Whether you’re lounging on the couch, sitting up at a computer chair, relaxing on a park bench, or just killing time til your stop on public transport, reading can be anything from a method to pass the time, to a way to learn something new, to an introduction to entirely new worlds.
With that in mind:
Hey folks, whatcha reading?
This is a thread to share whatever you happen to be reading at the moment, whether that’s an epic-length book, the latest comics, a long-form piece of investigative journalism, a cohost post linked on Critical Distance, a historical audiobook, or even just a short, sweet article on something you just find interesting.
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I have been reading… some obscure theory… because a girl recommended it… please forgive me…
Took a break from IT to read other Stephen King. I’m not a completionist for any other hobby or media, but I will read every published King novel and story collection. At almost 2 years into the project, I’m about 30 books in.
If It Bleeds is a awesome little collection of novellas. Pretty much King and only King can put something like this out and expect it to sell. My thoughts on each individual story below:
Mr Harrigan’s Phone - I see why it’s beloved but King writing teens in the modern day rarely scans right. However, I love when King tried to capture a full life of a person in a story, especially when he’s writing in focused Revival mode like he is here.
The Life of Chuck - what a bizarre and delightful concept. Probably my favourite of the novellas. Where I think King should stop trying to speak through teens, I think this bittersweet, contemplative type of story is where his authorial voice really shines nowadays.
If It Bleeds - I’m cursed to not really liking Holly Gibney despite her now being one of King’s favourite characters. Even as King has built out her character to be more rounded and detailed, there’s still something infantalising about how he treats her struggles and demons.
However, The Outsider fucking rocks and If It Bleeds is another taste of that concept, so I’ll take it.
Rat - King on writers can go a couple of ways. It can enhance the story with delicious paratext (The Dark Half) or it can feel utterly rote and annoying that yet another successful writer has fallen into a bad situation. Jesus Christ Bag of Bones.
This is the former. King imposter syndrome is one of my favourite through-lines running between his different works, and this teases that out really well. Loved Rat.
This post is really driving home for me just how long it’s been it’s been since I read new King not just seriously, but at all. There was a time when I had read everything the man had put out in a mass market edition, plus the primordial fandom apparatus (e.g., books of interviews). I have no idea who Holly Gibney is.
(The Just King Things podcast is the only book-club style podcast where I actually read along month to month, because Lutz and Kunzelman have very similar arcs of fandom to mine and I’m enjoying the tension as the rollercoaster tick tick ticks chronologically to the top of the next crest of King’s career with only vague notions of what’s on the other side beyond the initial plunge.)
I love Just King Things because Lutz and Kunzelman both disagree on where they landed on the work, see the most recent Rose Madder episode, and my takes usually diverge from theirs.
They’re about to dip into another valley before another underrated King period (early 00s to the 2010s) where some of his richest work can be found. Duma Key will have justice!
I’ve had Duma Key in my trunk for like 8 years, never read it. Maybe when they get there.
Also when I was on Holiday, I had time to read some things:
I finally got around to reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and some of his other short stories (in English translation), and I think (as with a lot of classic works), the “popular synopsis” of it is very misleading. Apart from anything else, there are multiple metamorphoses that occur in the story, not just the obvious one - and I think the one that Kafka actually is referring to is that of Grete, Gregor’s sister, transformed by her adversity oppositely to Gregor himself. I also discovered that Kafka himself insisted that no-one attempt to illustrate the kind of “vermin” which Gregor is transformed into - he’s obviously vaguely insectile, but he’s also described in contradictory ways throughout the story, which suggests he’s more of specifically unspecific “vermin-thing” than a Giant Insect of any particular type - what matters is that he’s horrific to look at and clearly non-human.
I also - of some more direct relevance to this community I guess in other ways - read Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Gabrielle Zevin’s story of love, success, failure, illness & disability and video games. As with the best novels of these kind, it works because the principals are both decidedly imperfect people - and because there’s a lot of love for the idea of video games as a way to develop connection and communicate experience (one of the protagonists, Sam Masur, has been in and out of hospital since he was a kid with a severely damaged foot due to an accident which needs repeated surgeries - his experience of disability (and hospitalisation) is communicated to everyone who plays one of his games, via the setting and design he applies to it, for example.)
[Ironically, the novel starts with a failure of a game - a Magic Eye puzzle - to provide the same shared connection, due to one person’s inability to “do” them].
Despite the usual liberties with technology for art (I’m sure the “lighting model” that anyone would develop for a 1992-ish era game is not going to do the cool weather effects we’re told it does), I enjoyed it.
The list of classic books, and media in general, that’s misinterpreted in the popular culture is a looong list. Last spring I read Wuthering Heights and was kind of shocked that anyone would consider that book a romance. I thought I had misremembered popular discussions about the book. BUT THE JACKET OF THE BOOK INCLUDED A QUOTE SAYING ITS ONE OF THE GREATEST ROMANCE STORIES OF ALL TIME! Wuthering Heights is not a romance! Its a book about the ugliness of revenge and how shitty 19th century English culture was to everyone.
I guess this is a good place to mention how great of a book podcast Backlisted is since it goes out of its way to visit older and often forgotten classics and talks about how good they really are and why. Highly recommend.
Bird Box, a sparsely written book with suspenseful set pieces and a good sense of mystery. It’s adult characters sort of blend together in my mind, but the chronology jumps between chapters work for me, as does the protagonist seeing how her survival habits are making her kids’ life miserable, but being too afraid of the seemingly unseeable force that caused this scenario.
I have also eagerly been anticipating that Duma Key episode for years, especially because I can’t wait to hear what they both think about the third act tonal shift. From my foggy memory of it it feels like the kind of thing that’s gonna be really fun to listen to Cam talk about.
Just finished Translation State, the new Ann Leckie. Hey, that Ann Leckie is a pretty good at writing sci-fi!
This one, like Provenance, takes place in the same universe as the Ancillary series, but outside the Radch. It also continues her commitment to neo-pronouns and interacting cultures with different ideas of gender, which is always nice to see. This one follows three separate POV characters whose paths inevitably cross after one of them is given a make-work task to track down a missing person from 200 years ago.
It’s a tough recommendation for anyone who hasn’t read at least Ancillary Justice, since it leans on a lot of the world-building established by previous books in the series. One of the POV characters is a Presger Translator (not really a spoiler, it’s on the back of the book) and the Presger Treaty is a major plot point. It’s coming from a very different angle than prior Radch books, and I think there’s more than enough context provided to follow the plot, but there’s definitely more here for folks who will do the Leo pointing at the TV meme when Sphene shows up near the end.
That said, it’s a great book! And if you read the previous books and peeked under the spoilers above, you definitely just said, “Wait, really?!” to yourself, so you’re probably on board already.
I’m Jewish, btw. I’ve been reading some Yiddish literature by Isaac Bashevis Singer, specifically his short story collection Gimpel the Fool and his novel Satan in Goray, which are both about medieval Jewish communities in Eastern Europe. By the time his writing, this would been the final days of the old Ashkenazi cultures of this part of the world, Satan in Goray is written between the World Wars, when the old Pale of Settlement had been smashed with the Tsarist Empire, and then only decades later you’d see the Holocaust, which absolutely obliterated the ultra-orthodox communities of these places. Other than Fiddler on the Roof, which is a happy rustic fantasy, I have no real connection to this part of my past.
Singer’s version of the Jewish middle ages is much stranger and darker. It’s full of deeply unhappy marriages, useless mystic out of touch with reality, (rather adorable) nasty little demons causing trouble, and tons of gossip. Satan in Goray is all about a messianic movement around a man named Sabbatai Zevi whose apocalyptic promise leads to chaos, famine, and a very awful and degrading demonic possession. It’s extremely cynical, even the Kabbalah offers no solid answer or true hope, which these people would have to be, if there’s any core to the Jewish experience in Europe, it’s knowing that your safety and your community is temporary, history shows that out every time.
Upon recommendation, I started reading She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, a historical fantasy set in China that won a ton of awards and has a sequel that just came out. Good so far, though feels similar to R. F. Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy that I had just finished (set in fantasy not-China). Kinda cool that we have multiple recent vaguely Chinese fantasy epics (including Ken Liu’s excellent doorstopper Grace of Kings, haven’t read its sequels).
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