stuff, written by me

Category Archives: Fiction

Every year I set a vague goal for myself to “read more”. Much like the “exercise more” or “drink less” or “go to bed earlier” resolutions that dominate most people’s lists, “read more” actually means “change your lifestyle enough so that you have time for this activity that you love (and have always loved) but that requires a certain amount of your actual focus and attention, and is therefore difficult to wedge into the end of a 15 hour workday when your brain  is screaming for the love of god, just turn on the television.”

My downfall when it comes to the “read more” resolution is usually an overly ambitious reading list. It’s all well and good if you already have the sort of life-schedule that allows you several hours of quality alone-time every day so that you can really sink into Moby Dick (on my list, btw). But if all you can manage is a half hour before you literally pass out mid sentence at the end of the day … well, that’s fine too but it’s not always conducive to really getting into heavy, dense 1,000 page tomes.

stack of books

This year, I decided to be ambitious about quantity (50 books! Nearly one a week! Take that, 2015!) but less ambitious about quality. That doesn’t mean I’m reading garbage. 50 Shades of Grey is not on my list (although this  blog about it is). I am, however, reading a pleasant mix of literature and just-plain-ol’-fiction. And  I’m bringing non-fiction into the mix, because I find that when I get into non-fiction, I love it almost more than anything else I could be reading. But I rarely think to pick it up. Similar  to the relationship I have with documentary films.

I’ve done two things this year that are going to immensely improve my numbers, and already have:

A) I got an e-reader. This one.

Let me confirm, first of all, that I am absolutely a “book person”. I love the feeling, the texture, the smell, the heft  of real books. I don’t feel at home unless I’m surrounded by full-to-bursting bookshelves. I find it impossible to part with books. Even books I don’t particularly like, or ever plan to read again. I love (LOVE!) books.

But (there’s always a but, isn’t there) I can’t afford to buy every book I feel like reading, and I certainly don’t have the space for them all in my home. For  better or worse, I’m used to being able to access most things close-to-instantaneously, because that’s my relationship to music and TV and films, so it’s annoying that I can’t do that when it comes to books. I use the Toronto Public Library system a lot, but  sometimes I wait for months for a book I really want to read to come available, and by that point I’ve forgotten why I was so excited about it.

I also do a fair bit of reading for research and for work, and that reading usually comes in the form of PDFs – scripts, articles, excerpts from books and so on. I rarely find the time for this kind of reading during my workdays, and I’m not interested in printing thousands of pages to read at bedtime, so the only solution is to read it on a device.  A device that’s not my iPad, that is, since that activity is apparently killing us all.

I’m also an avid transit-reader, and I ruin many books that way, by dragging them around in my messy, dirty backpack or wedging them into my too-small purse.

The e-reader addresses all of those problems and more. And I find the e-ink incredibly easy on the eyes.

B) I signed up for Audible.

Actually, Colin did. I log into his account on my phone and listen to books while I’m walking. I never thought I’d have the attention span for anything longer than a 30-ish minute podcast because I’m so easily distracted (I can’t listen to music while I work – too distracting), but in fact, I am loving the experience of having a book read to me by a disembodied voice. I’ve listened to two so far, and it’s been brilliant.

Anyway. It’s the beginning of March, so here’s my first book report! I’ve finished seven   books. Three   were actual paper books, one was on the e-reader, and three  were audio.

1. The Widower’s Two Step, by Rick Riordan

Widower's Two StepTwo summers ago I picked up a $0.50 book at a church sale, a pulp detective novel called Big Red Tequila. It was about a dryly-funny-literature-PhD-having-tai-chi-doing-Texas-living  private eye called Tres Navarre. I found it really enjoyable (and not badly written). Turns out it was the first in a series of eight books. Last year, I bought the other seven online. The Widower’s Two Step is #2, and it finds Tres Navarre trying to solve a case of corruption and possibly murder in the country music scene of Nashville producers and aspiring songbirds.  I’m looking forward to my third rendezvous with Mr. Navarre, but I’ll probably wait until summer. It is really holiday reading.

2. The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker

HellboundI’ve never ready any Clive Barker before, so I figured I’d start with the book that Hellraiser was based on. It was short, full of sharp  descriptions and  clear, efficient prose. It was like drinking an ice-cold glass of water. Bracing, refreshing, totally thirst quenching. It’s a  deceptively simple  novella, and in many ways more disturbing than the film. I loved the internal voice of Julia – a far uglier and better picture  of selfishness  than the more overtly evil Julia  in the film. The book made me appreciate short-format-horror, perhaps for the first time? I’m looking forward to reading the Books of Blood and continuing the love affair with even shorter stories.

3. Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler

ClayI’d never heard of Octavia Butler when Colin recommended her  Parable of the Sower to me a few years ago. I was completely blown away. Why hadn’t anyone else ever told me that there was a brilliant female sci-fi author out there whose protagonists  were always women of colour?! I’ve read several  of her  novels since, and each one has been perfect. Butler knows how to bring a  post-apocalyptic world to life, but she’s even better at envisioning those terrifying moments just before the world ends, the moments after you realize the end is inevitable, but you have to soldier on anyway. Clay’s Ark featured the best version of an “alien virus that could kill us all” that I’ve ever  read.

4. Lock In, by John Scalzi

Lock InThis was my first Audible experience. It’s read by Wil Wheaton, which charmed me immediately, but then it turned out to be really fantastic sci-fi in its own right. Lock In  is a murder mystery that takes place in a very plausible near future in which a large percentage of the population is afflicted with Haden’s, a disease that leaves sufferers  “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move. Two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, in which the locked-in can interact with others. The second involves allowing the locked-in to operate in the “real world” through android bodies.  It’s a good mystery  that happens to take place in an incredibly well-realized world.

5. Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome, by John Scalzi

unlockedThis bonus novella was attached to the end of Lock In and featured “interviews” with everyone from scientists to politicians to members of the media and the public about the outbreak and spread of Haden’s Syndrome. How it got its name, how the new virus was identified, how the therapies were developed, what the early days were like, everything. Moments that were only subtly hinted at in the novel are described in great detail here.  The novella felt like non-fiction, a government report about a real pandemic. Every author’s job is to make you believe in the world they’ve created. John Scalzi accomplished it better than most.

6. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

MonstersThis ensemble-cast book weaves together a number of stories about a sculptor-turned-serial-killer, the detective who’s chasing him, her teenage daughter and daughter’s BFF, and an obnoxious blogger who falls into the middle of the investigation.  This was my second audio book on Audible, and I found it less enjoyable than Lock In, but perhaps just because it was not as good a book. This one was read by several different voice actors, which I liked in principle, but I found it quite grating when the male actors would do “female voices” (not something I took issue with when Wil Wheaton did it, perhaps because he didn’t make the women sound lame).

7. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

GoldThis Pulitzer Prize winner was a title that Kobo recommended to me when I got the e-reader, so I thought “sure, why not” and bought it. It’s narrated by  Theo Decker, who starts the story as a thirteen-year-old New Yorker  who  miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Over the next  couple of decades, Theo’s life unfurls, his fate forever tied to a painting that he saw the day his mother died. I couldn’t wait to come back to this book every evening. Even  at its most floridly-descriptive or rambling moments, it  never fails to be a page-turner.   Theo is a compelling narrator, and his observations are surprising and insightful.

That’s it for the first book report!

Books that I am currently reading and might appear on the next report include Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Collected Novellas, The Troop by Nick Cutter, The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy  by  Dave Madden (non-fiction!), and The Genome, a novel by  Sergei Lukyanenko, the Russian dude behind Night Watch.

My reading list is long, but I am always up for recommendations. If you want to share one with me (newer works especially, since I think my backlog of classics and older books is already too enormous), by all means!!