Monday, April 18, 2016

Eclectic, Chaotic, Promiscuous? Whatever

By Sacchi Green
Lately I don’t so much choose books to read, as have books thrust upon me. Well, “thrust” is too strong a term. It’s more a matter of stumbling across books set in my path.

For instance, there’s the advance copy of All Good Children by Dayna Ingram, sent to me by the publisher, Lethe Press, who occasionally publishes work of mine as well. The unspoken hope is that I will review it when it comes out early in May, and in fact I will, on Amazon and Goodreads, at least. Dayna’s first book, Eat Your Heart Out, was well received, but I didn’t read it. Zombie books, even lesbian zombie books with a bit of humor mixed with horror, aren’t my style.  All Good Children isn’t exactly my style, either, but I did read it, and found it compelling and very well written. The horror here is more of a science fictional nature than a fantasy one, with brutal, cruel aliens taking over the earth and allowing humanity to keep on more or less as usual but on terrible terms, especially when it comes to their children. The book is post-apocalyptic in a way, but an original way, or at least it seems so to me, although I haven’t read much in that genre past The Hunger Games. The human characters are believable and sympathetic, especially (of course) the rebellious teenage girl, and it’s that contrast of everyday reality with a nightmare reality hovering over it that gives the story its grim intensity. There is struggle, secret resistance, and heroism, and the ending, while not exactly happy, is successful. Not a book I would have chosen to read, but I glad I did, and I now have great respect for the abilities of the author.

Then there’s a novella from the same publisher, but I won’t name it because it fell flat for me. I had liked some of the author’s previous short stories, but this longer piece, a gothic/Regency vampire gay male erotic romance, seemed to me to be entirely predictable, smoothly enough written but with nothing original or particularly interesting about it. Fortunately I bought this one myself and never said anything about reviewing it. I read it largely because it has been suggested that it would be nice if more writers with this publisher reviewed the work of their fellow writers, which is true, but I’ll skip that with this one.

Another, however, I won’t skip. I’ve had this book for quite a while, and finally got around to reading it. The Padisa’s Son and the Fox by Alex Jeffers won the Lambda Award almost two years ago for gay erotica, the same year that I won my second award for lesbian erotica. I consider Alex a friend (and excellent book designer) even though we haven’t exactly met except online, so I don’t know what took me so long. I know from some of his short stories that he writes exquisite prose, as indeed he does in this book, a tale like something from The Arabian Nights but being told by a modern day prisoner in a Turkish prison to a younger, rather westernized prisoner there with him. There is adventure, mystery, shapeshifting, nobility, betrayal, a cannibalistic giant, and lavish amounts of sex ranging from the utterly grotesque to the sublime, all written with just the right blend of poetic imagery and explicit earthiness.

The book I’m reading more for relaxation and enjoyment (or rather listening to, since it’s an audiobook I play while driving) is The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. You could say I stumbled across it, since it turned up on my local library’s list of new acquisitions, and I immediately got my name on the list of people waiting for it, but Bryson is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, and I knew he had a new book out, so I’d been watching for it. Bryson is known as an idiosyncratic, humorous travel writer, although he’s also written such books as The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way, and A Short History of Almost Everything. He has a keen eye for the ridiculous, the pompous, and the truly interesting. Twenty years ago he traveled the length of Great Britain, much of it on foot, and wrote Notes from a Small Island. The current book is somewhat of a sequel to that one, a look at what has changed and what has remained the same (for better or worse) through rather older eyes. I’m not quite done with book, but I’m enjoying it greatly, although I sympathize with some of the reviewers who see the “older eyes” part as bringing out rather too much cynicism and crankiness. He says right at the outset that his publisher pushed him to do the book, and I get a sense that he himself wasn’t all that enthusiastic, but I’m still glad he did it. It’s not my favorite Bryson book—that would be A Walk in the Woods, about hiking the Appalachian Trail (and much, much better than Robert Redford’s recent movie based superficially on the book, although that’s fairly entertaining.) I hope he writes more books; my eyes are older than his, and I haven’t stopped whatever it is that I do yet, although I can understand if he doesn’t do a sequel to such books as his Australian adventure In a Sunburned Country.

I’m already worrying about what to read—aka listen to—after I finish the Bryson. Well, there’s always my fallback position, which is anything by Terry Pratchett, however many times I’ve heard it. No, in spite of what I write, I don’t listen to erotica while I’m driving. That could be even more dangerous than texting. Which I also don’t do.  

6 comments:

  1. It's tough to read when you're an editor. Keeping the critic at bay takes an awful lot of energy.

    The Padisa's Son and the Fox sounds fantastic. I'll put it on my "Want to Read" list on Goodreads (which I recently printed and discovered had more than 80 books on it...!)

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    1. And by the way...most of what I read depends on what books happen across my path, too. It's pretty rare for me to intentionally acquire a book, as opposed to running into it and taking advantage.

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    2. I should pay more attention to Goodreads. Mostly I just post book giveaways there. My own "to read" list includes a loooong file on my computer and several stacks in boxes on my bedroom floor

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  2. Will be on the lookout for Bryson. Sounds right up my proverbial alley. I'm always looking for good, compelling non-fiction

    I get what you mean about books thrust upon you. When you make your living at your hobby, it's fine balance to maintain or you'll begin to dislike the whole mess. I'm glad I got out of the restaurant business before I started to hate cooking.

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  3. This is an interesting list, Sacchi. I reviewed Dayna Ingram's zombie novel when it first came out, so I should look for her current book. I also admire Alex Jeffers' written and visual work, and I noticed the call for more Lethe Press authors to review each others' work, but I have a "to be reviewed" list that includes non-Lethe books. I should probably learn to speed-read, even though that would be like swallowing food pellets rather than savouring good food.

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  4. The Dayna Ingram books sound very interesting, Sacchi!

    I always have good intentions about writing reviews of what I read, but my Goodreads entries work out to be intermittent. I've been pretty good this year, but before that I had a super long list of stuff I ought to put into the system and write up.

    Jean, your comment about swallowing food pellets made me laugh out loud...

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