Friday, February 5, 2016

What I'm Intermittently Reading

For someone who wishes to make writing his career, I admit I don’t allow as much time for reading as I should. The nature of working in creative fields is, of course, a tad random. Added to that, the fact most of my cover art clients and author friends are either Aussie night owls or North American folks means a lot of my busiest times are in the last three hours of the Australian day. Consequently, in order not to wake my wife, I tend not to read in bed any more.
I’m in the middle of several books at the moment. One of them is “A City Called Smoke” by Justin Woolley. It’s an Australian post-apocalyptic story, featuring zombie-like creatures, and is book two of the series (book one is “A Town Called Dust”). I’m enjoying the story, but not super-engaged with it. There are some stylistic elements which, to me, seem to be flaws. An overabundance of superfluous thats, for example, of the “that was the thing that she said” variety. It’s also rich with tell, rather than show. Given the genre mix of the story it’s probably not as much of a problem as it would be in, say, romance, but to paraphrase what Giselle said in her blog, the internal editor tends to pop up and tap its pedantic (and metaphorical) foot.
Having said that, I’m enjoying the pacing and the setup, as well as the very Australian references within the story. Though most places aren’t named as we currently name them, it’s clear when the author is referring to Uluru or Alice Springs, for example. It’s also cool that the semi-organised military force is called The Diggers.
There is political and religious intrigue as well, with church and state battling for ultimate control of the uncontrollable. I’m not political enough in real life to truly know, but my feeling is the author is drawing analogies with current conditions to help inform this element within the series.
It’s also interesting to note that within the greater ensemble of characters, the two leads are arguably unexpected. A sixteen-year-old girl of noble birth (or whatever passes for noble birth in the post-apocalyptic world) who essentially volunteered for military service, and a sixteen-year-old boy who seems to me is a high-functioning autistic character (possibly Asperger’s, though no mention of his condition has been made, only descriptions of it).
The other book I’m reading through (plodding through really) is “Written On The Body” by Jeanette Winterson. I’m actually a tad ashamed to admit my plodding pace since it’s not anything to do with the book at all. I find Winterson’s prose engaging and invigorating. This book was, indeed, part of what inspired me to re-work my old story into the recently released “The Last Three Days”. I’d been planning it for ages, but the sumptuous and sensual use of language within “Written On The Body” was the element which kick-started me.*
Part of my enjoyment of this book comes from the ambiguity. It’s written in first person, but unless I missed a few salient points (which is, indeed, highly possible), the gender of our narrator has not been expressly revealed. During this first 75 pages I’ve been certain several times, only to change my mind a matter of pages later. As a side point to that, the narrator reveals many of his/her own flaws and tendencies, and those of the women he/she is involved with. Yet most or all descriptions of physical encounters revolve around descriptions of the partners, of the tactile and emotional experience our narrator gains from those women. Smatterings of how wonderful it all feels to our narrator, but no mention of his or her pulsing genitalia.
To me, this one-sidedness is integral to the character. I sense he/she has a great reluctance to be truly open, and the style of writing essentially becomes a framework to support the character.
I have a great many books still waiting for me to read them, also. Some are kind of high-falutin’, like Paolo Coelho’s “Eleven Minutes”, and an anthology of five John Steinbeck books (two of which I’ve already read many years ago). I also have an e-reader bursting to the brim with stories. I fear that by the time I die, there will be more unread books in my various libraries than read ones. But hey, as long as people are still writing, all is good in the world.

*What’s also embarrassing is the fact I’m only up to page 75 of the book, yet my own story has been out for close to two months, which tells you how infrequently I’m reading.


  1. Eeeek! The 'thats'! Those dreaded 'that's!

    I have a list of words most likely to be superfluous, compiled through several stints as flasher editor for ERWA. The only reason 'that' is not at the top of um... that... list is because I've arranged them in alphabetical order.

  2. Console yourself, Willsin, with the realization that no matter how long you live, you will never run out of things to read. As I contemplate aging and its associated physical deterioration, that's one bright spot.

    The Jeanette Winterson book sounds really intriguing!

  3. Written on the Body! I will never forget my first time reading that. A friend gave it to me after encountering it in some awesome-sounding college class called "Desire in Fiction" or some such back in the 90s. And the book was such an incredibly, bewitching, thrilling, shocking mystery to me. As a queer person who didn't really know what that meant, it was revelatory to read about this desire for a woman without being knocked out by reminders that the narrator couldn't be me. And you're right that the narrator's gender is not revealed. To me, the narrator was a woman, but that's because I needed her to be.

  4. I love the books I've read by Jeanette Winterson, so I'll have to add this one. I would tend to read a narrator of unspecified gender as the author (a lesbian), though of course this character is probably ambiguous on purpose. I love Winterson's use of understatement in her surrealistic novel "Sexing the Cherry." When the body of Oliver Cromwell is dug up after the Restoration of 1660, convicted of "murdering" the previous king (Charles I), and publicly hanged, the contemporary narrator says "that was an occasion for a scented handkerchief." No doubt.

  5. I'm still inching through the Winterson book, but still loving it!


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