Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

The stories in this book reminded me of the works of Arnold Lobel (specifically Owl at Home), if Lobel had written for adults. They share the same daydream quality, the same wandering imaginative struggles and circular, fanciful routines that come from spending a great deal of time alone, or even out of just plain old loneliness. I was also reminded of the humor cartoonist Chris Ware manages to find in quiet despair, the charming, absurd moments from small lives lived unseen and eventually crushed by an indifferent universe. This is a collection of fables, lots and lots of tiny stories and tall tales, featuring (as a very small sampling) a love affair between a cliff-bound house and a gravity-bound ocean, a city-dwelling octopus who receives a visit from his nephews from the sea, a tree who unroots itself to see the world, a duck who falls in love with a rock, a television set that writes an opera about Winston Churchill, and a man who invites a moose to go skydiving with him.

There is much enjoyment to be had here. However, I'd recommend that readers drink this in small sips. This is a heady mix of whimsy and unfulfilled desire, of absurdest humor and bleak, utter hopelessness, of charming and bizarre anthropomorphisms and violent urges, of insanity and magic, of worlds within worlds of inescapable cosmic frustrations.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

I love reading about the daily routines of artists and the like, so it was pretty nice to find this book. What I learned about the work habits of the painters, composers, writers, and philosophers covered in this volume is that many of them:

1. Drank lots of alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
2. Smoked lots of tobacco
3. Took long walks
4. Popped uppers to get going and downers to get to sleep
5. Got up early for a few hours of concentrated work (and then dicked around for the rest of the day)

I also realized, after reading this book, that I've got numbers 1, 2, and the second half of number 5 covered. I figure that means that I'm well on my way to becoming a creative juggernaut.

Note on the Kindle Edition: The photographs in the Kindle version I read were all misplaced. Every single one of them. And, of course, the captions accompanying the photographs were all wrong, too, and sometimes humorously so.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Mist by Stephen King

This was a re-read. I listened to The Mist first when I was 12 years old (on cassette, in glorious 3D SOUND!) and remember liking it quite a bit. Then, I read it later on, in my late teens, as part of King's Skeleton Crew collection. It's funny how memory works. One thing about this story that has always stood out in my mind over the years is what I remembered to be long lists of brand names, paragraphs and paragraphs of listed brand names. When I was re-reading this, I kept waiting for those long lists to appear. They never did.

 I rarely re-read books (there are just too many good books out there to read) but re-read this one in preparation for watching the film adaptation, which I hear is great.

 None of the above really has anything to do with whether or not I like The Mist after all these years. I do. I think it holds up remarkably well. The only real problem I had with it was the fact that the protagonist's kid all too conveniently (for the plot) sleeps through events (on the floor of a grocery store during a crisis!) that no one would sleep through. This fairly minor quibble aside, this is a great monster story, a good post-apocalyptic story, and a really good horror story with nods to Lovecraft.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Doctor Sleep by Stephen KIng

Is Doctor Sleep as good as The Shining? No. Did I go in expecting it to recreate that experience? No. That would be silly. When you order thin crust pepperoni pizzas from Pizza Hut you expect the same thin crust pepperoni pizza every time. Books ain’t pizza. I would have been majorly disappointed if, in Doctor Sleep, Dan Torrance returned to a newly rebuilt Overlook Hotel with his own family just to find out that he’s his father’s son, then go nuts and try to smash everyone to pieces with a blunt object.

Doctor Sleep ain’t The Shining.

Instead, Doctor Sleep has more in common with Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. Both books have protagonists with special abilities who grow up to be raging alcoholics, who then learn to deal with their addictions, and get their special ability mojos back just in time to face down the bad guys. Both books feature kidnapped children as a central theme. The protagonists both have young relatives who must face the very same evil the protagonists themselves faced as a child. Both books feature cross-country pursuits. Both feature ancient ‘vampires’ of a very similar vein. The vehicles these ‘vampires’ drive are also key bits of characterization in both books. Doctor Sleep’s bad guys are like evil carnie folks, NOS4A2’s bad guy runs an evil carnival. The baddies in both books are over-the-top villains, almost cartoonish (which was a feature, not a defect, in my mind, for both novels).

By drawing the parallels above, am I trying to say something, to point out a King family conspiracy? No. Not really. It’s just interesting to note is all.

But none of this addresses the question of whether or not I liked Doctor Sleep. I did, by the way. I liked it very much. It was an engrossing page-turner, tighter than a lot of King’s later work. It has believable characters that you cared about, lots of action, and an ending that was satisfying (another somewhat rare find in a King novel). I also felt that it was a fine companion piece to The Shining, with enough ties and allusions to the original work to make it relevant, without being too referential or reverential (which would have been much, much worse). It wasn't a rehash, which I liked most of all.

 If I wanted the same pepperoni pizza, I’d call Pizza Hut.