Let’s face it – I find most of the things I read on the web at Longreads, Tor.com or via my Twitterfeed. Here’s some of what I read this week, thanks to all of you:
And here’s Chuck Wendig, with a humorous and profane list of 25 Things Writers should Stop Doing Now.
Happy Fourth of July, U.S. Friends!
I am about a third of the way into The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and have only just reached the first gory corpse in Patrick O’Brian’s Red Rain.
Neither book is completely doing it for me: The House of Wisdom is good, but I seem to be absorbing it in small chunks. I feel predisposed to extreme pickiness, to feeling dissatisfaction with the books I’m tackling. I’m not sure there’s much wrong with them, but we definitely aren’t playing well together.
I’ll note that this all started well before I started busily bustin’ words for my WriteAThon commitment. On which note, some braggage:
Tuesday – 1,464 for a total of 28,887
Monday – 1,146 for a total of 27,423
Sunday- 850 words, total of 26,277
Saturday – 1,280 words total of 25,427
Sponsor me here! Win naming rights to stuff on Stormwrack! The number of donors in the pool tripled this week, but the odds of winning the draw are still excellent!)
Okay, back to my point, which is books. Reading for pleasure. The delights of the written word. What has been working for me, in terms of reading, is some of the stuff on the ever-delightful Longreads–I read a good piece on a tornado that ripped through Moscow, Ohio, and a New Yorker article about how having pots of money (or even thinking about it) can affect a person’s capacity for empathy or generosity.
So yay Longreads, and all that, but I am still struggling to sink into a good book-length work, fiction or non-fiction, that I haven’t already read. Has this ever happened to any of you?
Here are a couple passages from American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, and the Birth of Hollywood, by Howard Blum, that are witty and really capture character:
It was well known that the detective and Rogers detested each other with the long-standing ill will that only the self-absorbed can find the patience to sustain.
Billy despised anarchists. In his long career he had arrested murderers, thieves, swindlers and crooked politicians, but he had a singularly deep, visceral hatred for anarchists. He thought they “lived without any regard for a single decent thing in life.” “They exist in a state of free love, are notoriously unfaithful to their mates thus chosen, and are so crooked that even in this class of rogues, there does not seem to be any hint of honor. That is, their way of looking at the world directly challenged his orderly, patriotic, churchgoing, monogamous, achieving middle-class life. And that, he knew with unshakeable certainty, was an unforgivable crime.
I found the content of this book to be very absorbing and it is a fast read, the kind of history one just rips through. But Blum’s central conceit is to tie together three lives, those of Clarence Darrow, detective William J. Burns and filmmaker D.W. Griffith, and I don’t think that ever quite comes off. Darrow and Burns definitely intertwined, but they glanced off Griffith–he just happened to be around.
Kelly’s brother turned up on our doorstep out of the blue some weeks ago. He was on a business trip to Vancouver, and had ended up at a big fancy dinner at Federico’s Supper Club, which is just around the corner from us. So he ducked out and came to visit.
Part of catching up involved his telling us about a recent trip: he and his family had just come back from a Disney Cruise to the Mediterranean. They came back more tired than they were before they left, he said, because they went on so many shore excursions. (And, really–the Mediterranean? How could you not?) Still. The prospect of spending my downtime getting exhausted did not appeal. I vowed then and there to sit on my butt as much as possible while I was cruising.
So last week, amid the visiting and the wandering around various Alaskan towns, I finished Adam Nicholson’s Quarrel with the King: The Story of an English Family on the High Road to Civil War, reread the oft-mentioned Tana French novel In the Woods
and got two thirds of the way through In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory.
The Nicholson book was rough slogging at points. English history isn’t my strong suit, and this covers several generations of Pembroke family history, with regard to their relationship with the Crown. It goes from Henry VIII through to the Revolution. The best part, for me, was Nicholson’s lovely descriptions of the terrain around Salisbury. Here’s a snip:
Early on a summer morning–and you should make it a Sunday, when England stays in bed for hours after the sun has risen, the chalk downland to the west of Wilton slowly reveals itself in the growing light as an open and free-flowing stretch of country, long wide ridges with ripples and hollows within them, separated by river valleys, with an air of Tuscany transported to the north… At first, the larks are up and singing, but everything else is drenched in a golden quiet. Shadows hang in the woods, and the sun casts low bars across the backs of the hills. You will see the deer, ever on the increase in southern England, moving silently and hesitantly in the half-distance. It is a place of slightness and subtley, wide and long-limbed, drawn with a steady pencil.
I think if you already have a background in this era, it’s a delight. Otherwise, consider waiting on it until you know more. I might still try God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (P.S.), but not soon.
I have been trying to sell Kelly on Tana French, so as soon as she wanted In the Woods, I handed it over. (I finished it yesterday.) My initial reaction to the book is here. I was so ambivalent I gave it away, only to realize after the fact that I’d loved it, so we bought a copy for Kelly to read on the cruise.
In Triumph’s Wake is rocking my world, and will get its own post after I’m finished with it. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of tomorrow’s post about our day in Skagway:
One of my buddies from Cafe Calabria is gentleman from Turkey who’s in, as I tend to be, at 6:30 a.m. on the weekends. He’s an early riser and his family are a batch of sleep-ins, so he takes a book, has a coffee and whiles away a couple hours. One day he was reading OSMAN’S DREAM and I told him I’d started poking at the history of Istanbul–in an aimless, I-have-no-immediate-use-for-this-research fashion–but quickly found I wasn’t up to that particular book.
A few weeks ago, months after the original conversation, he gave me THE BRIDGE: A JOURNEY BETWEEN ORIENT AND OCCIDENT, by Geert Mak.
THE BRIDGE is a slender little account of life on the Galata Bridge, which spans the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It’s well worth image-searching it: it’s got a car deck and a retail level, is festooned with fishers (whom Mak describes eloquently) and despite being a functional block o’ concrete, manages to convey a little old-World charm. Mak spent some months hanging out with the fishers, the pickpockets, the marginal-stuff vendors of various types and backgrounds, chit-chatting about their politics, their home villages, and their hardships. The book is a documentary about these characters, a little snapshot of the place where Western-leaning Istanbul is connected to the more Eastern-influenced part of the city. It’s a much simpler book than OSMAN’S DREAM, which is a pile of this Caliph, and that Sultan, and then they invaded Mars! OK, not really.
I wasn’t grounded enough in the history, is what I’m saying, and my buddy, with impressive perspicacity, handed me something that’s much simpler, heavy on the atmosphere, and which still manages to convey a sense of an intricate multicultural society, with a capital city that has been full of diversity and compromises for centuries.