Recently Read, Prose (9/17/13)

booksseptI haven’t done one of these in the longest time — blame my increasingly busy work (over-)load — and can’t really remember what I’ve read in the recent months since I last did one. Theoretically, I could simply look up my “Recently Borrowed” list on the libary’s website and make an educated guess, but instead I’ll declare a do-over and just list the books I read this past weekend. Sorry, everything that fell into that four month limbo!

Brian Stelter’s Top of the Morning was a book that I’d been really looking forward to — I like his work on the New York Times’ media beat a lot, and find the whole weird world of American morning television politics both fascinating and funny, so this seemed like the ideal book for me. Sadly, it wasn’t, and it ultimately comes down to Stelter’s writing, which read like it needed a stronger editor — he kept going back to the same tics (especially comparing a big event to a big sporting event, without any context because obviously everyone gets boxing references, right?), and was clearly more comfortable with shorter prose than something as long as this book. It’s not a bad book, but it’s one that could’ve been a lot better with just a little more time spent on refining it.

The Aimee Bender anthology, meanwhile, is as good as you’d expect from her. It’s also… sadder, perhaps? More melancholy? It felt darker, and lonelier, than I am used to, for some reason. Or, perhaps, it could be that there wasn’t the balance of melancholy and wonder that I’ve come to expect from her. Nevertheless, that’s all on me; I loved this collection, as I’ve loved all of her work. Aimee Bender’s awesome, you guys.

That said, maybe she’s not as awesome as Questlove? Mo Meta Blues was a wonderfully fun, wonderfully readable book, a memoir about a life filled with music that is just filled with joy and wonder and makes you want to listen to all the music he mentions (It gave me a serious Prince jones, of all things). I sped through this one, starting it on Saturday evening and finishing it before lunch on Sunday; it was just that enjoyable, that un-put-down-able.

I also read Fade In, Michael Piller’s unpublished-but-available-online memoir about the creation of Star Trek: Insurrection, a movie that I’ve never even seen. It was a curious read, because it’s essentially a tell-all about the way in which a movie can start as one thing, then end up as something entirely different (and arguably not as good) written by someone entirely complicit in all the changes and who isn’t outraged by them. It’s… Sad, but telling, might be the best way to describe it. You can tell that Piller did what he thought was best given the circumstances, but you can also feel his frustration about those circumstances at the same time. Weirdly compelling, even if you’ve never seen the movie like me.

A Kurt Power Novel

Kurt Power was Niles Golan’s signature character, a no-nonsense private eye and ex-lawyer who, on the days when he wasn’t solving cases involving serial killers, consulted for the police and anti-terrorist forces. He was divorced, with a drink problem and – the clever touch Niles was most proud of – an autistic six-year-old daughter, whose unique insights often provided the key to a difficult case.

In The Fictional Man, every now and again, writer Al Ewing will drop in the title of one of his lead character’s novels into the narrative. Here, thanks to the wonders of searchable Kindle books, are the collected Kurt Power works of Niles Golan (that we know of):

Pudding and Pie: A Kurt Power Novel
Down to The Woods Tonight: A Kurt Power Novel
The Saladin Imperative: A Kurt Power Novel
Power of Attorney: A Kurt Power Novel
Murder Force: A Kurt Power Novel
Edge of Doomsday: A Kurt Power Novel
Pocketful of Posies: A Kurt Power Novel
Little Pig, Little Pig, Let Me Come In: A Kurt Power Novel
The Moon Comes Out As Bright As Day: A Kurt Power Novel
Eye of The Scimitar: A Kurt Power Novel
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: A Kurt Power Novel

In a perfect world, there would be garish fan art for these books already.

Recently Read, Prose (5/6/13)

fictionalmanI knew, going in, that I’d like The Fictional Man by Al Ewing; I like him a lot as a comic writer – His Zombo with Henry Flint in 2000AD currently is, without exaggeration, some of my favorite comics in years, smart and funny and self-aware without breaking from the melodramatic “sci-fi adventure” genre that the anthology specializes in – and the central concept, of a man in a world where clones of fictional characters exist, sounded promising. I didn’t know that I’d have such a strong reaction to it.

As I wrote in an email to a friend this morning, it’s not a perfect novel, but in a lot of ways, what frustrated me about it also worked for me in some strange way. It feels too short, and at least two threads feel as if they’re abandoned rather than fully developed, but even in that, I found myself reminded of writers who were once central to my idea of entertainment: Terry Southern (especially his The Magic Christian and Candy), Kurt Vonnegut’s earlier, pulpy and just a little sloppy work.

The central idea is, of course, not a million miles away from something Philip K. Dick would come up with, but the execution is more humanist and optimistic than Dick was capable of, I think (Yet something that still hangs on the idea of personal revelation and everything you know is wrong in some way, too). And outside of prose, I could sense Howard the Duck-era Steve Gerber in there, both in some of the more over-the-top media parody material, but also the humanism and embrace of the outsider and the freak.

There’s a lot to chew on in this book; more than it really lets itself chew on, perhaps – to say more would be to spoil the book, and I really don’t want to, because I want you all to go buy it. But this book left me feeling the same way that Dick, Vonnegut and Southern did, way back when, and for that alone, I’ll always love it.

Recently Read, Prose (4/29/13)

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I’m way behind on keeping track on the books I’ve been reading so far this year, but here’re the ones I remember from the last few weeks. Of particular note are Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Life Itself, both of which I finished this weekend; one a wonderful mystery novel by Maria Semple, the other the late Roger Ebert’s memoir, both were filled with such kindness and humanism that it was both overwhelming and utterly charming, renewing my faith in human nature in a way that I didn’t realize I needed.

(Of the other books, both The Story of The Streets and The End of Men were disappointing in their own ways, and the Star Trek novels were entirely enjoyable in the fun Cold War analog way that they’ve created in recent books. Marvel Comics The Untold Story was an accidental re-read, and Moranthology felt weirdly random and made me think about e-book collections of my writing, again. One day. One… day…)

Recently Read, Prose (3/2/13)

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Yeah, I’m not quite sure what happened to my reading habits this month; I have the feeling that there are books that I’ve read and entirely forgotten in there, for some reason – I normally read more than this, even with the amount of work/stress and everything that’s been going on [UPDATE: I did, indeed, forget something: Sasha Issenberg’s Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, which was more dry than I’d been looking for]. Admittedly, there’s the book I still haven’t finished yet – Hana Rosin’s wonderful The End of Men – that could kinda/sorta be counted, I guess? Otherwise, though, as you can tell, I’ve been leaning heavily on the “Decompression Pulp” this month – El Sombra by Al Ewing being some kind of genius example of the idea, and a ridiculously fun, intentionally trashy story of one man who has barely escaped certain death out for revenge against, essentially steampunk Nazis; it’s really rather great – and trying out Star Wars novels for the first time ever because the high concept of Scoundrels (Pretty much “Hey, it’s Ocean’s Eleven, but Han Solo is George Clooney!”) is somewhat irresistible (The novel is slightly more resistible, it has to be said; it’s not bad, but it’s also nowhere near as fun as it should be).

Supergods was a re-read for work, but also spun out of reading an ARC of Glen Weldon’s really great Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, which I loved when I read and find myself appreciating even more the more I think about it afterwards. It’s the tone, I think; it’s just so very right for something like this. The End of The Line book was a light read because I was in the mood for some good punchy political writing, which this… isn’t, really. It’s another “almost, but not quite” entry. Basically, I find it difficult to wait for the inevitable “Definitive Book of The 2012 Election” to come along. I mean, we’re due one soon, right…?

Recently Read, Prose (2/4/13)

I keep going back and forth about whether or not to include this book on the list; on the one hand, there’s a chunk of prose in there, but on the other, it’s essentially an art book with commentary. Feel free to make your own decisions, dear reader. I’m also convinced that there’s at least one book that I’ve read in the last month that I’m forgetting, which is just another reminder that I should really make lists of this kind of thing in future.

Nonetheless; you can tell from the Mike Carey books that I’m on the lookout for more light/decompressing reading material. Carey’s “Felix Castor” series of supernatural noir fit the bill – I finished the last two off in three days, all told, they were so easy to get through – but they’re done, now, and I’m off looking for the next thing, whatever that might be. Of the three non-fiction books, Extra Virginity proved to be a particular let down, with the author seeming more interested in establishing his bona fides than actually writing a compelling book, but both Hedy’s Folly and Boss Rove were solid reads. The latter made me want to find out more about the Valerie Plame affair, but I’m shying away from reading the memoirs of anyone actually involved for some reason…

Recently Read, Prose (1/1/13)

This basically constitutes what I laughingly refer to as my “vacation reading,” although my vacation actually only lasted four days. But these are the books that I can remember reading over the last couple of weeks – Annoyingly, I know there’s at least one other that I don’t remember the name of (It was another book about US politics) in there, and at least a couple of other Star Trek books, too (I pretty much finished Peter David’s New Frontier series, for one thing). The Star Trek: The Next Generation trilogy was actually my vacation reading; light-but-not-too-light, and perfect for decompressing on my days off, with the right tone to make them faithful to the show but interesting and full of idea enough to make them worth reading (Note for hardcore Trekkies: Those upset that Data died in the last movie might want to pick up at least the first book). I actually ended up really appreciating the way that Mack structured the trilogy as essentially three standalone books with common themes and a b-plot that ends up tying them together, too. Yes, I’m a process wonk that way.

Of the three non-fiction books above, We Killed ended up being disappointingly scattered and without any real editorial viewpoint, making for a read that left me wanting. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, meanwhile, was actually overly familiar in its subject matter and didn’t offer enough new insights to overcome that, but Suffering Succotash was a joy to read – An investigation into “picky eaters” written with a sense of humor and smarts that made it all flow by quickly and happily.

I’ve seen people online write about their desire to try to read a book a week in 2013 – or, crazily, a book a day – and it strikes me that I already managed that, or a little-bit-more, in 2012. Here’s to trying to keep that rate of reading up this year.

Recently Read, Prose (11/27/12)

It’s been a long time since I did this, so this is a list nowhere near complete. In fact, this is just the pile of recently-finished books on my bedside table right now (plus a couple that I Kindled; Why Romney Lost and 47 Percent are digital-only releases, I think); if I were to do a complete list, there’d be a couple more Star Trek books, at least, plus maybe some Jonathan Carroll and Alexander McCall Smith, perhaps? I can’t remember what I’ve been reading beyond these things, I admit it. As you can tell, post-election, I got into a mood for reading some politics, all of which were fun and instructive beyond telling me about their subject (I fancy writing some longform non-fiction at some point, if I can find an appropriate subject and a way to pay for it; reading longform political writing is like going to school for that kind of thing). The Gene Wilder and William Gibson books were both surprising, in their way; the Wilder one, surprising in how much I enjoyed it, and the Gibson in how much I didn’t.

Hopefully, I’ll have the time/brainspace to do these posts more often again. I like keeping track of things like this.

Recently Read, Prose (9/25/12)

In addition to the regular diet of Star Trek novels to help my brain decompress – Warning, that Star Trek: New Earth series isn’t nearly as fun as you want it to be – this week, I’ve also been reading Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman, a book that I cannot recommend enough. Wonderfully funny, bold and just plain fucking smart, I’ve heard a lot of people here in the US describe it as “The British Bossypants,” which – Well, I know what they’re trying to say, but it does How To Be A Woman an amazing disservice. For one thing, it’s more of a coherent book than Tina Fey’s, and it also has more to say – It’s trying to educate and argue as much as make you laugh, even though it’s at least as funny as Fey’s book. I really, really loved it, and I hope that the attention it got here in America around its long-overdue launch will make Moran well-known and much-loved over here, as well as in the UK.

Recently Read, Prose (9/17/12)

The plus of the quasi-vacations I’ve just had: A chance to catch up on reading (The Star Trek: New Frontier book, you’ll be unsurprised to know, was the book I read at home on the Monday I worked between trips to Washington and Southern Oregon. Decompression books are decompression books, dear reader). The much-discussed Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs book was a disappointment, in that it skipped over a lot of what I wanted to read about – His wilderness years – and made me almost immeasurably dislike Jobs even as the author fell in love with him, and the Jonathan Carroll collection of short stories that I’d been waiting so long to read also felt unsatisfying, in part because there’s such a similarity in themes and ideas that his words quickly become repetitious and dull, which should never be the case.

That Rick Bowers book about the Adventures of Superman radio show taking on the KKK, though. It’s a very quick read, but for some reason, it’s stuck in my head as something to use as a model for future projects. I just need to work out how.