Monday, October 9, 2023

October reading update

I set an annual reading goal of 52 books. Which I rarely meet, but it gives me a north star to steer toward. To have any shot of reaching that goal I need to have a book going at all times. 

Sometimes I get stuck in ruts, selecting books based on what I think I should read, rather than what grips me and keeps the pages turning. Earlier this year I found myself burned out on sword-and-sorcery fiction. Not that what I was reading was bad, it was just too much of the same, and I found myself reading it out of some sort of obligation. I was slogging along, and my reading pace was slowing down.

So in June I decided to change things up. I put down the S&S (with one exception; see below) and dove headlong into stuff I really wanted to read. Here’s what I’ve read since June:

1. On the Road, Jack Kerouac 
2. The Eyes of the Dragon, Stephen King
3. The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
4. Gov’t Cheese, Steven Pressfield
5. Watership Down, Richard Adams
6. Fargo Rock City, Chuck Klosterman
7. Adventures of a Metalhead Librarian, Anna-Marie O’Brien
8. Heavy Duty: Days and Nights In Judas Priest, KK Downing
9. Night Shift, Stephen King 
10. Face the Music: A Life Exposed, Paul Stanley 
11. Lord of a Shattered Land, Howard Andrew Jones
12. Nothin’ But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the 80s Hard Rock Explosion, Tom Beaujour and Richard Bienstock
13. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
14. I Am Ozzy, Ozzy Osbourne 
15. Red Dragon, Thomas Harris

Right now I’m working on two books, Max Brooks’ World War Z, and Ethan Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, making good progress on both. That will put me at 35 books YTD.

You can see a couple clear interests emerging here.

One is horror. It’s October and I’ve got the Halloween itch. Stephen King and Thomas Harris at their best are tough to beat for delivering chills. I burned through Night Shift in a couple days, as well as Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. Harris at his best might be a better writer than King, though the latter has the superior imagination (Harris also only seems able to write about serial killers. Except for Black Sunday, which I mean to pick up one day).

I’m also engaged in writing a heavy metal memoir and so have been mainlining memoir and history of that genre. Gov’t Cheese is (non metal) memoir and Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is also a memoir of sorts, a story of a dude coming to grips with his gaming past and the broader need for escapism. These books have not only gotten me in the mood to write but also provided a template for how I might tackle my own book.

Ozzy was an absolute lunatic in the 70s and 80s but you probably already knew that.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was a palate cleanser after a steady diet of 80s debauchery, but proved to be a terrific book.  

A couple of these are re-reads. I read Red Dragon a long time ago, long enough so that much of it feels new to me again. Though I remembered all the broad strokes and how the killer is ultimately caught. Which doesn’t matter—you read a book like this for the journey, not the destination. Harris does a masterful job sketching Dolarhyde’s entire backstory in a gripping 22 page sequence.

I recommend everything from the list above.


Matthew said...

I tend to read a lot of horror around Halloween too. I've just started Malpertuis a horror novel by Jean Ray, often considered the Fracophone (he's Belgian) counterpart to Poe or Lovecraft. I will probably read a few horror books in the coming weeks.

I also just finished Hour of the Dragon.

Ian said...

I've been reading some Arthur Machen to get in the Halloween spirit. I recommend checking out his stuff if you haven't already.

It's also interesting to see you reread Fargo Rock City. I remember your review from way back in the day (I was still in high school when you published it). I remember you enjoyed it despite its flaws, though I confess as a traditional metalhead who pretty much skipped over glam metal I don't know if I'd get as much out of it. I will say I have since given KISS a chance after previously dismissing them as a circus act, and admit they do have some damn good tunes.

jason said...

Just getting ready to start LaValle's Lone Women--I loved The Changeling and The Ballad of Black Tom. I need to go back and restart (and finish) Don't Fear the Reaper--SGJ is another great horror author, which is what I've been reading lately. I have the most recent issue of Weird Horror from Undertow press to dive into as well.

Brian Murphy said...

Matthew: Can't go wrong with Hour of the Dragon.

Ian: Have not read much Machen, should probably rectify that. Also I cannot believe you were in high school when you read that review (or that you've stuck around my blog that long... I guess I'm doing something right). Not surprisingly I have most of the same issues with it. Funny in places, well-written, but Klosterman is woefully uninformed on anything non-hair metal. And welcome to the KISS Army. They are great, for what they do.

Jason: Sounds like some good reading. Again I plead ignorance, though I have heard good things about Victor LaValle.

Matthew said...

You should definitely read Machen. He was a major influence on Lovecraft and the horror field as a whole. I'd recommend the Great God Pan and The Three Imposters. A lot of people like The White People by him too.

Andy said...

My modern horror author of choice is Robert McCammon. Stephen King fans often deride him as a ripoff (e.g., Swan Song is VERY similar in a lot of ways to The Stand although McCammon claims it's a coincidence, as authors tend to do), but I find that he basically does the same sort of thing but better. He's a better plotter and generally finishes his stories in a more satisfying way, and I think he is a better observer of human nature than King, who I often find to be cartoonish and entrapped by his politics.

Although as I say this, McCammon doesn't actually write a lot of horror anymore. Most of his work over the last 20 years has been his Matthew Corbett books, which are colonial American historical fiction with a lot of pulp/adventure influences, although his horror background does emerge at times with how violent or grungy things can get.

Brian Murphy said...

Andy: I bounced off McCammon's The Night Boat (Nazi zombies, must be good!) but while I finished it I was not a fan. But that said, I've heard nothing but wonderful things about Swan Song and am meaning to read it one day. Love postapocalypse and don't know how I've managed to avoid it. As for King, I like him, but much prefer his older stuff up through It or perhaps Misery.

Andy said...

Haha, Night Boat is one of his early books that he wouldn't allow to be reprinted for a while ("The Condemned" I think he called them). It's arguably his worst one. Swan Song is probably where he hit his stride, but Stinger, Wolf's Hour, Boy's Life...those are all good, IMO.