Contented Reader

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Archive for November 2012


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Elizabeth Hand

Small Beer Press

Whenever I read one of Elizabeth Hand’s books for the second time, I love it.   I never quite wrap my head around them the first time, somehow.  There’s just too much going on to take it all in at once.   Her work is some of the best there is, and it is one of the delights of it for me, that it unfolds itself to me over time.

I’ve read “The Maiden Flight of McAuley’s Bellerophon” before, when it was nominated for the Hugo award, so this was my second reading of it, and so I was ready to begin to love it.  I finally started to see the central image, of the end of the flight of the bizarre aircraft, in my mind, and that image linked to other things in my mind – the retro-modern appeal of the steampunk aesthetic, the hope that there’s more in the world than what we see, the lone visionary (crank?) fighting for an idea… Now that I’ve read it twice, I’m ready to start reading it.

There’s a story in this collection that I actually loved on first reading, which is a new experience for me with Elizabeth Hand.  “Winter’s Wife,” about a self-sufficient man in rural Maine who brings home an Icelandic wife who is very strange, and more than she seems,cold and fierce and protective of those she… loves?  I’m not sure yet.  Ask me again after the second reading, or the third.  But in the meantime, this story made me want to move to Maine, or possibly to Iceland.

Now that I’ve read this, I’ll let it rest on the shelf for a while.  Then I’ll go back to it, and read it again, because I trust Elizabeth Hand, and I know that there are stories in here that didn’t resonate for me today, that will open for me another time, and I know that there are stories that did resonate for me today, that have more in them than I realize.  It’s that kind of book.


Written by Contented Reader

November 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Posted in Reviews

Jack London: Novels and Stories

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Novels and Stories

Jack London

Library of America

I read The Call of the Wild as a kid, in one of those young readers’ retellings, and I vaguely remember liking it but not loving it.  And my students read “The King of Mazy May” when I get that far in their reading book, which isn’t every year.  But I never thought that much about Jack London until this month.

I’ve been reading this collection slowly, and I was astonished to discover that London’s writing style is exactly to my taste, and very very good.  It’s very crisp and precise and focused, and he seems at all times in complete control of every word.  Jack London is a wonderful writer.  Did everyone know that but me?  Why didn’t you all mention it?  Is there any other important information you’re keeping from me?

Now I’m haunted by the short story “The Apostate,” which I’m certain was about the abuses of child labor, but which I responded to as a cry against work in general.  I, too, sometimes feel so dulled by work that I’ve forgotten how to enjoy the pleasures of my nonwork hours.

And even The Call of the Wild, which I thought of as a kids’ book, is stuck in my head now.

Written by Contented Reader

November 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

Posted in Reviews

I Am a Magical Teenage Princess

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I Am a Magical Teenage Princess

Luke Geddes

Chômu Press

So, let me tell you about Books by the Banks.  Books by the Banks is Cincinnati’s annual literary festival.  I don’t know whether it’s similar to, or different from, other cities’ book festivals, because I’ve never been to one in another city.  But in Cincinnati, what happens is, there’s a large room.  The room is full of tables.  At each table sits an author, surrounded by piles of his or her books.  Visitors can walk around the room, meet and talk with the authors, pick up books, ask for autographs, and buy them.  There’s also a program of demonstrations, talks, and panel discussions.

Fun, right?

I went for the first time this year, and I found the author room to be intensely awkward.  Normally, I love a large room full of piles of books, but at each table was the person who wrote that book, trying hard not to look like a puppy at the shelter.  “Oh, please take me home.  I promise to love you so much.”  Most of the authors played it cool, but I still felt awkward.  How can I pick up a book to look at, knowing that the author will be watching me put it down and walk away?  I love writers.  I don’t read every book, but I don’t want to reject them on a personal level, right in front of their sad writerly faces.

I’m sure other people think this is all very normal and not at all awkward.  Maybe, if I go back for a few years, I’ll get used to it.

And anyway, for various reasons, I actually had very little spare money, so while I was visiting to look at things and listen to things, I wasn’t going to buy books unless I found something I was certain in advance I would love.

The panel discussions were less awkward.  I can sit in a conference-room chair and listen to things like a pro.  One of the sessions I went to was the rather vaguely titled “Beyond Bestsellers:New and Notable Fiction.”  It was a panel of David Bell, Luke Geddes, Katherine Howe, and Nancy Jensen, and Katherine Howe was the one I went to hear.  I’d never heard of any of the other three.

While I was there, I developed a tiny crush on Luke Geddes.  He’s a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati, where I got my MA and my girlfriend got her PhD, so it’s almost like we’re friends, right?  I just liked him, personally.  He was thoughtful, nerdy, amusing, a little awkward.  I assumed that he was gay, but the acknowledgements of the book say that he has a girlfriend, so clearly my gaydar was not functioning correctly that day.  Well, it’s a big complicated world, and there’s room for all kinds of people in it, even straight and bisexual people.

After the panels, I wrote down the title of his book.  I wasn’t going to buy it – just because someone is likeable doesn’t mean they are a good writer, after all – but I put it on my List of Books to Look For One of These Days.  that’s a long list in my little moleskine notebook, but this week I checked the book out from the public library at last.

And now, a month late, I experience the highlight of my Books by the Banks experience, which is the actual reading of a good book.

It’s a collection of short stories.  They have a surreal, magical quality that reminded me a lot of Kelly Link’s writing style, but funnier.  They’re influenced, as the title indicates, by ideas about teenage girls and pop culture.  The first story, “Surfer Girl,” started me off feeling deeply skeptical about Geddes as a man writing from a girl’s point of view, and I was telling myself that I’d take it back to the library if I didn’t like the way he was doing it.  But by the time I got to the lesbian romp of “Betty and Veronica” (yes, it’s that Betty and Veronica), I was sold.  My absolute favorite story in the book, the one that is the reason I’m going to buy it, is the last story, “And I Would Have Gotten Away With It If It Wasn’t For You Meddling Kids.”  I’m going to finish up this blog entry by excerpting a little of the beginning of it, and if you get to the end and haven’t gone looking for the rest of the story, well, I guess you’re a very different kind of reader than I am, and I wish you luck with other books.

In 1864 my Navajo ancestors were forcibly relocated from their homeland, Dinetah, and made to walk over three hundred miles to Bosque Redondo in the Pecos River Valley area of New Mexico, where they were held in a glorified internment camp and given access to scarcely enough food and supplies to survive.  Four years later and after many hardships, the white man graciously declared the relocation a “failed experiment” and allowed my ancestors to return home, on foot.

Hundreds died on the way to Bosque Redondo and back, and now, here on the outskirts of Albuquerque – the rough halfway point of the Long Walk of the Navajo – I emerge from the secret cave entrance to the gold mine hidden behind this abandoned amusement park, wondering if it’s my intuition or the spirits of my forebears that warns me of the garish van in the distance crawling along the gravelly road.  Focusing my binoculars as the vehicle nears, I can just make out the words painted on its side: Mystery Machine.

I put on my mask, all bulging eyes, canine teeth and bloodstained fur, but then I change my mind, slip out of costume and back into coveralls.  Better not to pull the spooks right off.  Wouldn’t want to pique their curiosity.

Written by Contented Reader

November 25, 2012 at 10:35 am

Posted in Reviews

Abandoned house, Warsaw Avenue, Cincinnati

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Are you looking for a beautiful new home?

Price Hill is one of Cincinnati, Ohio’s historic hillside neighborhoods.  It has beautiful parks and some of the most expansive greenspace in Cincinnati, and is conveniently located just a short drive (or a longer walk) from downtown.  Not far from the trendy and stylish Incline District you’ll find this large and beautiful home.  Not so many years ago, it was someone’s dream home, or possibly their career-making investment.  Now, it’s waiting for the right person to come and fill it with life again.

At the foot of the hillside, a security gate protects the driveway from unwelcome guests.

The house is conveniently located off Warsaw Avenue, but a long, curving driveway takes you away from the busy street and through your own private wooded lot.

Separated by green space from the noise of the city, you’ll feel like you are living in an isolated hideaway in the woods, rather than just two miles from downtown Cincinnati.

The house’s most attractive feature is its large front windows and spacious deck and balcony, from which you can enjoy the beauty of your own property and a breathtaking view of downtown.

The house consists of two spacious stories and a basement. There is plenty of parking space, making entertaining easy.

Ivy twines up the trellised front deck, where the front yard invites you to plant your own flower garden.

All of the outside landscaping is based on indigenous Cincinnati plant life, blending perfectly with the surrounding area.

In addition to the beautiful front lot, the house is surrounded by native Ohio trees and shrubs at the side and rear. The hillside next to the house would make a beautiful spot for a water feature, where you could sit by a tasteful artificial waterfall and enjoy a serious book on a sunny afternoon.

Your large front porch has an eastern exposure with large windows and doors, inviting you to enjoy a beautiful Cincinnati sunrise over breakfast on a spring morning.

From the front porch, you’ll enjoy one of Cincinnati’s most breathtaking views. A large home with a beautiful view like this one would ordinarily cost a fortune beyond the means of an ordinary person, but this house might possibly be available for a bargain price.

In the stairwell leading to the second floor, art by one of Cincinnati’s cutting-edge young artists is already installed for you to enjoy.

As seen from the master bedroom, the striking face at the top of the stairs is revealed as a portrait of the artist.

At the entrance to the smallest bedroom, whimsical word art proclaims local pride with a rousing orange ‘Who Dey’ in honor of the Cincinnati Bengals. This work of art will delight the child who will make this room his (or her) own.

Descending the stairs, you will enjoy the bold colors of another work of contemporary art. The artwork alone in this home is priceless and entirely unique, and is one of the qualities you’ll be proudest to share with your friends and colleagues.

The guest room comes with this striking work of abstract urban art already installed, and blinds to welcome the cheerful eastern sunlight.

This unexpectedly charming work highlights the corner of the master bedroom and points the way to the smallest bedroom.

Here you see the highlight of the art collection which is included as part of this stunning home. The large pink rabbit dominates the wall of the master bedroom, and will either serve as a perfect headboard, or delight you every morning when you wake, depending on how you choose to orient your bed to best enjoy it.

The master bedroom includes large glass doors leading to a beautiful and welcoming balcony.

A million-dollar view from the upper balcony, yours for considerably less than a million dollars.

Three beautiful skylights illuminate this little sanctuary, where marble steps lead up to a deep, enormous bath.

If you prefer, you can bathe in the master bedroom itself, enjoying the air of the balcony.

This house beautifully blends the natural and the modern, and, for the right person, could be the home of your dreams.

Technically, there are no ‘for sale’ signs, no real estate listings, not even any contact information. But, as they say, for a sufficiently highly motivated buyer, everything is for sale.

Written by Contented Reader

November 24, 2012 at 11:46 am

Posted in True stories

Lion Dance

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“Lion Dance”

Vylar Kaftan

Escape Pod

Driving around town today, running errands, I was listening to “Lion Dance” on Escape Pod.  It’s a short story about two brothers in San Francisco’s Chinatown who, during a flu pandemic, decide to break quarantine in a lion costume to perform a traditional- well, sort of traditional – lion dance in the streets.  The story is narrated by the brother who takes the part of the lion’s ass.

There’s an ending, and a point, but the part I loved was the middle.  There was so much joy in the description of the lion dance that I couldn’t help grinning as I got out of the car and schlepped my groceries inside.  I’m going to remember this story the next time I’m tempted to use fear as a reason to not do things.

Written by Contented Reader

November 6, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Posted in Reviews

The Woman Who Died a Lot

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The Woman Who Died a Lot

Jasper Fforde


The latest Thursday Next book is good.  It’s more entertaining than the previous one, I think- unless I just lost track of the plot.  These books are a little complicated to follow.  Not hard, just twisty.  This one was truly funny- at one point I actually did laugh out loud, which I don’t often do with books.

There’s one little point that is driving me crazy, and that’s the Bastions of the Global Standard Deity.  The Global Standard Deity is a sort of universalist church, taking in all the other religions.  Members of the church have ten Bastions.  They are a list of practices, of which members are encouraged to do at least four every day.  I want the list of the ten Bastions badly.  But I only have two in this book.  I’m going to create a list here, and as I read future books, try to remember to come back here and fill in others as Fforde deigns to share them.

Help me out in the comments if you find them in the older books.



3.  Pause and consider.




7.  Moment of Levity.




Written by Contented Reader

November 6, 2012 at 6:16 am

Posted in Reviews

An Everlasting Meal

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An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace

Tamar Adler


I don’t tend to use recipes when I cook.  Not very often.  Occasionally I’ll see something on a web site or in a magazine and use the recipe to try it, but I nearly always take things out or put things in or adjust it to what I feel like doing.

On an ordinary day, though, I have a few simple foods I know how to make, and I make them with whatever ingredients I feel like that day.  Tacos.  Stir-fry.  Pasta with sausage and vegetables in it.  Grilled meat, steamed vegetable.

Tamar Adler’s book appeals to me because she takes a similar approach to cooking.  The book is descriptive and lyrical and poetic; the food she describes is simple food made with care, attention, and flexibility.  There are a few recipes, but more of the food she writes about is in the form of a sort of story, like the story of what you do when you turn on a pot of water to boil and start looking around for in-season vegetables.

Adler thinks that food should be made of other food, leftovers from one meal becoming part of the next.  Buy a whole chicken, she says, not just breasts, and make soup, and salads, and use all the parts.  Cook the greens from your beets and carrots.  Save the cooking water and use it to flavor something else.

I’m not entirely sure I could cook what she’s cooking from her instructions, in the cases of things that I don’t already know how to make and don’t have a more formal recipe.  But they’re lovely to read, anyway, and take an approach to food, a set of general principles, that I like.

Written by Contented Reader

November 6, 2012 at 6:16 am

Posted in Reviews