Friday, June 28, 2013

#593. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse June 2013

Okay, before we dig into Armchair Squid's Cephalopod Coffeehouse book talk, let's list the books I read during June 2013:
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King
  • Doctor Who - Shada by Douglas Adams by way of Gareth Roberts
  • Blockade Billy by Stephen King
  • Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel
  • Cobra: Son of the Snake by Mike Costa and Antonio Fuso
  • The World of Flashpoint Featuring Superman by various
  • Insane City by Dave Barry
  • The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman
  • Cave of the Dark Wind by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Batman and Robin Vol. 2 - Pearl by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • War of the Green Lanterns  by Geoff Johns and various
  • The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi
  • Starman Omnibus Vol. 6 by James Robinson and Peter Snejbjerg
and currently:
  • Fanon by John Edgar Wideman
Okay, again, before you start to feel like all I do is read, just know that this extensive list is not as impressive as it seems.  Obviously, if the title has superheroes in it you can be assured that it's a graphic novel collection, which doesn't take so much time to read.  There are also several really short books in there, Blockade Billy and Cave of the Dark Wind especially, while I read Good Man Jesus in a single sitting (for whatever reason, which does happen to me but not too often).

But again, a lot of this was easy to read quickly because a lot of it was just very good, and very easy reading.  Crying of Lot 49 was a short read but it took a while, as your better literature (not books in general, but what would typically be called literary fiction) is apt to do.  The writing becomes more involved.  You need to concentrate a little more, with far less nonsense going on that flows from sentence to sentence, page to page, words connecting in such a way that leaves you thinking as you read rather than just knowing that you're being taken for a wild ride.

And that was the way it was with Black Album, and Fanon, as well.  These are reads that even if they take days or a week still feel as if they're taking a month if not longer, not in a bad way, but as if you're living with it and not just watching it pass by.  The books I don't like to read, they're the ones that are a part of the landscape that I'm not particularly interested in.  I'm someone who likes to look at the world around him, but there's always a necessary filter, otherwise you'd go mad noticing everything.

So the month was a combination of the stuff I really love to read, mind-expanding and also simply enjoyable reading.  I even got to read another Douglas Adams!  Sort of!  Adams wrote a little bit of Doctor Who, and a little bit of it got lost along the way, remembered it was falling or something, and recently the kind Mr. Roberts decided to complete it for us.  Since I'm someone who settled the Homer controversy for himself by deciding that it ultimately didn't matter who Homer was or how responsible he was for what we read today of the Trojan War and the journey home for Odysseus, just so long as we acknowledge that he was incredibly important in preserving a long tradition, I don't mind seeing a favorite author become a legacy carried on by someone else.  This isn't to say that I think the creator of anything isn't important, or that we can blithely slap anyone's name on anything (the way some people feel about Shakespeare, although I argue the man was the man, and anyone who says differently has no idea how art really comes about), but that in preserving a name and its legacy, we preserve a part of the culture that's every bit as important as what that person may or may not have contributed.

Confused yet?  You just haven't read enough of me.  By the way, all of these books have lovely, full-sized write-ups at my Good Reads feed.

So if I were to choose only one of these books to write about (again), which would they be?  I'll cheat again and choose the one I'm currently reading, which would be Fanon, naturally.

Fanon is kind of based on the life, or perhaps simply the legacy, of Frantz Fanon, who might be considered the pioneer of the revolutionary '60s.  Author John Wideman has written very much a stream-of-consciousness novel out of the impact Fanon continues to have on his life.  Sometimes it's straight-up metafiction, with Wideman interposing his perspective on the story he's writing, the character he's created and intends to follow.  Sometimes it's really just whatever Wideman feels like writing about.  It's very much the kind of book you will read if you've got patience as a reader, don't just want a straight story but rather are willing to enjoy the journey the author sets you on, no matter the shape it takes.  It's one that begs for some concentration.  That's what I find fascinating about not only reading but writing.

(And for the record, part of what's bothered me about blogging is that I stumbled into a whole community that doesn't seem to understand any of that.  That is another topic, but let me just emphasize: I will never champion something or someone just because I want to champion that someone, but because I believe in the work, in the words themselves.  It's not the story, but rather the way it's told.  Anyone could tell a version of any story, and think they're clever simply for having written something, but writing is more than the art of telling a story, just as reading is more than the art of following a story.  If you don't have an honest-to-god reaction to the story, then the result is a failure.  It's not a matter of support.  It's a matter of preserving a tradition.  No one ever listened to someone tell a story badly.)

So while I ride the wild beast of Wideman's Fanon, I anticipate more books on my Reading List, and even the odd diversions elsewhere.  In July I'll be reading another Good Reads listing I received in the mail, Michael Stutz's Circuits of the Wind trilogy, and then hopefully reach the string of Star Trek books I'll be permitting myself to read after having long since sworn off Star Trek books.  I used to love them.  Practically read nothing but them.  But after a certain point, I stopped trusting them.  I read too many bad ones.  I became so selective that I talked myself out of them entirely.  But a few years ago, I started seeing that there might be some good ones still in that line.  And so I'll be seeing if I was right.  And maybe that'll be the topic for next time.


The Armchair Squid said...

"Anyone could tell a version of any story, and think they're clever simply for having written something, but writing is more than the art of telling a story, just as reading is more than the art of following a story."

So true. And yet, what is that certain something that makes it work? Why is it some (Stephen King) can do it over and over again whereas others (Harper Lee) attain near-perfection once in a lifetime, then never again?

Ha! See, some of us do read the stuff you put in parentheses!

Tony Laplume said...

I think it's the ability to immerse yourself in the story. Not simply in following the visuals (something teachers are always telling you is important but is invariably so much window dressing for me), but having a feel for the characters and the author, what they were thinking, or what you can think about what they were thinking.

Basically, does it feel like they thought about more than just the surface? I like the good throwaway yarn, too, but for me the story isn't worth it unless there's more going on than just what's most obvious. And I believe the best writing always reflects that. You can tell, right away, when the business of that was only did artificially, but the emphasis and how well it was explored. I also enjoy writing that reflects on the writer, their body of work, their obsessions, that sort of thing.

Tony Laplume said...

"Did"? artificially? I obviously meant "done." Move along. Move along.

M.J. Fifield said...

I've been wanting to read 11/22/63. I don't like a lot of Stephen King novels, but I've heard a lot of great things about this one.

Laoch of Chicago said...

I haven't read Wideman before, thanks for suggesting it.

Long ago I read a couple of Star Trek novels by Diane Duane and Vonda McIntyre which I thought were quite decent.

Tony Laplume said...

MJ, it's King in his comfort zone and also stretching it a little, a little bit, a good introduction.

Laoch, sounds like you were steeped in the classic period.

Jenny said...

Interesting list. Fanon intrigues me. Indeed, reading is more than the art of following a story, and I appreciate being reminded of that.

jaybird said...

That is quite a list. And I thought mine was long-ha! I have my own TBR pile/list but I also preview and read whatever my kids choose to read. It makes quite a diverse and LONG reading list but I love to sit down and have serious book discussions with my kids about what they are reading. It always interests me to see what they take away from a story, if they only see what is on the surface or if they are about to delve deeper and glean more about the author's theme. Which is sort of along the lines of what you spoke about here.

Mary Mary said...

Wow! You keep busy. Sure some are a lot shorter than others, but it's nice to see a healthy reader! Good for you!

Suze said...

I tried to read Doctor Who Shada and couldn't hang with it. I was looking for voice over plot with that one but didn't feel it was quite there.

Kerry said...

Now that's what I call a list. Dave Barry and Thomas Pyncheon. The thing about having patience is that it varies from day to day. Some days I do not have the capacity to read a challenging piece; other days there's zero patience for the silly stuff.

I lived through the 60's; how come I never heard of Franz Fanon? Better read this book.

Tony Laplume said...

Jenny, closing in on the end of Fanon, I can say that it's definitely a challenge, but such an interesting one, a book-length meditation.

jaybird, you sound like an awesome parent, and would that there were more like you!

Mary Mary, thanks!

Suze, I don't know how much of the style owes to Doctor Who stories in general, but I found the basic framework to be exactly like classic Adams, so that kept me involved throughout.

Kerry, I know exactly how you feel. Some reads are simply not conducive to being read at the drop of a hat, and Fanon has been like that, and Pynchon was definitely like that in the early going of Lot 49. As far why you never heard of Fanon, neither had I, so I guess he's simply someone who fell through the cracks of history. It might be that he was more of a thinker than a doer, at least outside of the general area of France, including the Algerian war for independence that he supported.

The Armchair Squid said...

Regarding our discussion at the top of the thread, I think economy of language helps. If any material pulls the reader away from the narrative, even for a moment, a decent editor should tell the author to take it out.

Why is Catcher in the Rye a great book (and yes, I know there are some who don't care for it)? Because every single word matters. Sentence structure matters. Paragraph structure matters. On and on. Yes, there are awe-inspiring passages that make me catch my breath for a moment ("That's the kind of red hair he had...") but they serve more to pull me into the narrative than take me out of it.

Tony Laplume said...

I don't know that I would necessarily agree. For some books, that's true. But for others, and here I'm once again thinking about Fanon because it's a complete contradiction of this theory, it just doesn't hold water. If the author's style doesn't suit it, then economy has nothing to do with it. Pynchon is another example.

The Armchair Squid said...

But does all of the material serve the story meaningfully? If so, great. If not, I think there's potential for problems.

Christina Torretta said...

I'll keep my fingers crossed for those good books for you! I went through that about two years ago and nearly just stopped reading! It was horrible!

Totally loved this by the way. When I write a review I always hope that some of my personality comes out because if it doesn't, then why blog? Why tell people what I liked or didn't? It's the personality (and the journey of each person) that I really enjoy about the blogging community!

Definitely a new follower! :D

Nova @

Maurice Mitchell said...

This is a good number of books Tony, graphic novel or otherwise. I've never heard of Frada (of course) but it does sound revolutionary.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, you only need to read my latest post for the continuation of that conversation.

Christina, I hope I can provide useful continued content for your reading pleasure.

Maurice, where you referencing Shada or Frantz Fanon? Did you mutate them together? Could be revolutionary indeed!

MOCK! said...

11/22/63 by Stephen King has been on my list forever...just got a copy from my sister-in-law.

And I think I'll do a graphic novel/trade paperback next month!

Tony Laplume said...

You won't be disappointed!


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