Okay. Well, since the last time I wrote about the books I read was for April, I guess you could say a lot has happened. Or, also, not much, depending on how you’re looking at the state of the world.
I’m not working much, though I did do a commercial shoot and am preparing to work on a History Channel show. Still waiting out the health crisis. Only, maybe I’m not reading as much as I was, at least not during March and April. Seems like I’m busier, even if I don’t have much going on. Weird phenomenon.
Anyway, a lot to catch up on – at least as it relates to books. So, let me get started.
May – August Reading Lists
- Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
- The Martian – Andy Weir
- Deep Work – Cal Newport
- Carnival Row: Tangle in the Dark – Stephanie K. Smith
- Peace Talks – Jim Butcher
- The Tao of Physics – Fritjof Capra (unfinished)
- Sculpture Stories – Neil Gaiman (unfinished)
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle (unfinished)
- How to Fracture a Fairy Tale – Jane Yolen (unfinished)
- Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World – Matt Alt (unfinished)
- The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan – Caitlin R. Kiernan (unfinished)
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem – Joan Didion
- Trigger Warnings: Short Fictions and Disturbances – Neil Gaiman
- Various Japanese light novels and manga
- Travels with Charley: In Search of America – John Steinbeck
- The Gates – John Connolly
- Poland – James Michener
- The Magus – John Fowles
- Kidnapped – Robert Louis Stevenson
- Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World – Matt Alt
To say that the month of May got away from me would be an understatement. I left Alaska, made it back to Florida several weeks later, then left again to visit some creative friends in Atlanta, all the while avoiding people as best we could. And in all that time, I didn’t read as much as I should have. I listened to only two audio books in my travel time, instead opting to listen to music. I also didn’t stop to take many photographs as, with the country still in lockdown, I thought it more prudent to keep to myself. Which means missing out on landmarks and assorted travel attractions.
One such casualty of the pandemic is that bookstores and libraries were closed for a while. I had purchased books at Parnassus, in Ketchikan, in early March – just before the closures started. The next time I was able to step foot into a bookstore was May. I’ve lost the card, but it was a nice used bookstore along with a collection of specialty books. There, I purchased three used books, and one new.
On missing bookstores, there’s a certain smell to them. Something that I would say is lacking in any other establishment, save, perhaps, the library. It’s a smell I’ve enjoyed for many years. Probably one of the reasons I’ve accumulated as many books as I have. Book lovers always bring up the smell. But smells cause us to recollect memories, and if our first experience with that smell is positive, it makes sense to keep coming back to it.
I digress. The new book I purchased was a UK import for The Gates. It’s a story of a how a boy and his dog stops his neighbors from opening the gates of hell in the neighborhood. At least, I hope the duo wins. I haven’t read it yet. But the name John Connolly was familiar to me, and I couldn’t figure out why. It’s only recently when I was clearing out my Amazon Wishlist that I realized I had several books by him saved there for me to track down later. It’s hard to say what about those books caught my eye in the first place, but I’ll have a better idea once I dive into Gates as whether I want to track down his other works, like Nocturnes or the Charlie Parker series.
Poland was a recommendation from long ago – a Q&A session with Neil Gaiman via Twitter. It’s the second Michener novel I’ve acquired, the first being Alaska. The latter was an Audible book, and at early sixty hours of listening time, I haven’t delved into it yet. Honestly, it’s a lot of unread books I have. But, as John Waters has said, “Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
Let me take this segue to mention the audio book for Ready Player One. For starters, the performance by Will Wheaton was an excellent portrayal. This was my first time with the book, though I had read Cline’s second novel, Armada, maybe five or six years ago. I had seen the movie, though, and the biggest surprise to me was how much the film adaption deviated from the source material.
The characters were the same, and the protagonist, Parzival, aka Wade Watts, was a youth who enjoyed spending time in the Oasis (the virtual reality immersive community) more so than he liked the real world. The alliterative name was homage to superhero creations such as Bruce Banner (Hulk), Peter Parker (Spiderman), etc. (Fun side note: Stan Lee said that he chose alliterative names for his characters so that it would be easier for him to remember who’s who while working on various storylines.)
It spanned more time than the film seemed to take, which made the romance between Parzival and Art3mis more believable. Also, there were some raised stakes which the film adaptation simply didn’t delve into, such as the murder of one of the main characters. And while it’s now been a couple of months since I listened to it, I do recall thinking that this was one I would listen to again. On top of that, the sequel, Ready Player Two, is scheduled to be released on November 24th. Wil Wheaton is recording the audio adaptation.
Did some bouncing around through some books, including short stories by Kiernan, Gaiman, and Yolen; read a few essays and pieces from Didion’s collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and got into some Japanese fiction – including the first four volumes of Vampire Hunter D, written by Hideyuki Kikuchi, with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano.
A few things about me. First, I’ve liked works of fantasy since I was a boy. Maybe it was stories of biblical characters performing incredible feats read to me before bed. Or the Lord of the Rings series I was given by my dad. Or maybe, I’ve just always hoped that there was a little bit of magic in the world. Regardless, it’s been a consistent theme in my reading throughout.
Second, I also like scary stories. Some of the earliest books I can remember reading were Goosebumps by R.L. Stine. And I read a lot of them. I got turned by a vampire novel once, which did curb my horror reading for a bit. I don’t recall the book, and I’m not even sure I was a teenager yet when I read it. But there was some sort virus that this vampire was spreading, and it ate the flesh off a dog. It may not have even been that graphic, but my predilection towards animals is such that, in that moment, I was turned off of the genre for a while. Even in fiction, I don’t like bad things to happen to animals.
Third, the language I studied in high school was Japanese. While I’ve not kept up with it over the years, I can still understand a little. And while I read the Japanese fiction in English, the culture and their style of storytelling has always interested me.
Speaking of fantasy, Butcher’s urban fantasy series The Dresden Files had another release, which I read once I could get a digital copy of it. Peace Talks is an imperfect story. It’s an arc that’s been cut in half, presumably to allow for the release of Battle Ground later this year. Perhaps the next release will be a longer novel, which would make sense to split the story into two. However, as Butcher’s novels have generally followed a clearly delineated story to its resolution, this one stops shortly before (what I would assume to be) the final confrontation. Even with novels that have ended in cliffhangers, like 2010’s Changes, the story arc concluded before ending the novel.
Still, I like what the writer does, and I’m not going to criticize him for leaving the reader to want more. I’ll just be sad if, like the publisher has announced, he’s planning to end the series after the 25th book. But, since Battle Ground is number 17, it seems like we have some time before we burn that bridge.
The Martian was fantastic. A friend had told me to read it back in 2012. I wish I would have taken the suggestion then. Unlike Ready Player One, the film adaptation for Martian stuck pretty close to the story line. The novel seemed to have more science in it, so if you like that kind of thing, it’s definitely worth it. Additionally, following along with a protagonist’s thought process is much easier to do on paper, where thoughts can be written out, as opposed to film, where it almost always has to be spoken. Experiencing the thoughts of a man attempting survival on the Red Planet, alone, can be much more gripping than watching Matt Damon do the same, no matter how good his portrayal was. (And I really enjoyed the film. Actually, I think I saw it for the first time on a cross-Atlantic flight in 2017.)
Just a few other things of note. When I was young, don’t ask me when, my father gave me a copy of a book about a boy who was taken from his home by pirates. At least, I think that was the story. I don’t remember the name of the book, author, or the protagonist. As I was leaving the aforementioned book store, I saw Stevenson’s Kidnapped, which may have been the book.
Carnival Row was the second audio book I listened to, and it was okay. Didn’t quite enthrall me, but was a decent enough listen. And the two weightier nonfiction titles, Deep Work and Tao of Physics. I’ve barely scratched the surface of Tao, but I’ve become more interested in the Universe and its interconnected as of late. I need to sit down with that one, but there never seems to be a shortage of good books to take up my attention.
Deep Work was something I learned about from a podcast, maybe even the Tim Ferris Show. By the by, it could have been Marketplace, Hidden Brain, or something else altogether. Newport writes a good imperative – do the work that matters. Set aside time to do that work, try and prevent distractions from creeping up. and produce. That’s the best way to make something.