Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Books 50-57: I've been reading kind of a lot

I've read a bunch of books between September and now, especially because I went to Atlanta (where I almost died) for a week and always read more when I'm out of town. I don't really have an excuse for not discussing them sooner other than procrastination, though, so it's time I went ahead and started working through the stack.

Mostly so that I can take them to the used bookstore for more credit to buy more books.

Seriously, we had a candidate in for an interview yesterday and she asked if anyone would be interested in a book club, and my "YES" was louder than the other 40 people in the room.

I might be too excited about reading.

50) I ordered a copy of Aimee Friendman's Sea Change because I watched the movie on Lifetime and still had some questions. Unfortunately, the book didn't answer my questions, because the movie was pretty different. I hate to say it, but the movie was actually better, because it made the story more coherent in the same way that the movie versions of Big Fish and V for Vendetta take the interesting ideas of the original source material and make them better.

If you're interested, the book is about a girl who moves for the summer with her mother to a mysterious island, rumored to be founded by mermaids and pirates. She meets the rich summer tourists, and the much nicer but more mysterious island natives, and starts to fall in love with Leo, a local boy with a heart of gold. (In the movie, that heart lies beneath rippling, Emmy-worthy pectorals that flex and twist as he pulls his clinging wetsuit on and off and on and off and on and off again.) Is Leo more than he seems? Is he hiding a dark secret? Is Miranda's life in danger?

Who cares? This was diverting enough for an afternoon, but just watch the movie.

51) I bought Hillary Clinton's What Happened because I kept seeing news stories that said, "Hillary said this about Bernie" and "Hillary said this about why she lost" but kept giving a sentence or a paragraph, and I wanted the full story. I didn't vote for Hillary in the primary, but I did in the main election, and I wanted to see for myself what she had to say and the context in which she said it.

This was, mentally, a hard book to get through. It wasn't because the writing or vocabulary was difficult. This is very readable, and covers her life, typical days on the campaign (there's a whole section about one day, from morning to night, with travel, hair and makeup for appearances, meals, etc. and how all of that gets coordinated that was fascinating), an overview of the campaign itself, the policies she would have implemented, and what she thinks about how to move forward. The mentally difficult part was reading this at night, then turning on the morning news for an immediate contract between where we as a nation could have been and where we actually are.

I would recommend this book to anyone, whether they voted for her or not.

52) Searching for a mental palate cleanser, I moved from the horror of reality to just plain old horror, and read H.P. Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness, partially inside of a Hard Rock Café playing Michael Buble. It was way more amusing than the time I cried at Chili's, but possibly just as disturbing.

I've read a lot of books that reference Lovecraft, including graphic novels, and am aware of the basics of Lovecraftian mythology (cosmology?), but I realized after reading Meddling Kids in September that I haven't ever actually read any of Lovecraft's work. I guess I went in with high expectations, and while I enjoyed this, I found it not really horrifying. Maybe it would have been if I didn't already know so much about it going in, but I guess I would qualify it more as disturbing than as horror.

53) My friend Sandy left Sheryl Monks' Monsters in Appalachia in the guestroom when I went to stay with her, in case I had finished all the books I packed for my trip. I hadn't, but this was short, so I decided to read it anyway.

This is a collection of short stories about Appalachia, but only one of them has monsters in it. In all of the other stories, the people are the real monsters, but that's the way it is in most stories. This was a fast read, but I liked it.

53) I guess I was still in a horror mood, because I moved on to Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell, a book about horror books. Hendrix walks the reader through the pulp horror paperback boom of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, with summaries, discussions of trends and the real world factors that influenced them, tons of illustrations of cover art, and interesting profiles of the publishers, writers, and artists who helped create these books. I was amused to discover that I had read multiple books that appeared here, and also thought about seeking out some others because they sounded entertainingly bad.

I mean, one of them is a book about genetically altered Nazi leprechauns in a haunted Irish castle. Why would I not want to read that?

54) I changed gears for the next book, but kind of wish I hadn't read it. Remember when J.K. Rowling wrote The Casual Vacancy and everyone was like, "Hmm, yeah, are you gonna go back to wizards and muggles soon?" The Next Queen of Heaven is Gregory Maguire's "Casual Vacancy", although I'm pretty sure from things mentioned in the book that he wrote this before Wicked and just didn't publish it until after.

This book tells the story of fall and winter in a small town in upstate New York, mostly through the eyes of a troubled family and the troubled music director at the Catholic Church in town. There's also a retirement convent of elderly nuns, a lady speaking in tongues, a surprise wedding, a couple of surprise pregnancies, and a gay male singing trio looking for a place to rehearse. Also, someone's speaking in tongues, someone's dying of AIDS, and someone burns a church down, but really I didn't care much about any of the characters and mostly just wanted this book to be over.

55) I witched gears back to horror, sort of, with Colin Dickey's Ghostland, which was a really fascinating American history of haunted places. Dickey doesn't actually ever say whether he thinks ghosts are real or not, but instead talks about the sociological and historical reasons why a place becomes "haunted", how history is distorted and hidden by hauntings, and how they become commercial and profitable. In touring America's haunted places he brings us to buildings, bridges, ponds, and even whole cities that are haunted, and explains the history behind the stories as well.

This was a really interesting read.

56 and 57) Fully returned to horror as a topic area (which is probably fitting, so close to Halloween), I read an article that discussed how Lois Duncan was underrated as a novelist, and how her books still hold up today. Curious to see if this was true or not, I picked up a few of her books at the used bookstore, and they are entertaining, if a little short.

Stranger With My Face introduces us to Laurie Stratton, whose life is finally on the right track. She has a cute boyfriend, she's friends with the popular kids, and she gets along with her whole family, but things suddenly go awry when people start seeing Laurie around town. Was she meeting another boy on the beach? Did she ignore entire conversations? Is she out walking on the dangerous rocks by her house? Or is it someone else who looks exactly like her, who knows her, and who wants to be her?

Down a Dark Hall brings Kit Gordy to an exclusive boarding school in Blackwood Hall, so exclusive that it turns out to only have three teachers, and Kit is one of only four students. Just into the start of the new term the girls are discovering hidden talents for painting, music, math, and poetry that they never had before, but they're also constantly exhausted and not eating. Their letters to family members and friends keep disappearing, and the only phone is locked in the headmistress' office. Is the school bringing out undiscovered gifts in the students, or is something taking them over, slowly consuming them until there's nothing of the original girls left?

Both of these were entertaining, and a good blend of atmosphere, character, and speedy plot. They're meant for young adults, but the author of the article I read was right. These books do hold up, decades later.

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