The truth about the world

The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning. 

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

Book review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is a classic that I should have read before now. It took me a while, both to actually start reading the book and to finish it once I had begun, and it was well worth it.

The book’s premise should be familiar to almost everyone. Count Dracula is a vampire. He terrorizes people. The people try to kill him. Van Helsing is involved. Vampires don’t like the light. Or garlic. Or crosses. They can’t get inside a home unless invited.

You get the picture.

I probably put off reading the book for so long because I’m irrationally wary of stilted, “old” language. The book didn’t deliver on that front, and was actually quite easy and enjoyable to read. One of my favorite passages:

The tomb in the daytime, and when wreathed with fresh flowers, had looked grim and gruesome enough, but now, some days afterwards, when the flowers hung lank and dead, their whites turning to rust and their greens to browns, when the spider and the beetle had resumed their accustomed dominance, when the time-discolored stone and dust-encrusted mortar and rusty, dank iron, and tarnished brass, and clouded silver-plating gave back the feeble glimmer of a candle, the effect was more miserable and sordid than could have been imagined. It conveyed irresistibly the idea that life, animal life, was not the only thing that could pass away.

I think the most enjoyment I found in the book came from all the wonderful vampire lore that ended up in more modern books. I love knowing that Stoker was breaking new ground with his ideas. And we’ve been using them ever since.

Dracula ranks 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Dracula on Amazon if you want to support my reading habits.

Book review: American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis

I’m late to the American Psycho party. I’ve had intentions of reading it going back a decade (wow I feel old) but I just never got around to it. I started reading it on a plane to San Francisco and finished it that weekend.

Most people are probably familiar with the plot, either from the ridiculous amount of press it’s gotten over the years or from the film starring Christian Bale. If you’re one of the few that has no idea, it goes a little something like this:

Patrick Bateman (Pat Bateman when he’s introducing himself) is living the American Dream on Wall Street. He was born with money, and he makes more of it than he knows what to do with. He has a group of friends, colleagues, and lovers. Bateman is a serial killer. He knows every designer and piece of clothing on earth, and he’s happy to tell you everything you wanted to know about proper style. He dines at the finest restaurants and only snorts cocaine from the most exclusive nightclub bathrooms. Bateman is the 1980s, through and through.

In case you glossed over it in the previous paragraph, Bateman has a wicked side. Here’s a (very) tame example of what you’re in for when it comes to his madness:

I tried to make meat loaf out of the girl but it becomes too frustrating a task and instead I spend the afternoon smearing her meat all over the walls, chewing on strips of skin I ripped from her body.

As disturbing as that may seem to some, that is one of the tamest descriptions of Bateman’s violent habits. As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of horror fiction so I have plenty of experience with violent, scary and off putting stories. I still wasn’t prepared for the wanton violence on display throughout the book. It’s over the top and so, so masterfully told.

The book is a deep and cutting indictment of American culture. Bateman is the result of capitalism run wild, concerned with how much money his peers are making one second and treating women like goods to be enjoyed and discarded the next. I’ve never seen such a violent parody that’s still on point in its criticisms in my life. Bateman is the classic unreliable narrator, but you can’t help but wonder how in the hell he is getting away with everything without anyone treating him any differently.

The novel is incredibly graphic, so much so that it was dropped by the original publisher Simon & Schuster. Unsurprisingly it’s been banned and vilified in many areas of the world as well. Luckily, we don’t live in one of those areas and you can take my advice to read the book.

American Psycho rates an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars for me. You can buy American Psycho on Amazon if you’re interested. Thank you in advance if you purchase a book through one of the Amazon links on this site. It helps pay for my reading and movie watching habits.

Other books I read this week:

Book Review: Borderlands edited by Thomas F. Monteleone

Borderlands

According to my Goodreads account I’ve owned Borderlands since December 7, 2013. Somehow I just got around to reading it. I say “somehow” as if the hundreds of books I own but haven’t read are just going to sit up and turn the pages themselves.

I regret waiting this long to read this wonderful horror anthology. I revel in the enjoyment I still feel when I think about the collection, even a week later.

I was lucky enough to come across an entire set of the Borderlands series in a used book store. This book sets the tone as the first in a “horror anthology series not concerned with traditional elements of horror fiction.” Each story includes an introduction from Monteleone that’s just as much about the story as the authors themselves.

The collection is chock full of great writers, from Harlan Ellison to Poppy Z. Brite. My favorite out of the collection was Delia and the Dinner Party by John Shirley. It tells the story of a little girl, her parents and how the terrifying reality of life can be exposed during a dinner party.

I don’t think there was a terrible story in the anthology, which is unusual. One of my favorite lines from the book came out of Suicide Note by Lee Moler:

There may be a man over the age of thirty-five somewhere who isn’t aroused by a garter belt and stockings on a pair of high-flow legs, but don’t trust him because he’s a liar.

Another great quote came out of His Frozen Heart by Jack Hunter Davies Jr:

Old people stayed awake watching Johnny Carson because they were afraid they’d die in their sleep in the long hours before dawn.

The anthology certainly achieves its stated goal of bringing atypical horror to the forefront. I love typical horror, and I’m happy to report I also love the atypical side of things. I think, in the end, it all comes down to great writing and plot. Borderlands has both in spades.

Borderlands rates 5 out of 5 stars. If you can find a decent copy, you can buy Borderlands on Amazon. They are hard to find, but I guarantee you’ll enjoy the book if you’re a fan of horror, and likely if you’re not. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits (yes, I always need more books), so thanks in advance if you decide to make the right choice and pick up Borderlands.

Other books I read this week:

Book review: Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan

Why We Make Mistakes

Why We Make Mistakes is a great read if you, like me, enjoy having a ton of questionably useful information in your head at all times. Since reading the book I’ve already referenced two of the findings/studies, possibly to the great chagrin of my conversational partners.

The book is simply a collection of many ideas on the themes of decision making and cognitive failures. Chapters include everything from “We Connect the Dots” (our brains really like to be efficient and make decisions quickly) to “Men Shoot First” (men and women are different in how they make decisions and confidence). It’s a good mix of ideas, although at times it can seem more random than I’d like.

That brings me to one aspect of the book that was an absolute waste of time. Every chapter is littered with callout boxes, like those you would find in a newspaper that summarize certain points of the story. This makes sense in context of a newspaper, where someone might just need the basic information about a story. I’m fairly certain that most people don’t just flip through books to get tidbits of information though. Maybe I’m in the minority that reads nonfiction just like any other book, by reading every page in its entirety. Either way, the callouts were incredibly annoying because they all repeated information I had already read.

I eventually stopped reading all of the callouts, which increased my enjoyment at least tenfold. Maybe the publisher will release a new edition in the future that omits these unnecessary space wasters. In the meantime, definitely skip the grey boxes if you pick up this book to read.

When it comes to nonfiction I’m generally looking for either an interesting story that could be a novel but happens to be true, a deep dive into a topic that piques my interest, or a collection of facts that I can use in conversation or apply to some parts of my daily life. Why We Make Mistakes sits directly in the last category and holds itself up well.

Why We Make Mistakes rates 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Why We Make Mistakes on Amazon if you want to learn about the myriad ways your brain can screw with you. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on this blog helps support my reading and film-watching habits, so I appreciate it if you decide to read the book.

Other books I read this week:

Gideon’s Sword by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child | 3 out of 5 stars | Buy Gideon’s Sword on Amazon

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

If you’re looking for something to read, love science fiction and have any interest in the end of the world then you need to pick up Seveneves immediately. I love this book, and Stephenson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This is my second dip into his work after I read Cryptonomicon last year.

I’m only going to tell you two things about the plot of this book. If you’re interested in either, or the interplay between the two, then you just need to get the book and enjoy it. The first is the very first line of the book:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

If you’re keeping track mark that down in the scorebook as one of the greatest first lines ever. Who wouldn’t want to keep reading the next 860 pages of this mammoth book? I definitely did. The only other plot point I’ll tell you about came in the title of the first chapter form part three of the book:

Five Thousand Years Later

So with a dozen words you know it’s going to be an apocalyptic epic. If you need more than that you’re going to have to go read another review to help you decide.

I gravitate towards Stephenson’s writing because he weaves incredibly detailed hard science into wonderfully constructed narrative arcs that keep me hooked the entire time. I don’t know about you, but I love reading about the minutia of orbital mechanics in the context of a great tale. This is Stephenson’s superpower when it comes to readers like me.

For those of you who are distracted or inept at recognizing gushing praise: Seveneves rates 5 out of 5 stars. You can buy Seveneves on Amazon if you’re interested in picking up this doorstop of a book and spending a few hours in complete bliss. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits, so thanks in advance if you decide to read Seveneves.

Other books I read this week:

  • Are you kidding? Did you not see the part about how this book is 860+ pages long? I’ll be back next week with more.

Postmortem of a news junkie

All through my childhood and adolescence I read two local newspapers a day. Residents of my hometown have the option to subscribe to both the Journal Gazette and the News Sentinel. My daily news consumption formed much of who I was for a very long time. I even went to school for journalism and moved to Austin to start a digital magazine, because I was convinced the world needed another publication telling local stories in new and interesting ways.

Today I don’t read any news publications, digital or otherwise. Sometimes I stumble across an article from one of the major national newspapers, but it’s nothing like it once was. I was a heavy Google Reader user at one time, but now I don’t do anything with RSS. What happened?

I’ve found that the news doesn’t contribute anything useful to my life, so I choose not to consume it. Instead I get by with a lot of slow information (think magazines and books), niche blogs, and several online communities that tell me everything I need to know. I still get Austin news, but it is a filtered version that comes from other Austinites discussing it online. If I need more information about whatever is happening I go directly to the source. No newspapers or reporting required.

I don’t necessarily think my habits are a good idea for an average person, but I’m almost certain they are very similar to most people my age and younger. No one my age has ever come up to me and said, “Did you see the story about [some local event] in the Statesman?” People often ask me about thought pieces published on some blog or another, however.

It wasn’t until I spent time at my parents’ house recently that I realized how much things had changed. They still get a newspaper, and they still read it every day. Habits die hard, I suppose. Or perhaps the only way to get the information they are accustomed to is from the physical paper. I’m not sure, because it wasn’t important enough to me at the time to ask about it.

There aren’t many areas in life where I’ve changed so completely over time. I would love for the journalism and “news” business to get back on its feet and do something wonderful, especially because of all my friends and former classmates who are still working in publications. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

This all came to the forefront when I came across a Medium post about the future of “creative artists” and society the other day. I’m not sure how I found it (which is one fascinating symptom of my media habit these days) but I read it in full. Read it yourself if you must, but don’t expect any great insight into the reality of the situation. The author makes an argument that seems to be built upon the fact that journalists, musicians, and other creative types are making $X millions less a year, while Google, Amazon and Apple are making $X millions more a year. Amidst all that, people are consuming more of the stuff the creatives are making, but somehow the creative people are getting less money. The great logical leap here is that the money that went away from the former must have gone to the latter, so we can blame Google, Amazon and Apple for creative people making less money.

It’s a ridiculous argument in almost every way, and the only reason I read through the end was some small hope that it was all a joke. My hope was squashed, as it often is when reading about the business of news, and I was left to ponder my own part in all this. Over time I’ve learned to become more detached from it all, despite the time I’m spending thinking and writing about it now.

I don’t have any great insight into what the future might hold. I just know that I as a super consumer of news at one point, and now I am not. I don’t see a future where any of my news comes from anything resembling a traditional publication. I hope magazines stay around, but if not I’ll be fine getting my news from books. The rest of the important stuff will make it to me by way of the all-powerful interwebz somehow.

This is the postmortem of a news junkie. May he rest in peace.

Book review: Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go There You Are

Wherever You Go There You Are is my first foray into a nonfiction book review on the blog. I received the book as a gift from my father after he read my post about running as meditation. The book is about “mindfulness meditation in everyday life.”

Kabat-Zinn wrote the book in three parts. The first section of the book gives a great overview of mindfulness meditation, and it’s the portion of the book I found most interesting and helpful. Some chapters included a “Try” section that gave me tips and pointers for different things I could do to be mindful and try to meditate.

I haven’t put any of the recommendations to work in my life yet, but not because of the quality of the book. One of the main complaints I had about the book came up in this first section of the book and had to do with the “Try” sections. The book’s format isn’t quite how-to, but it also isn’t all narrative. As a result I found myself reading it more like I would any other nonfiction book, instead of taking each “Try” section step-by-step. This is probably an issue that many meditation books wrestle with, because I’m sure it is difficult to write a useful book about the practice with an interesting narrative.

The second section was more explicitly how-to and dealt with some of the particulars of meditating. I enjoyed the chapters that dealt with questions like “How long should I meditate?” the most for their useful information. That’s not to say that other chapters in the section weren’t fun, like “The Mountain Meditation” and “The Lake Meditation.” These sections were less how-to and more extended metaphor.

The last section was the weakest of the book for me. It dealt with some of the practical and spiritual implications of meditation, such as how parenting could affect your practice. I found much of the content to be either too narrow or mostly outdated. Many of the examples came from the Kabat-Zinn’s own life, which was somewhat difficult for me to relate to as I am neither a parent nor a professor of medicine. There is also no discussion of more modern technology, although TV and movies are well represented and poorly portrayed.

The way the author described movies in relation to everyday life was probably the most incongruous part of the book for me. I find film to be very pleasurable and intellectually stimulating. The author dismissed movies as a waste of time or escape from reality multiple times in the book.

There wasn’t a single mention of the internet or cell phones, which probably has more to do with the time when Kabat-Zinn was writing than anything else. That said, the 10th anniversary edition I read was released in 2014 so there was definitely time for updating the book.

Wherever You Go There You Are was a great introduction to mindful meditation. If you cut out the last third of the book it would have rated another star. As is I think it will give me a strong base for my meditation practice — if I ever start one — and for that I’m glad.

Wherever You Go There You Are rates 3 out of 5 stars. You can buy Wherever You Go There You Are on Amazon if you’re interested in starting your own meditative journey. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits, so thanks in advance if you decide to read Wherever You Go There You Are.

Other books I read this week:

Book review: Cthulhu 2000 edited by Jim Turner

Editor’s note: This is the first post in Fiction Friday (which will also sometimes be Nonfiction Friday). Check out this post for more about my daily writing schedule.

Cthulhu 2000

Cthulhu 2000 is an anthology of “Lovecraftian” stories edited by Jim Turner. I snagged this book from Recycled Reads, which is one of my favorite used book stores in Austin. I generally have a problem with libraries (long story) so it’s refreshing to enjoy a library-ian (get it? Lovecraftian….) place for once.

The premise of the anthology, according to the editor’s foreword, is to gather together “great stories in some way inspired by Lovecraft.” For those of you who don’t read horror: Lovecraft is considered by many to be one of the most important authors of horror (and just plain weird) fiction in the 20th century.

I have a confession. I haven’t read much Lovecraft. I absolutely adore the horror genre, and I feel remiss in my duties as a horror fan for failing to read his work up to this point. After reading Cthulhu 2000 I will definitely be picking up more of his work in the future. If the captivating stories I read are inspired by Lovecraft I definitely need to partake straight from the source.

The anthology comprises 28 short stories, most of which are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed “The Barrens” by F. Paul Wilson and “24 Views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai” by Roger Zelazny, which happen to form the bookends of the collection as the first and last entries.

“The Barrens” is set in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and is written in a first-person narrative from the protagonist’s point of view. The evil lurking around the next copse of pines slowly reveals itself as the protagonist tells you about her unexpected adventures with an old flame from a previous life. The horror revealed at the culmination of the story touches you even deeper as a result of the masterful build-up from Wilson.

“24 Views” tells the story of a widow on an excursion to Mt. Fuji in Japan. The plot is wonderfully woven, so I won’t give too much away here. Suffice it to say that Zelazny definitely deserved the 1986 Hugo Award he won for the work in my opinion.

Cthulhu 2000 rates 4 out of 5 stars. You can buy Cthulhu 2000 on Amazon if you’re interested in reading the anthology. Every purchase made from an Amazon link on my blog helps to support my reading and film-watching habits, so thanks in advance if you decide to read Cthulhu 2000.

Other books I read this week: