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

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Dark books to read indoors in a warm room, with a new year in view

December 26 to 31, 1975

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (Paperback) Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry
I didn't have the co-author, Gentry, listed when I first read the book. I found it riveting, but unlike some readers nothing about it frightened me. Separating the "hippie ideas" from the violence was pretty easy. Manson was (and is) a con man who dressed his mind control in the context of love, peace and presented himself as a kind of god or devil in a way that pushed a lot of people's buttons. The idea that a mind-controlling Manson could reach out through his sad followers and destroy people. Tragic, but not particularly new.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, George V. Higgins
The hard-boiledest.

December 26 to 31, 2005

This Stephen King book was suggested by Landyn Parker in his blog
Now I'll have to see if the suggestion for unclogging drains works (the sisal for cat scratch posts I already knew).

On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

I've read a lot of Stephen King books. He's good enough, and close enough to the bone with his writing, that I regret having read some of his books because they stuck with me in a nightmare way that I don't need.

I got upset when one of our cats died from a dog attack during the time I was I was reading Pet Sematary. My husband, Charlie, asked what the book was about, and I told him.

If you're not a King reader I'll just explain that the book is about standing on the edge of death when the one you love is on the other side—would you, could you bring them back? If you did, what would be the price? And would you do it anyway?

My husband said, "Just promise me you won't read any books called Husband Cemetery."

Charlie lived another seven years and my reading Stephen King had no known correlation with his lifespan. But I am now cautious before I read a scary book, I check to see whether they mesh badly with my own anxieties because I know the fear can stay with me even after a satisfactorily cathartic ending.

But I digress—this seems to be the night for it, sorry! On the subject of writers, storytellers and what makes such critters tick, Stephen King is always spot on.

On Writing is partly autobiography, including the devastating 1999 accident when King was hit by a van while walking down the road.

In even greater part, this is a practical manual for writers. King has such useful insights that I think, in future, when people ask about plotting, I'll direct them to this book. I love his insight of story as a fossil to be excavated. I also took the point from his description of his muse--wings, cigar, basement apartment with bowling trophies—gotta love that. He suggested that one's own muse (bowling trophies optional) will find it a lot easier to throw some magic on a writer who makes and keeps appointments with regularity.

Wishing you and yours a Happy New Year all!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ghosts of passions past & an entirely different sort of magic

This time of year 30 years ago I was enjoying an orgy of John D. MacDonald's Travis Magee books. I made a list in my orange notebook so I could read them all--even bought one when it first came out in hardcover—which was a tremendous (and expensive) declaration of love on my part.

That passion ran its course. Now it's like remembering someone you dated in your teens. The details have only faded a little but, as Joni Mitchell puts it, "I can't go back there anymore." I loved MacDonald then and studied him closely, despairing of ever being able to tell a tale so smoothly. But I can't read him now. I picked up Cape Fear a few years back and I wanted to smack the hero for the smug arrogance with which he treated his wife, and the adoring way she sucked up to him.… (Which probably echoes some of my teenage romances as well—eek! Not to mention ick!)

Heck, it's Christmas, I won't start. I've moved on and so has John D. MacDonald, who passed away. I'm still pretty fond of Leonard Nimoy and George Plimpton's Paris Review, but those were less intense passions. It's always interesting (if a little scary) to me what books seem dated and which ones don't.

December 15 to December 25, 1975

Intimate Behavior, Desmond Morris
I Am Not Spock, Leonard Nimoy
I just looked this up to see if it was still available, and found that Nimoy has now written a retrospective entitle I Am Spock. I'll have to check that one out.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky, John D. MacDonald
The Long Lavender Look, John D. MacDonald
A Deadly Shade of Gold, John D. MacDonald

Writers At Work, (Paris Review 2nd Series), George Plimpton (Ed.)
I loved how they had a page of annotated typescript from each author before the interview. Ah, the glamour of it all.

A Tan and Sandy Silence, John D. MacDonald

December 14 to 25, 2005

After a pre-Christmas visit from my fast-moving younger brother, and with the constant tranquil presence of the cats for an anchor, I celebrated the holidays with books on monsters.

Monsters, An Investigator's Guide to Magical Beings, John Michael Greer

This book was a happy surprise. It's amazingly clear on subjects that I could never quite grasp before. They're pretty ephemeral subjects, but Greer has some plausible theories that take into account history, current reportage, and how the scientific worldview shut out things that can't be measured and put under microscopes.

[A]n experience can be extremely common, and can affect many human lives, even though it has no place in our modern culture's view of reality, is ignored by education and the media, and does not even have a name. Monsters, p. 22

One reader on Amazon points out that the cover (black with creepy yellow monster eyes) seems too sensationalistic. But I think if it draws in a wider readership, it will have done what a book cover is supposed to do.

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits, Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack

This cover made the Monsters cover look positively conservative, by the way. A black woodcut style critter with lots of teeth, horns, staring eyes on a solid red background.

This book is more of a "dip into" reference rather than a "read straight through book." Partly because it is organized by geography, unlike the Monsters book above which groups these phenomena by behavior and the author's theory of structure.

Each entry explains the critter and the area where the stories of it arose, describes the Lore around it, and provides Disarming and Dispelling Techniques. There's more of a tongue-in-cheek attitude here—unlike the Monsters book where Greer gives serious instructions for would-be monster-hunters, including stakeout and bird-watching style warnings about what gear to bring and admonitions not to trespass and to exercise caution and ordinary common sense.

The Field Guide's takes the comparative mythology approach, but the capsule stories and illustrations are interesting. The quotes are great. Ralph Waldo Emerson--who knew?

…I think the numberless forms in which this superstition has reappeared in every time and in every people indicates the inextinguishableness of wonder in man; betrays his conviction that behind all your explanations is a vast and potent living Nature, inexhaustible and sublime, which you cannot explain. Essay on Demonology," 1875 Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lost books, lost highwys

December 5 to 14, 1975

Admissions, Barbera
I have a vague recollection that this might have been a "doctor memoir" book, but it must be beyond out of print or I wrote the title wrong…

Anti-Social Register, William Hamilton
Possibly cartoons?

Lucy: The Bittersweet Life of Lucille Ball, Joe Morella
(I also have E.Z. Epstein as co-author, though amazon.com doesn't show that—the book has been out of print for awhile.) Good book though.

Ancient, My Enemy, Gordon R. Dickson
My note was "philosophical and anthropocentric"

You and I, Leonard Nimoy
Will I think of you, Leonard Nimoy
6XH, Robert Heinlein
Orbit 17, Damon Knight (ed)

December 5 to 14, 2005

White Teeth, Zadie Smith
A friend pointed out how impressed she was that Zadie Smith could have such a complex vision of life in her early 20s. I agree, and found White Teeth compelling, even though I often tend not to persevere with books that jump forward 5 or 20 years. I think it's because I get attached to the characters and resent having to start all over again with their offspring, whom I may or may not like! But Smith makes it work.

Murder At Morses Pond (Paperback)
by Linda Rosencrance
A true crime book, readable but a bit of a slog as the crime is described over and over. This is a "we're sure the husband did it, but will he get away with it?" type story, and it could have done with more revelations along the way. One commenter online mentioned that this was a court TV case. Maybe there were no more revelations.

Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West, Troy Paiva (foreword Stan Ridgway)
I started with Paiva's web site at www.lostamerica.com where you can see his photographs taken at night of abandoned places. Drive-in movies, the decaying resort around the Salton Sea, ghosts of former military bases—photographed to bring out an eerie beauty. I immediately wanted the book as a gift for my road warrior, younger brother. Fortunately I could get a signed copy from the author. The stories Paiva writes of his adventures taking the pictures are as colorful and wild as the photos themselves

Route 66: The Highway and Its People,Susan Croce Kelly (Text), Quinta Scott (Photographer)
The Piava book sent me back to re-read this photo essay and history. I had originally bought it because I used some Route 66 locations in Large Target. But the book was a keeper. It's fascinating how that Chicago to Los Angeles highway was developed in the 1920s and '30s--the road the Joad family took out of the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of Wrath. It boomed and played a major part in our national history through the '70s until it was finally officially replaced by five interstates by 1985. My father and brother drove on it from Los Angeles to Chicago in the 1970s and even then it took some doing to find it in places.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Fear of a Minimum Wage Planet

Whew! Finally finished those essays, which now can be found on my website. Funny how they seemed much longer when I was printing them out and editing them. I immediately jumped back into reading, but I'll never be able to keep up with my 27-year-old self.

November 25 to December 4, 1975

The Occult: A History, Colin Wilson
Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle, William A. Nolan, MD
An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James
Adventures in Consciousness, Jane Roberts
Orbit 10, Damon Knight, Ed
Inheritors of Earth, Gordon Eklund & Poul Anderson
Shakespeare, a Biography, Peter Quennell (gave up at last, very simplistically done)
The Lively Dead, Peter Dickinson

November 25 to December 4, 2005

Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich goes "undercover" looking for entry level jobs and trying to live on the wages. This book was much scarier than the ghost book noted below. Scary because it's so real.

I worked that sort of minimum wage jobs Ehrenreich described throughout college (and that was an unusual number of undergraduate years)! But rents were cheaper then. I'm not so sure I could physically do what she did as a 50-something, stepping into housekeeping, waitressing and shelf stocking at Wal-mart. On the other hand, the life she describes returning to looks equally unimaginable to me.

The turning point for me out of minimum wage jobs was not finally finishing a college degree. It was learning word processing machines in 1974 (the noble IBM Magnetic Card Selectric Typewriter—may it rest in peace) that made a difference. That primitive proto-computer was difficult enough for many to masterk that know it allowed me to make a living and work unconventional hours so as to support a writing habit. One of my friends recently summed up my life in one sentence. "I get that you don't work well within the system." Some variation of that should go on my tombstone….except…

If, as a Buddhist, I would want a tombstone... Finishing those essays has brought out my inner Gracie Allen.

Ghost Walk, Heather Graham
Romantic suspense a la Phyllis Whitney, not quite Barbara Michaels. It was the ghost in the title, couldn't resist it. Set in New Orleans in pre-hurricane Katrina 2005, which gave it an unexpected patina of sadness.