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I also read Fade In, Michael Piller’s unpublished-but-available-online memoir about the creation of Star Trek: Insurrection, a movie that I’ve never even seen.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.

Recently Read, Prose (4/29/13)

books

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 (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.

Recently Read, Prose (7/9/12)

The joy of a week with a day off in the middle is that you can get a lot more reading done, it seems; I’m as surprised as you are that I managed to get through all of the above in such a short time, but there you go (Then again, considering I ripped through G. Willow Wilson’s wonderful Alif The Unseen in about five hours yesterday, completely sucked in and wanting to find out what happened next, maybe it’s not so surprising; it’s a very good book, by the way. I said to Kate that it’s maybe a little too ambitious for its own good, but goddamn if that ambition doesn’t make it compelling stuff).

Both Time and Chance and What Becomes were, in their own ways, disappointments. I remember loving AL Kennedy’s fiction years ago, when I lived in Scotland, but either my tastes or her writing have changed, and this book of short stories left me unmoved and frustrated by the weight of her prose. The Brennert, meanwhile, ended up annoying me; the book, in theory, gives two different versions of the same man a chance to take the road less taken for a short while, but it felt so weirdly biased in the direction of one of those versions that I couldn’t take it seriously after awhile.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was also kind of disappointing; Jenny Lawson’s blog is hilarious, but she tries to keep up the same intensity in this memoir, and it’s exhausting – Blogging and longer-form prose are different beasts, and I found myself wishing that her editor had pushed her to slow down, and to try and come up with something less in-your-face more often, if only for variety’s sake.

Both Four Letter Word and Otherwise Known As The Human Condition were enjoyable enough; the former fell prey to the anthology problem of only being as entertaining as the participant you’re reading, as the conceit (fictional love letters) wasn’t exactly strong enough to overwhelm what might’ve otherwise felt unfinished, and the latter is something I read as much through curiosity of wanting to read more culture essays because of my Time gig than anything else, although it ended up making me want to read even more of them, which is some kind of victory.

And so, then, to the old favorites. I’ve reached the point in Rucka’s Kodiak novels where I lost interest/enjoyment the first time through (Patriot Acts, not Shooting at Midnight), but at least this time I know why – I’ll save that for a post about the series when I finish The Walking Dead, though – and the Star Trek novel was as entertaining as I wanted/needed it to be, which is damning with faint praise far more than it deserves; of all the Trek I’ve been reading lately, the Deep Space Nine cycle is the most interesting, and the most well-written, by some distance.

Recently Read, Prose (6/22/12)

Apparently, I take more time to read good books than trashy books; the Rucka novels took a few days each – part of that, though, was also that the start of the week is heavier workwise and leaves me with less time to read – but the Star Trek book I ripped through in a couple of evenings despite it being longer than either Finder or Smoker. Go figure.

I will, at some point, write something about the trilogy of Keeper, Finder and Smoker; re-reading them this time, one right after the other, I realized that there’s a really clear narrative arc in the three books that I hadn’t realized before, with Rucka playing with expectations in the last of the three after shaping them in the first two – Plus, I had forgotten about Erika, one of the Kodiak series’ main characters, almost entirely until this re-read, and now I’m weirdly obsessed with her. So, when I have more time and/or brainspace, that’ll happen for sure.

The Trek book was… eh, pretty crappy, really; I would’ve given up more than once, but had nothing else to read and saw it through to an end that was, indeed, bitter. Normally, Peter David’s Trek books have more pace and humor to them, but this was a leaden, self-important thing that trudged on and made the reader earn every chapter up until the last third or so.

And In The End

But this is, for me, also about the adjustment away from the weekly and daily deadlines I’ve been on for the last twenty years.  Now I actually have a little bit of time to do something other than write scripts.  Not that’s made me a better blogger, oddly enough — I was more productive on warrenellis.com when I was writing eight things at once than I am now.  Funny how that’s worked out.  Presumbly a result of a mind being overclocked in pursuit of getting all the words out now now now now.

That’s Warren Ellis, from his latest MACHINE VISION (It’s all in caps, apparently) email newsletter, quoted because… Well, because it’s a Friday afternoon and it’s been a long week (I didn’t have the holiday Monday that regular folk did; freelancer, you see), and because I am all too familiar with the mindset of getting all the words out now now now now. It’s something I’ve been struggling with, recently, the problem of (a) meeting deadlines, (b) writing a lot of stuff without it all becoming mush – I’ve really had problems with that this week, and feel like I screwed up at least a couple of times – and most importantly for me, (c) stopping afterwards. What I’ve found myself doing is being trapped in this loop of just feeling constant… anxiety isn’t the right word, but as if my brain is a train that refuses to stop, even though I want to get off. It takes too long to calm down, which is a problem.

Weirdly enough, I’ve discovered that Star Trek novels work; they do something that somebody smart enough to know these things once told me: They give your brain enough to distract it, but not enough to actually tax it, so you get to decelerate and, if you’re lucky, stop every now and again.

Plus, now I can tell you all about the Thallonian Empire and what happened to the crew of Deep Space 9 after the series finished, which is something.