Category Archives: On Reading

Review: Bound to Last – 30 Writers and Their Most Cherished Book

Bound to Last – 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book edited by Sean Manning

Title: Bound to Last – 30 Writers on Their Most Cherished Book
Author: edited by Sean Manning
Published: 2010
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Publishers’ Blurb: In Bound to Last,an amazing array of authors comes to the passionate defense of the printed book with spirited, never-before-published essays celebrating the hardcover or paperback they hold most dear — not necessarily because of its contents, but because of its significance as a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable object. Whether focusing on the circumstances behind how a particular book was acquired, or how it has become forever “bound up” with a specific person, time, or place, each piece collected here confirms–poignantly, delightfully, irrefutably–that every book tells a story far beyond the one found within its pages.

Not too long ago, in a pre-pandemic life, an excited writer came to me with an idea to write a book.  It would have to do with asking a large number of writers in sf/f what they were reading and how it might be informing their process.  It was meant to be a long term project so we built in room for churn.  Since this writer was a full-time writer, I knew the research and analysis would fall to me.  My exuberance spilled onto a Google spreadsheet code named Project Algorithmic Despotism – a  bleak nod to the part algorithms play in the world, from buying books to getting routes as a gig driver.

The writer called my spreadsheet, “shiny.”  And we plotted and planned what needed to be done.  Several months later I asked if, not when, we would still be working on this book.  The pandemic by then had closed the world and it just felt impossible we would be doing anything with it until things normalized.  Devastatingly, the writer’s response was, “Remind me what book?”  That they couldn’t even remember the pitch or the work we had already done shut me down nearly completely.  For over a year, I didn’t read or write.  What was the use?

But while still in the thrall of this project, I came across Bound to Last and thought it might give me some perspective and ideas about our own project.  And to be completely honest, it was Ray Bradbury’s name on the cover which sealed the transaction.

The world is not post-pandemic yet as the Delta Variant makes its way through the willfully unvaccinated, putting us in danger again.  In the process of jettisoning people from my life, including the reliably unreliable writer, I found my energy to read and write again.

30 authors, most of whom I’d never heard of, and 30 books, most of which I’d never heard of either.  Their stories are of an unexpected book whose impact remains with them as  it shapes their lives.

For Rabih Alameddine, whose The Hakawati I adore, the book was Harold Robbin’s The Carpetbaggers, one in common during our indiscriminate reading adolescences.   Our love for Robbins probably lasted about the same time, about a year.  Where I put it back on the shelf (library or otherwise, I don’t remember), Alamaddine kept his, until war swept through Lebanon and he was shipped off to  boarding school in England.  By then, his tastes in literature had changed, Robbins no longer a part of Alamaddine’s narrowing taste in literature.

It is the memory of that book which brings others to the fore.  He and his mother sitting in easy chairs at opposite ends of the room reading.  The Carpetbaggers holds a powerful place in Alamaddine’s heart.  Memories of a lifetime of reading and an awareness of how he changed and evolved both as reader and as writer.

Upon his return to the bombed and charred childhood home, he finds his copy of the book.  The one book not even the looters and thieves could bring themselves to steal.  “I don’t know.  I thought it was too dirty or something, I never saw it again.”

Then, at a dinner party, a friend brings a copy meant as a gag gift because Almaddine burst into tears when he received it.  That copy remains on his shelves.  A reminder of his childhood and all the memories wrapped up in becoming the writer, and reader, he is now.

While The Carpetbaggers was not something I would have figured Rabih Almaddine for, The New Professional Chef, Fifth Edition is exactly what I would have picked for Michael Ruhlman, whose books about the life and work of a chef I devoured.  My housemate at the time became a devoted Food TV watcher and brought these gorgeous books into our home.  Mostly I watched Anthony Bourdain with him, having little to no interest in learning to cook.  Somehow, Bourdain’s friendship with Ruhlman influenced me to read the books.

For Ruhlman, the Fifth Edition, is the one which resonates the most.  It came at a time when he pitched the idea of going to the Culinary Institute of America and learning to cook so he could write about becoming a chef.  Waiting for an answer, he read The New Professional Chef, as gibberish.  It made no sense to him.

Now, there’s a Ninth Edition.  But it is the Fifth which reminds Ruhlman of where he started both as chef and writer about food, and where he is now, a highly acclaimed author who writes about food.

Such is the powerful memories of books, which lead us down the path of compare and contrast, looking to understand who we are now and why that particular book remains stuck in our minds.

On Writing: 2019 Book Commentary

“The creative life is not linear” – Austin Kleon

2019 by the numbers.

Random thoughts about the madcap year that was 2019 reading.  Some events were so glorious as to be unrecognizable as anything I’d ever dreamed could happen to me.  Others predictable and necessary (day job). In addition for my own blog, I now write for Hugo award-winning fanzine Drink Tank, and M. Todd Gallowglas’ Geek’s Guide to Literary Criticism.

  • In Toni Morrison’s Beloved Paul D’s story about learning to read and being beaten for it just leaves a hole in my heart.  He kneels on the ground with a bit in his mouth and notices the rooster named Mister doing whatever he wanted.

“I was something else and that something was less than a chicken sitting in the sun on a tub.”

  • I’m not qualified to  review Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power.  How does one speak to a tragedy caused by differences in pigmentation?

“Barack Obama [governed] a nation enlightened enough to send an African American to the White House, but not enlightened enough to accept a black man as president.

Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom [slavery] and the great power of not being a n*****.”

  • As Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution brought me to myself in 2018, so too did Feminisms and Womanisms edited by Althea Prince & Susan Silva-Wayne.  The taste of seminal feminist works from Emma Goldman, Simone de Bauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem made it easier to understand big parts of my life.

It is truly amazing how long we can go on accepting myths that oppose our own lives, assuming we are the odd exception.” – Gloria Steinem

The need to be noticed and liked, the need to be listened to and accepted, the need for encouragement and praise; all became sources of shameful, rather than normal, neediness in my mind.  Especially the need for affection.” – Nancy Graham

Susan Sontag’s essay on women and aging made me want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

The rules of this society are cruel to women.”  – Susan Sontag

  • Stealing:  Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete, sent to me for a review by Adelaide Press.  Her essays are powerful as she relates the stories of a life lived right, doing everything she was supposed to do and still needing to steal food to feed her children.  Her triumph over that and the particular experiences of being “other” really sang to me.
  • Stopwatch Chronicles, M. Todd Gallowglas’ collection of flash fiction bowled me over.  He is sharp, witty and fun. His insights are dead on and I love his wordplay.  Ditto Bard’s Cloak of Tales.
  • The Killing Light, the triumphal conclusion to Myke Cole’s Sacred Throne trilogy.  I’ll just quote myself here, “Heloise remains the hero we need for today..”
  • How Fiction Works by James Wood .  I will forever be grateful for the phrase “flaneurial realism.”
  • Literary Theory by Sarah Upstone – this little book packs a lot into it and is one of my go to reference books.
  • The Art of Fiction and Moral Fiction by John Gardner

“… in order to achieve mastery [they] must read widely and deeply and must write not just carefully but continually.”

“… the temptation to explain should almost always be resisted.”

“Art, in sworn opposition of chaos, discovers by its process what it can say.  That is art’s morality.”

“…art can at times be baffling …”

  • Wizardry & Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock.  Each reading enriches my understanding of the genre I live and breathe.
  • Better Living Through Criticism by A. O. Scott.  Scott’s commentary helped give voice to the questions I’d been asking about what criticism is and why it has value.  His outstanding thoughts on art and criticism as a conversation resonate deeply. As does his insistence criticism is a way to seek out the excellent as a foodie demands excellence from their favorite chef or restaurant.

“… our understanding of art emerges from our experience of it.”

Writing for Drink Tank led me to works I might never have read.  Chris’ unbounded knowledge of books and themes kept me busy.

  • Challengers of the Unknown by Ron Goulart led me to one of the cheesiest books I’ve ever read.  (Drink Tank #414)
  • Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov, From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne, and First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells were fodder for thought about Antique Space.  (Journey Planet/Drink Tank Crossover)
  • Drink Tank #410 gave me a reason to join the Alexander Hamilton party.


2019 in Review – By the Numbers

Total Books Read: 34
Total Pages Read: 12,456
Total Books Procured: 83
Diff: -49
Publication Dates: 19 (1953 – 2019)
Author Count: 28
Written by Women: 8 books (4 authors)

Most read authors:
Myke Cole (4)
N. K. Jemisin (3)
M. Todd Gallowglas (3)

New (to me) Authors I Would Read Again:
Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Sara Upstone
Ron Chernow
Stephen F. Knott
John Gardner
Alfred Bester
Michael R. Underwood
A. O. Scott

Stealing: Life in America by Michelle Cacho-Negrete
Stopwatch Chronicles  by M. Todd Gallowglas
The Killing Light by Myke Cole
Beloved by Toni Morrison (2nd reading)
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

LitCrit Theory:
How Fiction Works by James Wood (2nd reading)
Literary Theory by Sara Upstone
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
On Moral Fiction by John Gardner
Wizardry and Wild Romance by Michael Moorcock (2nd reading)
Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Feminisms and Womanisms  edited by Althea Prince, Susan Silva-Wayne

An Open Letter to Stubby the Rocket Concerning the Guns Of Fantasy” – THE GEEK’S GUIDE TO LITERARY THEORY

From the Earth to Around the Moon by Jules Verne / First Men in the Moon by  H.G. Wells / “Jameson’s Satellite” by Neil R. Jones in Before the Golden Age edited by Isaac Asimov (Journey Planet)
Challengers of the Unknown (Drink Tank)
The Killing Light
Euridyce (City Lights Theatre)
Alexander Hamilton (Drink Tank)
Literary Theory: An Introduction
The Sprawl Trilogy
Binti Trilogy
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Mortal Word
Stealing: Life in America
God’s War

On Reading: 3 November 2019

Sunday nights tend to be when I catch up on reading email.  It’s a way of putting off Monday as long as I can.  Tidbits get posted to Facebook as I read along, but it occurred to me that my very own blog would be a better place for such ponderings.  So here’s the first of what’s sure to be a randomly timed post about things I found to be interesting.

Gaping Void Culture Design Group

Hugh MacLeod‘s art has always resonated with me.

Gaping Void Culture Design’s work also resonates with me, mostly because it’s a common sense approach to leadership in business.
This is a gem from the past week:

“So maybe this is a good way of figuring out that you’ve finally ‘made it’- suddenly everything is terribly dull and tedious.

“Be grateful that you’re still struggling…”

If the conversations you’re having about ideas are still interesting, and you’re wrestling with your own approach to creativity, be grateful. It seems counter-intuitive, but there is satisfaction in the struggle even when you’re tired of everything and just don’t want to anymore. Keep on. posted ‘s intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019.  Reading it thrilled me because the ages old #LitFic vs. genre argument is heated, old and tired.  The combatants don’t care to read each other’s work, they just want to hurl bullying insults over an arbitrary line.  Reading good work is enjoyable and doesn’t need to be labelled.

“Why waste time drawing boundaries and performing ancient arguments and erecting dead horses and beating straw men and enacting coldness and smugness when you could be reading and salivating and standing and yelling and crying and learning and experiencing narrative pleasure and wonder and joy? Why, when you can do those things, would you do anything else?”

In other words, just read damn it!

H/t to Austin Kleon for pointing out Jeff Bridges does photography: