Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Light reading catch-up (travel edition)

All Kindle, all the time: Steve Hamilton's The Lock Artist and Peter Dickinson's Tears of the Salamander (both excellent - Hamilton and Dickinson are consistently very good, these books are no exception), four highly implausible but fairly literately written thrillers by Michelle Gagnon, Sherwood Smith's Coronets and Steel, Holly Black's White Cat (I particularly enjoyed this one - the world it's set in is quite reminiscent of Robin McKinley's Sunshine, a book I love), Liza Marklund's The Bomber (interesting and appealing if not up to the standard of Indridason, Nesbo and a couple other of my recent favorites).

Homecoming linkage

Very relieved to be back in one place (Cayman).

The lung ailment is finally on the wane - my mother handed me last Wednesday in Philadelphia a bottle of the disgustingly titled and disgustingly effective Mucinex, and I am continuing to pop the tabs twice daily in hopes of banishing the last of the EVIL PHLEGM from my airways. I might even go for a short easy swim later, though really I will wait for tomorrow to return to exercise (I'm still coughing quite a bit) - it has been a horrible three-week exercise deprivation, with high costs for my morale and mental health as well as for my physical fitness...

Miscellaneous linkage:

At the Washington Post, Monica Hesse on Laura Hillenbrand's ongoing battle with chronic fatigue syndrome (read this piece if you are, like me, a writer feeling unduly sorry for yourself and full of self-dislike at not having written enough recently!).

How Charlie Williams' insanely good Royston Blake novels came to see the light of day.

The maraschino cherry bee crisis!

More Invisible Things reviews: ReaderGirls; The Hiding Spot; Book Chic. And another reader starts (sensibly!) with The Explosionist (alas, something that I could do nothing about is that the cover of Invisible Things pretty much completely omits the fact that it is a sequel - I made sure to do what I could do make the novel a free-standing self-sufficient narrative, but I think it is a pity not to read the earlier book first, in fact really they are probably best thought of as one long continuous narrative).

As this post has unduly elongated itself, I think I will put the light reading catch-up in a separate post. I've also just spent an hour looking through this year's blog for a "my year in reading" post for a literary blog I admire - interesting to contemplate, though counterintuitive to write it in November, as I will hope to have a good month of reading still to come...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reeling and writhing and fainting in coils

Yesterday was the official publication date for Invisible Things, but nothing really happened, I was traveling from Ottawa to Philadelphia and found when I arrived at my mother's house here that there were a lot of copies of the finished book waiting for me in boxes but also a palpable absence in the 'person' of my dear departed cat Blackie, who died here in May - I guess I haven't been back to the house since, and I was slightly overwhelmed by feeling.


Also I still have a lung ailment and an excess of sputum, a term I have switched to after having exhausted the expressive and comic potential of the word phlegm.

Some more self-promotion of a sort:

Erica was kind enough to do an interview with me for The Book Cellar.

A giveaway and interview at Adventures in Children's Publishing.

Liviania at In Bed With Books had mixed feelings about the book.

It is an exercise in masochism to link to this review, but if you need a schadenfreudian pick-me-up you can read it and feel my pain! I think the only thing I can do is go on and write another novel...

Friday, November 19, 2010

A cup of tea

I can't find a good source for it, and I apologize in advance for copyright infringement, but Mapplethorpe's portrait of Marianne Faithfull will perhaps serve as some minor redress for the interview I linked to previously....

(Picture reproduced from this site via Google Images.)

"Now I know how Joan of Arc felt"

I read the first third or so of Patti Smith's Just Kids with increasing hardness of heart. I had thoughtlessly imagined I would love the book, but in fact I am not its ideal reader - I have never idealized Baudelaire and Rimbaud, I find Art irksome (as opposed to the hard yet playful discipline of craft or making things). Patti Smith seems to me to reside at the horrible intersection of the trajectories of Jim Morrison and Susan Sontag BOTH OF WHOM I LOATHE!

A good example of the sort of passage in the opening pages that just makes me shake my head and throw up my hands in temperamental disaffinity:
Where does it all lead? What will become of us? These were our young questions, and young answers were revealed.

It leads to each other. We become ourselves.

For a time Robert protected me, then was dependent on me, and then possessive of me. His transformation was the rose of Genet, and he was pierced deeply by his blooming. I too desired to feel more of the world. Yet sometimes that desire was nothing more than a wish to go backward where our mute light spread from hanging lanterns with mirrored panels. We had ventured out like Maeterlinck's children seeking the bluebird and were caught in the twisted briars of our new experiences.

Robert responded as my beloved twin. His dark curls merged with the tangle of my hair as I shuddered tears. He promised we could go back to the way things were, how we used to be, promising me anything if I would only stop crying.
Ugh! It is intolerable!

I stopped feeling so antagonistic around midpoint, though. There are glimpses even in the first third or so of a more appealing insight and self-awareness (the description of her own response to seeing Jim Morrison perform is spectacular - "I felt both kinship and contempt for him. I could feel his self-consciousness as well as his supreme confidence" - and I also love the notion of Robert Mapplethorpe having to purchase the porn magazines he used for his collages while they were still sealed and returning to their room at the Chelsea hotel to "unseal the cellophane with the expectation of Charlie peeling back the foil of a chocolate bar in hopes of finding a golden ticket"). A bit more of a sense of humor develops as Smith narrates the trials and tribulations of her early attempts to perform before a crowd (it is not one of the more humorous books I have ever read, however, and it compares very poorly in this and other respects to Keith Richards' autobiography - the main mention of Keith Richards here, I note in passing, is in the admittedly compelling yet depressing and perhaps inadvertently hilarious scene in which Smith attains social prominence in the Max's Kansas City circle by giving herself Keith Richards' haircut!).

Patti Smith is an artist of the body, that is what it comes down to - she expresses her frustration with writing ("it wasn't physical enough"), it is force of will and personal charisma that lead to her success as a musical performer (and I still think that the cover of Horses is a greater collaborative creation than anything on the album - in the 1920s she would have been an Isadora Duncan, she is that sort of innovator). She says elsewhere of Mapplethorpe "Robert was concerned with how to make the photograph, and I with how to be the photograph" - this seems to me a fair description. But the love for Mapplethorpe and the way the book works as an elegy, these are very unusual and striking, I will grudgingly admit that I was won over by the end...

Making fly girls blush

More from Paul Devlin on transcription errors in a recent anthology of rap.


Some of the stranger entries in the latest Guinness Book of World Records.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A resolution

I know it is so impractical, it is bad enough having one book unrevised let alone two, but if I get back from Thanksgiving and find myself still utterly languishing at the thought of revising the little book on style, which needs a thorough reframing and reimagining before it goes back out into the world, I am going to buckle down (notwithstanding need to write many letters of recommendation) and draft as much as I can of "The Bacchae on Morningside Heights." I was longingly eyeing NaNoWriMo, only I knew November would not be the month, but it would be highly worthwhile to get 30-50,000 words of a novel down on paper before my sabbatical is over; I think I must do it....


At Largehearted Boy, Martin Millar's playlist for Lonely Werewolf Girl sequel Curse of the Wolf Girl, which I cannot wait to read but which I must wait for until I am either (a) back in the continental U.S. or (b) able to get it electronically. In my opinion Martin Millar is a Genius of Literature...

Glory bumps, vowel movements

I have nothing in particular either for or against the Rolling Stones: you heard a lot of 'em, one way or the other, growing up in Philadelphia in the 70s and 80s with classic rock playing on the radio in cars and restaurants and elsewhere, but they've never been a band I've listened to seriously. But Keith Richards' Life is superb. There is something interesting or captivating or striking on every page (Mick and Keith as Aubrey and Maturin from Patrick O'Brian's books; Keith musing with Paul McCartney on a beach in the Turks and Caicos on creating inflatable dog kennels with patterns to match the breeds within - spotted for Dalmatians, etc. etc. etc.).

(Why didn't I spend the early 70s doing pharmaceutical-grade cocaine, writing songs and driving speedboats hither and thither across the Mediterranean, the Long Island Sound and various other bodies of water?)

A sample of the sort of thing the musically inclined will find irresistible:
I asked Johnnie Johnson, how did "Sweet Little Sixteen" and "Little Queenie" get written? And he said, well, Chuck would have all these words, and we'd sort of play a blues format and I would lay out the sequence. I said, Johnnie, that's called songwriting. And you should have had at least fifty percent. I mean, you could have cut a deal and taken forty, but you wrote those songs with him. He said, I never thought about it that way; I just sort of did what I knew. Steve and I did the forensics on it, and we realized that everything Chuck wrote was in E-flat or C-sharp--piano keys! Not guitar keys. That was a dead giveaway. These are not great keys for guitar. Obviously most of these songs started off on piano and Chuck joined in, playing on the barre with his huge hands stretching across the strings. I got the sense that he followed Johnnie Johnson's left hand!
(It is slightly a pity that we are not in the near future, really the Kindle edition of this book - which was what I read - should have clips of all the chords and musical examples.)

And an early passage that caught my attention, thematically appropriate given the fact that I have an ongoing horrible bronchial ailment involving much phlegm that will not go away (it is making me wretched), a passage I feel certain no other reviewer will have quoted thus far (it describes an early flatmate):
Phelge was a serious flobber. Mucus from every area he could summon up. He loved to walk into a room with a huge snot hanging out of his nose and dribbling down his chin, but otherwise be perfectly charming. "Hello, how are you? And this is Andrea, and this is Jennifer..." We had names for all different kinds of flob: Green Gilberts, Scarlet Jenkins. There was the Gabardine Helmsman, which is the one that people aren't aware of; they snot it and it hangs on their lapel like a medal. That was the winner. Yellow Humphrey was another. The Flying V was the one that missed the handkerchief. People were always having colds in those days; things were always running out of their noses and they didn't know what to do with them. And it can't have been cocaine; it was a little too early. I think it was just bad English winters.
(Vision of alternate universe in which Sylvia Plath encountered Keith Richards that winter...)

Chatty fingers

I'll be doing a live web chat this evening from 5-6pm EST at inkpop - join me there if you find yourself at a loose end...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Books, covers

Colleen Mondor throws down the gauntlet! Her beef is with the cover of The Explosionist - here's the link to the underlying cover contest at Bookshelves of Doom, which challenges readers to produce new cover art for a handful of books (including mine) whose covers were too "generic and girly" for teenage boys to be seen reading them!

I don't have strong opinions on covers myself, having read some huge proportion of the total number of books consumed in my life in library bindings. But it is true, the covers for The Explosionist and Invisible Things haven't been what I initially imagined.

The mental picture I had before the first book was ever accepted for publication was something more like the amazing Prokhudin-Gorskii photographic archive (the pictures are from Russia c. 1900, but taken with an unusual and uncanny color process that makes them really like nothing else on earth - you get the feel of it with the one I've included here):

I like the misty colors on the cover of Piers Vitebsky's superb book The Reindeer People:

I guess that without really thinking about it (I am not a visual person) I imagined a cover built around something like the old photos of Edinburgh buildings and street scenes - something more like this - capturing the panoramic feel of the city, and its vertical range...

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table

A must-read: Ed Park at Bookforum on the Chicago Manual of Style.

(I too have a special relationship with the famed fourteenth edition, due to my brief tenure as managing editor at the now-defunct Yale Journal of Criticism, and strong opinions on hyphenation...)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Light reading catch-up (more Kindle)

Another novel from the heavenly pen of Ken Bruen, The Devil.

Sigrid Nunez' lovely novel (could have been published as YA!) Salvation City; she is always worth reading, this one is startlingly different in tone and subject matter from the last book of hers I read but it is of a kind I very much like.

Camilla Lackberg's The Ice Princess: not bad but a bit so-so.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes's Raised By Wolves, highly readable but built more on a paranormal romance chassis than on a young-adult or urban fantasy one.

And a non-Kindle tome: Jilly Cooper's Jump. Not a patch on the best of her earlier books, but still an enjoyable read. It is no discredit to the book as a whole to say that she writes animal characters particularly well, and that the star of the cast is a goat!

I continue to languish in bed with a highly undesirable and glumness-inducing lung ailment...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Declining and falling

At the New York Press, Adam Rathe on the history of indie publisher Soft Skull (via The Rumpus).

A strange business

At the LRB, Julian Barnes on Lydia Davis's Flaubert:
There is a slightly pretentious term in wine tasting and wine writing called ‘mouthfeel’. (It is also slightly baffling: where else might you feel wine if not in your mouth? On your foot?) The Oxford Companion to Wine calls it a ‘non-specific tasting term, used particularly for red wines, to indicate those textural attributes, such as smoothness, that produce tactile sensations on the surface of the oral cavity’. There is similar mouthfeel about translation. Its general development over the last century and more has been away from smoothness and towards authenticity, away from a reorganising interpretativeness which aims for the flow of English prose, towards a close-reading fidelity – enjoy those tannins! – which seeks to echo the original language.


An interview with me at Creative Writing Now about research and world-building in alternate history.

(I am laid low with a bad chest cold that is making me extremely glum...)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Trey-eight revolve 'em"

An absolutely fascinating piece by Paul Devlin at Slate on transcription errors in a new anthology of rap. It could usefully be read by people editing Shakespeare plays...

Three weeks

until the official publication of Invisible Things.

Here's an early review (the discussion in the comments thread makes me laugh and shake my head - authors have no control over covers!), and I'll post links as other stuff comes up, including entries in the forthcoming Traveling to Teens blog tour.

I won't be blogging regularly at the site I used for The Explosionist, as it seems to me to make more sense to consolidate my efforts here, but I'll probably use the sidebar there to keep track of interviews and online reviews. I've also just posted the author's note over there, as it wasn't included in the ARCs that went out this summer.

(I am pleased to know that US residents can pre-order a Kindle edition!)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Avenging disco Romanovs

I love Cintra Wilson's Critical Shopper columns...

Light reading catch-up (Kindle edition)

The device itself continues to suit me extremely well, with the caveat that it is surprising and frustrating how many books aren't available for Kindle. Still plenty to read, I guess: but I will be glad when rights stop being sold in specific territories and electronic editions can be sold internationally....

Connie Willis's All Clear started off as a bit of a disappointment. I liked the first installment immensely, but I was unpersuaded by the first half of All Clear that this really needed to be a separate novel: the scenes of anxiety about London bombings, shelters, finding one's friends, etc. are compelling individually but when repeated cumulatively have more the feeling of an actual bad dream than of a novel; there is too little narrative shaping for my taste. The last third or so of the book is superb, though, and the conclusion is hugely emotionally gratifying, in a way that perhaps partly depends on the nightmarish aspect of the first part of the book; I just wonder whether there would have been some way to cut/edit the full manuscript so that it would have been a single long novel in one volume and without the relative longueurs of the first part of the second installment.

Arnaldur Indridason's Hypothermia is absolutely excellent, pretty much the pinnacle of what this sort of fiction ought to be: I really, really enjoyed it.

Sara Paretsky's Body Work felt a bit formulaic; she has perhaps written this book too many times before, and yet it is still a highly readable book...

Michael Connelly, The Reversal. I approached it without huge enthusiasm, it was more just something that was available that seemed sensible to load onto the device as a precaution, but I found it very good; I'm hoping that there may be a further installment of the tale, it seems to leave off with the opening for a sequel. I like it when authors of longtime series mix things up a bit; the alternating points of view work very well here, I think, and you always feel with Connelly that you are in the hands of a professional, in the best possible way.

Ake Edwardsson, The Shadow Woman (the 2010 publication date on this one misled me - I hadn't read it before, but it falls quite early in the series, giving an annoying backwards feeling to the series-driven reader): not bad, but not nearly up to the Indridason standard.

Ken Bruen, The Sanctuary: A Novel. Jack Taylor discovers Xanax! Seriously, though, Ken Bruen is a huge favorite of mine, and this is an extremely compelling installment in what is probably his most mainstream-mystery-type series. Very good writing indeed - makes my mouth water with envy, I wish I could write books like this....