since i spend most of my time these days thinking about books
Who was that person who said, at the beginning of this year, that she wouldn’t buy any new books until she’d cleared off at least 50 books from the old to-read shelf? It couldn’t have been me because that hasn’t happened at all. In fact, obsessive list-maker than I am (at least when it comes to books and to-do lists), I started keeping a list of the books I acquire each month, in order to make clear to myself exactly how much I’m buying and how those titles correlate with the books I’m actually reading. It is kind of fun. I got the idea from Genre-Bending, which is currently one of my favorite book blogs.
It also inspires me to not buy all the fucking books, because then, when I unviel this new list at the end of the year (which I am planning to do around “the year in books” time), I will be less embarassed by the gaping canyon of disparity between what I buy and what I manage to read. Which is really quite good. So, yeah, I’ve gotten some books, but I’ve gotten a lot less books than I would have without that list to keep me conscious. Yey lists.
I have now promised myself that I won’t buy any new books until I have read 20 from my to-read shelf. As in 20 paper books; I’m not counting the ebooks that I keep reading in between. Twenty sounds like a more reasonable number than 50, and a couple of books I am a’twitch for won’t be out for another couple of months. This month, for example, I haven’t bought a thing. So what if a publisher sent me three for review and I traded for four others on bookswappers.de? Those don’t count. Right? RIGHT?! Indeed.
Look, I built some new bookshelves:
what i’m reading
I always have more than one pot brewing simultaneously. Usually something nonfiction, some easy fiction for before bed, some fucking amazing (but sometimes hard) fiction for my more congizent moments, something in German, maybe even a couple of each.
I started the year with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series as my “I’m too tired to really use my brain” nighttime reading. While I enjoyed it (mostly because I liked the movie and the books allowed me to keep obsessing over the beautiful beautiful actors who play in it), it is not particularly good. I wouldn’t recommend them. At all. (In their case the rather cheese-balls movie was actually better than the books themselves.) I stalled out after three books and moved on to better things. In this case The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.
Somehow I missed this series as a kid, which is a big fat shame; I would have loved them. The good news is that I am loving them as an adult (I’m in the middle of the third book right now). Unlike Dealing with Dragons, a series that I did read and love as a kid and which I reread at the beginning of this year, I am finding myself completely immersed in the story and eager to read the next and the next and the next book. (Usually I need a break between segments of a series. With Dealing With Dragons I had fun, but could always feel myself reading; I couldn’t lose myself in them as an adult.) And at about 100 pages each, they are delictable little morsels I can finish in a night, which is very satisfying. They deal with sexism and gender stereotyping, and yeah, I always like books that do that.
Then there is Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren. Holy shit, this book. The first two pages were so intense and so magnificently written, that I had to put it down for a while and read something else. Mr. Delaney is a master. I stand in awe. Dhalgren is turning out to be one of those books that always makes it onto the post-apocalyptic (PA) reading lists, but isn’t really post-apocalyptic. Usually that annoys me, but this is so good that I can’t be bothered to care. Sure, there is a town that seems to have experienced apocalypse, but it is an anomaly, a mystery, maybe even a metaphor. Whatever it is, it transcends the genre of PA and rides the air currents above us, out of reach and beautiful and god-like, a sun.
In the non-fiction arena we have Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, which I have been trying to finish reading for, I kid you not, over ten years. Someday, someday. More recently, I started How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fischer which is about cooking during times of war and scarcity, and which is really interesting but something I don’t really feel like racing through at the moment.
Lastly there’s Momo by Michael Ende (you know, famed author of The Neverending Story, another book that is sitting on my to-read shelf), which is my current German read. It hasn’t grabbed me yet, but I haven’t gotten to the time travel bits yet, either. The characters keep telling tangential stories which don’t interest me (though I imagine they would go over very well with the much younger target audience). Here’s hoping it gets better. I am determined to school myself in German science fiction and fantasy this year, so help me cod.
publish it already! the gorilla grows impatient
I have become an obsessive book blog reader. Whereas I used to find out that an author I like had a new book (or that such-and-such tome of awesome from right up my alley had) come out when I saw it in the store. Now I hear about them months in advance. It is torture.
After the End by Amy Plum is the title whose as-yet-unpublished state is causing me the most pain at the moment. It is the post-apocalyptic book I wish I had thought to write. At least, as far as I can tell from the blurb: “Juneau grew up fearing the outside world. The elders told her that beyond the borders of their land in the Alaskan wilderness, nuclear war had destroyed everything. But when Juneau returns from a hunting trip one day and discovers her people have been abducted, she sets off to find them. And leaving the boundaries for the very first time, she learns the horrifying truth: World War III never happened. Nothing was destroyed. Everything she’d ever been taught was a lie.” I can’t fucking wait to see how it pans out, which I will finally be able to do in May.
The second is a cookbook. Specifically, The Real Food Cookbook: Traditional Dishes for Modern Cooks by Nina Planck. I devoured (haha) her book Real Food for Mother and Baby when I was pregnant–I really enjoy her writing and her outlook on eating and cooking and food–and now that we finally have a full-out kitchen, I have been looking for a few new cookbooks for inspiration. It doesn’t come out until June. Gah!
And now I turn to you, dear readers. What are you reading right now? Have you read any of the books I mentioned? You know I love a good book discussion…
PS The links above are affiliate links, which means if you click on them and decide you want to buy the books through those links, I get a little cut. But hey, your library probably has these books too, and the library needs as many of us as possible in order to prevent extinction. So there’s also that.
the year in books 2013 and a book-lover blog hop
FURTHER NOTES FROM THE FUTURE: I am not sure if people are still having problems seeing the newest posts, but just in case, I’ll be posting links to them all here so that no one misses a thing.
Posts you might have missed:
If you can see this post you’ve won a prize/Kitchen photos
Oh the places we’ve been
A very tiny kid’s room
Daily life February 2014 (a low moment in time)
And then we had a kitchen and life was suddenly all marshmellows and cartwheels
Put on some rabbit ears and dance
Since I spend most of my time thinking about books
NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: Things on the blog are broken. There are new posts, and many people can’t see them. This will be fixed, but it is taking time. Lots of it. For now, I am here to tell you that you can visit the newest post by clicking here. And also, that I started a book website with my buddy Erika Jelinek, and I love it if you came by and said hello. Here it is: Book Punks. So, hope to have these web problems solved soonish. Until then…
The bell has tolled. The time has arrived. I can now reveal the Click Clack Gorilla Year in Books. There are still two reading days left in 2013, but there is no way that I am going to finish any more books before 2014. There is jet lag. Psychedelic zombie ponies are stomping on what is left of my brain.
But look! Previously, my brain did work, and I read a lot of things (links lead to reviews I’ve written of said books, or read all of the year’s book posts here). I even reached my goal of reading 100 books in one calendar year. That felt like a fucking lot of books at the time. Then I met a lot of really voracious readers who accomplished even more. And who I will duel to the death next year by attempting to read myself out of all life outside of the printed page. Just kidding. Pickles has already seen to that.
If you also like to read, please join in the Year in Books Blog Hop at the bottom of the page. Basically what “Blog Hop” means is that you blog about your year in books (and if you didn’t keep track, posts on a favorite book this year or any other related book topic are also welcome) and add a link to the post to the linky at the end of this post. Linky etiquette requires you to link back to this post in your post, but I won’t flog you if you forget. (Still it is nice, and makes google like us all more.)
If you want to hear some more babble from me about the year’s highlights, you’ll find that after this very long list that I expect almost no one to read, but hey, there are pictures too. If you do read it, I’d also love to hear if you’ve read any/many of these and what you thought of ‘em. To the comments with you!
1. The Scourge of God by S.M. Stirling
2. Origin of Paranoia as a Heated Mole Suit by Rupert Wondolowski (reread)
3. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin (reread)
4. Whore Diaries: My First Two Weeks as an Escort by Tara Burns
5. The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (reread)
6. The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin (reread)
7. The Sword of the Lady by S.M. Stirling
8. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audio – reread)
9. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
10. Ten Thousand Miles by Freight Train by Carrot Quinn
11. The Giver by Louis Lowry (reread)
12. Gathering Blue by Louis Lowry
13. The Scar by China Mieville
14. Messenger by Louis Lowry
15. Son by Louis Lowry
16. Blood Red Road by Moira Young
17. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
18. The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
19. Boating for Beginners by Jeanette Winterson
20. The High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling
21. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
22. Blindness by Jose Saramago
23. Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson
24. Export A by Lisa Kränzler (first German read of the year)
25. An American Plague: The True & Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy
26. Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven
27. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
28. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
29. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
30. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
31. Wild Seed by Octavia Butler
32. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (audio book – reread)
33. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
34. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
35. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
36. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
37. The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson
38. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
39. Begegnungen auf der Trans*fläche by kollektiv sternchen & steine
40. Robopocalypse by Daniel Wilson
41. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
42. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (reread)
43. The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula Le Guin
44. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
45. Sabriel by Garth Nix
46. Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman
47. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
48. Hothouse by Brain Aldiss
49. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
50. Witches by Roald Dahl (reread)
51. Gremlins by Roald Dahl
52. The Word for World Is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (audio book)
53. Someone Like You by Roald Dahl
54. Finding Life Beyond Trauma by Victoria M. Follette and Jacqueline Pistorello
55. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
56. Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu
57. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (reread)
58. Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl
59. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audio book “reread”)
60. Marcovaldo by Italo Calvino
61. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
62. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (reread)
63. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl (reread)
64. The Wasp Fastory by Iain Banks
65. Makers by Cory Doctorow
66. Adventure Rocketship!: Let’s All Go to the Science Fiction Disco edited by Jonathan Wright
67. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
68. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
69. The Tears of the Sun by S.M. Stirling
70. Von Bänken und Banken in Frankfurt am Main by Bernd Kostering & Ralf Thee
71. Cursed Pirate Girl by Jeremy A. Bastian
72. The BFG by Roald Dahl (reread)
73. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
74. Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke
75. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
76. Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
77. Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
78. Wicca for Beginners by Thea Sabin
79. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
80. Mockingbird by Walter Tevis
81. The Cuckoo’s Calling by J.K. Rowling
82. Book of Shadows by Phyllis Curott
83. Wool by Hugh Howey
84. Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration by RomanyWG
85. Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse edited by John Joseph Adams
86. Beauty in Decay II by RomanyWG
87. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
88. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
89. Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss
90. Steering the Craft by Ursula k. LeGuin
91. It Will Live Forever: Traditional Yosemite Indian Acorn Preparation by Beverly R. Ortiz
92. The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks
93. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (reread)
94. The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
95. The Boxcar Children 1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner (reread)
96. An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski
97. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
98. Slow River by Nicola Griffith
99. Chick Days: Raising Chickens from Hatchlings to Laying Hens by Jenna Woginrich
100. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (audio)
Mieville, Rothfuss, Lynch, Doctorow, Murakami, Butler, Gaiman, Winterson, and so many more talents have made the year’s reading pretty damn staggering. I mean, sure, I also read the Twilight series, but the rest, the rest! If you forced me at gun point to choose one favorite, my first answer would be Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Then I would remember that I also read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline this year and chose that. (I liked it so much that I listened to the audio book immediately after finishing the paper book.) Then I would re-read the list and become very agitated because look at this fucking list. There is no way to pick a favorite and mean it forever and ever in stone.
I was deeply impressed by Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, and I really disliked Brain Aldiss’ Hothouse. I revisited a number of classics from my childhood, and of those, The Boxcar Children was the weirdest. I still enjoyed it for its “kids surviving in the woods, living in a boxcar, and going scavenging at the dump” aspects, but damn, cookie-cutter gender roles anyone? I found Doomsday Book by Connie Willis incredibly boring for a long time, and then spent a sick day listening to it for hours and became obsessed to the point of relistening by the end. Still don’t love the reader of my audio copy of that though.
Fourty-five of the year’s books were written by women. Four of them were written in German. (Guess I really went after last year’s goal to read more German language books, huh? Cough.) Seventeen were re-reads. Sixteen were non-fiction.
The Year in Books is one of my favorite blogging traditions. Actually, it is my only blogging tradition, so BE APART OF SOMETHING UNIQUE TODAY. Or something. At the very least I hope 2014 brings you as many awesome books as it looks like it is bringing me.
My goals for 2014 include not buying any new books until I’ve read at least fifty from my current to-read shelf and writing more reviews when I do. I am not even going to pretend to try to read more in German, though for tradition’s sake, I should probably promise to finally read Kafka in the original (on my to-read shelf for eight years and running). Which I guarentee I will not have done by the end of 2014.
What did you love reading this year? What reading goals have you set for 2014?
You can read the Click Clack Gorilla Year in Books Past by clicking your mouse–2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012–and then go check out what other Click Clack Gorilla readers have been reading this year.
what i’m reading right this second
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.
-The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Show of hands: who’s read The Hobbit? And who’s going to see the second Hobbit movie come December?
the traveler by john twelve hawks
He knew that newspapers and television announcers reported on a certain level of reality. What was happening to him was on another level, like a parallel universe. All around him, different societies were growing larger or being destroyed, forming new traditions or breaking the rules while citizens pretended that the faces shown on television were the only important stories.
-The Traveler, John Twelve Hawks
The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks was the only non-digital book I brought to America; I assumed I would enjoy it without feeling the need to read it again—my requirement for releasing a book back into the wild. I was right.
This is a fun book that keeps you turning pages, a thriller, and I enjoyed the ride. But the dystopian elements didn’t do much for me. The ultimate message—that surveillance culture and panopticon-ical control are a bad idea—is an important one, but the capitalized terms for things (like the Vast Machine aka the government/culture of computerized control) didn’t ring out like a note of genius among the muck, the way a well-invented Sf/F term can and should. The story itself is based around a fierce female body guard (a Harlequin) who is (reluctantly!) sworn to protect a man whose spirit can leave his body (a Traveler) and was a bit too alienating-yet-cookie-cutter for me. But this is the new Big Brother! But everything happening in the society of this book is happening right now! Yes. Yet it still didn’t stimulate many brain cells. It still was a bit too lollipop-ish. And I fucking hate hearing story after story about the godsdamned Templar mythology, which Twelve Hawks weaves, albeit sparsely, into the book’s secret-society back-story without blinking.
But I did like it; let’s be clear about that. However, I doubt I will feel the need to read it again in my lifetime, and I’m releasing its pages back into the wild. Before I do, I thought I’d preserve one more handful of its words in blog formaldehyde.
On an intentional community the book’s characters encounter:
“We didn’t want to run away from the world and pretend to be medieval farmers,” Martin said. “Our objective was to gain control of our lives and prove that this Third Way of ours can work. There are other groups like New Harmony—the same mix of high tech and low tech—and we’re all connected by the Internet.”
The Third Way. Not going backwards, like so many off-grid intentional groups are accused of doing, but moving forwards by picking and choosing from all of the tools available to them. I like the ring of that.
wherein china mieville makes me sad and neil gaiman makes me happy (wfc 2013 part 6)
China Mieville. His name on the program was the reason I had initially decided to attend World Fantasy. Then his name disappeared from the program. Had it all been a cruelly realistic dream? A dream that had resulted in tickets purchased and charges to my credit card? At the airport at 5 am I scrolled through the convention website and found the communique explaining his sudden absence (which actually explained nothing at all, where were you China?!?). Which was also when I found out that Neil Gaiman would be replacing him as Master of Ceremonies. Huh. Now there is a substitution I can live with.
Every morning I walked past the ruin pictured above on the walk betwenn my sleeping hotel and the con hotel. It made me think of China—it would fit right in on Armada, give or take 500 other skeletal vessels lashed to its sides. If you haven’t read it yet, I really can’t recommend Perdido Street Station enough (or The Scar, which is what this ruin made me think of). Neil Gaiman was probably the only author that could have softened the blow of his absence.
I fell in love with Gaiman’s work when I fell in love with Neverwhere, a book about an alternative world in underground London, given to me just after my first trip to the city in 2005. I read Sandman as part of a class on Literature of the Fantastic during college. And I’ve read everything else he’s written (excluding the comics and his first book, which was a biography of Duran Duran that apparently sells for 10,000 pounds these days). American Gods and The Graveyard Book eventually vied with Neverwhere as my favorite. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was the scariest book I read this year. His worlds and his words are dark and magical and enthralling. Not to mention that he is a charming, well-spoken human who is married to the force that is Amanda Palmer. He’s become a cult-figure in his own right, and now I was—surprise! wohoo!—going to get to see him speak, was going to run straight into him coming out of the door of the hotel one evening, was going to get used to just seeing around. And the people rejoiced.
I arrived at the convention hotel early on Friday morning, prodded out of bed by my own excitment, jittery with coffee from the all-you-can-eat English breakfast that would become my daily morning routine. I hadn’t planned on attending the Joanne Harris interview, but I was glad I did. She’s written a lot more than Chocolat, you know (don’t worry, I didn’t). She was a joy to listen to, and attending her panel meant that I had secured a front-row seat for the conversation between Neil Gaiman and Jo Fletcher which would follow. Not that I needed to fight the crowds; apparently the changes to the program had gone unnoticed or (and!) the hour was still too early—the room was barely a quarter full.
I didn’t take many notes during their talk—it was more fun to sit back and absorb every word—except for one quote. “You can just do so much if you don’t know the rules.” (Amen.) They chatted—old friends—about the start of Gaiman’s career, about the last time they had attended a World Con in this very same hotel, about making sure you at least make your hotel bed look sleeped in so that the management don’t sell your room to someone else. I’m hard pressed to imagine what could make a day better than seeing Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris speak (Jo Fletcher is a publisher and is quite interesting as well, though I hadn’t known anything about her at the time), and yet that was only the beginning.
people i wish i had met at world fantasy, and people i’m very glad i did (wfc 2013 part 5)
I noticed her on the first day because of her t-shirt. I didn’t get a very good look at it, but in passing thought I saw the word feminism. Was there something about Marx on there as well? My people? Likely. But panels happened, readings happened, and I didn’t get the chance to say hello. At a party several nights later I found myself chatting with someone I had met in line at the Susan Cooper signing. The woman with the t-shirt was sitting nearby. That’s Foz Meadows, she told me, pointing in her direction. Who’s that? I asked. Just the very intelligent and articulate writer of Shattersnipe (and a fiction writer, says the internet). Just someone whose blog I am now totally enamored with, now that I have been led to it by the hand (d’oh). Just someone who is writing about feminism and speculative fiction articulately, wonderfully, engagingly. Just someone I really, really, really wish I had gotten a chance to meet and chat with during World Fantasy. I hope there’s a next time.
Cheryl Morgan came to my attention on the “We’re All Bloggers Now” panel, which was itself a ridiculous mess that very blatantly exposed some of the flaws in the convention planners’ system (or lack thereof) of assigning voices to panels. But Cheryl’s comments stood out, and yup, she has a wonderful blog called Cheryl’s Mewsings. She’s also behind Wizard’s Tower Press, who are doing their damnedest to put more voices of women, LGTB, and other marginalized groups into print. And actually that’s just the tip of her iceberg of amazing. From what she’s said on her blog, she’ll be attending Nine Worlds and LonCon next August, and I really really hope I don’t miss another chance to chat with her then.
Cheryl Morgan and Foz Meadows, thanks for doing what you do.
But wait! I almost forgot. Polenth Blake of Polenth’s Quill was there as well. I’ve been following her blog for a while now, but in the busy that led up to World Fantasy, I missed the posts that mentioned that she would be attending. I wouldn’t have minded telling the folks over at Pornokitsch how much I enjoy their writing either (don’t let the name fool you, it’s a damn fine book blog). How many more bloggers that I follow did I miss? We should have couped the blogger panel, damn it, and saved the sinking ship. Remind me to try to organize an informal book bloggers meet-up at the next convention I attend. Then maybe I won’t have so many missed connections to lament. Maybe. It is inevitable that you are going to miss talking to hundreds of amazing people at a convention like this. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
As for the people I did meet…
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz who writes at From the Beloved Country, Chie and Weng Read Books, and as a columnist over at Strange Horizons also caught my attention on the “We’re All Bloggers Now” panel. She had some interesting things to say about the internet providing a speaking platform for people on the margins and at one point said something along the lines of “I can’t seem to stop writing about revolution.” (Correct me if I’m misquoting you there Rochita.) I got the chance to chat with her during one of the publisher’s parties, and subsequently went to her reading on Sunday morning. The politics and themes in her writing are right up my alley, and I am glad that the most ridiculous of panels at least had the positive side effect of bringing her work to my attention. Looking forward to seeing more of it in the future.
Then there was my constant convention companion, at first by accident, and then by choice. We’d been to all the same panels on Friday, sitting several seats away from each other in the front row, both taking notes, both slighted by the traumatic experience that was the Terry Prachett reading (more on that in another post). I saw her taking pictures with a little stuffed pig (as in the picture above) and guessed that she was also a blogger. She was, and we bonded over our anger at the way the blogging panel had gone and our dislike of the behavior of one of the panelists. With every subsequent panel—and it was no longer a question of whether we would run into each other, but when—we talked a little more, found a few more things we had in common, geeked out about a few more favorite authors and books. It wasn’t long before we were making plans to run into each other. It was a grand old time and having the company of Sullivan McPig (who is the centerpiece of the book blog Pearls Cast Before a McPig and The Life and Travels of Sullivan McPig) for the weekend was the icing on the con-cake.
There were others of course: people from the newbies corner at the hotel bar whose names I didn’t write down and therefore immediately forgot, two Scottish girls, authors, writers, bloggers galore. If I was more organized I would have all of your names and internet info to share here. But alas. If any of you are reading this, please leave a comment with your calling card or find me on twitter @bookpunks.
Read part six of the WFC saga here.
wherein i find a place to rest my head and all is well in the land of eternal darkness (wfc 2013 part 4)
Just tuning in? Catch up on my World Fantasy Convention saga with Part One (Scott Lynch! Elizabeth Bear! Trains! Twitter!), Part Two (S.M. Stirling! Missed connections! Anxiety! Rain!), and Part Three (Patrick Rothfuss! Feminism in Fantasy writing! Hope!).
The way I saw it, I had several options: staying up all night drinking at the bar (after which I would feel like total shit and probably fall asleep during the panel discussions I had been looking forward to), getting back into my couchsurfing non-host’s apartment building and setting up camp in her foyer (but where would I go to pee? and what if she never actually came back?), finding someone willing to let me sleep on the floor of their hotel room after hearing my sad sad story of strife and abandonment (it’s happened before, but there is a lot of luck involved), or just curling up under all my clothes on top of my suitcase under the pier (and get my books wet?! fuuuck). Or I could just get a hotel room. Cod damn it. I am getting too old for this shit.
At the end of the Patrick Rothfuss reading at Waterstones, I had returned to the convention hotel. My phone’s battery was almost dead—because not being able to get in touch with your host in a strange city isn’t traumatic enough without the constant threat of having your communication device crap out completely—and I knew there were both plugs and free wifi in the hotel lobby. People in dresses and suits were mingling, drinks in hand, as I set up camp on the floor next to a free plug, hair wet from the rain, resolve stiffening into a wild joy at the thought that I would not be fucked, not as long as I had electricity, a convention badge, and a credit card. A woman playing a game on a tablet helped me get onto the wifi, and I started to look for accommodations. I really would have appreciated a minority report on that couchsurfing host. There had been so many lovely Airbnb options that I had almost booked. Instead I opted to save money and ended up spending even more of it booking a room at the last of the last minutes.
The internet, the telephone, and the credit card made it possible. I don’t hold much by credit cards in general, but my mom has always encouraged me to have them around. For emergencies. Well, mom, right again. Good thing I grew up in America at a time when credit card companies were throwing themselves at anyone and everyone. I found a room online and booked over the phone. Twenty minutes later I was walking toward the Royal Albion Hotel. The walk took under ten minutes, a straight shot beside the pebble beach and just past the Brighton Pier.
The price was more than I had wanted to spend, but it was a room, a room in a city I had been certain had been completely booked out by the convention and the Halloween party-seekers whose wobbling, scantily clad bodies lined the sidewalk beside the water that connected the Royal Albion and the convention hotel. I had considered and discarded the idea of booking just one night, of booking something more affordable or finding my gods damned couchsurfing host on the morrow. But then I would have had to drag around my luggage. But then I would have missed panels getting the details straight. Fuck that. I did not come to this convention to miss half of it chasing hotel rooms and irresponsible hosts, I told myself. No I did not.
There is something about having a hotel room all to myself that makes me feel like an adult. More so than almost anything else I’ve ever done, including having a child. What a strange phenomenon.
The manager upgraded me to a double room, and even so it was a small white cave, the usual bed-television-closet-desk-weird-art combo of high mid-class hotels everywhere. It was also in the basement. The Land of Eternal Darkness: A good place to sleep in, a good place to lose track of time, place, and weather. I lined my books up on the desk—they already numbered in the double digits—and poured through my program at the events of the next day. The bed was incredible—warm arms, security, the womb of “I am not going to be sleeping outside tonight”-ness. It enveloped me, and carried me through dawn into morning.
Read part five of the WFC saga here.
Note: The first and last photos on this post are from one of the exhibiting artists at the convention. Her work—the tinest of sculptures featuring bug corpses and minute skeleti fairies—blew my mind. Her name is Tessa Farmer. Yes, I am aware that skeleti is not the plural of skeleton. Sue me; I like the way it sounds.
wherein patrick rothfuss is witty and charming and epic (wfc 2013 part 3)
Waterstones. The name has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I had imagined a small, intimate indie book store like so many others I had seen in Brighton both online and off since that morning. Well, now you have proof that I am not British. If I was, I would have known that Waterstones is a big bookstore chain like Barnes and Noble and (RIP) Borders. But even those are a rare treat in the age of amazon.
Patrick Rothfuss had announced the reading on his blog the previous week. He would be reading at the World Fantasy Convention too, but the WFC has three panel discussions and two readings happening at any given moment. If I saw him Thursday night off-site, I wouldn’t have to decide between seeing him or Terry Prachett on Friday afternoon. As if that is even a choice.
Still, I almost didn’t go. I almost choose a long wait in the rain in front of an empty apartment (see Wherein My Couchsurfing Host Fucks Me Over). I had called Waterstones the week before to reserve a seat at the reading and been told that I was number twenty-something on the waiting list. I couldn’t imagine who would miss an event with Patrick Rothfuss, who would even consider ditching and leaving a seat free for me and the twenty people waiting in front of me. I secretly hoped they would let us all in out of the goodness of their papery hearts. I hoped and hoped and hoped, and then I got on a bus. Who wants to sit outside of an empty apartment in the rain?
There were two others waiting outside. Are you on the waiting list too? I asked. Nope. We just hoped they would let us in anyway. They did. They did! Because not only did almost ten people with reserved seats not show up, the twenty-something people before me on the waiting list didn’t show up. It turns out that Brighton is one of those cities where people talk a lot of cool and dress a lot of cool but never ever show up for events. (Said some locals who I met later.) And for once I was really really glad.
We climbed three flights of stairs to find Rothfuss standing in front of about thirty people mid-sentence. The walls were lined with dark-wood shelving and panels and books. A coffee bar lay in shadow on the far side of the store, beyond tables stacked with more books. Waterstones employees in Halloween costumes leaned against the sales counter at the back of the room, listening, and copies of Rothfuss’ first two books lined the walls, waiting. I pushed my luggage beneath a table and found a seat in the middle of the audience.
Now listen, I really like Patrick Rothfuss. His first novel, The Name of the Wind, came highly recommended by the same people who had told me I would love Perdido Street Station and The Lies of Locke Lamora. The Name of the Wind really impressed me. Not only was it beautifully written, the story expertly woven into a multi-dimensional wonder, it had feminist elements that the fantasy genre at large is starved for. Here were dudes in a fantasy book discussing the existence of male privilege. It is the kind of thing you might not even notice is missing in a book until it shows up right in front of you, loud and waving its hands and shouting.
Despite the very feminist- and woman-friendly impression I got from The Name of the Wind (I have yet to read the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear), despite the fact that Rothfuss identifies as a feminist loudly, enthusiastically, and intelligently, there has been some controversy about him actually being, well, the opposite of all that. I have read some of the analysis, and now I have heard him talk about it. What I gather is this: Rothfuss may have said some stupid shit and that shit may have in turn been interpreted pessimistically. Mind you, I say this without having read more than two blog posts on the subject. At the same time, I am ready to forgive what I understand to be his slip ups because of the way he presents himself, the way he actively addresses these issues. It makes me happy to see white dudes, ie the people with the most power in this shit system of ours, questioning their own place of privilege and using it as a platform to talk to a lot of people about feminist issues. He is trying to do and say things that I think are important, and he is doing it well. If he fucks up once in a while, I’m ok with that. It is often people’s imperfections and mistakes that endear them to me. Cod knows I’ve made and have enough of my own.
The “reading” was an hour and a half of questions and answers and a few quick minutes of reading to punctuate the ten minutes between questions and book signing. Rothfuss was witty and charming. I don’t remember a lot of the details of the evening, and considering his concern for a bit of mum on more than a few subjects, it is probably better that I don’t. What he read needed a preface besides: It was a story about a woman, a mother, but a woman who is not defined by her motherhood. Her kids are not the end of her story, but punctuation in the sentence that is her life. The kids go off into the world, and she goes on to have more adventures. I can’t wait until it is finished. The world needs more stories like that one. Mothers need more stories like that one. I need more stories like that one.*
When he was finished talking, he retired to the signing table, and the audience moved from chair to line, books clutched to chests, eyes sparkling. Rothfuss signed every book put in front of him, took a picture with everyone who had a camera. One woman had flown in from Germany just for this event. Another turned out to be a talented singer who I chatted with about lyric and song writing. (Thanks for taking my favorite pictures of the entire weekend, Moina!)
Rothfuss dedicated my copy of The Name of the Wind to the Beard and I, and I was able to tell him—no stuttering—that he had written the best fiddle-based insult of all time (because The Name of the Wind not only has fantasy and really interesting science-based magic and gritty cities and a wizard’s university and jesus just fucking everything, it has musicians and performances and did I mention that it is fucking wonderful?) I tucked my signed book back into my bag and pulled my suitcase back out into the rainy night. Yeah, so what if I didn’t have a place to sleep? It was only 10 o’clock, it was Halloween, and the city was full of people obsessed with the same books I love, with the authors of those books. I pulled up my hood and set off into the night, suitcase trailing behind me.
*I want to note that what we need MOST of all is voices from what are now “the margins” telling these stories, but I am glad of anyone and everyone who is telling these stories. I want people of every stripe telling these stories. I want feminism to become a thing of the past because we have so thoroughly acheived equality for every person of every gender that no one can even believe it was once an issue that had to be fought over and for nail and tooth. But in order to make that happen, we need everyone. End note.
wherein i see s.m. stirling read and my couchsurfing host disappears into the mist (wfc 2013 part 2)
At the beginning it is hard to imagine the end. You’ve been looking forward to something for months. You can barely believe it has begun. How could you possibly even start to understand that it is going to end?
If I could have wrapped my head around it, I would have had a picture taken with S.M. Stirling, sitting on the plush Iron Throne on which he perched to read the first two chapters from the as-yet unpublished Emberverse book. All the same, it is the enjoyment of the moment that really matters, the memory of seeing him rush past the table where I was having a snack before his reading to get set up, of sitting in the front row and listening to him do all the accents of the characters who I have followed through 11 books.
He is a really good reader.
The next book brings in Japan.
He doesn’t seem to have any idea if or when the series if ever going to end. (I asked.) What he does know is that he is contracted for three more. What I know is that, despite having read 11 of the 12 published books in the series, the first thirty seconds of his reading contained a massive spoiler. It isn’t that I didn’t see it coming. It’s just that I didn’t know when it was going to happen. Whoops. I still wouldn’t change a thing. I am still going to read the next trilogy. Even though I am starting to get a bit frustrated with the scope of the story, with the weird chronology, with the cartoon-ishness of several characters and their relationships. I still wouldn’t change a thing.
It is hard to remember what else I did on that first day. (Read about day one at the World Fantasy Convention here.) I have notes, but to hell with notes. I attended a panel discussion about e-books, I dropped by the newbie table at the bar, and I scouted out the dealer’s room, purchasing the hard cover copy of Dies the Fire that I would have S.M. Stirling sign. I wandered and read the program and felt generally awed at how many fucking awesome things were about to happen. But first I had to meet up with my couchsurfing host. Because what is an epic adventure without a little drama, a little anxiety, a little waiting out in the rain?
The walk to her apartment took thirty minutes. My luggage was annoying–we had all been given about 15 books at registration and I had already bought several more in the dealers’ room and during my used book store tour of Brighton–but I was giddy. I was going to drop off my luggage, meet the awesome person I had been emailing for the past few weeks, and then go to a Patrick Rothfuss reading at the local Waterstones. I had just heard S.M. Stirling read! I had just sat next to Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear on the train! The world! My oyster! I arrived at the apartment. I rang the bell. And no one answered.
I sent text messages. I called. I sent an email. I left a facebook note. I rang the bell some more. When a neighbor showed up and let me into the building, I banged directly on the door, behind which lay only darkness and silence. I left a note. I knocked shyly, then desperately, then resignedly. I contemplated my options. How long should I wait? I knew I had her number right because I had received a text from her earlier, asking “Is this Nikki?” Were my texts getting through? And if they weren’t, why wasn’t she home when we’d agreed to meet? Worst couchsurfing nightmare. Worst couchsurfing sin. I imagined her saying “ah fuck it,” and skipping off to get drunk with the rest of the costumed hordes roaming the city streets (Happy Halloween!). I despaired. I contemplated sleeping in the hallway. She would have to come back eventually, wouldn’t she? Was this even the right place? The mail in the hallway with her name on it said it was. I waited for an hour. She did not appear. I took a deep breath, thought, “well then, punk rock it is,” and I dragged my suitcase to the bus. I could figure out my sleeping situation later. I had a reading to attend.
wherein i fly to brighton and sit on a train with scott lynch (wfc2013 part 1)
There are so many words. There are no words. This weekend. This weekend! Epic. Inspiring. Madly fun. Fact: You can actually become used to seeing Neil Gaiman and Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch, you know, around. The more you know.
I left the house at 4 am. Nothing at the airport was open, withholding coffee from me until I was in the belly of the metal bird. The flight was uneventful. Reading was impossible. I was so excited. I was so tired. I wanted to finish Red Seas Under Red Skies, I really did. Instead I stared into space, accumulating excited little sparks between my ears. Then I was in England with luggage to pick up and a train system to figure out and e-tickets to print.
As I stood fumbling with my ticket in front of the gates to the tracks at London Victoria, Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear walked past me, pulling suitcases and shouldering bags. I had never seen a picture of Elizabeth Bear, but I recognized Scott from youtube interviews, and I extrapolated. Then, feeling kind of creepy but not really because THERE IS SCOTT LYNCH & YOU DON’T GET THIS CHANCE TWICE, I sat across from them in the train, where I became too agitated to speak. Turns out that eavesdropping and sort-of staring are almost as satisfying. Turns out the false intimacy of twitter and the realities of celebrities make strange bedfellows.
I had had an hour’s wait at the London Victoria train station before my train to Brighton. I had spent some of it figuring out the twitter. (If you want to hear me tweeting about speculative fiction, you can find me @bookpunks. Tell your friends.) I had spent some of it reading Scott Lynch’s tweets. He was tired. He had been on a long flight. And then suddenly there he fucking was standing right in front of me. What could I say? I knew he was tired. I knew too much. Jet-lagged people don’t need any extra hassles. Do they? But I like it when people tell me they like my work. Did he? When is it too much? When is it inappropriate? How do you walk the line between creepy and considerate with a celebrity? How famous was he exactly? Did people come up to him on the street all the time? Was it still novel? And the twitter! He offers information freely on twitter, but having read it just before seeing the real person, I couldn’t get the creepy off. I didn’t say a word.
In retrospect, this was probably a regrettable move.
And yet, even without talking to them, it was exciting. There they were, two famous authors, sitting next to me on a train. They looked out the windows, they played with their phones, they held hands, they fell asleep, they drank coffee, they chatted. A man two rows behind them was reading Republic of Thieves. I tried to signal him. The author of the book you’re reading is sitting two rows away from you, you fool! I considered passing him a note. I assumed he was going to the World Fantasy Convention too. He wasn’t. How’s that for a coincidence?
Off of the train, I rolled my suitcase behind me and, leaving Lynch and Bear somewhere on the platform, began my walking tour of Brighton’s used book stores. It was raining, it was grey, it was chilly, but the city was full of magic, real and imagined and extrapolated.