Books 81 & 82, Last for 2007

81. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan - This is a wonderful novella that shows that there is love, meaning and dignity in the most ordinary of lives. The story follows Manny Deleon through the last day at the Red Lobster he has managed for many years. The store is being closed by corporate due to low sales, but rather than close as a failure, Manny maintains that the restaurant will run that last day with the same professionalism and care that he tried to show every day. Then along comes a blizzard, and the few employees that stayed to the end start to show signs of giving up. If you've worked in retail or restaurants and found yourself caring more about your job than you intended to care; or made friends with coworkers that you never would have grown close to if it weren't for the job, you'll really life this sweet/sad little story.

82. The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen - A very good historical fiction that includes the 1918 Influenza epidemic, World War I disenters, and the tie between Socialism and unionization in the early 20th century. The story takes place in a logging town established on the principle that sharing the profits with everyone makes everyone profitable. When the "Spanish" flu breaks out in near by towns, the inhabitants agree that they will quarantine themselves until it passes by. Phillip, the adopted son of the owner of the mill is on guard when a starving soldier tries to enter the town, and when he finds himself unable to kill the soldier, the inhabitants true feelings about isolationism come to the surface. There's also the threat from a near by town that questions why so many able bodied lumberjacks managed to avoid going to war when their own sons are being killed in Europe. It's a good read about an event and political opinion that doesn't get a lot of attention, and the main characters have deep backstories that the author uses well to explain their feelings about their current situation.


Books 76 - 80

76. The House of the Vestals by Steven Saylor - A collection of nine short stories that fall chronologically between the first and second book in Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. These are more (small) mysteries that involve Gordianus the Finder, some touching on historical figures (Cicero is back, and there's a story inspired by a young and brash Julius Caesar) and well as show some of the cultural differences between the Romans and the Egyptians. Master/slave relationships come up in every story, I suspect getting more attention than they really got during the days of the Roman Republic. Saylor knows his setting, and he knows how to tell a good detective story, making all of the stories enjoyable.

77. An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England by Brock Clarke - A novel in memoir form about a man who accidentally burned down Emily Dickinson's house, did his time in jail and then realizes the true consequences of his actions one he's out and tries to have a normal life. When a protagonist describes himself as a "rambler", a reader knows that the story is going to go on and on...and on. Way too much on and on. It's the characters he meets along the way (he's become the go to guy if you want a famous author's house burned down) and his family provide the most interesting aspect of this story. When other author's houses do start to be torched, I really didn't care who was doing it, and I didn't care our "hero" got blamed. I only wanted to read more of Brock Clarke's funny and true observations about people who love books.

78. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury - Every time I read Bradbury, I rediscover what a genius of writing this man is. A collection of chapters that could stand alone as short stories follow the attempts of humans to colonize an habitable Mars. The bulk of the stories take place in the early 2000's, making this timely science fiction as well as great science fiction, and written in the 1940s makes this classically perfect science fiction.

79. Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson - This little novel has been out a bunch of "best of 2007" lists, but I have to say it won't be making mine. It's beautiful prose, truly lyrical, and a first person narrative so strong you'll think your hearing Trond Sander tell you the story of the summer when he was fifteen and his life now, at sixty seven. In my opinion, you'll hear him too well, and be thinking his story is a great one if someone could punch it up a bit. The flap of the book calls this "magical" and "captivating". Yes, sort of, to the first, and no way to the second.

80. Ghost by Alan Lightman - On the surface, this is a novel about a man who sees something unusual at his new job in a funeral home and the turmoil it causes for people in his life. Underneath that simple plot, there are at least two other themes: peoples' need to have something to believe in or to be believed in themselves and the fuzzy battle line between science and pseudo science. They all come together when the employee's sighting gets out to the public. The main character is so full of ennui that I couldn't connect to him in any way, and other characters are introduced and manipulated to fill plot requirements, not the other way around. An interesting story ruined by really bad characterizations, imo. The author's style of writing dialog as one line of direct quote followed by paragraphs of paraphrasing by the narrator, sometimes inserting paraphrasing of the narrators own dialog in the same paragraph added to the flatness of the story.


Photohunt Theme: Small

It's been a crazy week for me and time constraints have forced me to go to old scanned pics for this week's post.

I give you a small fisherman.


This is where the English language is headed?

On the heals of locavore and grass station, we have another word of the year for 2007. This time it's Merriam-Websters choice, or more accurately, it's the choice of the people who voted in the online poll. Those people (who obviously spend a lot of time in online conversations have spoken and they have said

Now, I'm the first person to say that language is a living thing, growing and changing every day. I argue that if ideas are being successfully exchanged, any grammar "rules" broken in those exchanges are superfluous. I once had a protracted arguement with a very good friend that "then" and "than" will become the same word in common usage some day, and it won't be the end of the English language.

But come on....w00t???? It's not even all letters, for crying out loud!


Photohunt Theme: Long

Here we have a long view of some long Christmas horns on a long street. Going with synonym for long, there are some people at the bottom of the photo with a very protracted sense of loyalty.


Sure, it's as silly as any of the other artificial holidays, but it's my kind of silly! I love learning about the everyday life of days long ago, I love the "fish out of water" concept of someone doing their best to survive in a foreign time period, and when you open your mind to perspectives of thought not of this time period, you learn a lot about yourself. TV shows like Highlander and Doctor Who can hold my attention no matter how bad the writing or character development. The film Somewhere In Time is as sappy as a maple tree in March, but I can watch it over and over and over (and tear up at the end every time). I will read the world's worst writing if the research on the time period is decent and the protagonist is gaining something from their experience.

I don't know who started Pretend To Be A Time Traveler Day, but I plan to celebrate in my own small way. When I'm out and about this afternoon, I'll be doing my best to phrase my speech in the patterns of a late 19th century Londoner, and I'll be wearing a scarf in honor of that very great time traveler, The Doctor.


Yes, those are great ideas for books, Donald Maass

The very wonderful Writer Unboxed, a blog I can't recommend highly enough if you're at any stage in a writing career has posted a two part interview with Donald Maass of the Donald Maass Literary Agency (and the author of a lot of writing books). I strongly recommend reading the interview if you have any interest in what's being published as well as how and why it got that way.

In the article, it's mentioned that each month Mr. Maass's agency posts a wish list on their website of what they'd like to see submitted to them. November's list of detective stories is still up, and although I don't feel inspired to write in that genre, I'd like to read any of those ideas.

There's also a multi-genre wishlist in the first part of the article:

A Huck Finn-like fantasy featuring a raft trip down the Mississippi, with magic.

An African-American Lord of the Rings.

A noir novel featuring a Muslim detective–but not about terrorism.

An American epic like Of Mice and Men about today’s underclass, illegal immigrants.

A ghost story that’s truly contemporary—but not recycled Eighties horror.

An historical novel that weaves in scientists and big ideas.

A New York in mid-Century novel along the lines of Empire Rising.

A dog novel as great as Call of the Wild.

A literary romance with a heroine for all time and a tragic ending, written by a man.

The next The World According to Garp, about an idiot savant.

Yep, all interesting ideas. Some of those are a very tall order for any writer- "A dog novel as great as Call of the Wild"? Why not just say any book as great some other great classic? Of course any publisher would like that to show up on their desk! And a couple would be niche novels, not the "breakout" books that every publisher dreams of finding, and therefore might be tossed off the slush pile rather than read. But still, these are great ideas for books. In fact, I'm grabbing a couple. And I'm booking marking that monthly wishlist page.


Photohunt: Red

Sunset view from my deck, July 2007. There were terrible thunderstorms with buckets of rain all day, and then the sky cleared as the storm did that most unusual of things (unusual in the Midwest US, at least) - it moved towards the west.

(Note: this is my inaugural post for )