Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Month in Books: September

I didn't really have a theme to my September reading, which I bring up because I will in October.

I'm also bringing it up because I'm thinking of a secondary book project: reading or rereading all of my Stephen King books. I know that there are other blogs already doing this, reading them in publishing order and such, but I've been a Stephen King fan since high school. I have an entire bookcase in my apartment that is nothing but hardcover Stephen King books, and once I even wrote Stephen King a fan letter.

That turned out kind of hilariously, as I wrote to ask for an autographed photo. He wrote back and explained that autographed photos were more a practice for actors, not authors (Oh really, Stephen? So what were you doing appearing in all of those movie and television adaptations of your work? Writing?), and invited me to send a book to be autographed instead. I was so mad about it that not only did I never get around to sending a book, but I also threw the letter away. I wanted an autographed photo of Stephen King, and I threw away a signed letter that he wrote me because I was mad.

Ah, youth.

Anyway, I haven't read some of those books more than once, and some of them I haven't read at all. Over the years, Stephen and I have drifted apart a little, and I don't automatically buy and read his books as soon as they come out anymore. Some of them I don't even buy in hardcover, because I didn't feel like spending the money after Dreamcatcher, which I remember reading once and thinking, "Jesus, this is so bad." I'm wondering, though, if those books will mean the same things to me reading them as an adult that they did when I read them as a teenager, or if I will see them differently through a lens of different experience.

It's an idea for a New Year's resolution, but in the meantime I need to get some books out of the house, which means attacking the "books to be read" piles. That was the theme for September, and ties into the theme for October.

1) Grady Hendrix's My Best Friend's Exorcism is a love letter to the 80's. It's 1988, and even though high schoolers Gretchen and Abby have been friends since 4th grade, their friendship is a little strained after a night of skinnydipping and LSD. Gretchen's acting a little weird, and bad stuff keeps happening around her. Abby is concerned, but when she starts asking questions, that's when the really bad stuff starts happening to her, to their friends, to their school, and maybe to the whole world. Is Gretchen possessed by a demon, like the weightlifting exorcist Abby consults believes, or are high school girls just bitches? And can their friendship survive?

This book was fun, but also a little disturbing. There was some really intriguing imagery, and when I got to the end I was kind of just plowing through because I wanted to see what would happen.

2) I don't really know how to sum up Welcome to Night Vale except to say that it's just not the novel for me. I don't remember which friend said, "You don't have to listen to the podcast to read it! Go ahead! You'll love it!" but I listened to that friend, and I stuck this book on my wish list, and then my parents bought it off of my wish list for Christmas, and now I wasted a Christmas present on a book that was more interested in being cleverly surreal than in actually telling a story that might interest a reader, and I wasted time reading it.

Maybe I just didn't get it, or maybe there's not really that much there to get.

3) Holly Madison's Down the Rabbit Hole offers the incredibly shocking idea that Hugh Heffner, a man who dates seven interchangeable women at once, might be a man who mistreats women and ignores their feelings. Who could have predicted such a thing from a man who presents this image to the world:

Pigeon Forge Hollywood Wax Museum

I'm sorry to mock her struggles to find self esteem and happiness, but throughout the book she seems incredibly naïve for a woman who willingly agreed to move into a shared bedroom with another girlfriend in a mansion with a curfew so that she could group-date a seventy year old. And not just agreed to, but requested. She sought out this lifestyle, and then was perpetually amazed that she wasn't treated like an individual and nobody cared about her feelings.

I'm also kind of surprised that Criss Angel didn't sue, because the part where she talks about him being emotionally abusive and stealing her jewelry after she broke up with him could be construed as defamatory, unless he agrees that's what happened.

4) Back in the early days of the war in Afghanistan, a lot of people had an impression of Pat Tillman, the NFL player who walked away from a football contract to join the Army. In Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer tells us about the man behind the propaganda: who he was, what he believed in, and why he thought it was his duty to help others. This is both a biography of Tillman and of the US involvement in Afghanistan going back several decades before the fighting, the tragic way in which the two histories collided, and the way that the US government did their best to obscure the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

This book is ultimately frustrating, because it's a story about how Tillman thought he was doing the right thing, and trusted the government to tell him and the American people the truth. Since that didn't happen, you're left with the feeling that his sacrifice was a terrible waste.

5) Gordon Merrick's The Lord Won't Mind is a trashy romance novel. There's crying, emotional outbursts, a whirlwind romance, a little bit of violence, sinister machinations to keep the lovers apart, and a lot of sex. A lot of sex. More sex than "50 Shades". The kind of sex you awkwardly read on the treadmill while hoping that no one else is looking at your Kindle, because there's so much of it and it's so graphic. The surprising parts of this, though, are that it's a gay novel from 1970 that doesn't end in horrible tragedy, and that it's really super racist to the point that I assumed it had been written prior to the 1950s.

It was an interesting read, but drags in places. It also didn't clear anything off of my reading pile, since I read this one on the kindle while on the treadmill.

6) I realized at the bookstore a few weeks ago that I've never read anything by Robert Heinlein. That seemed odd, since he is a legendary science fiction author and I like science fiction, so I went to the science fiction section and grabbed the first Heinlein book I saw: Methuselah's Children. It tells the story of the Howard Families, a group of people in the near future who have managed to extend their lives by a few hundred years through decades of selective breeding and concealed identities. Regular humans are hunting the Families, convinced that there's a secret to their long lives, and the Families have a wild, desperate plan to steal a newly constructed interstellar starship and leave Earth behind.

This felt like half of a book. Up until they actually got into the spaceship and took off, everything was moving along, but once that happened the book seemed to fall apart. They go to a couple of planets and, eventually, back to Earth, but that whole half of the book seems directionless, like Heinlein wasn't really sure what kind of story he wanted to tell or was just throwing things at the wall until it got long enough to be publishable. I should probably try at least one more book before I decide he's not the author for me, but it may be a while.

I'm open to suggestions for another book of his to try. I was thinking of Starship Troopers, because I've heard that it's good and also because Casper Van Dien was really cute in that movie, but now I'm not sure that's a good reason to read a book, because a lot of times now I can't tell Casper Van Dien from Grant Show, so I'm open to other ideas.

For October, the theme is Joyce Carol Oates, because I have a number of her books in the "to be read" pile, so I might as well read a bunch of them all at once.

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