The OF Blog: June 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Because all of the (not-so) cool kids are doing it, a mid-year list of superlative 2012 releases

This list is the result of some snarky remarks I made on Twitter today after seeing that people are already trying to list their top 5, 6, 10, 13, etc. 2012 releases (mostly limited to certain subgenres of SF/F/H).  At first, I thought I hadn't even read 10 2012 releases (whenever I get around to typing my reads for May and June of this year, it'll be obvious that I haven't been reading as much as I usually do), but after I examined my written 2012 reading log, I saw that I actually had read almost 20.  So in a non-ranked, alphabetized fashion, here are the top 9 out of those, followed by the others:

Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby.  I meant to review this short novel months ago, when Matt's publisher offered me an e-book review copy (I have enjoyed almost all of his short fiction), but time constraints would pop up.  So here is a little passage that I bookmarked at the time that might give some sense of why it appealed so much to me:

Our only answers are the church's silent histories, those sequenced promises written in terrible stone, decorating each circling step from the vestibule to the altar, from the sacristy to the last unburned pews.  Each station a horrid hope too unbearable to believe, this world made only the end of mystery, only the opposite of miracles.

Inside my wife, perhaps there is only the same, only these doubling doubts, these many questions that fill my own still-beating heart:  Oh lord, for who else might be promised the inheritance of the earth?  For who else is meant the receiving of the kingdom?  If not our impossible, short-lived children, then what new race still to come, undreamt in our present darkness?  Who are these next babes, about to be poured down upon the earth, come at last to wash us from off its tear-soaked face?

Nathan Englander, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.  Although some might scoff at seeing what to them is yet another short story collection dealing with Judaism (among other topics), those thinking such might have their opinions disabused after reading the eight stories found within.  Englander's talent for developing characters subtly and for creating situations which entice readers to read "just one more story before bedtime" makes this collection a very strong one that may be a contender for major literary prizes later this year and next.

Steve Erickson, These Dreams of You.  Erickson (not to be confused with the Canadian SF/F writer Steven Erikson) is a master at taking those breaking moments in our lives, those times where it seems that time has slipped and something odd has leaked through, and spinning absorbing tales about individuals searching for identity (in this particular case, an adopted child's) while the world around them threatens to implode.

Brian Evenson, Immobility; Windeye.  Evenson has released two outstanding books this year.  The novel Immobility I want to revisit before writing about it at length, but its conceit of an entrapped man at the heart of a deeper mystery works extremely well.  The collection Windeye is perhaps an even stronger corpus of short fiction than his critically-acclaimed prior collections such as Altmann's Tongue or The Wavering Knife.  These stories unsettled me when I read them back in April and I have no doubt they will continue to do so for years to come.

Tupelo Hassman, Girlchild.  Some writers are fortunate to have their debut novels possess a strong, assured voice.  The protagonist, young Rory Hendrix, makes Hassman's novel memorable because her voice feels so "real," so "true" to the experiences of those who have grown up in less-than-ideal conditions, that her struggles to make her own path, while dealing with those men who hover like vultures around her mother, it all just leads to moments where the heart aches and then rejoices.  It is one of the better debuts I've read in recent years.

Jac Jemc, My Only Wife.  When I was sent a PDF file of this for consideration by Matt Bell several months ago, I wasn't for sure when I would get around to reading it.  After I browsed through the first couple of pages, I found myself reading more and more about this obsessed husband's memoir of his life.  The narrative is deceptively simple, as he relates those moments he remembers about her before her disappearance:

My wife would come home and recite the story of this girl into a tape recorder.

My wife created narratives to connect the facts.

My wife fell a lot.  Even when she was climbing through her days, she was falling a bit along the way.  At night there didn't appear to be far to drop.  She was careful in the dark.  She took fewer risks and recuperated for the day.  "The night," she used to say," should be for rest and repair."

In the evening, my wife nursed her scraped palms, a chronic injury from stopping her tumbles with her hands.

In the morning, she was ready to work again.  I never knew her when she wasn't toiling away at something.
Within these snippets, several of which purposely lack transitions, a larger picture of this wife and the husband-narrator emerges.  It is an engrossing read, perhaps because of what isn't being said as much as all of the seemingly-extraneous detail that is being provided.

Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles.  This novel, which won the 2012 Orange Prize, is a retelling of story of Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, his companion and later lover.  It is too easy to make this tale into something much less than the Homerian original, so it is a testament to Miller's abilities as a writer to take the almost-clichéd sexual tension between the two and weave something different and more encompassing than the bonds between two human beings.  Her Achilles and Patroclus behave in a complex yet realistic manner to the prophecies dealing with Achilles' life and death.  It is her treatment of that issue which deepens and strengthens this novel and makes it worthy of being read and re-read.

Matthew Stover, Caine's Law.  I have been a fan of Stover's Caine novels for a decade now.  Despite generally despising action-filled, violent novels, I found there to be a certain sensibility within his fiction that showed not only the consequences of acts of violence, but the transformations that can occur when strong emotional bonds are altered.  In his fourth Caine novel, Stover becomes almost lyrical in his exploration of cause-effect and of our desires to change and rewrite the world around us.  Caine's Law is the most complex of the four novels in the series to date and at times the transitions between past and present, between grief and hope, and between remorse and determination not to fail again can be dizzying.  But somehow, Stover manages to bring this all together into a conclusion that is one of the best I've read for any SF/F work.

Other 2012 Releases Read: 

Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon

Leah Bobet, Above

Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz

Elizabeth Hand, Available Dark

Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon

Mario Vargas Llosa, La civilización del espectáculo

Ben Marcus, The Flame Alphabet

Toni Morrison, Home

Joyce Carol Oates, Mudwoman

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Angélica Gorodischer on feminist literature

Passage taken from her 1994 book, Mujeres de Palabra, pp. 10-11.  Translation is first draft done by myself:

La cuestión de la literatura femenina, como la cuestión del feminismo, es algo muy simple que ha terminado por paracer endiabladamente complicado gracias a nuestro viejo conocido, el miedo.  Si el feminismo es simplemente la búsqueda de justicia (iguales oportunidades en la educación, en el trabajo, en el gobierno, en el hogar, en las actitudes, en las mentalidades) para las componentes de la mitad más una de la población del mundo, que somos además las madres de la otra mitad, la literatura femenina es simplemente una narrativa, la poesía, teatro o lo que sea, que se escribe no sólo evitando sino rechazando el estereotipo de la mujer que plantea la sociedad patriarcal; desde el continente negro convertido en playa blanca; fuera de los cánones de la historia del héroe o del antihéroe que es el mismo héroe de siempre pero vestido con andrajos y con barba de tres días.  De donde, claro, es evidente que varones y mujeres pueden hacer literatura femenina.  Cuando se animan.

No es cuestión de andar a las adivinanzas:  a ver, ¿quién escribió esta página, un varón o una mujer?  Eso es una tontería y a nadie le importa.  La escribió un hombre.  O la escribió una mujer.  En ambos casos hay un género del texto.  No se puede despojar de su género a un texto como no se le puede despojar de su ideología.  Cierto, no se entra a la narrativa, poesía, teatro, etc., por la puerta del género o de la ideología, tan cercanas ambas:  se entra por la puerta de la narrativa, poesía, etc. si no se quiere lograr más que un texto literario, un panfleto.  Pero la ideología, el género, están ahí, bajo los ojos de cualquiera que sea algo más que un descrifrador, una descrifradora de palabras.

The question of feminist literature, like that of feminism, is something very simple that has ended up seeming to be devilishly complicated thanks to our old acquaintance, fear.  If feminism is simply the search for justice (equal opportunities in education, in the workplace, in government, in the home, in attitudes and in mindsets) for those who comprise 51% of the world's population (which we are furthermore the mothers of the other half), feminist literature is simply a narrative, poem, theatrical work or something else, which is written not only avoiding but instead rejecting the stereotype of women which the patriarchal society plants; from the dark continent turned into the white beach; away from the canons of the story of the hero or the antihero (which is the same hero as always, but dressed with rags and a three-days' growth).  From which, of course, it is evident that men and women can make feminist literature.  When they feel like it.

It is not a question of making a guess:  to wit, who wrote this page, a man or a woman?  It is a foolish question and it matters to no one.  A man wrote it.  Or a woman wrote it.  In both cases there is a textual gender.  One cannot strip away one's gender from a text just like one cannot strip away one's own ideology.  True, no one enters a narrative, poem, theatrical work, etc. by the doors of gender or ideology; they are too narrow:  one enters by the door of narrative, poetry, etc. if one doesn't want to achieve more than a literary text, a pamphlet.  But ideology, gender, they are there, under the eyes of anyone who be something more than a decoder, a decoder of words.

Yeah, a bit rough in places (I may smooth this out later in the week), but any thoughts on the sentiments expressed in this piece?

Friday, June 22, 2012

A consequence of becoming a medium-distance walker these past few months

I bought these Nike Pegasus 28 running/walking shoes back around May 1st or 2nd.  According to my iPhone pedometer, I've walked just under 175 miles since then.  Looks like I'll be replacing them much sooner than the 4-5 months or 500 miles that I had planned.  I walk on asphalt mostly at a brisk pace (and a few muddier areas at the edge of the track, thus the dried mud patch on my right shoe sole), but I didn't realize just how quickly I was wearing the tread out.

Luckily, I have a pair of Saucony Shadow Genesis to wear until I can afford a new pair (maybe around my birthday in a little over three weeks?), but it is depressing to see just how quickly I wore these down, as these were some comfortable walking shoes (and I rarely wore them outside of the track).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summertime Book Porn

Easton Press editions of Jane Eyre and The Return of the Native
 Lucked up on my latest book trading/buying trip to McKay's (mostly was taking away some of my mother's old books and some DVDs).  Came across two Easton Press editions for $25 each, or about half of new-book value.  Also found an almost-new Library of America edition of Washington Irving's Western novels for $20.  Good thing I had almost $95 in store credit, as I ended up spending just under $100 on the books pictured here.

Library of America edition of three Washington Irving novels.  Now own 103 volumes in this continuing series, which is at either 226 or 227 volumes at the moment.

Still collecting DeLillo books for a future reading project.  McSweeney's #22 is neat in its conceit of having three booklets bound by magnets to the faux-leather cover.

Also will be reading more John Crowley and Kazuo Ishiguro in the near future.

Robert Coover has had some interesting fictions, to say the least.  This Jamaica Kincaid novel is on par with the excellent books of hers that I have read over the past month and a half.

At the bottom is a Mondadori edition of Gabriel García Márquez's story collection, La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada, that I bought as a replacement reading copy for its lovely design and layout.  Also bought another Molière play for future reading, to go with the other titles, which I think are legible for most readers.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

An update on my exercising/weight loss, a month before my 38th birthday

The past month and a half has seen some obstacles that had to be overcome.  Some were inevitable, such as beginning the teaching applications/interviews process (so far, no luck, but still some good possibilities that may open up this week or next) or remodeling work around the house that limited the time I could devote to exercising during daylight hours.  But there's also that "wall" that people often hit after 2-3 months into a major lifestyle/fitness change.  Those moments where you are so exhausted that you don't want to lift one foot and put it in front of another or that one extra set of 10 repetitions feels as though a mountain has to be moved first.

The rate of weight loss slowed somewhat, down to around 1-1.5 lbs. a week.  That was to be expected as my body is trying to find a new equilibrium.  The trick, I found, was to go from working out/walking 90 minutes 5x/week to 120-150 minutes 4-5x/week.  Some days, that would involve splitting the walking into early morning and early evening sessions of 4-6 miles a session.  Other days, the weight lifting might be preceded by a 45 minute brisk walk (2.5-3 miles) and then 30-40 minutes of lifting, before a second, smaller walk in the evening.

I haven't tried to do maxes on free weights yet, but I suspect my free weight bench press max would be somewhere around 225-230 lbs., as I did a set of 5 reps at 200 lbs. with little effort and without a spotter (I won't do more than 200 without someone, maybe my dad, to help spot).  On the machine chest press, doing 3x10 at 240 lbs. and chest fly press at 160 lbs. for 3x10.  Cable rows I vary between 3x10 at 135 lbs. or 3x10 at 150, depending on my mood and what I'm doing.  Triceps curls have improved to 3x10 at either 110 lbs. or 120 lbs., again depending on what I'm doing.

Not only am I walking more (151.0 miles on my iPhone pedometer since May 6, or just over 25 miles a week), but my pace is improving.  Logged my fastest mile walked this evening, going 14:58 during one of the 8.42 miles walked.  Average pace for tonight, my fastest for a walk over 10 km, was 15:44.  Had to deal with a pesky tendonitis issue in my left ankle for most of May, but it's now healed, so I've seen my times drop by nearly two minutes a mile over the past two weeks.  I think a 4.00 mile/hour pace is obtainable in the near future, as tonight I had a 3.86 mile/hour average over my second hour (a slower 3.81 mile/hour for the first, oddly).

I have slipped up a bit on the eating front, due in part to the hustle and bustle that leaves me settling a couple of times a week for fast food or something quick to prepare.  I have had some days where my caloric intake was over 2500 for that day.  That's not leading to weight gain, because I'm burning an additional 1200-1500 calories a day, but it did slow things down some weeks.  But starving the body would be worse, since I want the metabolic rate to remain high.  Probably will eat more oven-fried catfish this week and less red meat or chicken that still has the skin on it.

My checkup nearly three weeks ago (those who have me as FB friends already saw this data) went extremely well.  Back in December, I had elevated cholesterol and triglycerides (with the latter at 341, over double the target of 150 or less).   Here is what came up in the lipid blood test:

Cholesterol (overall) - 181 (target was to get below 200)
LDL - 122
HDL - 31
Triglycerides - 140

My total weight loss stands at nearly 40 lbs. since the beginning of the year.  I am less than 10 lbs. from my short-term goal for my birthday on July 17th, but there is still plenty to go before I reach my ultimate goal of somewhere between 195-215 lbs. of solid muscle.  Also two pants sizes from my ultimate goal (currently can fit, albeit snugly, into 38s), but it is nice having lean muscle mass developing again.  Maybe one day I'll be allowed to play soccer again, provided that my knees and hip aren't too arthritic from the previous 37 years of wear and tear.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Would this opener make you more or less likely to read the rest of the book?

I'll leave the author out of it for now, but this is a just-released novel:

As for me, I don't dream, I am dream, and I can't look down and get a clear look at the process that brings me about from moment to moment.  That's deKlend over there.  I am here, and...he's there.

Imagine approaching a park bench, up on your right.  You crouch down not far from one end of the bench.  deKlend appears on the bench, one leg casually thrown over the other.  It's raining.  His right hand rests on his right thigh, and holds upright his capacitous umbrella.  The left elbow is cocked onto the back of the bench and a long, elegant left hand hangs in space.  The head and shoulders are nearly lost in the crosshatched shadow beneath the umbrella.  The rain falls straight to the ground, and the umbrella makes a column of rainless air.  He sits with his head tilted back a little, wearing an expression of self-satisfaction, although he might simply be enjoying himself.

deKlend is the type certain positions give rise to, or he likes to think he is, imagining he came into being like the figure between the shapes of a mobile.  An optical illusion, like the vase with two faces confronting each other, one day happens to twist in the breeze and there he is, with feline self-complaisance licking his hand and smoothing down his eyebrows and moustache.  No embarrassing memories.  No shameful home.

Feel free to guess the author, if you wish.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New and used books that shall not be Father's Day gifts

Toni Morrison's just-released short novel and the one John Crowley novel I've yet to read

Had to take a boxful of books from my mother (and some of my own) to McKay's on Sunday, so I took the store credit and bought some books for near-immediate and later reading/browsing.  The Morrison book I bought from their bookcase for new books, with the rest being used books.

The DeLillo will be read later; the Ogawa is a damn good story that deserves a huge readership in any language in which it may be published.

Currently reading the Allende.  It's hard to describe only 31 pages into a 300 page book/memoir/cookbook.

Irritated that the usually easy-to-remove price sticker ripped off part of the cover to the Vega play, as it's a nice copy.  Loved Kundera in English, so I thought why not re-read this particular novel in Spanish translation?

Tolstoy in Russian and Böll in German.

The French language books I picked up this time, including a Rabelais (likely modernized)

And if in 10-20 years I ever get around to attempting to learn Japanese, I'll at least have another textbook to consult.

Monday, June 11, 2012

If true, this is very sad news regarding Gabriel García Márquez

A few minutes ago on Twitter, I saw some Brazilian writers I follow retweeting a link to a Brazilian newspaper that reports that Nobel Prize laureate Gabriel García Márquez is suffering from dementia (link is to the Google Translate translation of the article).  While not confirmed by his family, it does sound as though the circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that Gabo is indeed suffering from senile dementia.

This new saddens me greatly.  Not just because I am a fan of his works, but also because it was less than a year ago that my maternal grandmother was entering the last stages of her dementia before she died in November.  The way the journalists cited in the article describe Gabo's comments is eerily similar to how my grandmother would greet members of the family whenever we would come to visit.  The repetition of general questions, the masking of forgetfulness, the pattern of conversation – all of that described in the article was what we witnessed with my grandmother.

Hopefully, this information is a hoax...but I fear that it may not be.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The things I see while driving I-40 West from Nashville

A bit pixelated due to it being enlarged from my quick phone pic while driving 70 mph, but it was nice to see that the driver in front of me just outside of Bellevue had this nice "I {heart} Hanson" sticker.


Remember them?

If you were too young to suffer through their one-hit back in the mid-to-late 1990s, let me introduce you to them:

I hope you suffered.

Friday, June 08, 2012

An existential dilemma?

Too often, cats are used in photographs to display mischief, contempt, and other sorts of devilish amusement.  There is something about the dog, however, that speaks to our more existential concerns:  Am I loved?  Is it worth the effort to raise my head one more time, just because someone wants my attention?  Is food really the center of my existence?

With that in mind, I present this picture of my dog, Molly.  Look at her half-closed eyes, with her head just off to the side of her paws.  Does she look happy or concerned or something else?

What do you think is on this dog's mind when I took this picture earlier today?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Four years later, blogging again about an author not (yet) available in English translation

The past few days I've been re-reading/reading some of the fiction of Serbian writer Goran Petrović.  Back on June 7, 2008, I wrote a column about him and his book (read then in Spanish as La Mano de la Buena Fortuna; The Lucky Hand Shop is a possible translation into English), Ситничарница Код спрћне руке.  It is a very good book, one that improved upon a re-read in 2010 (this time I read the Spanish translation in sentence-by-sentence parallel with the Serbian original).  Seeing how Petrović constructed his story at this level (as well as noting how the translator had to make adjustments to account for the shift into Spanish) heightened my enjoyment of his work.

In the interim, I have read two more books of his in Spanish translation, Atlas descrito por el cielo (Atlas Described by the Sky; currently re-reading it) and Diferencias (Differences in English), a short story collection (will be re-reading it later this month).  Earlier this week, I received both the Serbian Опсада Цркве Св. Спаса and its French translation, Le Siège de L'Église Saint-Sauveur (The Siege of the Church of the St. Salvation).  I began reading the two this afternoon and it is a very promising read.  Although I will have more to say about Petrović later, I thought it was enough of a coincidence that I did a blog search for him exactly four years after I first mentioned him here.

He certainly is an author that deserves a much higher profile in the English-speaking world, as his fiction is at turns evocative and ethereal.  There are mystical, dream-like qualities to the plots, characters, and even the writing, yet it feels as much "real" as it does "irreal."  Perhaps the strongest testimony I can give is that I wanted to read The Siege of the Church of the St. Salvation so much that I am concurrently reading it in my 5th and 8th best languages.  Two chapters in and it is proving to be well worth the labor of love where I'll be reading at the snail-like pace of perhaps two lines a minute.

Ever had authors you ever wanted to read that badly?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Which is the greater cultural contributor?

Over the past century or so, there have been two Anglo-American-centric entities, epic fantasies and professional wrestling, that have become very popular cultural entities globally, at least among certain segments of the world's population.  Some are fans of both; others detest them.  Yet can the case be made that one or both of these are worth discussing on their global cultural contributions?

What do you think about both epic fantasies and professional wrestling and their possible value to current global culture?
And no, the above is not an acceptable answer, no matter what you think! ;)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sodomy and Other Assorted Book Porn

A wide variety of books, both used and new alike, this time.  The first set I include for an interesting cover comparison.  The Edmundo Paz Soldán book came out first, yet the Shteyngart lists different designers for the cover/photo.  Interesting...

What doesn't go better than de Sade and "romance," right?

More DeLillo, so I can keep up with Paul Smith when he resumes reviewing them for Gogol's Overcoat later in the year.

Giving Iain Banks another chance, as his SF is hit-and-miss for me.  Haven't read this particular Koestler novel, but his Darkness at Noon is a deserved classic.

Still adding to my Library of America collection (this will make 103 volumes out of 226 or so released to date).  Haven't read this 1990s Murakami book.

Etgar Keret is a very, very good and witty witter, so I was pleased to see a copy of this book.  And I picked up the Intro to Japanese book because of my continuing fascinating with non-I-E languages.

Review copies received in the past week that I will likely read and possibly review before the summer is complete (or even arrives).

A Spanish dictionary of the Aztec language of Nahuatl, an omnibus of 19th century Russian dramatists, a better tale of an evil Ring than Tolkien, and Simplicissimus.  Excellence, n'est ce pas?

And more French works to read, including two Sartres.  The Alain-Fournier I've read in English translation before and it is very good.  Curious about Apollinaire's poetry.

Which of these have you read?  Any you want to know more about?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Unfortunate book name

I think the name says it all.  Saw this while shopping for books at McKay's.  No, I didn't buy this book, but some of the ones that I did (pictures later this weekend) might raise an eyebrow or two.

Friday, June 01, 2012

A book/reader type association game

We almost all do it.  We see a picture taken from someone's bookshelves and we make a preliminary judgment of that reader/blogger by those photos of what s/he has received/bought recently and/or what s/he values most as a reader.  Keeping that in mind (and leaving aside these are all from a single collection), what are your reactions when viewing each picture individually?  Would, if you saw these photos on three different sites, think different thoughts on each one?  What would be your snap decision about that reader's tastes if s/he displayed these books in photos on his/her blog/site?

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