Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Lovecraft Country

Lovecraft CountryLovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A novel presented in short stories/novellas, Lovecraft Country follows the Green/Turner families as they become entangled in their American heritage as descendants of slaves & whites who worshiped Lovecraftian tentacle monsters.

Right up front, I will say that I did not finish this book–I had two chapters until the end & I gave up. Not because there is really anything bad in the book; the narrative never elevated itself beyond the big ideas it sketches out. What if a black man was heir to a coven of racist old white dudes? What if a black woman could live out their fantasies of social freedom (whatever that looks like) if only for a limited time? What if you swapped stories about your painful past with a ghost who was trapped in a painful present? These are all good, interesting ideas but there was some heart or substance missing out of exploring them. Ultimately, I think when Jordan Peele adapts this into a movie or miniseries, the stories will fit into his directorial interests, so read the book now as prep & wait with anticipation.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Fatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases Me

Fatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases MeFatale, Vol. 1: Death Chases Me by Ed Brubaker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 instead of 4. Recommended to me by the awesome staff at Velocity Comics. Fatale mixes together tentacle monsters & gun-toting flatfoots in an adventure that flips back & forth through contemporary America. Picture a yellow-eyed creepy-crawly hoisting a tommy gun & if that doesn’t interest you, then skip the rest of the review.

The story follows a dark-haired dame who’s nothing but trouble as she seduces man after man to protect her & keep her from the crazy Cthulu-worshipping cultists that made her what she is. Fatale, so far, is a total pulp mash-up & as a result, the characters rarely become more than what they are meant to be. But that’s ok, I get the sense that this is really more about what cool things come out when mixing these two genres, not necessarily any deep characterization or story-telling. It’s ambitious, dramatic, & full of geeky genre fun.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft

The Complete Fiction of H.P. LovecraftThe Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft by H.P. Lovecraft

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There are two reasons to read Lovecraft:

1.) To understand the mechanics of his universe & how it has enticed other (better) writers to explore it.

2.) To better appreciate other (better) writers writing in response/reaction to Lovecraft’s obsessions.

So glad to be even partially done with this book.

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Books, Thoughts

Off the Shelf: Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories

Green Tea and Other Ghost StoriesGreen Tea and Other Ghost Stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I recently got this little Dover Thrift collection as part of a boxed set of mystery & supernatural stories. I chose to read Le Fanu first because Carmilla is on my to-read list & I wanted to get a taste of what this author’s style was like. Unfortunately, the four stories presented here did not give me much to go on. The first story “Green Tea” was interesting enough & had a sort of Hawthorne-esque twist to it, where the reader doesn’t really know if the supernatural hallucinations are a product of the character’s guilt, some physical ailment or an actual batch of bad green tea. (If it is that last option, than this story becomes an unintentionally hilarious cautionary tale for this former Mormon reader.) However, the last three stories are all variations on deals with the devils or bad karma, with two of them being nearly identical.

I find myself wondering if I’m missing something. I’m uncertain if this is simply a poor collection or whether Le Fanu’s Victorian prose has a subtext that I’m not picking up due to his circumspect style. I do still want to read Carmilla at some point, but right now, I’m not much impressed with these stories.

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Daydream Playlist (English Major Mix)

When I was at Mary Wash, my English department held a weekly poetry reading during the semester.  The series was simply called Thursday Poems & was an excuse for us lit & linguistic majors to get together & soak in some beautiful words.  Sometimes it was well-attended, sometimes the crowd was spare.  It might even seem to you, dear Reader, that it was a silly, over-serious kind of thing you do in college.  But to me, it was time to take a break & re-familiarize myself with the subtle play a piece of creative writing does to our ears.  Not unlike taking a few minutes to sit quietly & remember the rhythm of one’s breath.

I miss Thursday Poems & thankfully I have a few supplements & replacements.  I’ve been fortunate enough to go to readings & conferences where people share parts of their work.  I instruct my writing group to read a portion of their draft aloud before we move to critique it.  And there are some really great podcasts, like Selected Shorts and The New Yorker Fiction Podcast that focus on reading & enjoying a performance of the written word.  So I thought I’d simply collect a list of readings & post it here–a sort of personal playlist of actual & imagined performances that I return to in my daydreams:

Sweet Reads Are Made Of These

(ok, I’m seriously corny)

Side A – The Actual Words (I’ve actually heard)

Side B – Daydream Believer (Readings I wish existed)

  • John Hodgman reads Jorge Luis Borges’s “Death and the Compass.” (Hodgman is a fantastic reader as evidenced by the Coraline link above & he’s obsessed w. Borges.)
  • Julianne Moore reads from Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. (I love what Moore does with her voice & her interior monologue in Vanya on 42nd Street proves she’s more than up to the task of performing Agnes Magnusdottir.)
  • Neko Case reads from Darcy Steinke’s Sister Golden Hair.  (Virginia girls have to stick together & Case’s reading, I imagine, would lend a knowing, looking-back maturity  to Jessie’s coming-of-age story.)
  • Steven Ogg reads from Jim Thompson’s Savage Night.  (Go watch any Let’s Play of GTAV & tell me that Trevor isn’t a character from one of Thompson’s books.)
  • Brad Dourif reads from Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. (This is something I’ve wanted since finding out Dourif once played Hazel Motes.  I want this reading to become a real life thing so badly.)
  • Tom Amandes reads either David Foster Wallace’s “The Soul is Not a Smithy” or Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”  (A bedtime story told by an actor whose typecast as straight-edge & suburban–when in reality both are more than meets the eye.)
  • Mary Kay Place reads from Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn.  (Honestly, I just think Place’s accent is perfectly suited for the no-nonsense, tough stories about living in the desert.)
  • Lenny Von Dohlen reads either “The Fisherman and his Soul” or “The Snow Queen”.  (This last is really just an excuse to resurrect the character of Harold Smith from Twin Peaks.  I loved Harold’s boyishness, vulnerability & cryptic illnesses.  So I thought that since he grew up in books, not Boston, that I would try to find a story equal to explaining his perspective.)