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So What Have you Read Lately? And other favorite books!


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James Alan McPherson's Elbow Room. Enjoyable, well-crafted stories, though generally running a bit too long, revolving mostly around black Americans, many of whom have left the South for parts more prosperous and taken on the guise of immigrants, in the ~60s-70s. The telling of stories, or the construction of a narrative out of life's parts, and the passing of news, or gossip, figure prominently in several of these stories: In "Why I Like Country Music" a man recalls the root of his love of white folks' in a school performance alongside the first girl he loved; a man tries to set the story straight regarding a disastrous dinner with his fiancee's family and his ne'er-do-well cousin in "The Story of a Dead Man"; early love and violence are recalled in a doctor's waiting room by a woman in "The Story of a Scar"; "A Sense Of Story" finds a judge reviewing courtroom transcripts, arranging facts and trying to determine the reasoning, the story, of a man's murdering his boss; and in the title story the outside voice of an editor interjects into, comments on, the narrative to ask questions, guide and shape, and demand clarity of the speaker.

 

Also great (along with "The Story of a Dead Man" perhaps the best in the collection): A barber and preacher finds his business failing because of his refusal to cut hair in new styles and his flock fleeing for a more modern, showier church in "The Faithful"; a man vacationing in London works around the language barrier to help Japanese tourists who have been robbed in "I Am An American"; and a man recalls the tempestuous relationship with a woman and the ties of family while attending an awards banquet in her honor in "Widows And Orphans."

 

 

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Ron Carlson's The News of the World: Stories. Maybe the worst ever cover/writing quality disparity, but great collection of stories. Narrators/main characters sometimes feel a bit reserved, at a distance, as if there's something there not quite telling us yet. The opening story "The Governor's Ball," in which a man hauls away the ruined furnishings of a flooded apartment in the hours before a social event to which his wife tries to hurry him, develops a very '80s, Carver-y, minimalist-y sort of space between what the narrator reveals and what the reader sees. Other stories don't feel quite as grim; strains of joy turn up throughout the book. "The H Street Sledding Record" tenderly documents a young family's winter tradition, somehow avoiding sappiness in a spectacle-free examination of the father's desire for another child. The themes of longing and family are central also to "Life Before Science," in which a man focuses on his work as an artist and on alternatives to help his wife conceive when medicine offers no explanation for their inability; his joy, his enthusiasm, suffuses the narrative, so much so that it's difficult to say whether he's actually losing his mind.

 

Stories through the middle of the collection turn often to tabloid subject matter and do so not with the sort of halfhearted sci-fi or inexplicably weird bent popular with those looking to cash in on George Saunders's shtick but rather with sincerity and humanity. The stories have a substance, I guess I mean to say, beyond "hey look at this weird vaguely clever thing that happened!" In "Bigfoot Stole My Wife," a man works to convince the reader that the legendary creature ran off with his woman; "I Am Bigfoot," the following story, features the creature's confession of certain such incidents but perfectly captures the all too human fear of something out there, blurry and not quite identifiable, just waiting for its chance to lure away the ones we love.

 

"Madame Zelena Finally Comes Clean" recounts a tabloid psychic's inability to alter her fate despite her visions of the future.  A woman compares her story of death, recalling a night out with an old friend at the end of her marriage, with those in the tabloids in "The Time I Died." In "Phenomena" a middle-aged sheriff deals with the loss of his youth, its people and places and events, as he relates his encounter with a UFO.

 

The end of the book returns too more familial ground. In "Milk" a father fights his wife's (and mother") desire to fingerprint their young twin boys as a precaution against kidnapping; in "Blood" a new father watches his wife cope with insecurities around becoming a parent to their adopted child; and in "The Status Quo" a woman tries to relocate herself in a life of social gatherings and teenage children and new desires.

 

 

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Full disclosure: This author was a classmate I always found to be a perfect swell human being.

 

Novel following dual first-person narrators in Missoula, Montana, in the midst of a terrible rash of forest fires. As destruction grows closer and closer to the mountain-valley town--the sense of impending doom works great throughout the novel--young Ruth feels trapped and tries to determine the nature of her relationship with fellow bar-hopping, drug-enthusiast, party-girl Bridget, and equally young James drifts into town chasing a romantic vision of vagrancy and searching for clues about the father he never knew. Frenetic prose that takes risks. Lot of nice Missoula locales. A little too heavy on the catty drama and hipster concerns for me.

 

 

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Shelly Oria's New York 1, Tel Aviv 0. Stories about young Israelis come to the States, mostly. Lot of women narrators, many of them lesbians or bisexual. The best in this collection touch notes of unsurety and longing, while others rely on the novelty of fantastical elements to carry their weight. Prose is smooth, but the narratives often seem a bit disjointed, or playing at it; paragraphs frequently are separated by the break of white space into their own sections of text. Highlighted perhaps by the discussion of such breaks in poetry, within the story, in "My Wife In Converse." Sometimes intriguing, sometimes difficult to find the why.

 

Highlights: a polyamorous trio deals with infidelity and desire in the title story; the cataloguing of kisses and what they meant by a woman following the failure of a relationship in "Documentation"; an artist father takes his daughter on a business trip to spend more time with her on her visit from Israel, reflecting on his living apart from her and her mother and his home country, in "The Disneyland Of Albany"; a woman battles her compulsion to bed married men in "This Way I Don't Have To Be"; a woman tries on clothes and ponders interaction in "Fully Zipped"; Israeli call to remembrance in "Tzfirah"; and in "My Wife In Converse" a woman watches the possible collapse of her marriage while trying to write a poem."

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Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston. Enjoyable novel about a Southern ex-con on the run, more or less, with a young prostitute in the wake of a criminal incident. The characters are great, almost hopelessly likable, and Pizzolatto does a great job of capturing that South-Texas, Louisiana landscape, but I think ultimately there's just not enough plot to carry this book. Feels a bit stretched between beginning and end. Prose is solid, though, and there are nice moments along the way.

 

 

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What Grows Within, fifth installment of the Strange Aeons AP. Lot of interesting stuff in this adventure, but it seems rather short on structure. Except when it's railroading. I'm obviously wanting it both ways here, I guess, but it seems like it might be a hot mess for a GM. The lost city of Neruzavin presents a lot of creepy fun, at least potentially, though the map is turrible, Kenny, and it's a bit of closed loop. Some good and well-fleshed encounters, but also relies quite a bit on random-spawn vidja-game sort of encounters. Perhaps a bit too much left off the stage: What could've been the ultimate BBEG is left as an optional footnote, almost, in the rush to reach the designated end of this adventure path in the next installment. Also was hoping for more information on a new area outside the usual Inner Sea setting; disappointingly little if any. Kind of weak, flyby overview on the Necronomicon and an article on Great Old One Xhamen-Dor are included as supplementary texts instead.

 

 

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Lydia Peelle's Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing. Well-written collection of stories set in Tennessee, at least mostly, that don't always hit home. Tend toward feeling a little longer, denser than they really are. Hearkens a bit too much, perhaps, toward that way of telling folksy kind of stories about the old-timey South, which is great when it works but leaves a taste of questionable authenticity when it doesn't.

 

Highlights: In "Mule-Killers" a woman relates the story of her father's first love in the days of the tractor's replacing mules in agriculture (this story really walks that line on the folksy narrative, but does it well enough); "Phantom Pain" follows a one-legged, diabetic taxidermist nearing the end of his career in a countryside given over to unchallenging hunting; a man tries to drift away from the pains of living traveling with a fair across the Midwest in "The Still Point"; a woman's marriage ends while she discovers herpetology in the title story; a woman recalls her first clash with disastrous love in the form of a boozing houseboat occupant in "This is Not a Love Story"; and an old man and his fellows hunt the supposed treasure of the James Gang buried in the countryside outside an encroaching, developing Nashville.

 

 

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Matt Sumell's Making Nice. Collection of interlinked stories dealing with Alby, a man given to violent outbursts and whose mother has died. Engaging, often funny voice that feels like it's striving for honesty, earnestness. Perhaps becomes a bit one-note in its wallowing about the mother's death. Does a great job at times of depicting the irrational hurt that comes from such losses--and also other small, especially male, insecurities--but fails to move much beyond that point. The book falls short as a whole in its lack of an arc moving throughout the stories, I think. Found myself drawing a comparison or two early on between this and Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, which is unfair in pretty much any circumstance but wound up a bit enlightening for me. It lacks Johnson's inexplicably perfect prose, of course--which I'll forgive anyone, including Johnson in much the rest of his work even--but beyond that two things that struck me:

 

(1) The change and transition we see in elfhead really would've worked to Alby's benefit here. Alby begins and ends pretty much in the same spots, physically and spiritually. Or so I thought.

 

(2) Reading "Eat The Milk," in which Alby visits his grandmother in the nursing home, was actually the first time I thought of elfhead. Alby marks instances of weirdness in the nursing home, the old folks in their dying, but he remains outside it. What makes elfhead such a revelation in "Beverly Home," the closing story of Jesus' Son, is that he's a weirdness, among other weird things perhaps, but learning to live in the world again. He (literally) goes amongst them; there is no divide. He reintegrates. Alby, through so many of the stories of Making Nice, never gets that opportunity. Like in so much fiction in general these days, seems like, the strangeness, the oddities, are all marked but always ultimately held at a distance.

 

Highlights: Alby breaks down the situation in which he hit his sister in "Punching Jackie"; raises a stray bird in "Rape in the Animal Kingdom"; performs community service working at a park in "Everything is a Big Deal"; does his do in the aforementioned "Eat The Milk"; gives an old acquaintance a ride home from the bar in "Their Appointed Rounds"; finally hits the road away from his father's house following his mother's death in "Rest Stop"; takes a break from his fuel attendant on the docks of Los Angeles to go work gutting an old house in the mountains in "All Lateral"; went ice-skitching as a child in the winter Northeast in "Inheritance"; and visits his father, some time after his mother's death, and goes out for some drunken boating in "OK."

 

 

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Brad Watson's The Heaven Of Mercury. What a strange, delightful novel. Follows some characters, more or less, from childhood in early-20th Century Mississippi to old age, and maybe a little beyond, near the end of the Century. Not quite a love story, not quite a family saga, not quite about the town, not quite a mystery, hits all around a multitude of themes and threads in drawing up a big, grand picture.

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Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Fantastic novel following the lives of two former childhood friends when one is accused, though never formally, of a girl's disappearance becomes an outcast in the community and the other becomes an officer of the law. The two are brought together again years later when another young woman goes missing.

 

 

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Disclaimer: another book by a school acquaintance whose as fine a person as I ever met. Memoir following the author as she reassesses and refocuses her life headed into middle age and decides to follow the trail of her childhood heroine Laura Ingles Wilder. Funny and poignant.

 

 

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Lee K. Abbott's Dreams Of Distant Lives. Solid enough but doesn't feel as strong as some of his other collections. Does contain probably my favorite of hist stories, "Revolutionaries," about a man who receives a visit from his childhood friend who'd gone on to become a domestic terrorist.

 

 

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Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. The last of her fiction I'd yet to read. Kind of disappointing, honestly. Premise is great: A tortured man proselytizes for his new "Church without Christ." I'm a big O'Connor fan, but I on this occasion arrived at the criticism often leveled against her other work: How in the world does anyone care about these characters? Didn't feel like a satisfying story at all, and was really choppy, episodic. Ah,well.

 

 

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Kirstin Valdez Quade's Night at the Fiestas. Collection of stories that aspires to be great, and there are some fine stories here, but they overshoot the mark, in a way. Very overwritten, too tightly throttled into creation or polished to too much of a shine, perhaps. They tend to run too long and feel too stiff. Hopefully she dials that back some going forward. I'll be looking forward to other of her work.

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This month's reading list has been:

 

A Poisoned Season, Tasha Alexander.  Second book in the series. Lady Emily Ashton, recently widowed, tries to navigate the chaotic London social season amid a string of burglaries, murders, and her own personal stalker.  Light, but engaging. 

 

His Majesty's Hope, Susan Elia Macneal.  Third in a series. Maggie Hope leaves  WWII London for Berlin, on a mission of espionage that will have her uncovering not only the secrets of the Reich, but those of her own family.  The author dips a toe into some of the horrors of the period, but overall this is pretty light reading. 

 

A Study In Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas.  A retake on the Sherlock Holmes mythos, with a female cast. Brilliant young Charlotte Holmes feels constrained by society and takes steps to "free" herself and become independent.  Communicating by post she assists Scotland Yard with a string of seemingly unrelated murders.  This was better than expected, though the ending felt a bit forced. 

 

Hell Bay, Will Thomas. Book 8 in the series. Barker and Llewellyn are contracted to provide security for a diplomatic meeting disguised as a house party on a remote island estate. It promises to be a boring week, until  the guests find themselves targets of a mysterious sniper.  Of the four books this was the best page turner, a good solid story. 

 

 

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Continuing to grind forward on my supers game - and reading super hero fiction for inspiration.

 

As a result, I just read the Cape High series of Young Adult novels - which was completely useless for my purposes....

 

Yet I read all seventeen (short) books.

 

A fun premise - both the super heroes and the super villains share a motto - Photo Ops, Not Black Ops.

 

The professional super villains always lose to a hero of the same rank or above - and the heroes and villains practice for the bigger battles. (Think pro wrestling - and the villains work for the same organization as the heroes - to make the heroes look good.) There are also some real villains - but most are just putting on a show. (There is actually a super villain shortage - the villains are already on the job, even before graduation.)

 

Fun, light, and kind of silly. It reminded me a lot of the webcomic Skullgirl & the Super Temps. (Which has a super villain that is still on Santa's list... the Nice list....)

 

The Auld Grump - Santa also makes a guest appearance in Cape High.

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15 hours ago, Doug Sundseth said:

If you're interested in other YA superhero fiction, you might want to take a look at "Please don't tell my Parents I'm a Supervillain". It's a fun, quick read and would fit in pretty well in many superhero RPGs.

I did NOT give that spider super human intelligence!

 

They are indeed fun reads.

 

The Auld Grump

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  Have recently acquired and plowed through the first five of the Jack Reacher novels, and am partway through the sixth. I found all but about six or seven of the twenty-one book series within a two-and-a-half week period at either the Goodwill Store or the Book Barn used bookstore. I think I've read maybe nine (?) of them total. The dialogue and writing can seem a bit formulaic if you read more than one or two of them back-to-back in a short time frame, but I like most of the characters.

 

 

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I found a pdf excerpt from the book Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic & Religion and found it to be very interesting.  So, I did a quick google search to see if it was for sale... $90 used in good condition is a little too pricey for my wallet. :rolleyes:

Here's a link to the pdf should anyone care to give it a look
http://libroesoterico.com/biblioteca/autores/c_libros_ingles/Cannabis The Philosopher’s Stone.pdf

 

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I've been working my way through some foundational Sufi texts.  Just finished the Darbandi and Davis translation of Farid ud-Din Attar's Conference of the Birds, a fairly entertaining 12th century allegorical poem which on the surface is about the birds' quest for a king.

 

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It's full of spiritual advice couched in vignettes of life in twelfth century Persia.  The translators seem to have stuck rigidly to a pattern of rhyming iambic couplets (with a very few triplets), which occasionally get awkward and make me wonder how far they stretched the meaning to keep the rhyme scheme.  I have a different, more recent translation on order and I hope to do some comparison and maybe triangulate a better understanding of the writing (a lesson I learned many years ago on reading three different translations of Dante's Divine Comedy).

 

Up next:  A.J. Arberry's 1935 translation of The Doctrine of the Sufis by (deep breath) Abu Bakr ibn Abi Ishaq Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Ya'qub al-Bukhari al-Kalabadhi, a Persian of the tenth century.

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6 minutes ago, Sylverthorne said:

... I finally got around to reading Dune. Yes. That Dune.

In my defense, I had to go and buy a copy specifically for the purpose. Once in, I didn't come out much; I finished it more or less the same day I started it. ^^;

 

Impressive.  Did you have time to eat or do anything else?

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