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Old 08-18-2007, 04:02 PM   #1
Blarg
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Books: What are you reading tonight?

We have ongoing threads on t.v. and movies we're watching lately; it's time for one for books. daveT's thread on favorite books covers ones we've already read, but let's put ones we are reading/going to read soon or have just finished(i.e., let's make this thread more like a log than a resume) here.

Below is some stuff I've pulled from daveT's thread, where I felt compelled to talk about my recent book-buying craziness, with some new comments.
-----------------
I'm one of those guys who will often read many books at once. Right now I'm at various depths into:

Stephen King -- On Writing
textbook on real estate
Ode to Kirihito - supposedly best graphic novel ever done by Japan's best graphic novelist ever
American Splendor (second collection put out after the movie) -- Harvey Pekar, graphic short stories
various meditation books -- Mantak Chia
How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker -- Penn Jilette
Cosmicomics -- Italo Calvino -- another re-read of it

On the burner to read next:

From Hell -- Alan Moore, graphic novel
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and The Palm Wine Drinkard -- some African dude won a Nobel prize for this I think; supposedly absolutely fantastic; the album by Brian Eno and David Byrne certainly was
God is Not Great -- Christopher Hitchens
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Old 08-18-2007, 04:11 PM   #2
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'll be reading the new issue of World Poker Tour, not really a book I know, but hey it's readable
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Old 08-18-2007, 04:28 PM   #3
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I am currently reading 'Claudius the God' by Robert Graves (the sequel to 'I Claudius', which deals with the reign of Claudius rather than the earlier Emperors), and 'Professional No Limit Holdem' which I got in the post today. I've also got 'Bigger Deal' by Andrew Holden and 'Welcome Home, Frank' (graphic novel of The Punisher) locked and ready to read after these 2.


I reread 'On Writing' not long ago actually - King has given such a useful resource to writers in that book.
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Old 08-18-2007, 04:32 PM   #4
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Currently reading "The testament of Gideon Mack" by James Robertson - an excellent novel that made it onto the 2006 Booker longlist.

It's about a faithless Church of Scotland minister who falls into a gorge and gets rescued by someone who claims to be the Devil.

I'm only halfway through right now, but it's been real laugh out loud stuff, and on the basis of what I've read so far I'd certainly recommend picking up a copy.
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Old 08-18-2007, 04:57 PM   #5
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

On Writing, by Stephen King

I finished Stephen King's On Writing last night. I enjoyed the emphasis on putting the story center stage. The book's emphases were very indicative of King as a writer, and, like his fiction, On Writing is more about enjoying oneself with interesting people for a time than coming away changed or challenged, with much of note to take with you.

For instance, King hates plotting, he says. He likes to discover the work by writing it. This would go a long way toward explaining why he can do things like let his stories drift haplessly for very long stretches, filling them out with endless detail about cornball, often quite thin characters who aren't doing anything in particular. When he at length snaps to, he can finally march his story along, if anyone is still interested. This kind of writing is on full display in messes like The Stand, which rambles on over a thousand pages, much of which is essentially unfilled with anything particularly lively.

This may be how King likes to write, and it is often recommended as the way writing should be done -- it should be essentially "found." To King's credit, he elsewhere puts aside the culturally much-vaunted role of genius in writing and ascribes writing stuff worth reading primarily to hard work. But in denigrating the need to work on structure and plot even in the sort of workaday fiction he writes, he falls into the same trap he decries. Writing without plotting requires much more of lucky genius and visits from a muse than fully envisioning where you are going and why and how to get there from the start. King may be able to eventually tidy things up into a workable whole that feels somewhat unified and has gone in a direction worth pursuing without plotting, but how many of us are among the best-selling authors in the world, or have dozens of novels behind us that have trained us and honed our skills for decades? In effectively saying, "just do it blind," King is unconsciously promoting the spooky exceptionalism he insists good writing isn't really about.*

His other comments on writing seem to pertain more to his style of writing or approach to it than to writing in general. It is this that seems the main failure of this book: it is in some ways more about how to write like Stephen King than how to write and write well. An example is his sub-par discussion of symbolism. As someone who "writes as he goes," King discusses finding your symbolism after you've done your writing. While there is something to be said for the idea that you don't really know everything about your work on a deep level until it is finished and you can step away and get some perspective, King points out the value of finding what seem to be little more than pleasing trivial coincidences and reworking them by hook or by crook elsewhere into a work to provide foreshadowing or a few echoes. The mis-focus on such minor happenstances and stress on making much of them, while ignoring the enormous symbolic ramifications of the entire structure of a work, points out King's shortcomings. To be fair, King's type of fiction neither uses nor needs much symbolism, and most fiction isn't the type made to resonate on a symbolic level. But this is another indicator that in On Writing, King, despite his best intentions, is sometimes out of his depth, or rather, at the perfect depth for the type of fiction he does.

King comes across as usually very honest in the book, but he also seems to have gotten used to indulging himself, which takes a bit of his edge off. He coins new words regularly and drops them into his sentences without comment. This seems more than a little precious, and can get annoying. That he seems quite comfortable with that argues against him being as on the level as he tries to portray.

Potential readers of the book should also be warned that the greatest part of the book is auto-biography. This can get a bit slow and trying. A more pertinent criticism is that it is not as revealing as it could be of the writer rather than the man. Both are interesting, but in a book called On Writing, one would expect even any autobiographical emphasis to fall differently than it did.

The only books given much discussion at all were his very first one, Carrie, and Misery. Both were used more as foils for autobiographical sketches than fodder for serious discussion about writing. At the end of the book, one has learned a lot more about King as a person, and it was for the most part reasonably enjoyable. But as a writer, he retains his mystery. And on writing itself, while his emphasis on the importance of story was interesting and welcome, I wish there had been more.

----------------
*Note: For those dealing with considerations like word or page limits, like short story and scriptwriters, or who simply don't want to write 1200 page books where nothing much happens for extended stretches, a "write it till you find it" type of approach to writing is also particularly inappropriate.
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Old 08-18-2007, 05:12 PM   #6
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
I am currently reading 'Claudius the God' by Robert Graves (the sequel to 'I Claudius', which deals with the reign of Claudius rather than the earlier Emperors), and 'Professional No Limit Holdem' which I got in the post today. I've also got 'Bigger Deal' by Andrew Holden and 'Welcome Home, Frank' (graphic novel of The Punisher) locked and ready to read after these 2.


I reread 'On Writing' not long ago actually - King has given such a useful resource to writers in that book.
Holden's first book was great fun. I heard the second isn't nearly so good.
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Old 08-18-2007, 05:40 PM   #7
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Blarg, I see you are reading graphic novels from Japan. Maybe try out "Blade the Immortal" "Battle Angel Alita" and "Ramna 1/2" Otherwise, I hate every thing that Takahashi does. A lot of people like "Mai, The Psychic Girl." I think it is meh.

This the list I am going to buy soon:

Memoirs:

When a Crocodile EAts the Sun.
US Grant, Memoirs.
Thirteen Days by JFK. This is about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Has to be good.
Memoir of a Second World War by Winston Churchill.
The Art of War.
I Killed.-- A collection of comedic writings on their traveling adventures.
I'm With the Band. -- I don't know what it is about, it has a star on my list.
The Reagan Diaries.
Easter Everywhere.
My Father: Il Doce -- I bet you can't figure out who the father is.
In My Skin -- Yes, I like sappy coming of age books.
Worm Up the Snake --
Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder -- The author is the attraction here.
A guest in My Own Country
Cockeyed-- About a life of blindness.
I don't want to be Crazy
Woman & Dogs
Living in the Shadow of Freud -- written by the grandaughter.
Red Eye, Black Eye
I, California\
The Other Woman
Dork Whore

Non-Memoir, non-fiction

Knights of the Green Cloth -- about old river boat gamblers
Game Theory and Economics
Fountations of Non-Cooperative Game Theory
Gaming and the Market
Essays of Game Theory my Nash
Character Naming
Howdunnit: The book of Poisons--- because I love completely worthless knowlege.
Fooled by Randomness
The Black Swan
Blink

Fiction, since it's been a while
The Great Nego Plot By Matt Johnson
Hunting in Harlem by Matt Johnson.
100 Poems from Tang and Song Dynasties by Qui Xiaolong.
Actually I have all of Qui's books on my wish list.
Tresury of Chines Poems in English and Chinese
A Case of Two Cities
When Red is Black
A Loyal Character Dancer.

Finally, I am going to buy some art books:

MC Escher.
Goya
Memoirs of a Geisha movie album.
Dali

The only thing I am reading right now is the forum, some good writing here.
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Old 08-18-2007, 05:48 PM   #8
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Some interesting books in that list. I'd love the read the Gene Wilder biography.

I have Blink but forgot I had started it. It got pushed aside, but I'll get back to it. I'm working six and seven days a week, so sometimes it's really hard to get reading in.

Interesting to see some poetry in your list. Not a lot of people read it anymore, or if they do, it's often very new stuff or channeled very precisely along ethnic lines. I think everybody should read at least a bit of poetry every once in a while.
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Old 08-18-2007, 05:52 PM   #9
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

diebitter,
hope you enjoy the Welcome Home Frank series- Ennis does a great job imo. Most of those MKnights series of Punisher is good stuff.

I'm currently reading Ultimate X-Men (just collecting the hardcovers) and its quite good stuff.
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Old 08-18-2007, 05:57 PM   #10
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Does that start with wolverine, or go back to the beginning?

I have the hardcover Marvel Masterpieces edition of the first 6 or 7 or whatever spiderman comics, and would love to get a bunch more.
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Old 08-18-2007, 06:14 PM   #11
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Starting 1776 tonight.
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Old 08-18-2007, 08:07 PM   #12
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

i went through a bunch of stuff when i was in Maine for 2 weeks, including:

Suite Francaise (Irene Nemirovsky) (i very much recommend this)
The Great Escape (Paul Brickhill)
Generation X (Douglas Copeland) (i liked it, but i thought i would have liked it more)
Hey Nostradamus! (Douglas Copeland)
The Autograph Man (Zadie Smith)
A Man Without a Country (Kurt Vonnegut)

right now i'm reading this:

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Old 08-18-2007, 08:12 PM   #13
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
*Note: For those dealing with considerations like word or page limits, like short story and scriptwriters, or who simply don't want to write 1200 page books where nothing much happens for extended stretches, a "write it till you find it" type of approach to writing is also particularly inappropriate.
not that i'm defending King's approach or anything (or criticizing it, b/c it's hard enough to write as is...if you find a system that works for you, huzzah), but that approach can work if one is a ruthless self-editor, wouldn't you think?
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Old 08-18-2007, 09:03 PM   #14
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I don't think it will work well for the majority of people.

You tend to write differently for different lengths of material, because you have to. When you have to make major cuts, you're very likely to face a task not of editing, but of a lot of rewriting or even complete reconceptualization.

For instance, you can space out expository passages in a longer work, to make them less cumbersome and keep the work flowing. And you can have more of them. But say you have to start cutting a whole lot. Then you may find the story doesn't make much sense anymore. The story starts to fail. So what do you do? You can't really get rid of the exposition, but you can't keep it either.

Solution: You cram your exposition into some poor character's mouth who now has the task of getting away with speaking in a way that's dull and unnatural, maybe even comically so. (This is the part that often makes me roll my eyes watching movies. Bad Writing 101.) You've turned your character fairly baldly into a mechanism rather than a human, and you'll probably get caught at it.

The same thing goes for setting scenes, casually revealing dialogue slipped out here and there, little things that make the work flow and make sense and come together. Left with a lot of editing to do, you have to dump a lot of them, and may never find a way to get that wholeness of the work back, because it was written to be whole at a much different length, not the one you've got. The natural pace and flavor of a piece, and the motivation for characters, can vanish and leave you with a clunky frankenstein of a script stitched together from sexier sources.

Can you do it? Maybe, especially if you're Stephen King. But the man is world class at it, he has no length restrictions, and he has the experience of decades -- and he still screws up at it frequently. What chance do the rest of us have of consistently putting Humpty Dumpty together again?

It's just a naturally very hard way to go about things. It sets up a lot of problems up front, and it depends a lot more on luck and innate talent to get things right once you've got the ball rolling in random directions for indeterminable periods. If I have a story that's going to need to be done in 120 pages, writing one that will only properly pay off in 240 will likely make me choose different subject matter, different themes, more characters and viewpoints, different subplots and more of them, and radically different pacing. These are things that editing isn't the best tool in the box to fix, because the problem isn't the number of words. The number of words could be just right for a different kind of story. Writing within restrictions isn't just about the quantity of pages. When you write within restrictions, you change the nature of the work.

An example is to be found in your own short films. Was gravida coming out well a matter of editing out the car chases and the pursuit of a great white whale? Was the relatively stationary camera and quiet story with a limited number of sets and special effects in any way an accident? Writing within your restrictions made you choose the type of story, the setting, and the pacing. You knew where you were going, and that's how you got sensibly where you did. You clearly did a lot of thinking it out in advance.
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Old 08-18-2007, 09:39 PM   #15
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
An example is to be found in your own short films. Was gravida coming out well a matter of editing out the car chases and the pursuit of a great white whale? Was the relatively stationary camera and quiet story with a limited number of sets and special effects in any way an accident? Writing within your restrictions made you choose the type of story, the setting, and the pacing. You knew where you were going, and that's how you got sensibly where you did. You clearly did a lot of thinking it out in advance.
well, that's just because the stunt guy quit on the first day of filming
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Old 08-18-2007, 09:45 PM   #16
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

also: blarg, those are some really good points regarding overall tone and such that i hadn't really taken into consideration
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Old 08-18-2007, 09:57 PM   #17
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Blarg,


Check this and other volumes out if you enjoy the X-men. It starts from the beginning and is now about 60 issues into the series. It's really great stuff IMO if you like the X-Men. The Ultimate series is a revamped comic of many different superheroes (Spidey,X-Men,etc), sort of for new comic readers who want a fresh start. (and don't want to shift through the hundreds of original copies of X-Men and its variants).

If you like Wolverine/want his origin, check out:



Origin, the tale of Wolverine's past. Good stuff.
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Old 08-18-2007, 11:19 PM   #18
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Wittgenstein's Mistress and The Last Novel by David Markson

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Wittgenstein
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Old 08-19-2007, 12:54 AM   #19
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I just finished reading Glamorama and Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis. I thought both books were OK, but I didn't enjoy either nearly as much as American Psycho.

I also just finished The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It was a very enjoyable book, although again, not as good as her first book, The Secret History, which is fantastic.

Right now, I am reading Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer. It is a non-fiction look at the Mormon Church, focusing on fundamentalist Mormons. I'm about halfway through, and it is very interesting.

After I finish the Krakauer book, I am going to read Phillip Roth's trilogy - American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain.
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Old 08-19-2007, 11:23 PM   #20
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I just started reading Cryptonomicon today. I got it for Xmas a couple of years ago and didn't start it until today. Someone mentioned it on the "Favorite Book" thread and there was also a thread about loving Neal Stephenson a year ago, so I gave the book ago.

Talking about recent books I just finished reading:
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson last week and I loved it. It was very funny and I enjoyed the tales of the Appalachian Trail. I am doing a road trip from SouthWest Texas to New Hampshire starting three weeks from now, and I think I will include a couple of hikes from the AT on my roadtrip, in particular the Delaware Water Gap and Greylock.

I also just finished Cloud Nine by Luanne Rice recently (after Walk in the Woods). I enjoyed the book a lot. I bought it because it was $0.25 at the local library, and then ended up enjoying the book a lot. About hope and love.

The other book I have read in August was A Tragic Legacy by Glenn Greenwald. I read his blog on Salon.com every morning and I read his previous book How Would a Patriot Act? so I knew I would find the book very good. I think his way of writing following facts is really good. I thought the book was excellent.
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Old 08-20-2007, 12:27 AM   #21
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I'm half way through Gore's Assault on Reason book. Its reminded me why I don't buy and read books by politicians. Even when I agree with the content/message I want to shoot myself in the face.

I'm also a bit into a book of Speech's from Martin Luther King Jr. Interesting stuff.
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Old 08-20-2007, 01:25 AM   #22
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Iris Chang's "Thread of the Silkworm". I've not previously read any Iris Chang and sadly, she won't be putting out any more books. Its a biography of a Chinese rocket scientist who was deported from the U.S. in the 50's following a McCarthy driven purge. He became the leading figure behind the Chinese development of a ballistic missle program and their space program.

Last week I finished "Bones of the Master" by George Crane. Oddly enough I stumbled upon this title while searching the (empty) shelves for Chang's book. It is an unusual book with an unusual subject matter it would appeal many of the readers of this forum (and it is a very fast, engaging read). The story is about a Ch'an (Buddhist) monk who returns to Inner Mongolia after a forty year absence to find and properly honor his teacher's remains.
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Old 08-20-2007, 03:01 AM   #23
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Quote:
Wittgenstein's Mistress and The Last Novel by David Markson

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Wittgenstein
i've been meaning to read wittgenstein's mistress. how is it?
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Old 08-20-2007, 08:29 AM   #24
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

I also tend to read a lot of books at the same time. Lately, though, I can't seem to finish any of them.

Reading:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
No Limit Hold 'Em by Sklansky and Miller
PADI Divemaster Manual
My Silent War by Kim Philby

Tonight, I'll be reading Enriched Air Diving: PADI Specialty Series


I've just ordered a heap of books from England (they don't sell good books where I live), so my list will change considerably in the next couple of weeks.

To the guy reading Cryptonomicon: it's fantastic. May seem a bit slow at first, but keep going. It's well worth it.
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Old 08-20-2007, 12:37 PM   #25
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Re: Books: What are you reading tonight?

Crime and Punishment is one that's going to be hard to finish if you don't just submerge yourself in it and read it through as quick as you can. I loved the book, but the business with all the names and the different nicknames different people call the same guy is very cumbersome and can be discouraging. Plus it's just a deep book, not the type to hop in and out of.
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