On the Other Hand, Death, by Richard Stevenson (42/107)

(Hey harpijka, I finally read it!! :D)

So a friend of mine has been agitating for years that I should read the Donald Strachey series, seeing as how they’re “mystery with a gay” rather than “gay with a mystery,” of the torsos-on-the-cover variety, but they’re quite old (first one was published in 1979) and I’d been having trouble getting my hands on them.

Then I moved to California, and suddenly I’m in the same town as the Lavender Library, repository of all books gay, and holy cats, I thought I knew a thing or two about gay fiction but I’ve got nothing on them. And lo and behold, they’ve got the Strachey series — which is good, because I own books 2 and 4, but not books 1 and 3. ::le sigh::

Talkin’ bout books 1-3, no spoilers

Fledgling, by Octavia Butler (41/107)

I think my reading experience here suffered from a case of inflated expectations. I’d heard nothing but praise for Octavia Butler and so my expectation was that even if the subject matter wasn’t what turned my crank personally, this book would introduce ideas from outside my comfort zone and the writing itself would be excellent.

Instead it was… okay?

np, by Yoshimoto Banana (39/107)

Never thought I’d say this, but I actually prefer Yoshimoto Banana’s short-form fiction. She’s very good at sketching out characters’ lives in relatively few words, at evoking the dissonant push-pull of love when it doesn’t fit together quite right, but I’m not sure she has the substance to sustain longer works.

It should be said though, that np is wildly misrepresented by their design choices for the cover:

Pink and purple, swirly font for the title, a hip young woman looking boldly at the camera, “a mesmerizing novel of Japan’s Generation X” — this is chick lit, right?

No, it is a Gothic novel.

Black Blade Blues, by J.A. Pitts (38/107)

So I went out on a date, my first in like five months, I’m very proud of myself. I swear, I am catnip for bicurious straight dudes. We came back to my place and watched Dr Horrible and I beat him at Scrabble and sent him home. Then I settled in to read a book, and what I grabbed off the shelf was Black Blade Blues.

What follows is less of a review and more the commentary I was jotting down as I read, joined by my BFF as she wandered in drunk and started reading Judge Dredd comics for the first time. Recall that I promised to read at least 50 pages of a book before giving it up as a lost cause.

In which I pan a book, flow of consciousness style.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (37/107)

I started reading a John Updike book, because it sounded dystopic and vaguely relevant to the Dredd fic I’m writing. Made it about twenty pages before I was like, “Man, fucking boring old people.”

Then I picked up Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and found fucking AWESOME old people.

The Sparrow tells one story in two parallel timelines: when humans discovered that they weren’t alone in the universe and eight brilliant people set out to make first contact, and then decades later when the single broken survivor came limping home.

This book is brilliant.

Bastard out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison (36/107)

This book was excellent, and I never want to read it again. Rural poverty gives me the raging heebie jeebies, I don’t even know. This was 300 pages of helplessness and despair in a world where everything tastes like failure. I read it cover to cover.

And then today I sat down and wrote all damn day. I am four thousand words richer than when I woke up this morning.

Takeaway lesson from Bastard Out of Carolina: details. Details, details, details. To make it real, make it plausible, make it unique, make it immersive, make it sympathetic, to make it something the readers can believe every word of and lose themselves in. By rights, each and every character in that book should have been a stereotype, but the sheer amount of humanizing detail about these people and their lives made them much more than that.

Read it if you’re a writer, or if you like stories about fucked up Southern families.

Discontinued books — Anathem and As Meat Loves Salt (34,35/107)

Back in August I was telling one of my random hookups about my 107 books project and he asked, “Which one are you least looking forward to reading?” And my answer was, “Uhm… none of them?” Because I wouldn’t have bought them if I didn’t want to read them, right.

New answer: these two.

The Cobweb, by Neal Stephenson and some other dude (32/107)

So I came across this in the SFF section of a Half-Price Books and I was like, Holy smokes, a Neal Stephenson book that I’ve never even heard of before!? How can this be?? (Also, who is this J. Frederick George person?)

Well, because it’s not sci-fi/fantasy, it’s a dated political thriller. To wit: it has Bob Dole sitting down for lunch with Saddam Hussein.

I read about a third of it, because I do like Stephenson’s writing (man gives good metaphor), but ultimately political thrillers are not really my thing — particularly not ones that were intensely topical in the late nineties, when I was all of thirteen years old. Zodiac is a Stephenson book that has aged much better (and is a hell of a lot more fun), with only a handful of computer related moments that will have you going “bwuh…? o_O” and flipping to check the publication date.

In collaborative works it’s interesting to guess at who was responsible for what parts — in Good Omens, the Four Horsemen are so obviously Gaiman’s creation, as he indulges his horror-fantasy kink, and the kids being ~soooooo cute~ are all Pratchett. In Havemercy, a four-way split to the narration lends itself well to multiple authors, and I’m guessing they just took two apiece. (Jane Yolen and… Bruce Coville? also did an interesting YA book called Armageddon Summer that alternated chapters between two POV characters.)

In this case, I think Neal Stephenson wrote the whole thing and made up an imaginary friend for his co-author, because it all feels like him. In particular, feels like Reamde where *everything* is a gun on the table that’s going to come into play at the climax. (I’m almost tempted to finish The Cobweb just to satisfy a bet with myself, about whether the drunk Russians with the private plane are going to be important at the end. But given that this is Neal Stephenson we’re talking about, I don’t think anyone would take that bet.)

Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely (31/107)

Another pop psychology book of the genre I enjoy, the ones that look at human behavior and attempt to spot patterns, so that we can better understand why we do the things we do. This one has more of an economic focus than others I’ve read, specifically examining the logic (or illogic, as it turns out) behind various purchasing habits. This is less interesting to me than other kinds of human behavior analysis, but it did open my eyes to some superior marketing strategies that I might try out if I were keeping my shop open longer.

It had some sporadically cool insights, but it covered a lot of the same ground that Cialdini’s Influence did, and I think Cialdini did it better. Influence, Made to Stick, and Freakonomics are getting hauled along when I move again; Predictably Irrational is not.