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, March 29, 2006

Anita Blake, from looking into the abyss...to, um, dating it

March 21 to March 29, 1976 I read:

A Family Affair, Rex Stout
Science Fiction in the Cinema, John Baxter
A Comprehensible World: On Modern Science and its Origins, Jeremy Bernstein
My note: A real name dropper—no memory of this book.

Definitely a more frivolous reading week.

March 21 to March 29, 2006, I read:

Micah, Laurell K. Hamilton

Interesting. Very short, it’s like a micro-Anita Blake book. It's padded out to near book length with a teaser chapter in the back for Danse Macabre, the next full-length Anita Blake book.

One rare element of the early Anita Blake books was the detachment with which she could present highly gory vampire attacks and zombie slaughter scenes. The result was that this squeamish reader didn't get, as they say "squicked out." I miss the police procedural aspects, and the camaraderie Anita had established with the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team officers, Sgt. Dolph Storr and company. They don't show up in the books much at all anymore.

I still like the Anita Blake character enough to keep reading about her—even though she seems like she’s becoming increasingly high maintenance. From the first book, Anita had a chip on her shoulder, which made her almost literally a loose cannon, considering all the weaponry she carried around. Now she has mellowed--perhaps due to having sex four or five times a day... Not intentionally... It was a sort of a vampire attack, "curse of terminal horniness" thing, see? And it's kind of turned into a lifestyle choice. Never mind. The long and short of it is, she has to take off the shoulder holster much more often these days.

Perhaps due to the strain of scheduling all this lust, Anita in the more recent books seems to often get bent out of shape about oddly trivial things. For example, a great deal of the tension in Micah, an admittedly very short piece of prose, revolves around Anita throwing an unprovoked hissy fit because lover du jour has the temerity to book them into a four-star hotel. It used to take a full-scale zombie attack to get her that upset. This book does have a zombie attack…well, I don’t want to put in a spoiler, but clearly her domestic situation is affecting her work. High maintenance. Or maybe after a dozen books full of gory monster attacks, she's dealing with a major case of post traumatic stress syndrome.

Every Which Way but Dead, Kim Harrison

Coincidentally, this is--oh, my gosh, I guess you’d call it a “paranormal romance.” Yikes! The author is definitely being marketed to the same audience as Hamilton, and there are some interesting similarities. Rachel Morgan is a witch, who runs a sort of paranormal detective agency with a vampire and pixie as partners and roommates. She lives in an alternate future where a genetic mutation has killed off enough humans to shift the balance so that magical creatures no longer have to hide, but can exist openly with humans in an uneasy truce. Lots of high stakes action: the opening scene has Rachel conjuring a demon who saved her life and to whom she now owes a debt. The demon plans to take her soul and drag her into the “ever-after” as his apprentice. There are some fast-moving action scenes in the book, but the general pace of it is more gentle and measured than Laurell K. Hamilton books—which, at their best, grab you by the throat and don’t let go.

I like Kim Harrison's prose. I read the first two books in the series: Dead Witch Walking and The Good, the Bad and the Undead, and I will probably read whatever she writes.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Comments, wild rides & Shakespeare on eyes like Princess Di's

First a couple of comments on Comments. I had the honor of hearing from an author, Wendy McClure, whose work I admire quite a lot, although most of our dialog was due to my dismay over some of material in her book, I'm Not the New Me. By the way, I don’t believe I ever apologized for confusing Wendy McClure and Wendy Shanker (author of A Fat Girl’s Guide to Life)—if you’re out there, Wendy Shanker, I apologize to you as well. The entry and comments are at:


I promised to revisit the book, which I had lent to a friend. I got it back and looked at it again, and also looked at what I said about it in October.

I think Wendy McClure and I are fated to have different approaches to this subject, and that’s probably a matter of temperament.

She felt I was saying she approved of weight surgery or perhaps the newer operations—which she makes clear in an email to me she does not. I never got the feeling from the book that she approved--or disapproved--of weight loss surgery. She left it to her mother to say, in the section I quoted, that she wished she hadn’t done it but felt it was necessary at the time.

I want to make it clear that I’m not saying anyone should in any way disrespect this woman's choices about her own body in regard to having two weight loss surgeries. It is her body and she made a choice based on the information available to her. My concern was that discussing the “new operations” at the point when Wendy was asking her mother how she felt about having had the surgery, could give a reader the idea that the new operations are improved to prevent such suffering and/or regaining. Part of that “new operations are better” game is to allow surgeons to keep changing the procedures slightly so that they can ignore the previous high rate of complications with the “old operations.” No matter what surgical method is used, the result is an artificial, poorly functioning stomach. That in fact is the goal!

Wendy pointed out, also in a supplementary email, that I was probably naive to think that the Weight Watchers company needed or particularly noted her book. I don’t know how much books register with giant corporations. The written word is out on the fringes of our culture these days. But the view of WW expressed in I'm Not the New Me was that it was a community of interesting people—some of them young, witty and funny. No reason for WW to argue with that, and as far as defending the bizarre recipe cards from 1974 that Wendy makes fun of…she goes to some length in the narrative to express admiration for their current system, so that probably wouldn’t bother them either.

In re-reading I see that the strongest passages in I'm Not the New Me, are those eloquently describing the self-loathing that drove her to the Weight Watchers and web journal odyssey. Those feelings are familiar to anyone who has lived in a “too fat” body. The question I ask other writers when I conclude the obligatory self-loathing section of any Fat Story is, “How did you get out of the cave and what happened then?”

Some writers of fat stories are, of course, still in the cave. But if not, it seems to me a kindness if the writer could leave some kind of trail to help readers also trying to get out. If the writer tells me that the way out of this cave of self-hatred involves repairing a bad self-image through weight loss…. Sigh. I’ve been on that carnival ride and if you try to feel better about yourself by changing your exterior, you’ll find yourself back at the beginning again, buying another ticket. Repeatedly.

We each have to write the books we need to write—and to read whatever resonates with us. I leave for another occasion the question of whether a book is better or worse for strong opinions blatantly expressed. I’ve ventured too far into Diatribes-R-Us country already today.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled book report.

March 11 to March 20, 1976, I read:

Alive : The Story of the Andes Survivors, Piers Paul Read

Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains. Of the forty five people on the plane at the time of the crash, sixteen came down from the mountain, grim crash story, cannibalism, survival.

The Eden Express : A Memoir of Insanity , mark Vonnegut

The story of Kurt Vonnegut’s son’s 1960s schizophrenic breakdown reminded me of a book I encountered a year or so later--Operators and things: The inner life of a schizophrenic, Barbara O’Brien. She wrote her story in the 1950s. I was surprised that so many amazon.com commenters had the same experience of reading it, finding it haunting, and seeking it out again over the years.

Home Companion, S. J. Perelman

The Most of P.G. Wodehouse
Only the Jeeves stories & Quick Service

– My note on the three below was that they could not be read straight through, at least not by me.
The Glass Teat, Harlan Ellison
The Other Glass Teat, Harlan Ellison
Ellison Wonderland, Harlan Ellison -

Sportsworld, an American Dreamland, Robert Lipsyte

March 11 to March 20, 2006

Sex, Lies and Vampires
The first chapter had more hooks than a bait shop. I was a bit irked that at least one of the very first ones was never showed up again in the book and wound up as a totally unexplained loose end. To wit, what ever happened to the imp infestation that the heroine's new employer was going on about as the book opened, and what was the point of having her confuse a medieval antiquities expert with an imp exterminator. And furthermore, what happened to the imps? If you're going to use a hook, I think you should follow up in the body of the book. It was a good hook and it got me into the book, but then it frustrated me when it wasn't ever resolved. A fast moving romance with a lot of supernatural action and the requisite smart-mouthed modern human heroine.

The Life and Times of William Shakespeare, Peter Levi

This is not exactly in the celebrity bio mode. Except for Shakespeare fiends like myself. However, I found it fascinating and soothing. Levi has interesting insights, such as that the Earl of Southampton, who was most likely the handsome youth for whom the sonnets were composed, was a remote ancestor of Princess Diana—“Southampton’s looks and a certain trick of the eyes are recognizable in the Princess of Wales.” (Okay, so there's your celebrity bio tie in right there.)

Friday, March 10, 2006

From the depths of Doctorow to the shallows of chick lit

March 5 to March 10, 1976 I read:

Ragtime, E. L. Doctorow

This is a lovely book. I now realize that the format was experimental (and that this did not always work for Doctorow) But at the time I read it, I drank it in without seeing anything that interrupted the story. The author's rambling fit well with the soundtrack--the renaissance that ragtime music and Scott Joplin in particular went through in the mid-1970s.

Three for Tomorrow: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction (Hardcover)
by Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, James Blish

You Can Get There from Here, Shirley MacLaine

While I was looking up this book (still available used and evidently frightening some readers to this day), I found that there’s a “noir cartoon” book—aka “graphic novel,” I’m unclear on the distinction entitled You Can’t Get There from Here by Norwegian cartoonist Jason. This one “chronicles one of the oldest love triangles in the world: Mad scientist creates monster, mad scientist creates woman for monster, mad scientist...falls in love with the woman he created for the monster!” Ha, and they thought Shirley MacLaine was scary! Seriously it sounds kind of sweet, in an angsty kind of way.

Word Play : What Happens When People Talk, Peter Farb
Working, Studs Terkel

My note indicates that I found Word Play and Working invigorating, but didn’t finish either. Too fragmentary in structure, I suspect. I ended up dipping into each of them repeatedly over the years since.

March 5 to March 10, 2006 I read:

Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris

This book made me laugh, which is something I value highly. Sedaris’ adventures with unusual French phrase books, such as the English-to-French for Medical Practitioners reminded me of a book that found its way to my bookshelves, the 1972 edition of A Practical Spanish Grammar for Border Patrol Guards (issued by the US Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service). What it lacks in political correctness, it makes up in phrases that are hard to find elsewhere such as: Give me the knife. Where did you bury the body? And: Provided that you tell us the truth we will let you go tomorrow.

Asking for Trouble: A Novel, Elizabeth Young

I had an odd experience with this book. I was sure I had read it before—but I think it was three other books I’d read wherein the heroine hires an escort to save face at an important wedding, and ends up finding love. This book eventually became a movie—The Wedding Date. In referring to that movie, the movie Pretty Woman was often evoked. I think that is totally inappropriate. The heroine of Pretty Woman, the Julie Roberts character, was portrayed as an ordinary streetwalker given the Pygmalion treatment to turn her into an acceptable date for an upscale executive.

Contrarily in the female-hires-male scenario, it is repeatedly stressed that the male lead is NOT a prostitute—just briefly dabbling in the escort biz as a favor for a friend.

I’m not going to delve into that treasure trove of gender expectations.

Asking for Trouble is classic chick lit—which is closer to farce than romance. While I read this I noted the author’s strenuous efforts to keep the heroine and her hero from disclosing the secrets that kept them apart. The similarity to farce is that both require juggling of ongoing deceptions. A surprising amount of skill is required to keep up the illusion of believability. Asking for Trouble is a first novel, and did not always pull off that trick, but I enjoyed it enough to finish it.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Once upon the edge...

February 28 to March 4, 1976

I didn’t finish much that week!

Picked-Up Pieces, John Updike
My note was: "just a few"
Gorge Eliot, the Emergent Self, Ruby V Redinger
My note was: "appallingly incoherently written, skimmed in self-defense." I did, and do, like George Eliot, but evidently not Redinger.

On Being Funny, Woody Allen and Comedy, Eric Lax
Approaching Oblivion, Harlan Ellison
All the Livelong Day, Barbara Garson

My note on Lax, Ellison and Garson—"never quite finished these, rather depressing." When I looked up Barbara Garson, I see that she wrote MacBird. As a Shakespeare fan and a protester against the Vietnam war, I still remember reading MacBird, including where I sat in the sunlight on the campus at UC Riverside in 1967. The parody of MacBeth was published by Grassy Knoll Press! Garson's MacBird cast Lyndon Johnson as MacBeth. But I don’t remember whether that registered with me when I read (at least some of) All the Livelong Day in 1976.

February 28 to March 4, 2006, I read:

Liquor, Poppy Z. Brite

In her interesting blog, Brite reveals an picture impressive tattoo of St. Joseph that she promised she would get if she could negotiate a change in the focus of her career. That transition (and tattoo) were accomplished. But encountering her earlier work and her more recent work at the same time, my impression is that Brite is a good enough writer that if something interests her, she can take the reader along for the ride.

Liquor is very different from Lost Souls and Drawing Blood. The earlier, horror tales took a homoerotic view of the teenaged heroes, with openly predatory villains, and lots of gore, decay and death-wish-on-the-highway scenes. Liquor is homoerotic soap opera with complicated villains and restaurant kitchen porn. The only decay in Liquor is aged cheese, wine, and maybe the steaks. The blitzkrieg partying of the horror books has narrowed down to a passionately committed gay couple in their 20s, who are both cooks, and trying to make it in the New Orleans restaurant world. They have an opportunity to open a restaurant using their dream idea. But they end up uncertain whether they have essentially sold their souls in order to get the money to open fulfill their dream.

Outsiders : 22 All-New Stories From the Edge, Nancy Holder, Nancy Kilpatrick (ed)

I was interested to see if the Poppy Z. Brite story in this book was a transition between her earlier work and her work in Liquor, but in fact the story was a snippet from the earlier lives of the heroes of the Liquor series—who qualified as Outsiders because of their sexual orientation, I guess.

Most of the rest of the short stories (with a few exceptions) were—as advertised, on the edge. Lordy, I haven’t been near the edge in decades and I ain’t interested in going, thank you very much. Most of these stories were too far over to the “splatter punk” type of atmosphere to be my kind of thing so it would be an exercise in futility to try to judge them.