I wrote down everything I read and began writing my own first novel...

This blog aimed to contrast what I was reading in in 1975-79 with the same month, week and day, 30 years later in 2005-2009. I'm leaving the blog up in archive mode, blogging in real time on Live Journal--and still writing novels.

Lynne Murray's Live Journal and Bride of the Dead Blog

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Humor, horror, and--well, fluff

June 16-22, 1975

It looks as if my younger self was not doing much reading that week!

June 16-22, 2005

Undead and Unemployed, MaryJanice Davidson

I've been wrestling with the problem of humor in horror--can it live? This vampire chick lit book didn't help much, because there was very little that was scary, and it was meant to be pure fluff.

Elizabeth (Betsy) Taylor's status as Queen of the Vampires was mainly a way to work in lines like, "between work and the queen of the dead thing, and fending off Sinclair, I just didn't have time to cram a boyfriend into my schedule."

I read the first book in the series, Undead and Unwed, and this is possibly even more lightweight. The idea of the designer shoe fetishist heroine getting a job in Macy's shoe department was cute. One thing that I can see will be harder for the author to continue to pull off in subsequent books is wringing humor out of what begins to sound like a never-ending case of PMS, interspersed with flashes of lust for the King of the Vampires (see Sinclair in the quote above), to whom she is eternally linked, and whom she has decided to despise. It's one of the Scarlett-Rhett, "No, no, no, no--yes, yes, yes, yes!" relationships.

Not a lot of suspense there. As for humor in horror . . . I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

One woman's poison....many women's whimsy

June 14-15, 1975
Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers

What a great book to read for the first time. I've since re-read it many, many times. Not only is this a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but it's also the one where he meets Harriet Vane. Many of us have been in love with Lord Peter since our first Dorothy L. Sayers reading experience of him. Harriet Vane, the crime writer on trial for poisoning her ex-lover in Strong Poison, is the perfect love interest for him. Partly because she initially refuses him! Most of us who adore Lord Peter do so because under his elaborately carefree witty persona, there is always a deep chord of how his experience in the World War I scarred him. Despite his witty ranting and his use of solving crimes as a kind of therapy for post-traumatic stress, he really is a noble-hearted, unaffectedly human character. What the whole "English nobility" aspect of his character means to English-born readers, I have no idea. It definitely added a certain glamour to his appeal. But the patient persistence with which he courts Harriet over the course of a few books shows the depth of his character and has provided a hopeless ideal for several generations of female readers--including me--and probably including his creator, I suspect). It's not that Peter Wimsy has all this noble birth stuff going for him (although that makes it possible for him to break a lot of rules in his detection of crimes). Rather it's the witty, loyal, ethical and gentle man of honor that Sayers has created, and that we dream of finding in an actual flesh and blood human of the male persuasion.

...and jumping 30 years forward to something completely different....

June 15-16, 2005
Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane

As a rule I have enjoyed Lehane's storytelling and gripping prose but the ending of this book really set my teeth on edge. I won't reveal any of the corkscrew twists in the last third of the book in case someone reading this wants to experience the ending "unspoiled." But I felt manipulated. Generally Lehane books are dark, but with an underlying affirmation and attention to small, comforting details that makes the darkness bearable. Once the mechanism of the end of this book started cranking, I began to lose interest in the characters to the point where their eventual fading out didn't bother me so much because I'd stopped believing in them. I have hopes that the next Lehane I pick up will be less thriller-ish and gimmicky. This time I just wanted to yell at him--"why do you think we read fiction? To lend meaning to life. To inject some understanding into it. I'm not saying you have to write about that. But if you don't--I don't have to read your stuff."

Friday, June 10, 2005

A few days with no books read, the business of books

Wouldn't you know that the minute I start collaborating with myself when young, the kid would start slacking off on the book reading! I tell you, young people back then, er, myself back then. Well, I was doing my best, and there was that thing called summer school--I didn't write down textbooks or other boring things I read back then. I had no idea that 30 years later I would be looking for what I had read.

Why do I feel like I'm in that Robert Heinlein time travel story All You Zombies Out There? (One of my all time favorites by the way.)

Actually, I'm in no position to throw stones at my younger self, because I've spent the past few days reading not books, but a pile of last year's New Yorker Magazines that someone gave to me because she couldn't bear to throw them out.

Speaking of New York, if you are interested in the first coherent explanation I've read of the BEA trade show in New York this past week, I put a link below to G. Miki Hayden's piece. This is the first explanation of this event that has made much sense to me. Partly because, as an excellent novelist, she puts you in the scene. She also explains the whole trade show aspect for lay people. I've been to trade shows, but she puts the event into a human framework that I could relate to. That interests me a lot more than what literary celebrities I never heard of were doing at restaurants I also never heard of. I may just enjoy it more because I read more mysteries and am interested in the authors she discusses!


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Volcanoes, bird droppings, celebrities, ghosts & UFOs

June 2-5, 1975

I was still chipping away at:

Hawaii, James Mitchener
Slow going--I don't recall exactly, but maybe by this point the volcanic eruption that formed the islands had cooled, and the rock broken up to the point where the seeds contained in the droppings of migratory birds were taking root... When Mitchener tells you history, he starts from below the ground and moves up.

June 2-5, 2005 I read:

The Importance of Being Famous, Maureen Orth

Interesting essays (some more than others!) These tales from the frontlines of celebrity culture were entertainingly reported. I read this book partly to indulge my weakness for celebrity bios, and partly as research for one aspect of the ghost story novel I'm writing.

I also went back to finish:

Report on Communion, The Facts Behind the Most Controversial True Story of Our Time, Ed Conroy

I needed to finish with this book so that I could send it and Streiber's Communion itself to my friend in Nevada who was interested in them. The alien critter depicted on both book covers had start to creep me out again.

Okay, I admit it, I am not a fan of disturbing art.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Hawaii - conventions, murders, fictional refuge, true crime puzzles

June , 1975, I started to read:

Hawaii, James Mitchener
This was a long book, and it took awhile to read. I didn't finish till I was on the plane to Hawaii for a Buddhist convention a month later. Mitchener books are useful for tourists because they are like mini-seminars in More Than You Wanted to Know about an area.

Another reason reading this book took so long was because I had discovered I could finally get my BA degree if I took one summer school science course and I elected to take Physics for Non Scientists. This was taught by a radical physicist at SF State. He livened the course up with a visit from a Hiroshima survivor who brought slides of the aftermath (including some haunting images taken before the U.S. military could get there to stop the photography). We were all spellbound hearing how this man had survived because he was late to work--his office building was near the epicenter of the blast. I had some idea of the horrors of that day from reading John Hershey's classic Hiroshima years earlier, but hearing it firsthand made it much more real.

Then I had to explain to this physics prof why I was missing one or two sessions of his class to go to Hawaii for a Buddhist convention. He must have sighed inwardly--you go to all the trouble to dumb down the science, you take out the math, you make it interesting and human. And still these ditzy liberal arts majors need to take time off to go to the beach. Hey, I was a psych major and I knew he was a peace activist, so I talked it up as "for world peace, etc." He agreed to let me make up the work if I would give the class a report. No problem there! I still remember his joke when I told him the name of the organization (as it then was) NSA and he asked, "National Security Agency." Alas, no.

That reminds me of the Richard Armour joke in the form of a quiz in one of his humor books. In writing about The Iliad, he poses this question: "Discuss what would have happened if Helen had been carried off to Paris, instead of being carried off by Paris."

Eventually summer school ended, I passed the class, went to Hawaii, graduated with a mostly worthless BA in psychology and finished reading Mitchner's Hawaii. Not necessarily in that order.

From May 29-June 1, 2005 I read:

The Well of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
This was the third of four books about Thursday Next, wherein she hides from time traveling enemies who have "erased" her husband from existence. Where does she hide? In an unpublished book in the Well of Lost Plots. This was a delightful reading experience. . . and a story about storytelling itself. What are its components and how can they be put together? Will they explode or collapse gently into a deflated balloon posture? Do they need to be pepped up by injection of some nifty backstory purchased from a backstoryist in a small crowded shop:

"Something for the lady? Ill treatment at the hands of sadistic stepsisters? Traumatic incident with a wild animal? No? We've got a deal this week on unhappy love affairs; buy one and you get a younger brother with a drug problem at no extra charge."

Great fun meeting some of old friends, i.e., your favorite fictional characters "behind the scenes" in the story. There were too many cool things for me to pick just one... well, okay--I loved the nursery rhyme characters, picketing the Jurisfiction offices--they get no benefits or vacation because their stories are oral rather than written. A funny and convoluted and exhilarating ride.

Heart Full of Lies, Ann Rule
Here's a 30-year coincidence. Although the murder took place in Oregon, a great deal of this true crime book happened in Hawaii. The victim was a Hawaiian Airlines pilot killed by his surf photographer wife. Ann Rule does this sort of book better than anyone, and she keeps the reader turning pages as she puts the jigsaw puzzle together. This is classic Hitchcockian suspense, where the reader knows whodunit, and has a pretty good idea of why. Yet it was hard to put the book down as you rooted for the police to be able to find out the true story of what happened, and discover enough evidence to prove it. Masterfully written.