Not Just Another Grouchy Grammarian

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Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #3

Hi all. I’m doing this as a running draft again, since I like the format.

Book #10 (Goodreads Challenge): I finally finished Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I lived through the integration struggles of the 60’s and the Vietnam War (I know – it was technically a conflict) and Watergate, and I have never seen anything as scary as the goings-on described in this book. I note that GQ Magazine did an article on this book in which they noted that:

“As much as I wanna discredit Wolff, he got receipts and, more important, he used them. Wolff got it all. Wolff nailed them.”

They further note that,

“If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.”

What I kept thinking, while reading the book, was that I had never thought I would live to see a President who would make me miss Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Bushes. Further, it took a lot longer to read than I had anticipated. The problem was not the book’s length, but that I kept getting so disgusted at the events depicted therein that I had to keep putting the book down.

I think it is a must-read, but only if you have the stomach for it.

Book #11 (Both Challenges): Courage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to be Grateful for Michelle Obama is a collection of essays from both famous and non-famous people about Michelle Obama and what they perceive her contributions to the country, The White House, and the role of First Lady were. It’s a very quick read and a very enjoyable one. I only wish the book had been longer.

Book #12 (Both Challenges): Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, by Sheri S. Tepper was definitely a page-turner. I read until I literally fell asleep way too late, with my Kindle still in my hand. I woke up this morning and had to finish it, even before my coffee and breakfast. It’s not a happy book; in fact, it is one of the scariest books I have ever rear, right up on a par with Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale or Eugene Wheeler and Harvey Burdick’s Fail-Safe. But it is beyond well-written, and well-worth the time it takes to read it.

Book #13 (Goodreads Challenge): “A City’s Favor,” by Racheline Maltese, with Joel Derfner, Tessa Gratton, and Karen Lord, which is the thirteenth chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. As I’ve noted before, I’ve been following this series from the beginning because it takes place in the same world as Ellen Kushner’s “Swords of Riverside” series. It’s a wonderful fantasy series, with several major female characters: Diane (Duchess Tremontaine), Ixkaab, Micah, and Tess the Hand all jump to mind immediately. Ellen has woven a complex society, with two very distinct classes – the nobility, and the Riversiders. You might want to read her trilogy, Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings before plunging into Tremontaine. Since it leaves us with something of a cliffhanger, I am sincerely hoping that there will be a Season 4. Whether there is another season ahead or not, I promise you, it’s well worth the time invested.

Book #14 (Both Challenges): The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. The task was to read a children’s classic published before 1980. Several folks in the challenge forum suggested this book, originally published in 1978. When I looked it up, it sounded interesting, so I figured I’d give it a try. I am very glad I did. For one thing, it was not written “down” to some imagined kids’ level. It was written as if the author was writing for people with brains. Two, there were enough twista and turns that it held my interest all the way through, and had an ending that seemed both natural, inevitable, and totally satisfying. One thing I can tell you: Once this challenge is completed, I intend to look up Ms. Raskin’s other books and read them.

Book #15 (Both Challenges): Daytripper, by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Craig Thompson (Introduction), Dave Stewart (Colours), Sean Konot (Lettering) was much more than I expected it to be. I’ve been a fan of comics since I picked up my first Adventure Comic back when comics were $.12 each. And I am certainly no stranger to comics that ponder deeper questions. But this was one of the more unusual comics I have ever read. For one thing, it was not meant to be comfortable. Relatable, yes; thought-provoking, yes; well-written, yes; comfortable, not so much. It’s about the choices one makes in life, and when and how we discover the meaning of life for ourselves. I highly recommend this. NOTE for the Unwary: There are several depictions of death in the book – partly because the protagonist is an obituary writer, partly because death is the capstone of life, and partly because in some ways our deaths tell us about how we lived. As I said, this was not a comfortable book, but I found it to be very worth my time.

Book #16 (Goodreads Challenge): The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin. There are some books that not only resonate with you, they inflame your love for reading. Between the descriptions of books that Mr. Fikry writes for his daughter, Maya, and the books mentioned in the book itself, my reading list has grown. Many of the books this book has caused me to look up are books that I probably should have read long ago but didn’t. Others are totally new to me (kind of like the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge stuff). This book is really about the power both books and people have in our lives, and it should not be missed.

So I think I have rambled on long enough about books for now. Whatever you are reading this week, may you find joy in it as great as I have.

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Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #2

Okay, I’m going to do this post as a running draft until I have a number of books reviewed.

Book #6 (Goodreads Challenge): I came across Philip Gourevitch’s Cold Case through an article in The New Yorker recommending books/stories to read during the current cold snap. It’s a bit slow-moving but is a fascinating look at how a 27-year-old crime was solved. If you like crime stories (as opposed to mysteries), you will enjoy this one, especially as it can be read in one sitting.

Book 7 (Goodreads Challenge): “Dragon Rampant,” by Karen Lord, which is the eleventh chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. I’ve been following this series from the beginning because it takes place in the same world as Ellen Kushner’s “Swords of Riverside” series. It’s a wonderful fantasy series, with several major female characters: Diane (Duchess Tremontaine), Ixkaab, Micah, and Tess the Hand all jump to mind immediately. Ellen has woven a complex society, with two very distinct classes – the nobility, and the Riversiders. You might want to read her trilogy, Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, and The Fall of the Kings before plunging into Tremontaine. I promise you, it’s well worth the time invested.

Book 8 (Goodreads Challenge): “Surrounded,” by Joel Derfner, which is the twelfth chapter of Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Serial Box website. Again, this is a wonderful serial, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes fantasy/adventure/dynasty/political books. In this installment, Duchess Tremontaine has a funeral for her husband, and the school Rafe Fenton has founded is attacked. As always, the writing is excellent, and the story compelling.

And a note – new chapters of Tremontaine are introduced on Wednesdays, although the next chapter will be the finale for the third season. OTOH, if you want to do some catching up before the fourth season (assuming there will be one), this will give you a good chance to do so.

Book 9 (Both Challenges): “I met Catheryyne M. Valente back when she was an NYU student, and I have been meaning to read some of her stuff ever since she sold her first story. Life intervened until now, but I finally got to read Tremontaine Season 3, over on the Six-Gun Snow White. It’s a version of Snow White set in the Old West, with a radically different scenario – instead of being poisoned with an apple, Snow takes off after years of being emotionally abused by her step-mother. One thing I like very much – this Snow is no-one’s patsy. She can, and does, take care of herself.

So, that’s it for this week. I’ve been slowly making my way through Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. It’s been slow going, not because of the writing, but because the subject matter is so appalling to me that I have to read it in short pieces. I’ll have a report when I’m done with it.

‘Til next time!

Book Riot’s READ HARDER Challenge and GOODREADS Reading Challenge Update #1

Okay, I’m six days into both challenges. I am not reading quite as fast as I’d like to be, but I have noticed that age and life have slowed me down a bit. Still, the Goodreads tracker says I am one book ahead of schedule, so I can’t be doing all that badly.

While I will not double-dip (use one book for multiple tasks) in the Read Harder Challenge, I will let books read count for both challenges where applicable.

Book 1 (Both Challenges): The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, by Allison Hoover Bartlett. Task #2 (a book of true crime) was easy to pick – I had just downloaded this book because it was not only true crime but about books – rare books – something I have been interested in since I first read 84, Charing Cross Road, by Hannah Hanff and its follow-ups.I was not disappointed. Not the fastest read, but one to savor, as the author learns more and more about the world of rare book dealing, independent bookshops, and about John Gilkey and how (and – to some degree – why) Gilkey acquired the books he was so obsessed with.

Book 2 Both Challenges: Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. It’s a damned good thing I had been introduced to Austen back in high school. If this book had been my introduction to her, I’d probably never have picked up another book by her. Mostly, I wanted to slap the heroine all through the book. She is spectacularly naive – misses cues all over the place – some so broad that they should have been like getting hit with a two by four. Still, it solved the task for the Book Riot challenge handily (Task #1, a book published posthumously).

Book 3 (Both Challenges): Familiar Things, by Hwang Sok-yong translated by Sora Kim-Russell. I had already downloaded this because one of the writers I know had marveled about having read a Korean Sf/fantasy novel, and the idea intrigued me. It handily fulfilled Book Riot’s Task 19 (a book of genre fiction in translation). Again, while it was definitely not something in my comfort zone, it was well worth reading. I found it easy to empathize with Bugeye (the protagonist) and his friend Baldspot. I found it very realistic when it came to portraying how resilient kids can be, even under the most radical of changes. This was definitely worth the time spent.

Book 4 (Both Challenges): The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. I am not sure how I managed to miss this one over the decades, but I have now made up for that lack. These stories are about how man kept trying to colonize Mars, and what happened to each expedition. Some of the stories feel complete in themselves, some feel like cliff-hangers, but all of them are good short reads. It was a wonderful choice for Book Riot’s Task 5 (a classic of genre fiction {i.e. mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, romance}).

Book 5 (Both Challenges): Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, by Lucy Knisley. This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. However, since I do not know much about graphic novels/comics, I looked for recommendations in the discussion group for this task (Task #4: a comic written and illustrated by the same person). I am so glad I did pick it, though. The writer brings to life what it’s like to be the child of two foodies with different outlooks on almost everything. This is not only a really fun comic, but it lovely and sweet. One of the best parts of it is that it isn’t about blowing things up or catching bad guys, or any of the tropes of action-type comics, which I got bored with decades ago.

So, those are what I’ve read so far this year. My next book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, will only work for the Goodreads challenge, but I want to read it now for several reasons. For one thing, any book that Trump tries to suppress should be very interesting to those of us who did not vote for him. For another, GQ Magazine noted:

“If Trump refuses to abide by the standard (and now useless) “norms” of the presidency—shit, if he doesn’t even KNOW them—why should ANYONE in the press adhere to needless norms of their own? They shouldn’t, and it appears that Michael Wolff was one of the few people to instinctively grasp that, and I hope more White House insiders follow his lead. Sometimes you need a rat to catch a rat.”

They further note that while his ways of obtaining information may border on sleazy, he “got receipts and, more important, he used them. Wolff got it all. Wolff nailed them.” To me, this sounds like the book is going to be just as fascinating as Woodward and Bernstein’s article about Watergate. I can’t wait to dig into this one.

So that’s my reading challenge update for the first six days of January. See you soon.

A New Year, A New Start…Maybe

While this is not the venue I journal about my life in general, let me just note that the past fall has been one of the roughest I’ve seen. My roommate spent much of it in hospitals and a nursing home dealing with things she had avoided dealing with for years. I lost – in rapid succession – two very good friends of over 30 years. I have been undertaking – with the help of a friend and the more limited help of my roommate – a major revamping of the apartment.

That last – the revamping of the apartment – actually borders on stuff that is the provence of this journal. I have gotten rid of about two-thirds of my record collection, and about one-third of my books. At the same time, the last few weeks have been occupied by boxing books (27 boxes), so we could get rid of an entertainment center and two of the old bookcases and get in ten new-to-us bookcases. Our acquisitions were from the IKEA Billy line: A corner unit, two glass-fronted bookcases, two wooden-fronted narrow cupboards, two narrow open bookcases, and three standard open bookcases. This was successfully done, although there were a few times that stress levels for all three of us were running pretty high. We are now unboxing the books (two more boxes to go), and trying to organize the bookshelves in some kind of reasonable order. My friend Lisa likes books organized by subject; my roommate is a former librarian who likes her books in alphabetical order within subjects; my preference is alphabetical by authors. We are using my roommate’s preference to organize things since that pleases all concerned.

The other thing is that I now have organized all the books that I was sent to review, and shall be starting to work my way through them shortly so you can expect a good number of book reviews for the next while.

The other thing I have taken on, relevant to this particular blog, are two reading challenges. I exceeded my goal for last year’s Goodreads Challenge, reading 223 books – 23 books over my goal of 200 books for the year. This year, I have raised my goal for that challenge to 250 books.

I have also taken on Read Harder’s 2018 challenge (and I shall incorporate those books into my total for the year). This is a challenge sponsored by Book Riot which consists of the following 24 tasks:

1) A book published posthumously
2) A book of true crime
3) A classic of genre fiction
4) A comic written and illustrated by the same person
5) A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa)
6) A book about nature
7) A western
8) A comic written or illustrated by a person of color
9) A book of colonial or postcolonial literature
10) A romance novel by or about a person of color
11) A children’s classic published before 1980
12) A celebrity memoir
13) An Oprah Book Club selection
14) A book of social science
15) A one-sitting book
16) The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle-grade series
17) A sci-fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author
18) A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image
19) A book of genre fiction in translation
20) A book with a cover you hate
21) A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author
22) An essay anthology
23) A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60
24) An assigned book you hated (or never finished)

I will keep folks here updated on my progress with this list.

Thanks to my friend Debbie (aka mamadeb) I have become part of the planner community.Mind, I have had a love for planners for as long as I can remember. I can even say that I was doing a form of bullet journaling long before it became a Thing. I have, for decades, put a Table of Contents (ToC) in the back of every journal, so that I could find things again. It was a very simple thing: I numbered my journal’s pages, then did a three columnrule for the last six sides (three pages) of my journal. The columns were “Date,” “Page,” and “Item.” And I always used my journal for listing tasks, tracking things, and taking notes, as well as the usual diary entries.

One thing I do want to work on this year in my planning is doing better granular work, that is, improving my skill in breaking down large goals into smaller pieces that can be done as a progression, rather than trying to do an overwhelming task all at once. We will see how that tuens out over the course of the year.

So, no real resolutions, but a number of commitments and things to work on. I hope you enjoy the ride if you come along with me.

Taking a Virtual Walk

Most folks who know me know that I am a huge Lawrence Block fan.

Random Walk

Early today, I received a newsletter from him that discussed, among other things, his book Random Walk. I was intrigued by the plot: A guy quits his bartending job in Oregon, starts walking across the country, and Things Happen. (Yeah, that’s the best I can describe it without using spoilers, and I really want you to read this book and discover its wonders for yourself.)

Block, as always, weaves together disparate subplots into a unique whole that – to me, anyway, was very reminiscent of vision quests, coming of age sagas, expiation of sins, and books about following a Path. As always, his writing is transparent and does not in any way overshadow the tale he is spinning. He balances the characters’ introspection and actions perfectly.

I could not put the book down, nor did I want to. I ignored my phone; I ignored my email; I ignored my social media. I ignored everything but the cat – who would have shredded my leg completely if I did not pay him a few minutes of attention every couple of hours.

Seriously, if you have any inclination toward being on a Path, or looking at the larger questions in life, or how to change your life to be more what you want it to be, go and get this book. I don’t care if you prefer e-books, printed books, or audio books. Get your hands on a copy of Random Walk, settle in with your favorite beverage, and enjoy a walking tour like you have never been on before.

Happy reading.

Catching Up on Life and Reading

First, I apologize for not being more regular about posting. It’s been a rough two years, including spinal surgery, and more heart work. That, plus all the usual junk that life piles on you, and writing crashes to the bottom of the priority list for a bit.

So, In May of 2016, I woke up one morning and could not get out of bed. Literally. It took three EMTs almost half an hour to get me into a transport chair so they could get me out of the apartment, and I was screaming in pain the whole time. It turns out that a number of things had gone wrong. There was sciatica, which I had known about, but there was also stenosis, a nerve so pinched at the base of my spine that the doctors couldn;t even find it on the MRI, degenerative arthritis at the base of my spine that no one knew about, two crumbling disks, and an infection between the two crumbling disks that was doing its damnedest to get into my spine.  I spent six weeks in what is probably the worst rehab place in Brooklyn (ask me offline if you want the gory details) getting IV antibiotics, then a few weeks at home to make sure the antibiotics had worked. Then I had a consultation with a neurosurgeon, and spinal surgery was scheduled. The good news is that even though there was some discomfort after the surgery, the relief was so profound that the discomfort could pretty much be ignored. Then came the slow recovery. Now, what I didn’t know at the time was that none of the doctors involved, except my primary care guy (who is a saint) believed I would ever walk again. Fortunately, I proved my primary care guy right and surprised all the others. However, just after Passover this year, my heart started racing. I mean my heart rate was something like 130 when I was just sitting at my desk. I called my doctor and was diagnosed with atrial flutter, a situation where the heart’s electric signals are getting missent. It’s not quite as serious as atrial fibrillation but does increase risks for strokes, heart attacks and the like. I went into the hospital for a cardioversion (basically electroshock therapy for the heart) and it worked. BUT…two weeks later, I had another episode. My cardiologist (another saint), set me up with a cardiac electrophysiologist, who recommended that I have a procedure called an ablation, wherein the tissue that is misfiring is basically destroyed, allowing the heart to return to a normal pace. I had that procedure about three weeks ago, and things are getting back to normal, although we are having some fun trying to find a new balance for my meds.

I have been able to start reading again, since my ability to concentrate is one of the things that has been returning. Not that I wasn’t trying to read this whole time; I was just having enough concentration issues that in stead of a joy, it was becoming downright unpleasant.

I am now trying to finish books I had started and given up on along the way, as well as new books.

In that regard, I am reading Excelsior, You Fathead!: THe Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, by Eugene B. Bergmann. I was surprised at having a hard time reading this (not realizing that it was largely because of the physical stuff) before my health issues kicked up because I have always been a fan of Jean Shepherd’s. My mom always had WOR-AM on her radios in the house, so I grew up falling asleep at night to Shep’s delicious cynicism. I have picked the book up again (thank God for Kindle readers), and it now seems less of a slog.

In fact, what inspired this entry is something that Shep came up with in the late 1950s (when I would have been listening to him every night that he was on): Dream Collection Day! What Shep proposed was that the city declare one day to be Dream Collection Day, on which day everyone could put out on their stoop, like so much garbage, all the dreams they had not achieved, along with the paraphernalia for chasing those dreams. His contention is that those old dreams are doing nothing more than making us feel guilty and holding us back from what we could be doing if we were living in the present moment. Thing is, from my great perspective of almost 65 years, I think he might be onto something here.

I received an email today from an acquaintance who was bemoaning that nothing he had tried in his just under eighty years on the planet had worked out the way he had wanted it to. in his words, “My entire life could best be described as an unrealized potential–a tale of what MIGHT have been; not a tale of what ACTUALLY happened. Not for a single moment did my shafts hit the bullseye. I was off by a mile. I was considered second-rate; never a winner. I was no more than a face in the crowd; a nameless, unidentifiable being; a nobody.” Now, this friend is about to have a second volume of poetry published – not a mean feat these days. Yet all he can see is the things that didn’t happen. And he judges his life as being worthless because of those. I wonder what it could be if he could focus on going forward, rather than looking back in despair. I also am debating taking Shep’s idea and putting it to use in my life. I have been wanting to

I also am debating taking Shep’s idea and putting it to use in my life. I have been wanting to get rid of tons of things over the last few years, and have even made some attempts at doing so before I got sick. I think I need to look at the stuff in my life, and see what dreams are no longer relevant to me, and sell, give away, or toss out the things pertaining to them.

In other news, I have been reading a delightful series by Shira Glassman; the Mangoverse series. It revolves around a Jewish, lesbian queen named Shulamit; her wife in all but name, Aviva; Riv/Rivka, her cross-dressing bodyguard; and Riv’s husband, Isaac, a man/dragon shapeshifter. The series is fun, silly, delightful, and way too damned short. I want more stories about them. I stumbled onto this series because the author is a Twitter friend of one of my real-life friends, and I had interacted with her through my friend’s Twitter account and liked her. She’s also done some stand-alone book, and I read the first one, Knit One, Girl Two, with great delight (except that it was too darned short and I want to read more about Clara, Jasmine, The Phantom, and Danielle)! I highly recommend this book, as well as the Mangoverse series.

Another thing I got to read, thanks to the wonderful Lawrence Block, who seems to have gotten me listed as a reader/reviewer for Random House, was a book by Donald E. Westlake, Forever and a Death, which is – according to Random House – his first novel. It was delicious, with all the hallmarks of a great Westlake read. Not Dancing Aztecs, by any means, not a Dortmunder, but well worth the time spent reading it. Again, highly recommended, especially if you are a Westlake fan.

There is so much more I have to recommend, but I think that’s enough for one post. So I will be back to my regular schedule soon, I hope, and look forward to seeing everyone again.

White, Hot, and True – A review of Danielle LaPorte’s WHITE HOT TRUTH

 

White Hot Truth: Clarity for Keeping It Real on Your Spiritual Path from One Seeker to AnotherWhen I first heard Danielle LaPorte through The Yoga Summit, I knew I was hearing someone special. WHITE HOT TRUTH just reproves that. LaPorte is funny, wise, and practical. Part memoir, part what-to-avoid, part how-to-get-there, this book is an enjoyable survey of what worked for her and what didn’t. She has strong advice on how to evaluate teachers, gurus, or other practitioners, and lots of advice on how to follow your own star. Also, unlike many books of this type, she notes why many practices are not “one-size-fits-all.”

Much of her book resonated with me, and rang true to the experiences I’ve had with various groups. I also had a couple of key breakthroughs on things I had never gotten closure on through reading her experiences.

I highly recommend this book if you consider yourself to be on any kind of spiritual path, whether mainstream, New Age, obscure, or fringe.

Review: “The Crime of Our Lives” – Lawrence Block

There’s only one problem with opening a new non-fiction book by Lawrence Block: Your reading list explodes logarithmically. His newest collection of introductions, eulogies, and other appreciations, The Crime of Our Lives, is no exception. In addition to finding authors I already knew of and enjoyed, like Robert B. Parker and Donald E. Westlake, there were a whole bunch whose work I had never heard of, and another bunch of writers who I dimly remember from school — all presented so engagingly that I now have a new list of authors to pursue, along with a batch of notes on their various pseudonyms and notable pieces, so I don’t miss anything. When I mentioned this to my ex — also a Lawrence Block fan — he noted “you don’t have to read every author he recommends.” “Maybe so,” I responded, “but he makes them all sound so engaging.”

And that is the truth of Block’s writing. Fiction or non-fiction, gentleman thief, assassin, adventurer, ex-cop, running essays, stamp collecting, writing — Block’s work is engaging. I have never read a Block book or story that didn’t feel like I was settling in with a good friend for a catch-up session.

In The Crime of Our Lives, he gives overviews of the work of sixteen writers — peppered with anecdotes about them, about his own life and writing, and about writing and the mystery/crime genres in general. One caveat which Block notes in the beginning, is that he has restricted the subjects of the book to deceased American writers, primarily of the “hard-boiled” variety of fiction, and the list has no women on it. He does note that the last is because Christie and Sayers are British while the female American writers he would include are still living. His reasoning is that he does not wish to assemble a list of favorites and upset friends by their exclusion. In his words: “I have mentioned how generous and amiable mystery writers are, how much I enjoy their company, how well we all get along. If you think I am going to change all that by assembling a list of favorites and leaving some of them off it, you’re out of your mind.”*

Among the writers Block covers in this volume: Anthony Boucher, Frederic Brown, Raymond Chandler, Stanley Ellin, Erle Stanley Gardner, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, and Donald E. Westlake.

After reading Block’s overviews, my first instinct was to go to the Brooklyn Public Library website, find all the books by each writer and start putting them on hold, one writer at a time.

If you are a fan of mysteries, crime stories, noir, or all three, this is an interesting, engaging overview of some of the author’s favorite writers, who happen to be among the best in their fields. I highly recommend this book to you. In fact, I recommend this book even if you aren’t a fan of the genre. You might just well become a fan after reading it.

*Block, Lawrence (2015-03-26). The Crime of Our Lives (Kindle Locations 286-288). Lawrence Block. Kindle Edition.

Mixed Reviews, e-Publishing, and Other Amusements

I was recently assigned a short story to review and post about. I did what was required, but did so with a really heavy heart. You see, the book was an e-book, and had many of the faults that keep people from whole-heartedly adopting the technology.

The story idea was mildly interesting. However, the characters were flat and wooden — nothing there for a kid to really relate to. The editing was horrendous – spelling errors and bad grammar to the point where I wanted to write the author and tell him to get a good copy editor and pull this from Amazon until it was fixed. Worst of all, the story was entirely too heavy-handed and preachy; the nicest thing I could say about the way it was handled was that the author’s points could not be missed.

Why do I discuss this here, especially since I did the required review elsewhere, then? I note it to point out what I, and many others, see as some of the problems with e-publishing, especially of the vanity variety. As anyone who reads this blog is probably aware, self-publishing e-books is incredibly easy compared to getting published the “old-fashioned” way. Unfortunately, this means that pretty much anyone can publish stuff — good or bad. Amazon abounds with poorly edited e-books; my favorite mistyped title is The Three Tenants of Prosperity. Gratuitous spelling errors, plots with holes you could have Andre the Giant walk through were he still alive, grammar errors that would be looked at askance in a second-grader’s work…and don’t forget to toss in characters that could be cut from recycled printer paper; sometimes it feels like people are just into parading their ignorance.

Please note that I am not talking here about using various street or regional dialects; those can add real flavor to a story. However, characters whose speech does not reflect who they are just make me want to throw the book at the nearest wall. Part of making fiction good is having the characters put an accurate picture of who they are in the readers’ minds.

However, I digress a bit. It’s not that all e-publishers are bad. Lawrence Block has been e-publishing his books for a while now, and the e-books are just as meticulously edited as his hard copy books are.There are reputable e-publishing houses. What I object to about e-publishing is largely that anyone can put anything out these days. I’m not saying they don’t have a right to – just that all the garbage out there makes it much harder to find the good books by new authors who are exclusively e-publishing for whatever reason. Yes, I know that even paper publishing has small vanity houses where these issues are regular visitors. This is why my reading remains a mix of both e-books and paper books.

I have been working a bit more, as I get healthier. It’s interesting to see all the different styles clients want. There are at least two guides for each of the writing teams I’m on. One is from the client, the second is from the project manager. Often, there are additional guides, cheat sheets, etc.  the most amusing part of this kind of work is making sure your work is not plagiarized – not even accidentally. This is usually done by using a program such as Copyscape, which searches the Web for words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that match your work. Unfortunately, there are things Copyscape flags that cannot be changed, such as your product’s name. Get enough “hits” and you can be let go by your project. Add in to this that most clients provide you with keywords and/or links they want you to use, and turning out 100% original copy becomes, shall we say, interesting. It’s not too terrible for me. Often I find the biggest challenge is writing to an approximate tenth-grade level.

Part of the problem is that the world has changed since I was taught to write. When I was growing up and in school, complex sentences were the sign of an educated person. Not that you used extra words, mind; such sentences had several clauses, but were – optimally – not strings of adjectives and adverbs. Passive voice was often part of formal writing; it served to distance you from your writing – to make the writing sound neutral. The current style is short sentences (I have been told that 25 words is optimal), with few clauses and fairly limited vocabulary. It’s not a style I learned easily, and I use a few programs to check for things like that (my favorite is Hemingway Editor). Anyway, I am finding writing in the new style something of a challenge, but it’s an interesting challenge. Language evolves, and we should evolve with it, even if it moves us out of our comfort zones.

That said, I still am happier when books I read are written with proper grammar and spelling – except when changed for reasons of dialect.

Announcement and Catching Up

Okay, it’s been a while, and I have a couple of things to talk about today.

The first is an announcement:

August 1-3 2014 are the dates for the Deadly Ink Mystery Conference, taking place at the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick, Two Albany Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Deadly Ink 1                                                                      Deadly Ink 2

The conference promises to be an interesting one, with Donald Bain and Renée Paley-Bain, who wrote the Murder, She Wrote mystery books as Guests of Honor, and Donna Andrews as Toastmaster. Whether you are just a mystery fan, or you want to write a mystery of your own, this is a great opportunity to mix with the writers and other publishing professionals who feed our mystery cravings, be they hard-boiled, police procedurals, cozies, or humorous. There will be panels, a “Writers’ Academy,” special presentations, a desserts party, a luncheon, a Sunday brunch, an Awards dinner, book signings, and a book room.

Information about the conference can be found at WWW.DEADLYINK.COM, or by emailing info@deadlyink.com.

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Here is a small literary gem for those of you who live in New York City. 41st Street, between Park and Fifth Avenues has been deemed “Library Way.”  Both north and south sidewalks have embedded plaques, designed by Gregg LeFevre of Andrews/LeFevreStudios, with library and book-inspired quotations. Two blocks, four sidewalks, and free! Bring a camera (I forgot mine, but plan to bring it next time.)

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I am continuing to recover from the open-heart surgery I had in March. I am now able to get out of the house for brief periods of time. This has done wonders for my moods. I am also in cardiac rehab, which is a lot like going to a gym, except that they constantly monitor your heart rate and take your blood pressure between each exercise. It has recently been increased from twice a week to three times a week, a sign that I am getting stronger and they believe I can do more.

Anyway, that’s the short  version of where things are at currently. I’ll have more to say soon.

 

 

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