Friday, April 16, 2010

Books in March

In March I finished a lot of books that had been stacked up around here, half-read for ages. In nonfiction I've been delving into Herbert Asbury's Gangs of New York in small doses for weeks now. It's a good book to read that way; it's a series of anecdotes from the history of New York, some of which Martin Scorsese took to weave together into a single narrative for his film of the same name. I quite like the movie, and the book is entertaining as well, although of a larger scope, as it covers quite a stretch of time. Comparing this to books from London of the same time frame makes for an interesting compare and contrast; same same but different.

I also finished Revising Fiction by David Madden, another book I've been reading bit by bit, mostly because everytime I read a bit, I immediately want to get back to work revising my WIP. This book has played a big part in getting me back to productive work by getting me excited about it all over again. Which is awesome. (Hoping to be done by the end of May and on to the next book, which I'm already gestating).

Which brings us to Harry Houdini's A Magician Among the Spirits, his account of several prominent spiritualists and how they bilk people. If he had ever met Carl Sagan, he would have heartily approved of Mr. Sagan's Baloney Detector. A very readable and interesting work and sadly still pretty relevant today.

One last nonfiction, My Autobiography by Charlie Chaplin. He wrote this after leaving the US to settle in Switzerland. He's telling his life story, but has no compunction against wandering off the narrative thread to wax eloquent on all sorts of topics. I think those ruminations were my favorite bits.

I read somewhat less fiction in March, especially considering First Spanish Reader by Angel Flores was a collection of very short stories (although, in my defense, in Spanish. Of course every facing page is in English, but I hardly ever looked over, I swear!). Some fun stories, and I found my Spanish much less rusty than I'd expected. Also on the short end of things, The Poems of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, the noms de plume of the Bronte sisters. I liked Charlotte's works the best; very evocative.

I'm following up Jane Austen with all the Bronte sisters, and after the Poems I jumped into Charlotte's prose, namely The Professor, her first novel (written; I think it was the last published). Bronte is pretty much the anti-Austen; she has no interest in people who don't work for a living. She's also quite the feminist (more in Shirley than here, but it starts here and grows in Jane Eyre). There is a passage in The Professor that explains a blackboard, chalk and eraser with such extreme detail, I'm wondering if this was a new invention at this point?

And in new fiction, I read In Ashes Lie by Marie Brennan. I loved the structure, and the historical details are rich. Again I'm sure if I ever went to London I could open this novel and find all these places, or stand where they once stood. Lovely.

OK, now I'm back at my own WIP again. In the meantime, the quotes I loved the best from March:

He could taste his own pulse, so strongly was his heart pounding. - Marie Brennan, In Ashes Lie

There came a time in every man's life when he had to wonder what he was doing, kneeling in a faerie court, swearing to carry out a strange double existence on behalf of creatures for whom the entirety of his lifespan would be no more than an eyeblink. - Marie Brennan, In Ashes Lie

I found poverty neither attractive nor edifying. It taught me nothing but a distortion of values, an overrating of the virtues and graces of the rich and the so-called better classes. Wealth and celebrity, on the contrary, taught me to view the world in proper perspective, to discover
that men of eminence, when I came close to them, were as deficient in their way as the rest of us... to know that intelligence is not necessarily the result of education or a knowledge of the classics. - Charlie Chaplin

Passive, at home, I will not pine.
Thy toils, thy perils shall
be mine. - Charlotte Bronte, Poems

I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as I had seen real living men work theirs--that he should never get a shillinghe had not earned--that no sudden turns should lift him in a moment towealth and high station; that whatever small competency he might ain,should be won by the sweat of his brow; that, before he could find somuch as an arbour to sit down in, he should master at least half theascent of "the Hill of Difficulty;" that he
should not even marry abeautiful girl or a lady of rank. As Adam's son he should share Adam's doom, and drain throughout life a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment. - Charlotte Bronte, The Professor

"... the three reliable (?) witnesses agree that the windows through which he [Daniel Dunglas Home] floated were in the third story and either sixty or eighty feet from the ground. This would make the height of each story from twenty to twenty-seven feet, but tall stories appear to have been a speciality with these remarkably observant gentlemen." - Harry Houdini

Barrels of fiery spirits stood on shelves behind the bar, and poured out their contents through lines of slender rubber hose. The customer, having deposited his money on the bar, took an end of the hose in his mouth, and was entitled to all he could drink without breathing. - Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

The tongs are as American as chop suey. - Herbert Asbury, Gangs of New York

Does your style lack subtlety? Blatancy will enable your reader to move from sentence to sentence, but the dominant experience will be one of blatancy. Subtlety engages your reader's own faculties - emotions, imagination, intellect. Readers who must participate through subtlety and other devices have a deeper, more intense, more lasting experience. Subtlety is not the province of the sophisticated, refined, or snobbish reader. A subtle phrase or sentence may in
actuality stimulate a violent response. - David Madden, Revising Fiction

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