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text 2017-01-19 02:08
7 To-Reads That Make Me Very, Very Nervous
Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake
Don Quixote - Roberto González Echevarría,John Rutherford,Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
The Fireman: A Novel - Joe Hill
11/22/63 - Stephen King
Peace - Gene Wolfe
The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights Volume 1 - Malcolm C. Lyons,Ursula Lyons
The Divine Comedy by Dante, Illustrated, Hell, Volume 05 - Dante Alighieri,Gustave Doré,Henry Francis Cary

Like a lot of people, I have a few books that, for various reasons, I haven't gotten to yet. These are ones that just flat scare me.


1. Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake  Titus Groan - Mervyn Peake  


    The first of the Gormenghast novels, I very much want to read this because it is a genre classic, heavy on character, rich in language, and deeply weird. I've dipped in a couple times and, frankly, ,the dense prose and deeply strange people  scare me a bit. Still, on the bucket list.


2. Don Quixote - Roberto González Echevarría,John Rutherford,Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra  Don Quixote - Roberto González Echevarría,John Rutherford,Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra  


    Obviously, it's a stone classic. Also, it is a satire of the chivalric romances that has come to epitomize them. Irony! It scares me because nobody makes it past the windmills.


3. The Fireman: A Novel - Joe Hill  The Fireman: A Novel - Joe Hill  


    I loved Twentieth Century Ghosts and Heart--Shaped Box, liked Horns, and never finished NOS4A2. Those conflicted feelings, plus my general dislike for post-apocalyptia, equals a long stay on the TBR shelf.


4. 11/22/63 - Stephen King  11/22/63 - Stephen King  


     So much frigging book. I started this around the time it came out and got something like 250 pages in. Solid, but slow, and some of the timey-wimey stuff was a bit off to me. Plus, bigger King is not always better King.


5. Peace - Gene Wolfe  Peace - Gene Wolfe  


    Combine dense language with mind-fuckery and I worry. Also, a lot of people say multiple readings are necessary to truly appreciate it. I'm sure it's excellent, but it seems like a lot of work.


6. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights Volume 1 - Malcolm C. Lyons,Ursula Lyons  The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights Volume 1 - Malcolm C. Lyons,Ursula Lyons  


    I own all three volumes of this translation of the Calcutta 2. This is a hard one for me, because The Arabian Nights is a huge part of me as a reader (Hell, I've even read whole books on it's provenance and influence, namely Irwin's Arabian Nights Companion), influencing my love of nesting stories, but there are many nasty undertones. On top of that, we're talking about 2,400 pages. Yes, this is a more modern-reading translation than the classic Burton, but still...


7. The Divine Comedy by Dante, Illustrated, Hell, Volume 05 - Dante Alighieri,Gustave Doré,Henry Francis Cary  The Divine Comedy by Dante, Illustrated, Hell, Volume 05 - Dante Alighieri,Gustave Doré,Henry Francis Cary  


    I have a coffee-table edition of the entire Divine Comedy, illustrated by Dore. It's huge, it's gorgeous... It's epic poetry.


I will read all of these, but no promises as to when, as I am a coward.

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text 2016-10-23 22:13
A Shadow in Summer - Daniel Abraham

I just read the "Prolog" to this today... an interesting setup, delivered quite capably. The mystery of the andat is an attractive one, and Otah is a character I want to follow for the rest of the novel.


Interesting to note: This chapter bears some similarities to the prologue chapter of another great "Shadow" novel (The Shadow of the Torturer, by Gene Wolfe), which itself unfolded into a quartet of similar length (The Book of the New Sun). In both books, the main character is a young adolescent raised as more-or-less orphan in a strict, highly ordered monastic environment wherein a propensity for cruelty makes its way into both characters as a result of the system they've been brought up in. Both escape this order after being unable to resist showing mercy, though, and they strike out on their own. I wonder if there will be any more similarities (or indeed intertexts) with that Wolfean masterpiece... I am most intrigued.

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review 2016-08-05 15:16
Gene Wolfe takes a crack at detective fiction!
Pandora By Holly Hollander - Gene Wolfe

If you know me, you know that I hold Gene Wolfe in the highest regard. He is a literary god. In fact, I make burnt offerings to him on a regular basis. (in my mind, of course).


You may also have seen my review of Castleview. That novel was incomprehensible. Even Wolfe nods. Pandora by Holly Hollander is a good deal easier to follow (disclaimer: Wolfe's fiction is never really easy to follow, but at least if you're paying attention Pandora is not difficult). Apart from the plot, which is prima facie a boilerplate mystery plot, there are some interesting things about this book. First, there's the title, which is a mildly funny literary joke in the same vein as the title of one of Wolfe's classic short stories ("The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories") and his classic collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories. There's also a Foreword (usually something written by the author to explain something about the book) written in the voice of Holly Hollander. So, Wolfe effaces himself as author, and yet everything about the style of the book is pure Gene Wolfe (at least the style that he was developing in the late '80s). I haven't figured out why he does this, but it does make the book sound more personal because it lends the fictional author some of the persona that a real author tends to have.


The plot is indeed autobiographical from the standpoint of Holly Hollander -- she is a part of the action at every turn, and yet (as with every Wolfe plot) there is always something going on behind the scenes that does not become clear until the big reveal in the penultimate chapter. Now, the Big Reveal is a well-used device in the mystery-plot toolbox (another disclaimer: I don't read much mystery fiction, but I've seen plenty of Masterpiece Mystery!). But the Wolfe-style Big Reveal is special because things are always happening behind the scenes while the means and motivations of the players are obscured. What's more, though, is that the real significance of the novel hits you, rather strongly and obliquely, in the final paragraph, making the whole whodunit merely a tool for expressing the sub-rosa family dynamics lurking at the core of the novel.


Holly Hollander is the only-child daughter of a wealthy couple living in suburban Chicago. Her mother acquires a mysterious box labeled PANDORA to give away as a prize at the upcoming annual fair. What's in the box, everyone is afraid to ask (because of Pandora, y'know). Well, the box is opened at the fair, people die, and the rest of the story is a whodunit. My head was swirling with theories about who did the deed, but I was surprised by who it actually was. Family dynamics are the key to solving this one, but even if you know that, you may still finger the wrong suspect.


I did have some issues with the pacing -- some conversations went on entirely too long, and not in a good Quentin-Tarantino way either. But the mystery still had me hooked, and I could hardly look away from it. Recommended for anyone looking for an oddball mystery!


One last thing: I mentioned previously that the book was autobiographical because its "author" Holly Hollander is the main character. Well, she confesses several times in the book that she is an aspiring professional writer herself. So, be on the lookout for literary tropes and think about their relationship with reality. Note also that Gene Wolfe for a very long time has lived in suburban Chicago.

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review 2016-05-04 06:36
A Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe
A Borrowed Man - Gene Wolfe

Who better to solve a mystery you don’t want official investigated than a mystery writer? A mystery writer, who has spent their whole life studying crime, is perfect—especially when that writer is a cloned version that can be “checked out” from a library and threatened with all kinds of things to keep them from talking. When E.A. Smithe is checked out by Colette Coldbrook in Gene Wolfe’s A Borrowed Man, he has no idea that he’s going to land right in the middle of a huge conspiracy. Even though the case is dangerous, he has to accept because solving it might help him avoid the fate of all cloned authors: eventual burning once they’re no longer checked out...


Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.

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review 2016-04-12 22:47
Yes, there *are* doors.
There Are Doors - Gene Wolfe

As with anything written by Wolfe, I feel eminently unqualified to say much about the book. It is a struggle to put together any kind of well-thought-out essay concerning a Wolfe work because most of what he writes defies logical expectations and resists rational analysis.


For instance: in There Are Doors, we're told in chapter 1 that the protagonist has fallen in love with a woman, presumably after a brief dalliance, and that she has disappeared, leaving only a mysterious note in which she tells him to be careful not to walk through doors that lead to other realities, and you'll know which doors do this because they look "significant". Now, there's no direct indication anywhere in the novel that any particular door is significant. So, every time our man walks through a door, you have to wonder -- is he in another world, or not; and indeed, will he ever see this remarkable woman again?


But there's more trouble: the main character is probably insane. I say "probably", because the whole thing is told from his perspective (it's third-person narrative, but the perspective is entirely his -- Wolfe never stoops to omniscience). So, what's real and what's not? Well, don't fear -- when you read Wolfe, you have to remember one thing: everything is real, but reality is not simple. In fact, it's really complicated... just like in reality. This last bit, actually, is why Gene Wolfe is my favorite author. When you read one of his stories and read it intently, you access a kind of reality that you'll experience nowhere else. You'll also be reminded of how bewildering the world really is if you stop to think about it. And, even better, you'll be invited in to the creative process, because Wolfe keeps so many secrets up his sleeve that you have to fill in the gaps; you become an active reader in a truly Barthesian sense.


To get back to There Are Doors: this is a Wolfe story that's rather explicitly about reality. Many questions remain unanswered, such as "is she a goddess?", "is the 'other world' a construct of the main character's imagination, or do other people experience it too?", "who is Mama Capini, really?", and "what exactly does the last page mean?" But part of the fun of reading There Are Doors lies in getting lost in this man's experience between worlds -- he, more than any of us, experiences the tenuousness of reality, and yet he doesn't even realize it. This is important because it means that we have to realize it -- our own perspective, as readers, is constantly scrutinizing Mr. Green and his world, picking apart his realities and discovering the ineffable truths that lie beneath.

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