What I Read in July

Having a bookstore available at my fingertips 100% of the time isn’t going to do my wallet any favors, but it has done wonders for my reading. I’ve been averaging three or four new books per year for a long time now, a number I was able to clear in a single month thanks to my Kindle. It’s like, until now, I was always in one of two situations:

INT – Brick’s House – Night

Brickroad: Wow! This book sounds really interesting, and/or has been recommended to me by people whose tastes I trust! I should remember to pick up a copy next time I’m out so as I can read it.

INT – A Bookstore – Day

Brickroad: Wow! The selection is virtually endless!I have no idea what it is I should read, so I suppose I’ll just go stand in the fiction section for a while and try not to look embarrassed, then take something with Batman or Abraham Lincoln up to the register.

In this brave new world, however, books can be purchased remotely at any time of day, automatically billed to a credit card, and delivered instantly to the most miraculous machine ever invented. Result: I’ve had something to read practically every night this month… a trend which may well continue into the foreseeable future, until our Kindles and Nooks gain sentience and rise up to overthrow our fleshy meatbag regime.

That would be a great book, actually. Someone write it, so’s I can read it.

Here’s what I read this month, in case you feel like my wordings here might could inspire your own read-list.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin

I’ve already gabbed about this book at great length, and there’s no need to re-hash it all here. It’s book five in the best fantasy series I’ve ever been exposed to. If you’re already into this series, you’ve already read this book, and there’s no need for me to gab about it any longer. If you’re not into this series, it’s probably because you’re afraid the six-year wait between installments will kill your enthusiasm. (Or, perhaps, you used to be into this series, up until the six-year wait between installments killed your enthusiasm.)

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen

I had read the first edition of this book long ago, and was delighted to discover a more recent second edition. The book describes in detail some famous historical “facts” about American history, points out why they aren’t really “facts”, and attempts to set the record straight. It examines how we make heroes out of villains, and vice-versa, and what sort of damage that does to our national consciousness. The whole thing is written as a formal critique of a collection of American History textbooks currently being used in schools.

I think the most important thing this book does is to provide a definition of “history” that doesn’t involve “a set of facts”. That the field of history is alive with controversy and debate is not something most people really consider, and this book makes a good case for why we should think more critically about it.

On Writing by Stephen King

This is a book I have tried to put at the very top of my must-read list for years. Every time I was reminded of its existence, dating all the way back to its initial publication, I thought to myself, “Man, I still haven’t read that? What is wrong with me?”

So now I’ve finally read it, and I’m glad I did. Even if you have no interest at all in writing, the book is still a very entertaining tale about King’s life, filled with amusing and often poignant anecdotes about his life as a struggling writer, his battles with substance abuse or his run-in with a van on a backwoods road in Maine.

Sandwiched between all that is everything King says he knows about being a writer. But this isn’t a how-to book. This isn’t a “For Dummies” checklist. The most useful parts, to me, were the counterexamples… the places where King outlines a process that works for him, and then describes how other authors had very dissimilar processes that worked for them. The lesson to take away from this book is not “how to write like Stephen King”, but rather “this is one possible way you can figure out how to write.” He teaches you to figure out how to figure out something.

Worth noting: this is the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read in my life.

Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk

This was the first Palahniuk book I did not enjoy. All of his books have this intoxicating disgustingness to them, this great stream-of-consciousness which makes you want to keep turning pages. It’s true that, if you start from Fight Club and work your way forward, each of his novels tries to out-gross the previous one. It’s the same kind of arms race you see in slasher flicks.

Underneath that veneer of shock value, though, Palahniuk has always been able to craft interesting and sympathetic characters. Largely they are damaged people out to destroy themselves, putting you-the-reader in the bizarre position of rooting against the protagonist, for their own good. Even Haunted, which was a collection of shock-value-stories loosely framed as a writer’s retreat, managed to carry some emotional weight.

Snuff didn’t. This one starts out as pure shock value: a porn queen is setting a world record for most sex acts in a single day. Six hundred naked dudes are milling around in a basement, waiting for their number to be called. The “story” is told from the perspectives of three dudes in particular, and it is mostly just them milling around talking in sex metaphors. I didn’t want to root for or against these characters, and I didn’t really care what they were doing, or why. The book felt like a way to win a bet on who could sneak the most dirty words into a novel while still remaining in context.

And that’s that. See you next month with August’s list? Could be, could be.

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2 comments to What I Read in July

  • Issun

    If you’re looking for suggestions for August reads, here’s three:

    To Kill a Mockingbird: You’ve probably read it but it never hurts to read it again.

    The Passage: It has many faults, but it’s good writing and engaging storytelling, and the sequel’s out soon.

    The Clan of the Cave Bear: The only not stupid book Jean Auel has written. In fact, it’s so not stupid that it’s some of the greatest popular fiction ever.

    Hope you enjoy!

  • Zooclaw

    You should give The Yiddish Policemen Union a try.

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