October Reading – The Month Ahead

I’ve been a bit of a reading slacker this year compared to the last three years. I’ll probably even end up a few books short of my unofficial “par score” of fifty books in 2013. Part of this is because my blog’s focus seems to keep slanting more toward short stories, which, honestly, was not my original intent. As a fairly busy person, though, it’s a logical practical decision to read more shorter works. We’ll see if the trend continues into 2014, when I hope to take my annual short story reading project “public” and make it a reading challenge that hopefully other bloggers or readers will participate in. Anyway, back to October 🙂

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I am going to revisit Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” as it is the October reading selection of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s  book club. What’s more, I’m supposed to lead the discussion, so I’d better be prepared. It’s an awesome book, though. I could probably just ask one question and let everyone talk for the next hour, but I’ll try to add a little more value than that.

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I’m also currently reading a great non-fiction book called “Osman’s Dream.” It’s by Caroline Finkel and is a history of the Ottoman Empire (Osman being the first Sultan of that mysterious – to me, anyway – entity). I’ve learned a lot so far in just the first eighty pages, but look forward to becoming a little more conversant with that corner of world history, which I’ve hitherto neglected.

Bookmama’s bookstore is having a discussion of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” next week. I’ve read it before, but may revisit in time to drop by and attend. As a kid, I always loved the movie version with James Mason and Pat Boone(!)

(below: James Mason leads his intrepid group of explorers deeper into Carlsbad Caverns… oops, er, I mean The Centre of the Earth!)

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I also plan to read Jack London’s novella, “Before Adam.” Recommended by an old college/H.S. classmate of mine, I tried a few pages a couple of weeks ago and the premise is fascinating…

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Since it’s October, I’m sure I’ll also squeeze in some ghost or horror stories (I bought a new anthology recently!) and hopefully blog about a few for the R.I.P. Challenge, to which I’ve already contributed a couple posts.

Let’s see, what else… I’ll continue reading stories for my “Project: Deal Me In” annual short story challenge, and there are a couple other books that I’ve read a few pages into but haven’t really officially “started” yet, those being Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being” (which I got far enough into to appreciate that that title doesn’t quite mean what you would think… & It’s also a finalist for the coveted Mann-Booker prize!).

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Also there’s James Alexander Thom’s “St. Patrick’s Batallion,” which is much shorter than his other books that I’ve read, so I should be able to knock it out in a few days, right? 🙂

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That’s it for my plans, but what about YOU? What are you planning to read this month?

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Top Ten Tuesday: Top of The Summer To Be Read List

Each Tuesday, the book blog “The Broke and the Bookish” hosts a “Top Ten Tuesday” meme. Hundreds of fellow book bloggers participate. It’s a great way to discover and connect with new blogs and bloggers. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Books at the Top of My Summer To Be Read List.” Here are mine, not in any particular order:

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1. The Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I count Murakami as one of the great “discoveries” resulting from my joining the book blogging community over three years ago. I’ve wholly enjoyed everything I’ve read by him thus far. This is one of his most acclaimed books. I just bought it and can’t wait to get started.

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2. St. Patrick’s Batallion by James Alexander Thom

This will be my second Thom read of the year, after finishing the wonderful “Panther in the Sky” (fictional biography of Tecumseh) in January. I was already aware of this title (published in 2006) but became further intrigued a couple Fridays ago when the author was at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, which had a “birthday party” for him and his wife Dark Rain Thom. The book covers a little known story from the Mexican American War.

3. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Recommended by many, set in the American Southwest, and by another new favorite author. How could I go wrong with this one?

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4. Driving Alone: A Love Story by Kevin Lynn Helmick

Not generally well-known, but I read about this one in the New York times book pages. Sounded really good. More of a novella at just over 100 pages, it only has 12 reviews so far on Goodreads…

5. The Daylight War by Peter Brett

I wrote about Peter Brett’s “Demon Cycle” books quite awhile back.  Not my normal genre, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, as have many of my reading friends. Shout out to the Borough of Books blog too, where I first learned of them.

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6. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Long on my list, I finally obtained a copy this year. Tonight at the last meeting of the season of my Great Books Foundation reading group, I’ll propose this as a candidate for our summer novel to read before the next meeting in September. I’ll still read it either way…

7. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Heard of this book through a coworker, Jeri, and have since seen it mentioned on many other book blogs. An intriguing premise with the 2011 Tsunami as a backdrop, it sounds irresistible.

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8. Who Owns the Future? by John Lanier

This non-fiction book will likely be one that causes me to lose some sleep. About the digital revolution and its consequences, it’s another one I first heard about via The New York Times.

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9. The Brotherhood of the Grape by John Fante

A friend has been nudging at me to read this for awhile now, even gifting me his second-hand copy. This summer will be the time I get it read.

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10. In The Devil’s Territory by Kyle Minor

This one will satisfy my short story sweet tooth. Highly acclaimed, I’m really looking forward to reading these. I learned of this book through the blog of The Missouri Review

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11. The Shift Omnibus – Hugh Howey

Prequel to the self-published e-book blockbuster, “Wool” (which I read and thoroughly enjoyed earlier this year), this may be the one I’m most looking forward to. You better not disappoint me, Mr. Howey… 🙂

Sorry, I guess that’s eleven. I must have mis-counted in my prep work. I don’t want to bump any of these, though. 🙂  Is it too nerdy to say that just coming up with this list makes me want to take the day off and start reading NOW?  I hope not.  I can’t do that anyway… <sigh>

What about YOU? What’s on your list? Will we be reading any of the same books this summer? Tell me all about it. 🙂

July Reading: The Month Ahead

A new month is upon us again. Already. What’s on tap in my reading for July? Let’s start with the leftovers from June:

A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
In fairness, it was late June when I “re-engaged” with this chunkster. I’m almost a third of the way through it as of last night, though. Like the first book in this series, I find some of the characters more compelling than others, which makes Martin’s penchant for skipping from one (of many, many) character to another with each new chapter’s beginning somewhat vexing. I’ll get through it, though. The jury’s still out on whether I will continue on to book three… (author Martin is pictured below)

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Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox by John Waugh
I’ve stalled again on this one, with only about 150 pages to go, I haven’t opened it in more than a week now. More discipline is required from this reader. (you can tell I never would’ve made the cut as a West Point Cadet!) Below: author John Waugh

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Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut

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A “required” read, this one is of course for my monthly meeting of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club. I am so looking forward to reading this non-fiction work of Vonnegut’s musings. Only a couple more Vonnegut books to go for me and I’ll have read them all (I finished the last novel in May, and I think I just have this one and Armageddon in Retrospect left to go overall).

Probable reads:
Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie – a shorter, hopefully lighter read. A story with an interesting premise that I learned of via a fellow book blogger.

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Panther in the Sky by James Alexander Thom – this one’s appeared before at least once on my “the month ahead” posts. I think it’s finally time I gave Shawnee leader Tecumseh (portrait below) some attention…

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – a local book discussion group is meeting on this one on July 10th. Though I’m familiar with the story through the movie and pop culture in general, never having read this classic is a serious gap in my cultural literacy that needs to be addressed. Not sure if I’ll be able to read it in time for that meeting though.

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Also I’ll be continuing to catch up on my 2012 short story reading project, which I’ve been enjoying doing the past few days already. 🙂

That’s about it for me. What about you? What’s on deck in your reading plans for July? I’d love to hear…

June Reading – The Month Ahead

As always, it’s hard to believe a new month is upon me “already,” but it is a fact I must deal with. 🙂

I had a likely record-breaking reading month in May, finishing ten books. True, many were shorter than my usual reads, and I had started a couple the month before, but nonetheless I consider it a good month, at least by my humble standards.

So, does this mean I can slack off in June? Hardly! I have many books I want to read this month. Two are for book club meetings so I’ll start with them:

1. The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham

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I’ve actually already started this one and passed the halfway point this morning. Is been on my TBR list for quite awhile, and since I learned that the Carmel (north Indianapolis) Library book discussion group was meeting next week on it, I finally took the plunge. Liking it a lot so far, and not sure how it will end…

2. Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut

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The book club of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library will be meeting on June 28th to discuss this short story collection which was published in 1999. Most of the stories were written in the 1950s and I hear he even re-wrote or re-worked three of em for this book. Another collection of Vonnegut stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, was my favorite book of those I read in 2010, so I’m really looking forward to working my way through these.

3. Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin

Yes, it’s time I picked up this series again – especially since my friend Edie is putting me to shame by tearing through the first four and a half books in just a few weeks. 🙂 In fact, it’s funny to ponder how often I have been led to read something due to “peer pressure” like this. Probably happens more than I’d initially guess… Anyway, I sometimes miss the direwolves and the compelling young characters in this series and look forward to rejoining them.

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4. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomatox by John C. Waugh

This is a “leftover” from my 2010 Civil War Reading Project that I’ve always wanted to get back to. I read the first 25 pages or so this morning and will see it through to its finish this time.

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Other contenders: Panther in the Sky by James Alexander Thom (I admit to being a little daunted by the length of this book, BUT if I can read George R.R. Martin…); American Gods by Neil Gaiman (been on my TBR list for quite awhile now – this could be the month); A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (kind of listening to this on audio off an on at work, but can’t usually pay it enough attention that way, unless I’m doing really routine, drudgery-laden tasks, which I don’t have enough of at the office); finally, a book I just read about this morning on Jade’s blog, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (outside of my normal reading pattern, but very popular among book bloggers, and I trust Jade, who liked it. Might be one of those, “let’s see what all the fuss is about” reads)

Well, that’s about it for me. What about YOU?? Have you read any of the above books (or authors) and did you like them? Most importantly, what will you be reading in June???

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“Ride Along the Winds of Time and See Where We Have Been”

Are you sitting comfortably?

Yes, that’s also the title of an old song by The Moody Blues (and a great song it is – see the bottom of this post for the lyrics). I was reminded of it a couple weeks ago during a visit by author James Alexander Thom to “Bookmama’s Bookstore” in the “Historic Irvington” neighborhood of Indianapolis. Mr. Thom first spoke for a bit – for the most part about the topic of his latest book, “The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction” – and then entertained questions from the small audience (which strained the capacity of the cozy neighborhood bookstore).

One of the things he said that particularly struck me was that, in times gone by – and especially those times in which many of his own historical novel are set – people spent a large percentage of their time in some state of discomfort. Think about it for a moment. There was, for example, no central air conditioning or heating. (Can you imagine sweating through a summer like we had last year with no air conditioning?) Today, if we have a headache or a fever or cold we can go to the pharmacy to get some immediate relief. When we have to go to the dentist, there is such a thing as novacaine that makes the experience more tolerable. All of these options are relatively new developments.

He mentioned this in context with his other thoughts on being a writer of historical fiction, in particular how difficult it can often be to successfully transport the reader to another era. One of the questions I didn’t have time to ask him was whether or not he ever found it hard to re-orient or “re-boot” himself for the present day world after a particularly long stretch of working on – and perhaps in – the past. It would have been interesting to hear his answer.

He also spoke about the nemesis of the Historical Fiction writer – the dreaded anachronism. This part of his talk helped fine tune my vocabulary as well, since even though I knew the general meaning of the word “anachronism” as something “out of place,” I had never fully appreciated the Greek root “chronos” meaning “time” and that the full, correct meaning of the word is which is a person or thing that is chronologically out of place. Shame on me as a Classics Minor in college. I hope none of my old professors are reading this one!

Thom mentioned also that his preferred title for this book was “Once Upon a Time it was Now.” Sadly, he was overruled by his publishers, and we were robbed of that superior title. I read the book recently (although I have no aspirations to be a historical fiction writer) partly because I was a History Major in college and have an abiding interest in all things historical, but mainly because I was so impressed with this author when he visited the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library a couple months ago.

My favorite chapter of the book was the final one, titled “Around the Fire” and dealing with the fact that “stories” were the heart and genesis of everything. Stories told around the fire about the discovery that “willow bark can make an ache go away,” for example, were the birth of “Medicine.” Tales of ancestors and their deeds became “History.” A bird call is imitated and the birth of “Music” grows nearer. Tribes from ‘beyond the mountains’ tell what their lands are like and “Geography” is born. He lists many more examples. These are just a few. As he puts it, “I have come to believe that everything that makes up humanity and human civilization began as storytelling.”

So, if you’re an avid reader of historical fiction (good historical fiction, I mean) or even just a run-of-the-mill amateur historian, I think you’ll find a lot in this slim volume.  I know I did.

Here are the lyrics promised above from the Moody Blues song:

“Take another sip my love and see what you will see,
A fleet of golden galleons, on a crystal sea.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Let Merlin cast his spell.

Ride along the winds of time and see where we have been,
The glorious age of Camelot, when Guinevere was queen.
It all unfolds before your eyes,
As Merlin casts his spell.

The seven wonders of the world he’ll lay before your feet,
In far-off lands, on distant shores, so many friends to meet.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Let Merlin cast his spell.”

A Literary Doubleheader

While having coffee with my friend Bob a few weeks ago, he mentioned somewhat offhandedly that his cousin had “just written a book on Kurt Vonnegut.” Say what?! (Somehow I avoided a spit-take of my hazelnut coffee.) It turns out that author Greg Sumner, a Professor of History at University of Detroit Mercy had written the biography, “Unstuck in Time,” subtitled “A Journey Through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels.” Yes, there was little doubt I would read this book.

A few days later, I learned that the author would be giving a talk and book-signing at the Carmel Public Library. Though inconveniently scheduled in the middle of the work day (I sometimes wonder if those in the literary world think that the only people who read books are retired…) at 10 a.m. I made the sacrifice of going into work early and using my “lunch” hour to drive up and attend. I’m so glad I did.

Author Sumner is an Indianapolis area native and graduate of Carmel High School. He shared many gems and quotations from his book and encouraged those in the audience who had met or known Vonnegut (and there were several) to share their stories as well. He noted that Vonnegut was popular amongst the younger generation as well, and “called on” a young man (who was 19) in the audience, asking him how he came to become a Vonnegut fan, etc. Later, Sumner also mentioned that some fans had even tattooed key phrases or quotations of Vonnegut’s on their bodies. The 19-year old, almost as if on queue, rolled up his left sleeve to reveal a “So it goes” tattoo. Nice.

Several of my colleagues from the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club were in attendance as well, and when I excused myself “early” (but not before getting a signed copy of the book) one jokingly mentioned, “Oh, I forgot some of us still have to work for a living.” Yes, that is darned inconvenient.

So, back to work and to dealing with the stress of a month-end close process, I struggled dutifully on until exactly 5 p.m., when I dashed out the door and sped off to the east side of town. My final destination was actually downtown at the KVML, which has a “First Friday” program at 6 p.m. each month, usually featuring a guest speaker or author. Since this month’s guest was best selling Indiana author, James Alexander Thom, I had invited my Mom to go with me as she has read practically all of his books. After gathering Mom up, we made it downtown with time to spare (I’m still not sure how I did his, with traffic the way it is at rush hour).

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(authors Thom (left) and Sumner discussing Kurt Vonnegut at the KVML)

The program was a little late getting started anyway, so we had some time to browse the library, which my Mom hadn’t yet seen. Anyway, a small crowd of locals (and Sumner from the morning event) were delighted by Thom’s tales about his writing and about his association with Vonnegut, with whom he was friends – but “not close friends,” as he was careful to point out – even though he related that they talked on the phone often until near Vonnegut’s death in 2007.

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March Reading – The Month Ahead

Here it is, already March 4th, and I need to come up with a game plan for what reading I might get done this month. We’ll start with my required reading…

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While Mortals Sleep – Kurt Vonnegut

This is the selection of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library Book Club for March. I look forward to reading it. Well, I’ve actually already started, having read the first of the sixteen previously unpublished short stories in this book, just released in January of 2011. My only fear is that they were unpublished for a reason, but that fear is tempered by my rationalization that Vonnegut’s “rejects” are likely better than almost everyone else’s polished final product. We’ll see.

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Unstuck in Time – Greg Sumner

This one is kind of “required” as it is part of my main 2012 reading project of “one author biography per month.” THus far, I’ve finished Hawthorne and, almost, Kerouac, and since I just went to a talk and book signing by this author on Friday, it’s a natural pick for the next one.

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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements – Sam Kean

Wow, what a long title! This one’s for fun, and I’m already about one-third of the way through it. Very readable for non-fiction and particularly for science-related non fiction. I’m learning a lot. I won’t spoil the “Disappearing Spoon” reference in the title in case you want to read the book yourself, just trust me that it’s a funny story…

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Lost Moon – Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

On loan from a co-worker (for a few months now), I need to get around to reading this one so I can return it (Ben Franklin would be ashamed of me!). Everyone knows the story of Apollo 13 (especially if you’ve seen the great film dramatization with Tom Hanks), but I’d like to read Lovell’s own thoughts on it as well.

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Henry V – William Shakespeare

Trying to read one Shakespeare play a month this year (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and MacBeth? Already done). In 2008 I attempted a reading project which involved reading ALL of his plays (yes, overly ambitious of me) and made it about 2/3 of the way through. Unlike the prior two, this is one I didn’t get to during that project. I will break out my trusty Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare to help me find the way…

Short Stories (and something by James Alexander Thom)

My one story per week project rolls on (see my reading selections). I also would like to read something else by author James Alexander Thom, (pictured below & a favorite author of my Mom’s) who I had the pleasure of meeting in person last week. Perhaps his From Sea to Shining Sea would be the logical choice since I just read his other Lewis and Clark Expedition book (Sign Talker) last month.

Well I guess that’s about it (& isn’t that enough?!) – but what about you? What are your reading plans for March?

February Reading – The Month Ahead

I used to post almost every month about what was coming up in my planned reading. This routine post often aged into a public record of my lack of resolve and general slacking, which may have led to my discontinuing it. I think I’m going to try to start doing it again though, as perhaps it will make me feel more accountable and get more reading done. (yeah, right) Anyway, here goes:

Sign-Talker by James Alexander

This book was recommended by my Mom (“Hi, Mom!”), who has read many of Thom’s books. I’ve read one other, “Follow the River,” much of which is set in the Kanawha & New River area in West Virginia, where I have family ties. The Sign-Talker is the fictionalized story of George Drouillard, a half-Native American hunter/interpreter who was part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I’m already pretty far into this one and may finish up tonight. That would be fortuitous since the author will be at the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s monthly “First Friday” event tomorrow. I’d like to go meet him.

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

This is the KVML Book Club’s selection for February. I know nothing about it and don’t even have a copy yet. It will be nice to return to Vonnegut this month, though, after struggling mightily to get through Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” last month.

Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia

The second book of my unofficial planned “twelve author biographies in twelve months” project. I started this biography of Jack Kerouac once a few years ago but didn’t finish. I plan to start from scratch. It’s huge.

MacBeth by Shakespeare

This is the February play for an online year-long Shakespeare reading challenge (that I’ve lost track of where it actually is; I’m so bad). I re-read A Midsummer Night’s dream last month and really enjoyed the return visit. Hopefully I’ll feel the same way about MacBeth. Plus there are witches in this one…

Short Stories

I’m one behind schedule in my one per week project, but I’m sure I’ll read a bunch this month. Next up is Lester del Rey’s sci-fi tale, “Instinct.” I’ve also been enjoying following the weekly short story meme over at Breadcrumb Reads. Learning of lots of new short stories and authors that I. Will be reading this year and into the future, I’m sure.

Well that’s my currently planned month of reading. What about you? What’s on your February reading list?