House Press puts out.)
Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto, Terry Murray (This was five bucks and is about gargoyles. That is awesome.)
This Will All End In Tears, Joe Ollmann (graphic novel)
Xeno's Arrow vol. 1, Greg Beettam and Stephen Geigen-Miller (also graphic novel)

This filled up a tote bag in a comforting kind of way. I went pretty local and CanLitty this year, but hey, that's what Word on the Street is good for. I am left slightly sweaty and with that good pull in my legs from all the walking, flush with reading material, and fully pleased with my lot in life.

Now? I think I shall go find some novel or other that needs poking. Tonight is a night for words. :)
This has not been a good week. Hell, this has not been a good three weeks. But that is not what I am here to talk about. What I am here to talk about is this:

This year's books, so far... )

#46 -- Maggie Helwig, Girls Fall Down (in progress)

I'm not even finished this one yet, but. But. I am blowing off three genre books, one by a very good friend, for this little literary edge-of-fabulism thingie printed on lovely ridged paper, and doing it gladly.

Thing is, this is one of those times where I'm not sure my total fatuous love for a book actually translates into a recommendation.

Someone recommended me Maggie Helwig, and I think it was either for the prose style or the feminist threads running through. Neither of these things are why I am in love with this book. Why I am in love with this book is because it is set in my Toronto, which is very different from the Toronto next door or that of someone who lives across town. I recognize the houses in it on description, bits of Kensington or Bathurst and College ([livejournal.com profile] dolphin__girl, there's a whole half-chapter down the street from your old place). I can trace the landmarks, and her landmarks are to a certain degree also my landmarks; our important places, the ones that actually make a person's city, overlap. I keep chuckling just a little, and it's with recognition.

This is a book about my city. And, well. That doesn't translate unless we have the same city too.

But for me, at least, this is like rereading parts of Minus Time (which I did this week) or the first section of In the Skin of a Lion or parts of Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask or even Ellen/Elena/Luna, which I haven't reread in years. It's like finding someone else in the secret club of people who somehow, without ever meeting, inhabit the same space; are passing through the rest of the world just a little out of phase, but out of phase on the same frequency, so you can see each other solid as you walk by.

It's like coming home.

I really need to write more of the Toronto stories sitting half-outlined on my hard drive.
Tonight, between finishing one set of revisions, critiquing towards someone else's set of revisions, and Ideomancer work, I will not get to play with Saturnalia.

But, y'know. I have been reading. I haven't been book reporting, but I've been reading.

This year's books, so far... )
#39 -- William Gibson, Pattern Recognition
#40 -- Jedediah Berry, The Manual of Detection
#41 -- Lisa Mantchev, Eyes Like Stars
#42 -- China Mieville, The City & the City (in progress)

I'm cutting these four most recent ones out for a reason. This is not to comment in any way on the stuff that comes before it, but these four books were and are freaking awesome. And I felt like I wanted to recognize that, since it's been a while since I've had a really good streak of books; books that were written for me, my kind of reader, that hit me in all the good places and made me think and chase down bits of thematics and feel smart when I caught them in my little butterfly net.

So. Recommended, in full, all four.
I was by the bookstore today after work, and one of the upshots of that visit is that both Clockwork Phoenix and Clockwork Phoenix 2 are available there now. Both have stories from me, "Bell, Book and Candle", and "Six" respectively, and the second anthology also has fiction from local heroes [livejournal.com profile] handful_ofdust and Stephen Barringer and less-local-but-still-Canadian hero Claude Lalumiere.

One of the other upshots of the visit is that I have The City and the City, Eyes Like Stars, and Spook Country in my bag. This is probably neither here nor there for you, though, unless you're [livejournal.com profile] lisamantchev, in which case I can has your book.

More after supper!
...this evening featured a giant Buddha Bowl with soba at Fresh with [livejournal.com profile] ginny_t and [livejournal.com profile] monkeyman, preceded by the purchase of both a fantastically girly black floaty skirt with ribbon hems (!) and a loaf of herbed Turkish bread from Cobs. Sadly, they are not making my lemon pepper Turkish loaf anymore. I lodged protest (read: made extremely sad puppy eyes) and will eat this other, inferior Turkish loaf tomorrow.

After dinner, it also featured getting my hot little hands on some ARCs from ChiZine Publications, which [livejournal.com profile] jack_yoniga kindly dropped off to me: Claude Lalumiere's Objects of Worship and Daniel Rabuzzi's The Choir Boats, both for review at Ideomancer. These books, even in ARC format, are crazy pretty. I'm looking forward.

The rest of the evening's been a muddle of Ideo mail and organization (we close to slush in two weeks, and switch to production mode for August to put together the September issue) and futsing around with Syberia, which is also crazy pretty. Pages, I think, need to wait until tomorrow. My inbox needs clearing, and so does my brain, and I have too many projects. And need to do something about that, sooner or later.

Goodnight, internet.
leahbobet: (gardening)
Home sick today, after two hours at work that convinced me I wasn't going to get through the six that came after them on my own steam. So today has been mostly an exercise in strong pain meds, napping those meds off, reading Robert Graves (so I felt like my useless ass was earning its oxygen a bit), a bit of halfhearted knitting, and some vague puttering around the apartment to tidy up things. This has really not been a day to write home about. The most exciting thing that happened is that I have a pea sprout coming up. Yes, that's all.

So yes. I'm reading Robert Graves. Specifically, Goodbye to All That, which has a lovely black and white photograph as a cover. I am stealing the appearance of this man, who I assume to be Graves, for a character somewhere.

So far, I find I like Robert Graves a lot more when he's telling a no shit, there I was story than when he's being *cough* *clear throat* The Memoirist. There is a palpable difference between the two voices. One is assumed, and one is real, and I think I like the real guy more.

Also, the differences between him and Vera Brittain, who was pretty much a direct contemporary (there are two years between them, now that I actually check, which surprised me because Graves's family and presentation thereof are so much more Victorian) are...fascinating. It's in social perception and writing style and what they choose to leave in and leave out; it's in detail and what's shown and what's ellided. I suspect these are mostly issues of class -- the upper class preserving certain Victorian habits and traditions versus the more modern Edwardian middle-class, where if you want to be with it, you have to hop on a different bell curve, that of modernism? But I'll need some more datapoints to really get that down.

(One or two more memoirs, I think, and then I have to go find some of the contemporary fiction. There is no better way to learn about an era than to find out what they were reading.)
I spent most of this evening avoiding my book tucked up in bed with my feet under the duvet, reading A Civil Campaign. This was impeccably soothing. I forgot about that clause in my contract wherein I read a certain minimum amount of fiction or I go insane. Fiction trucks are converging on the Casa and will resupply the populace in short order.

I am sort of taken aback at how Bujold's (somewhat?) reputation as a feel-good author matches with the methodical way she gives you enough to care about her characters and then dismantles them with sheerest efficiency (which is less this book than Mirror Dance, but they're sort of all one book). Part of that's the luxury of the well-written series; you can set things up in books one or two, build them through four or five more, and pay them off like a stunning blow to the head in book !whatsitnumber -- I'm thinking of Miles's letter in A Civil Campaign here, which sent me straight into tears, and wouldn't without all that raw context to work with.

(Tangentially, I haven't picked up Diplomatic Immunity yet, but I can kind of understand why the Miles books slowed/stopped/something. I can feel the downward trajectory of the structural arc there, the big structural arc. Part of it's the change in format: they go, by necessity, from military/space opera/caper books to whodunit/thriller plots to science fiction Regencies, and the other formats are harder to sustain. But the real tell? Everyone involved in those books has grown up, learned, developed their traumas, been utterly shattered by them, and picked up the pieces to the middle ground. They've found life. And that's...inevitably where the kinds of stories we tend to tell end.)

But anyways.

It makes me wonder if I'm going at this by the wrong end, in fact. If instead of carrying a big stick and writing dark little books, I should make like Sharon Shinn and Lois McMaster Bujold and write these popular books that appear light and fun on the surface, until you scratch them a few layers deep. Not just carry a big stick, but walk softly.

Because, y'know. Mirror Dance kicked just as many kinds of shit out of me as the end of Perdido Street Station. But I bet more people picked up Mirror Dance and the books before it and the books after, and kept on reading, and bared their bellies for that emotional shitkicking of their own will.
I'm reading The Dispossessed (please no spoilers, since I'm not yet finished) and have just noticed a terribly, terribly clever thing.

(Well, first off, it's another book that owes a great deal to the picaresque: Shevek's progress through two societies and all the elements thereof, his recasting as child to student to physicist to labourer to superstar to social revolutionary, used as a comment on those societies. And very much involved with the question of truly, this is the best of all possible worlds. I'm starting to wonder just how much of science fiction has those strains of Candide in it; how much is actually necessary for the form.)

One of Shevek's few discourses on actual physics and the theory of time he's always supposed to be working on is at a party where he gets very drunk. An industrialist straw-man character (sorry, he is) argues that clearly time is linear, and Shevek explains that time is perceived as linear, but is periodic, circular. That it's both at the same time.

So think about the actual structure of the book. It's in alternating chapters, present-past-present-past, telling the story of Shevek's time on Urras in the present and catching us up slowly on his childhood, education, life, and so forth on Anarres. Now, I have not yet finished reading, but I'm about 70 pages out from the end, and I have read much in my life, and I know how to feel the curve of a narrative structure under my hand. And that past-thread is going to come around again. It's going to return to the moment at which the present-day thread opened, bringing it new weight, bringing a sense of closure to the narrative.

It's going to circle.

So what we have here, folks, is a book about contradictions, about how time is both linear and periodic/circular, written with a structure that is both linear and periodic/circular.

That is a wicked smart subtle way to do your thing.
#8 -- John M. Ford, The Last Hot Time

This book, above and beyond keeping me up way too late for two nights in a row until I finished it, has illustrated a few things for me.

One is what [livejournal.com profile] mrissa (and others, clearly, but I see her talking about it most) terms "Minnesotan"; all the emotional content in The Last Hot Time is frozen about five inches below a layer of composure and distance. Not in a way that means the writer does not know how to connect up the emotion; it's quite deliberate, and there are clues to that in the way that its protagonist, Danny, who's later Doc, has a Worst Fear that involves losing control of his emotions. There's a sense that beneath the somewhat cool exterior, if you opened the right door or turned the right valve, there is a mess of emotion and motivation and hurt and joy that would explode so hard it would knock you five blocks southwards, and that's what drives this book. This is a book written at least halfway in the subtext, which too is thematic, being about a Chicago between a very different notion of Faerie and what's called The World. You have to work for this book, stretch out your hand some and meet it.

I like that.

The second thing? Is where my failure-to-connect, as a reader, is with the bulk of genre lit sex scenes. Because there are two sex scenes in this book -- one near the middle, and one at the end. And let me say, they are neither of them vanilla sex scenes. They're reasonably kinky if not hardcore, and they're not soft-focus, and they're important -- vital -- to the turn of the plot and characterization.

They are possibly the most loving sex scenes I've ever read. After the second, which closes the book? I, on instinct, hugged said book and cried a little. The good kind.

And I think, perhaps, this is why your generic Paranormal Urban Fantasy sex scene (yes, I know I pick on PUF a lot; you can throw most epic fantasy sex scenes in this particular bucket too, Kushiel's Dart and The Fires of Heaven and the early Dark Tower books and, I am told by my wonderful peoples, The Queen's Bastard, and we will not talk about horror sex since in horror sex is a different signifier than in fantasy) well, leaves me cold. They're just sex scenes, in a way. The emotional foundation of them -- and every scene between characters has an emotional foundation, doesn't matter if they're doing the dishes or having an orgy -- isn't love. It's usually...dominance. Or competition. Or fear-not-really-fear-maybe. Or anger. Sex is such a very competitive sport in fiction of late. I must say, my sex life (yes, kids, once upon a time Leah had a sex life) has never reflected that much foundation in negative things, in really bad reasons to be sleeping with somebody. And if it did? I'd be worried about why I was sleeping with that person and my good friends would hopefully perform an intervention. Sex based in dislike leaves me cold.

(And since it's so obviously fantasy fodder -- you know that precious few people, exposed to the reality of a relationship where all the intimacy was based in fear or anger or dominance or competition, would actually stay in that relationship. And that knowing makes everything in those books, the people and the plots and everything, less real to the reader.)

So in this space where there's a dearth of depictions of sex -- and remember, we're dealing with non-vanilla kinky sex here -- which is not ooh-naughty, not butterflies-and-flowers, but healthy, human, real people sex, there is this book. Which contains sex had by characters who are real and whole and care about each other's well-being in ways that don't have to be twisted and brooding and respect and like each other. And it is clear-eyed. The Last Hot Time is, yes, discussing greater thematic issues of power and in part using kink as a straight-line symbol for that (which is what most kink in genre books seems to be tied to, pun not intended). And if you think about it like that? I think having kinky bondage-oriented sex between people who love and respect each other before, during, and after? Makes a very strong statement about power and its use and its ethics.

Which is also what is lacking for me in most genre sex scenes.

Beyond all that, which is largely an intellectual-critical approach?

Having read this book, I wish I could have met the man who wrote it and bought him a drink or three.
January 18, 2009 Progress Notes:


Words today: 500.
Words total: 18,550.
Reason for stopping: This also took a few hours. I am a little scraped of words today, but that was the minimum amount required for me to justify my daily oxygen.

Books in progress: Robert Graves, The Long Week-end.
The glamour: I feel decidedly pukey today. I would sort of like some Indian for dinner, but the quease, my friends, the quease. Maybe I'll stick with toast. :/

#6 -- K.J. Parker, Shadow

Picked up after a recommendation on the trilogy from [livejournal.com profile] yhlee, and let me say, this book was awesome.

This is a book about a man who wakes up having lost his memory, and he may well be a god. Pretty standard SFF trope. Parker, however, is both playing out and complicating and commenting on and playing with it, and along with it, the whole notion of prophecy -- and identity for that matter. Our nameless protagonist -- soon Poldarn, after a god he first impersonates as part of a scam and then may well actually be -- sort of weaves his way between these concepts. People recognize him throughout the book, and nobody will tell him his name. When someone tells him his name -- two someones -- they lie. When someone else finally tells him his name, it's not a name he's been operating under for about 20 years, and who he's been in those 20 years is of vital importance. He's either fated to be a horrible person based on those 20 years, or possibly the embodiment of the apocalypse, and he's struggling with that in a very remote, odd, almost mathematically-minded way.

That's one of the things I liked about this one: Poldarn's literalness, his methodical nature. He's not an amnesiac who comes with battery included and sociopolitical awareness and knowledge of linguistic expressions. He's looking at the world through what seem to be fairly new eyes, and he's thus very...literal. And methodical. And finds a lot of things very weird about how the regular people in his war-torn, panicking world operate. He doesn't see the social significance in things all the time. His faintly Asperger's perspective makes that alienation feel very real, and the mental displacement that gives me as a reader is really neat.

Also, structurally this isn't too complicated, but there are enough dreams, enough hops into other people's lives, that by the end of book 1 I'm slowly putting together the implications of what's going on (plot implications in structure) and my head is nicely buzzy from having to do a little reaching to put things together.

So I am totally picking up books 2 and 3. So far, recommended.

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