09-25-09:Max Brooks 'Recorded Attacks' : From Postscripts to Poster-Ready
At first, I was confused. I had ordered not one, but two copies of 'The Zombie Survival Guide' by Max Brooks (Three Rivers Press / Random House ; September 16, 2003 ; $14.95) from Pat Cramer Books. Yes, compulsive me. I had managed to find a pristine First Edition / First Printing of the paperback, and had ordered a second, reading copy as well. So what was this book labeled, 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks' (Three Rivers Press / Random House ; October 6, 2009 ; $17) doing, coming straight from the publisher? Was this what I had ordered? Had zombies managed to eat my brain when I was otherwise occupied?
I guess I'm safe there — not so much brain left to eat. I'd probably not even be a good aperitif for the brain-eating species of zombie. After a few minutes of looking and browsing at 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks', I realized that I had something rather different here (so I thought) and certainly new.
The next day, my two copies of 'The Zombie Survival Guide' arrived and everything fell into place. They joined my First Edition / First Printing of 'World War Z' on my half of the living room table, in the "much pawed books" pile. Overnight, I'm a Max Brooks fan. Somewhere out there, a fellow programmer from my old days at the synthesizer factory is saying, "I told you so." And he did.
Here's the deal. It's been six long years since Max Brooks first released 'The Zombie Survival Guide,' and in those years, it's become a bestseller, as has 'World War Z.' 'The Zombie Survival Guide' had a lot of stuff in it, and at the end of the book, there's a section on "Recorded Attacks." These are brief prose summaries of zombie attacks through history, a year zero till the day after tomorrow series of bad things happening to good people. They're fun, they have a couple of simple line illustrations by Max Werner, and in some sense seem a sort of afterthought. Wrong again. No brains left for you, zombie!
They're actually pretty thorough and pretty fun. Now, in 'The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks' they're just plain pretty. I'm gonna take a stab and guess that this is just the first we'll see. The graphic (in all senses of the word) novel versions of these brief prose bits are utterly stunning. The original histories were nice, but these are simply gut-wrenchingly gorgeous. Let me make something clear that the book does not: somewhere, in tiny type on the back of the book, you can find this legend: Cover Design and Illustrations: IBRAIM ROBERSON. I made it big and bold here because they make it so teeny-tiny on the book. Given the incredible quality of the illustrations and the design, I think he deserves a bit more prominent placement. Yes, Brooks has done an incredible job scripting his detailed, entertaining histories and his gripping stories. Still, I think they should have at least put Roberson's name on the front cover. The upshot is still the same; this is a wonderful graphic novel that I could hardly keep out of my hands. It's distractingly good, so only buy it when you plan on going home to read it.
'Recorded Attacks' offers twelve toe-curling tales of zombie mayhem that fit seamlessly into history and are illustrated to the hilt. They're really quite exciting and the art is so detailed you can spend a lot of time looking at the panel and then looking again to find new stuff. All I can say is I'm a guy who is disinclined to like both zombie stuff and graphic novels. 'Recorded Attacks,' however, will chew through any reservations you might have about zombies, and like the bite of a zombie, turn you in a slavering Max Brooks-style zombie fan. I'm sorry to report that First / Firsts of the first two books are not easy to find. 'Recorded Attacks' will be easy to find. Prepare to be infected.
09-24-09:Erin Lee Gafill, 'Drinking from a Cold Spring' : Family, Life, Art
How to do it? How to write, or paint, or do whatever it is you do that is otherwise outside of your life, and yet have it within your life? It isn’t easy. And how can anything help you accommodate? Sometimes, it just seems hopeless. But then a slight shift in your perception can make a huge difference in your vision.
Yes, here on the California coast, it’s a bit easier to get that perceptual shift. When you live within walking distance of some of the world's most spectacular scenery, you can more easily get a handle on how to put together the puzzle of a life, or just a day, so that there's a piece of time to get outside of yourself and perhaps create. I've been to Nepenthe, and I had a burger I'll never forget sitting in one of those very seats. Erin Lee Gafill is an artist who lives at Nepenthe, and has managed a difficult feat. She's a mother and a working artist, and a writer who addresses a perennial problem. How can you live a rather normal life; you know, doing the dishes, dealing with relatives, handling your kids — and still have the time, the energy, the mental space to immerse yourself in art? As she painted, she started writing, sending out little email dispatches that became 'Drinking from a Cold Spring: A Little Book of Hope' (Booksurge ; May 28, 2009 ; $15.95).
I like this book; it's an unusual take on writing and creativity, exploring not through advice, but more of a sublime perceptual shift. Gafill writes beautifully, in a sort of domestic poetry that I suspect will appeal to other women who are trying to slice and dice their days so that there are moments wherein they can see to their own inner visions. We're always served up writers who work full-time at their craft, the lonely scribes in their scholarly garrets. Gafill has to fill her days with her family, cooking, the sundry items that seem to get in the way of creation. By a slight twist of prose, she demonstrates that they can make way instead.
Expect fine writing, occasional poetry and an understated evocation of the gorgeous California coast. You can use or read this book in a variety of ways. You could plow through it in a day, or read it over two months, one entry per day. You can read it in order, or catch as catch can. Or you can look at it and say, "Hell — I can write like this too! Ten minutes a day!" And that, readers, is precisely the point.
09-23-09:Adams' Ribs : Yet Another Re-Issue, Perhaps Harmless
It's not like I write about the seemingly annual re-issues of the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy every year. Like most SF readers, indeed, like most readers, I enjoyed the hell out of Adams' seminal SF silliness. Yet despite the fact that I love this stuff so much, I've resisted the siren call of buying into the many re-issues that have come down the pike.
But I can be moved to change my mind. Give me some books to line up on the shelf, and I'm a happy guy. I've got a great Simon R. Green Row, a great Charlie Huston row, I have a shelf and a half of Phil Rickman, and heck, he deserves more!
I do have my original Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy paperbacks, I believe, and perhaps even a first edition paperback of the first book somewhere. I seem to remember ... heck. But this tidy stack of brand-spankin' new editions of Adams' work has me, well, sort of tickled. First and foremost, they're kind of ... modest. Especially for a 30-year old birthday party, which is what this is all about.
So, here's the deal. All five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy are being re-issued (Pan Macmillan ; October 12, 2009 ; £7.99). The first printing of the first book will be a super-limited (so we are told by a publicity department that seems to have emerged from the world of the books) "Don’t Panic Design-it-Yourself cover and limited edition stickers." I've got one, and I have to say, well, it's pretty damn cool. Since most of us have lost or misplaced our original paperback, here's a way to sign up for all five of three and get a nice row of books for your bookshelves. We're told, they’re only going to be on sale for year. All this is pretty good, and these are all pretty good reasons to pick these up.
What may move them into the shopping cart, so to speak, will be the introductions. The authors include Russell T. "I resurrected Doctor Who" Davies, Terry Jones, Simon Brett, Neil Gaiman and Dirk Maggs. They add a lot of value to the proceedings, or as much as you can expect given the quality of the writing. But you know th real deal here is that these books are indeed re-readable, and as re-issues go, these are very readable editions. They’re not so bulky as a hardcover, and the paperback format is kind of appropriate for the material. You’re hitchhiking, remember? You want to keep it light. You can go to the Pan Macmillan website and get a good gander at the whole deal. Unfortunately, if you're in the US, you can't buy the iPhone app yet, but I'm looking into that now and hope to have this sentence in strikethrough font with real information by the time I, as they say, "go to press."
The idea of getting books like this, particularly re-issues, is not in all the goodies and whatnots. To tell the truth, the real reason you’re hearing about this here is that these editions did exactly the best thing they could hope to do. I sat down, opened them up and started reading. Laughing. Reading the books again. What more could I ask for?
09-22-09:Jeffrey Toobin, Otto Penzler & Thomas H. Cook : 'The Best American Crime Writing 2009'
Ecco Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has some very interesting offerings. If you're looking for a book with a list in it, chances are that Ecco publishes it. If you're looking at their restaurant and wine guides, you get a great list — well-informed, well-written and tasteful. But a list can also consist of great crime writing and prove to be compelling reading experience.
'The Best American Crime Reporting 2009' (Ecco Books / HarperCollins ; September 15, 2009 ; $14.99) is the third entry from Ecco, and not surprisingly, it proves to be a treasure trove of great writing that will interest just about anyone who likes to read, regardless of your genre preferences. Still, there's a reason we're especially fascinated with crime reporting, or rather many reasons. Most of them get an entire carefully written, thoroughly researched chunk of prose in this collection, which is simply not to be missed. Let me take just a moment to mention Otto Penzler, who is a legend in the mystery genre, a bookstore owner who has become a cornerstone in this thoroughly American field. He provides a terse and effective preface, concluding with a call for submissions for the following volume and instructions on how to do so. He's a man on a mission that has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of any takers. He is the best at finding the best.
Jeffrey Toobin is another legend, and he provides an introduction, also short, to the point and impeccably well written. These two aperitifs are the perfect setup for what follows. If you think you’re going to find such a collection one-note non-fiction, think again. 'The Best American Crime Reporting 2009' covers a turf as wide and as varied as the country itself, and will have a great deal of appeal to readers who think they prefer fiction. Readers will recall I spoke with Mark Arax about his piece in this book, "The Zankou Chicken Murders", a gripping tale of family and betrayal. But you can get another look at the JFK murder in "The Day Kennedy Died," and on the other side of the spectrum, enjoy Sabrina Rubin Erdely's amusing story of "The Fabulous Fraudulent life of Jocelyn and Ed," college kids who decide to take up a life of crime via identity theft. And just because the authors are American, that does not restrict the crimes to America, as shown in 'True Crime' by David Grann ('The Lost City of Z'), a powerful tale of murder and literature in Poland. But the locations and specifics of the crimes covered here, however fascinating, dissolve into something more powerful, the kind of truth we expect to encounter not in reporting, but in fiction. The works here present the human truth, a vision of humanity and each of us, as nothing more or less than a collection of flaws and virtues at war with one another. Both sides will ever claim victory.
09-21-09:Nick Douglas Dredges for 'Twitter Wit' : <=140
Less than, think: "Less Than." As in "less than or equal to 140 characters," the length of a single "tweet." No, I'm not on Twitter, nor am I on Facebook. I'm sure they’re great for some folks, but I simply don’t have the time. Let's see: read the new novel by Margaret Atwood or random twitter entries by a slew of wannabe-twitlebrities?
But Twitter is at least, a linguistic phenomenon. It's not about photos, videos or blasting those unfortunate enough to follow the link to your Facebook page with your favorite annoying pop song. So it has that much going for it.
Now it has something even better, an editor, in this case Nick Douglas who offers what he calls, 'Twitter Wit: Brilliance in 140 Characters or Less,' (It Books / HarperCollins ; August 25, 2009 ; $12.99), a sort of "best of" Twitter. For example: "Worst case scenario, Roomba Edition: Dog poo on the floor. 'Nuff said." That was the one, I admit, that caught my eye first, and made me dig into this collection of ....what? Pithy sayings? Short jokes? How do you describe a collection of entertaining tweets?
I would suggest that it's time to go to my favorite science fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem, who was fascinated with the implications of statistics. What we have in Twitter is the 21st century equivalent of those monkeys who were going to, in the fullness of time, end up typing Shakespeare. It hasn’t happened yet, but in the interim, Nick Douglas has culled the cream of the ...crop, so to speak, and come up with the perfect book to plop on your coffee table or set next to your nightstand or ... well, wherever else you want something to read when your attention is prone to wander. Douglas contends, in his entertaining introduction written well beyond the bounds of Twitter, that Twitter is the modern haiku, and that's not a bad analogy. But whatever it is, the laws of statistics are clearly on the side of it eventually generating some decent writing.
Let's look at Tweespeed, which measures Tweets per minute. Now, as I look at it on a gloomy Saturday morning, the current Tweespeed is 18,344 Tweets per minute. Let's multiply that out, shall we? That's just over a million (1,100,640) tweets per hour. Obviously, we're over 25 million tweets per day, and heading towards 10 billion tweets per year. Now, if we assume that only 1/100th of one percent (.0001) of these tweets are potentially readable, we're still looking at nearly a million tweets a year. That's a lot. I pity Nick Douglas in the task he set himself, and I have to say, that given the formidable nature of what he faced, he came up with a pretty damn good book.
Generally, I believe that books are best read from beginning to end, but in the case of 'Twitter Wit,' (of course there's a website) I'll make an exception and suggest that despite the finite number of entries here, this book itself is potentially infinite, simply because you can't read the whole thing at once, and as you read it, one tweet goes in your brain and likely enough, another one falls out somewhere on the sidewalk. Be careful not to litter, and be aware of where you are when you read 'Twitter Wit.' Some of this stuff is actually exactly what you might hope for; funny, poetic, profound. Not all of it mind you, but your reception to the material will depend as much on your tastes as the quality of the material itself. I'm thinking that this is the book most certain to become a series, like ever. If you like this one, well, wait just an hour and Douglas will be able to say quite literally: "If you liked that one, I got a million more where it came from."
Maybe this is a horror novel in disguise. Be afraid.
05-04-13: Commentary : Reasons Not to Leave the House, Reality Check : The Truth Hurts Edition: 'Down the Up Escalator' by Barbara Garson, 'The Wolf and the Watchman' by Scott C. Johnson,'The Book of Woe' by Gary Greenberg, 'Confessions of a Sociopath' by M. E. Thomas