27 August 2019

Reading List, April - June 2019

Michelle Knudsen, Curse of the Evil Librarian. Somerville, MA: Candlewick, 2019.

This third (and final?) installment of the Evil Librarian series finds Cynthia, our high-school musical theatre buff of a protagonist and her friends returning(!!) to hell, where their one-time librarian Mr. Gabriel has escaped imprisonment and now seeks revenge. Well-paced and told in the first person present, it reads easily and should be enjoyable for tweens.

Vladimir Voinovich, Moscow 2042.  NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.

The ‘author’ travels sixty years into the future, where he sees what has become of Communism in his homeland and discovers his own, unexpected, contribution to the new world order in this extremely funny Soviet send-up.

Christopher Moore, Sacre Bleu. NY: William Morrow, 2012.

Like, like any Christopher Moore, is a really enjoyable book. A novel about the color blue, it is set in Paris of the 1890s; it begins with Van Gogh’s death. Lucien Lessard and Herni Toulouse-Lautrec investigate, uncovering a secret dating back thousands of years -- the secret of making ultramarine, the sacred blue of Our Mother Mary’s robe.

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle. NY: Dell, 1963.

This is my favorite book. In it, the world ends - not with a bang, but a grand Ah-whoom.

Willard Sterne Randall, Thomas Jefferson: A Life. NY: Henry Holt, 1993.

Randall, a former journalist, draws upon previously unconsidered materials, especially archival items from his time as Ambassador to France, in this extensively documented biography built from a thirty-four page bibliography’s worth of research to produce a detailed picture of his subject. It addresses the Sally Hemmings controversy, concluding that her children were likely fathered by Jefferson’s nephew; it addresses his contradictory views on slavery and personal reliance upon slaves, whom he never freed in spite of intentions. It shows a man who would rather be at home with his books and garden than ‘inventing America’; it shows a dedication to public service that saw him incur debt, rather than accrue profit, from his time in office. It is a worthy study of a man worth study.

Sharon Woodhouse, Pitch What’s True. Chicago: Everything Goes, 2019.

This slim workbook contains checklists that the author, a publishing industry veteran, uses to evaluate proposals. Guiding readers to consider the subject, its audience, and how it can benefit a publisher, she shows how to construct a query that invites success. As a bonus, her questions are also largely applicable to fiction. Be warned, though, that the process is not easy. First answer honestly, Does your book deserve to exists? If it does, be prepared to invest a lot of time learning about publishers and publishing processes, and then even more time sending out perhaps hundreds of individualized letters to find a good match for the book. Woodhouse makes clear just how daunting a task it is to get published, but offers a clear path which only requires making honest, steady effort (and a good book manuscript or idea).

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower. NY: Warner, 1993.

This is the most frightening book I remember reading. I understand why the Space-X crowd would find it comforting, since it is based on a philosophy that proclaims humanity’s destiny is to people the stars, but the world it describes--the world of 2024--is not yet there and is, in fact, cutting funds for stellar research. The world of 2024, which is all too near and all too familiar, features water shortages, drug-fueled destruction binges, and nearly-nonfunctional governments at the local, state, and federal levels. This parable is, in spite of its final images of hope, a terrifying vision of our very near future.

John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse. NY: Bantam, 1969.

I’m starting to understand why so many people hate Barth. In this collection of short stories, he proves himself too clever, and condescending to boot. It is a demonstration of literary technique,  the notebook of warm-up exercises one does to get ready for writing work. Yet the reviews excerpted on the flyleaf suggest that, in 1968, playing with language was a new thing - not something Shakespeare had done, better, some hundreds of years earlier. Perhaps I am too harsh, though. Barth is simply something different from the San Francisco/ LA ‘60s fiction of Richard Brautigan and Charles Bukowski, more aligned with the Johns Irving and Updike than experimentalists like KurtVonnegut even as, structurally, Barth has much more in common with Vonnegut than the East Coast traditionalists. I want to like Barth. I try to like him, as reading this should prove, but Funhouse is just too damn smarmy to recommend.

Anthony Burgess, Eve of Saint Venus. Feltham, England: Hamlyn, 1981.

A Gothic romance in which statuary comes and makes a mess of wedding plans.