By Lisabet Sarai
A couple of months ago, we decided to revamp the Grip format a bit. We were all feeling pressured and burnt out, but nobody wanted to abandon the blog completely. So we switched to an every-other-weekday posting format, with occasional guests, devoting two weeks to each topic. Furthermore, we created a topic schedule that stretches 'way into 2013, so we all could know what we were supposed to write about, far in advance.
As we were discussing these changes, someone – maybe Kathleen – proposed that we occasionally spend a two-week period talking about what we were reading. Sounded like a great idea. This week is the first time we've tried this, and as usual, I'm the guinea pig.
I'm really not sure how to approach this. I write quite a few reviews, and I really don't feel like doing that here. After pondering this for a while, I decided to be extremely literal and give you a snapshot of what's currently on my physical and virtual book shelves.
As I suspect is true of my fellow Grippers, I tend to read several books at the same time. That way, I can select the title that most appeals to me on a certain evening. (Except when I'm traveling, I do almost all my pleasure reading in bed, before going to sleep.) Lately, I seem to have at least one digital title (often erotica) and one or two print books in progress.
At this moment (which is actually about two weeks before this post will appear), I'm a few stories into This is the Way the World Ends, a collection of apocalyptic erotica edited by Catherine Leary. This book was published by the now-defunct Freaky Fountain Press, and probably isn't available any more. I feel rather guilty, since I received this anthology for possible review more than a year ago and I'm just getting to it now. If I had reviewed it back then, might I have saved the publisher? Probably not. I did, after all, read and review Bad Romance, another Freaky Fountain title, while the publisher was still alive. It didn't help, even though I thought the book was one of the most original and intense erotica collections I'd ever read.
Actually, what triggered my decision to finally tackle This is the Way... was a discussion over at the ERWA blog about taking risks in writing erotic fiction. Like Republica Press (which has also closed its doors), Freaky Fountain was established to provide a home for erotica that didn't follow the popular rules: erotic with dark endings, violent themes, or forbidden content like non-consensual sex or incest. It's funny, because my own fiction only occasionally includes those elements, but I deeply appreciate authors who can incorporate them into a story and realize their erotic potential.
Anyway, so far This is the Way... is looking promising. The best story so far is also the most disturbing, a tale entitled “Slave King Fuck Star” by John Burks. Aliens have landed on earth and turned all its inhabitants into slaves. Mickey has the good luck to have been chosen to distribute water to the emaciated humans laboring in the Indrodi's mines. He's a petty little man who uses his power – the power of life and death – to degrade and control his fellow slaves in a way that is thoroughly despicable and yet somehow arousing. The surprise ending hits you like a fist in the gut.
Sometimes I wonder what it says about me, that I could enjoy a story like this. I make jokes about being perverted, but perhaps I really am, in some deep and horrible way. I know this story's more than just sensationalism, though. There's truth here. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of Mickeys, guarding prisons and running orphanages, people who use cruelty to make themselves feel as though they matter. And they'll probably still be around at the end of the world.
I'm also about half way through The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, in print. Almost all the print books that I read I buy second hand. I live overseas, where most English-language books are imported and hence very expensive. However, I purchased this volume brand new, as an anniversary present for my husband (knowing full well that I'd get to read it too, of course!) I hadn't heard anything about it, but a quick perusal of the blurb and a shuffle through its pages convinced me that both my husband and I would enjoy it.
The Night Circus is a dark fantasy set in the Victorian/Edwardian period. The book centers on the competition between two young magicians, groomed by their mentors since childhood to confront one another in a battle where only one can triumph. This contest takes place against the background of Le Cirque de Rêves, a mysterious circus that opens from dusk to dawn, offering its visitors pure sensation and glimpses of truth. Within the black-and-white striped tents of the night circus lie beauties and terrors that touch the soul, changing you forever.
I'm trying to read this book slowly, rationing myself to one or two chapters per night. I want to savor the images and the emotions, and that won't happen if I barrel through it the way I do most books.
This novel is gorgeously imaginative, yet I'm struck by the elegant simplicity of its language. Here's a sample passage, just to illustrate.
Outside, though it was not there before, is another raised platform, much like the one the contortionist stood on. But the figure on this platform does not move. Bailey almost thinks it is a statue, dressed in a white gown with matching fur that cascades beyond the platform to the ground. Her hair and skin, even her eyelashes, are an icy white.
But she moves. Very, very slowly. So slowly that Bailey cannot pinpoint exact motions, only slight changes. Soft flakes of iridescent snow float to the ground, falling from her like leaves from a tree.
Bailey walks around, looking at her from every angle. Her eyes follow him, though the snow-flecked lashes do not blink.
There is a small silver plaque on the platform, partially obscured by the cascading gown.
It reads IN MEMORIAM, but it does not specify who it is for.
I find it astonishing that Ms. Morgenstern manages to build her intricate, sensual world with such simple words. That in itself is a kind of magic.
Finally, for comic relief, I'm snacking on Scott Adams' The Dilbert Principle, which I picked up for two bucks at a library book sale. It's a really old book (1997), but aside from the references to pagers and PDAs, it still seems pretty relevant. I spent years in a cubicle myself, and there's an eerie truth to lots of Adams' jokes. When I'm too tired to really pay attention to what I'm reading, I'll sample a few pages of Dilbert's brainy oblivion or Dogbert's evil schemes and go to sleep chuckling.
I leave in two days for a trip back to America. I'll be sitting in a plane for twenty-odd hours. Needless to say, I've prepared myself. The cheap little tablet I'm using these days as an ereader is chock full of erotica and erotic romance. We've visited one of the local used bookstores and stocked up on T.C. Boyle, China Melville, Anita Shreve and other, less known authors. I'm not a huge fan of long plane journeys. But I am looking forward to the opportunity to catch up on my reading!