Blurry days

Some days are more blurry than others. Like today. It’s blurry grey outside and also in my head. So instead of attempting to half-heartedly swat at my insanely long to-do list, I’m going back to bed and reading.

I hope you get what you need out of your Sunday (or Monday or whatever day you’re facing).

My fave books this year

As you’ll see I’ve added a new poll for fave books. I’m pretty sure that the last option will win, given that there are so many books published every year, getting consensus is harder and harder. It’s tricky enough finding people who’ve read the books you’ve read, let alone finding someone who feels the same way about them you do.

So, the poll to the right is made up of books I loved written by people I don’t know.1 This was so I could reduce my candidates and also because sometimes I feel like all I do is recommend the works of my friends. Now, it’s true, I happen to have some extraordinarily talented writer friends but it does get a bit tired.

I also have picked books that are a little bit under the radar. The Night Watch books are international bestsellers, but everyone I mention them to has not heard of them, or has only heard of the movies based on them. I still haven’t found anyone who’s read all three. Not good enough! And Walter Mosley is not exactly an unknown, but, well, what can I say? I adore his books.

As usual in my descriptions I’ve tried to be as unspoilery as possible.

  • I’ve talked about Skin Hunger here. My opinion has not changed: it’s one of the best novels I’ve read in years.
  • Touching Snow is an astonishing novel. It’s a problem novel about an abused kid in NYC and yet it’s funny and wry and keeps going completely unexpected places. I hate realism and I hate problem novels but I adored this book. I cannot wait for Felin’s next book. I believe I am not alone in this assessment.
  • Shannon Hale’s fairy tale re-imaginings are stunningly beautiful. They’re joyous and gorgeously written and end just how you want them to without you even realising that’s what you want. At the same time they manage to be about class and power and the battle of the sexes, which I think some readers of hers manage to miss. I’m trying to figure out if that’s a good or a bad thing. Book of a Thousand Days may be my favourite of hers.
  • The final volume of the Night Watch series, Twilight Watch, was every bit as good as the first two (Night Watch and Day Watch). I love dense political fantasy. This may be my favourite trilogy of the past decade or so. It has magic, bureaucracies, not to mention tragic love and death. I can’t wait to re-read all three back to back. (Adult novel.)
  • I love Walter Mosley. As far as I’m concerned he can do no wrong. Blonde Ambition is the most recent Easy Rawlins’ mystery and might well be his last, which would be a shame, and yet so many of his other books are genius that I really don’t care just as long as he keeps writing. I’m not much of a reader of crime novels. I have a few favourites like Patricia Highsmith and Raymond Chandler and Walter Mosley is up there with them. If you’re going to read the Rawlins books go back to the first one, Devil in a Blue Dress and read them in sequence. Each book gets better and better. If you’re not up for a series then read The Man in the Basement. It’s genius. (Adult novel.)
  • The Secret History of Moscow reminded me a teeny bit of the Night Watch books, not surprising given that they’re both set (largely) in Moscow. Secret History has more of a fairy tale feel to it but the same darkly comic view of the world suffuses everything. This is another book I couldn’t put down. (Adult novel.)

So what were your favourites published this year? And why? I’m especially interested in hearing about books I may have overlooked.

Don’t worry, Mely, I will also post about my fave manga/manhwa/graphic novels of the year.

  1. I met Kathleen Duey and M. Sindy Felin Book Awards after I’d read their books and I’m not sure a brief meeting at a formal event counts as “knowing” them. []

On spoilers

Cedarlibrarian, a major Harry Potter fan, doesn’t care about spoilers. Her arguments are smart and convincing.

And yet.

I’m really not a very evolved consumer of texts cause spoilers bug the crap out of me. I want my first experience of any narrative—be it book, manga, graphic novel, TV show, movie, play, whatever, to be untrammelled by knowing stuff about it. I don’t read reviews unless there of something I’ve already read/seen or it’s something I don’t care about.

Frankly, I’d almost prefer not to know what genre it is.

I don’t want to know if people liked it or not. All the spoilery grumbling about the latest series of TV shows I haven’t seen yet drives me spare.1 Could you put all commentary on Heroes behind a cut? Please. Be your best friend.

How do you lot feel about spoilers? And why? No spoilers in your examples! Thank you!

  1. And I almost always haven’t seen it yet. We travel so much we cannot commit to watching a show at the same time once a week. We tend to catch up with stuff on DVD because we’ve become addicted to watching a whole series over a couple of days. I hate having to wait a week between episodes. Bugger that! []

Free books

At the book shop appearances Scott keeps being offered a free book as a reward for his hard work and charming-ness. We keep choosing mass market paperbacks because we’re travelling and running out of spaces. Last choice: the latest Naomi Novik. (I started it last night and it rocks.)

If you were asked to choose one book from your favourite book shop what would it be?


A warning: this is one of those stumbly thinking out loud posts.

I just read a dead interesting essay by Jim Huang reflecting on twenty years of selling books. Most of his comments have to do with mystery books but a lot of it applies to other genres. I’ve been thinking about this comment:

When I think about the center of gravity of the mystery genre, I still believe that it lies in series. Seventy percent of the titles on the bestsellers lists of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association in 2007 year to date are part of a series. Seventy percent of these series titles belong to long-running series of five or more books. Sales in IMBA member stores are not necessarily representative of the marketplace in general, but they are the best indication we have of what the most devoted mystery lovers are looking for. Yet you can in fact generalize from these numbers. When you look at the BookScan mystery bestseller list for the week of 8/12/07, representing sales throughout the industry, you see that over 70%—closer to 80%, actually—of these bestselling titles also belong to series.

While not to that extent, Young Adult, is also dominated by series books: from Nancy Drew to Harry Potter through to the Gossip Girls. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had from following the adventures of the same characters over multiple books and huge sales prove that I’m not alone in thinking so.

I know I have whinged about the trickiness of writing a trilogy, which is just a shorter series, but as a devourer of story I am all about the arc plot. In fact, lately I’ve kind of lost interest in movies and am much more into television precisely because it’s all arc. Right now we’re working our way through Homicide: Life on the Streets (which Scott had never seen!) and the first season of Heroes (anyone spoils me I kill them) having already screamed through American Gothic and the first three series of The Wire, there being no more Rome or Deadwood to be had.

I’m also gobbling manga by the truckload—my current obsession being Hikaru no go and Hellsing. I love them! But it’s also frustrating. Like right now I’m missing volume 6 of Hikaru. I have 7-10 waiting for me but no 6. And when I have all of the available volumes, I’m waiting on the next ones. Where is Nana 7? Emma 5? ES (Eternal Sabbath) 6? Hellsing 9? Her Majesty’s Dog 7? Monster 11? Mushishi 3? Waaaah!!!

But that’s nothing compared to the kinds of problems readers of mysteries have. Huang writes:

Series matter, and what publishers do with them tells you a lot about their inclinations and abilities. I write a lot about series and the bad job that the most publishers do with them: not keeping books in print (especially the first book which is where readers want to start), not clearly indicating the order of books in series, not identifying books as part of a series, not packaging series titles with a common look to make it easier to find them on new releases tables, not timing publication of new hardcovers and paperbacks to maximize sales, not indicating for the benefit of buyers for stores a new title’s place in the series, not soliciting orders for series backlist and frontlist together, not waiting months (if not years) between UK and US publication, etc.

I’ve definitely seen this happening a lot in sf and fantasy publishing but less so in YA. I wonder if that’s because YA books tend to stay on the shelves longer? Or maybe my anecdotal evidence is dodgy and it happens in YA too. Whatever. I will never understand how publishers allow book 1 of a series to go out of print while books 2, 3, 4 etc are still in print.

The first volume is always the biggest seller of a series because every time a new volume comes out it kickstarts fresh sales for the first volume. I’ve had several people write me to say that they bought Magic or Madness when Magic Lessons or Magic’s Child came out because the appearance of the later books reminded them about the series and also meant they could by the first book in paperback. My sales figures show the sales of Magic or Madness going up on the publication of the other two books.

On a much bigger scale that’s what happened with each book in Scott’s Uglies series. So much so that books two and three made it on to the New York Times bestseller list more than a year after first publcation. It will be interesting to see what happens when the fourth book comes out next month.

Obviously, the first volume of a bestselling series like Scott’s won’t be allowed to go out of print, but why publish the third book in a lesser selling series if the first one is no longer available? It minimises sales of all volumes in the series.

I have no idea where I’m going with any of this. Read Jim Huang’s essay!

Matter of taste

Someone just told me I’m wrong about Bring It On being the best movie of all time. Excuse me? If I say it is then it is! This is my personal list of the best movies of all time. I cannot be wrong about it.

I’m not saying there aren’t other best movies of all time. There are! The Princess Bride is one. Rififi is another. Not to mention Out of the Past and Lagaan.

I am also not wrong about mangosteens being the best fruit.

Or The Wire being the best television.

Or Emma and Hellsing and anything by Osamu Tezuka being the best manga.

Or zombies being the best monsters.

And cricket absolutely is the best sport.

So nyer!

Though, of course, I reserve the right to tell you that your choices of best movie etc of all time is completely wrong. Because I am blog overlord.

Zombies, of course (updated)

For research purposes, I am going to drastically increase my zombie culture consumption.

Thus far I’ve been reading and loving The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman. (I read the trades not the skinnies—so no spoilers for the latest issues!)

I also plan to read World War Z, An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks. So no spoilers, people!

Update: Forgot to mention I have read the entire and very excellent Kelly Link zombie oeuvre.

What other zombie books and graphic novels should I be reading?

And there’s the movies—because really the whole zombie thing is very movie driven.

Obviously I’ve seen and loved all the George Romero zombie films. Yum. My faves. Yes, even the recent Land of the Dead that I’ve heard quite a few people bagging. The only one of his I think is a bit sub-par is Day of the Dead and even it is totally worth watching.

I’ve seen The Dawn of the Dead remake. Very disappointing.

And obv. there’s 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks.

Not to mention Shaun of the Dead. Very droll.

There’s also Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. Yes, that’s right I’m open to non-Romero voudun-style zombies.

Update: Also forgot to mention that, yes, I have seen the Resident Evil films. I love ’em.

So what are the best zombie movies that I haven’t seen? And if you could sell ’em to me and not just list titles. I’m trusting youse lot to be my zombie entertainment quality control.

Vampire elves

Holly Black is making me giggle (via Gwenda). Now all I can think about is vampire elves and zombie unicorns and werewolf-griffins and pirate-orcs and . . . and which of all of those would win in battle and what they’d look like and what they’d eat. Would vampire elves still not like steel and not tell lies? And what would a novel with all these creatures in it be like?

Oh, hush, Justine. You have stories to write! Novels to unbuggerize! Admin to adminerate! Stop procrastinating.

The Tall One

John Hinde was one of my favourite film critics of all time. He was a wonderfully warm and funny man. He could give charmingly negative reviews to sucky films without a hint of rancour, reviews that made you want to see the crappy film just to see what he was talking about. I always wanted to meet him. When he died I cried.

Now he’s made me cry again by setting up an extraordinary literary prize in his wife’s memory. It’s the “Barbara Jefferis Award for the best Australian novel that empowers the status of females or depicts them in a positive light.” The award goes to an Australian writer, but isn’t restricted by setting or genre, only by the requirement that they postively depict women. (Were Patrick White still alive NO WAY would he win one of these babies.1) So if you’re an Aussie and you write a book set in Uzbekistan about a zombie unicorn apocalypse you’re still in with a shot. That’s in keeping with both the wide variety of films John Hinde loved and with the tremendous range of Barbara Jefferis’ novels.

Barbara Jefferis was brilliant. I read and adored her novel The Tall One when I was eleven or twelve. The book had a huge impact on me.

See, when I was young I was very tall. Much taller than anyone else my age. When I stopped growing at twelve I was 172.5cm (5ft8in). I got teased about it a lot. My aged Old World relatives offered to pay for operations to stop me growing so I’d still have a chance of getting a husband. No, I’m not making that up. My parents were laughing too hard to be horrified. “What are they going to do cut off your knees?”

Despite everything my parents said about the fabulousness of being tall and of being a girl, I was taking in the messages from my insane relatives and the kids at school. I slumped my shoulders and desperately wished to be a boy. Reading The Tall One helped clean that crap out of my mind. It’s about this 182cm (6ft) girl in medieval times in, I think, England (it’s a while since I read it so I’m hazy on the exact setting). Here was someone like me, or, at least, how I’d like to be: Tall and strong, standing up to people putting her down, owning her power, standing straight. And wry and funny too.

I was smitten and started being proud of my height. (After which I promptly stopped growing and ceased to be tall. Whatcha going to do?)

This award is a wonderful legacy from two exceptional and fascinating Australians, John Hinde and Barbara Jefferis. I hope it honours a series of wonderful novels and, even more, I hope it will do something towards bringing Jefferis’ work back into print. I’d love to see The Tall One readily available again.

  1. I am suppressing the urge to list all the prominent living Australian novelists who are even less chance than Mr White. I sit on my fingers. I hold my breath. Must. Not. Be. Bad. []

Back in Madison

So here I am back in Madison, Wisconsin for the annual feminist sf convention, WisCon. I just figured out that this is my seventh WisCon, while that’s nothing compared to the folks who’ve come here since the very first one way back in the olden days, it’s pretty damned amazing. There’s no other gathering like this of any kind that I’ve been to that many times. Such a committment!

Not only have I been coming here since 1996, I’ve also been actively involved on the convention committee. First organising the academic programming, and for the last few years, the readings programme, (that is organising the writers who want to read their work aloud for the enjoyment of the rest of us). In the hotel car on the way here from the aiport I got to overhear two of my readers discussing their preparation for their reading. (Don’t worry, I’d already outed myself as the person who organised the readings–I wasn’t spying.) One had read her piece out loud more than ten times! She was determined to have it fit the short time allocated to her and have it make sense. Not easy when you’re reading something from a larger piece. I could have hugged her! That’s just what I want my readers to do. Realise that they’ve got an audience, work on their pieces to make sure they’re not too long, or too boring, get them just right. Those two readers had never been to WisCon before and were nervous and excited and I wanted to hug them for that too. There’s nothing like your first WisCon.

And for the first time ever the con hotel (it’s been in the same hotel for a very long time now) has wireless throughout. I ask you is that a good thing? I mean here I am sitting in my hotel room blogging when I could be out enjoying the beautiful day and buying the damn toothpaste we forgot. Well, it did just enable me to do some actual work, ie send off the last essay of Daughters of Earth to Wesleyan Uni Press. A damn fine essay it is too. In fact, the whole collection is so much better than I’d hoped for (and, trust me, my hopes were high!). I feel like hugging all my contributors too. Hell, WisCon makes me want to hug everyone in the whole world and it hasn’t even started yet.

Here’s to another fabulous WisCon and I hope the newbies have as good a time as I know I will.