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Jan 29 2012

Confessions of a Book Addict

I hesitate to say purchasing a Kindle Fire was a mistake, but it’s been rather like giving an opium addict a nice house in a field of opium poppies. It seems like I’m hopping in to the Kindle book store in search of yet more delights every ten minutes or so. I’ve now got so much to read that I’ll need an extra lifetime, and even that won’t be enough. Yet I still acquire more books.

It’s been good, this taking myself out of the world in order to do nothing but read. It’s reduced the stress of certain other things that must be dealt with. Not to be melodramatic, but I’ve been rather teetering on the precipice of a depression. Two things have kept me from toppling over: the kindness of my readers and friends, and books. It’s hard to be depressed when you have understanding people who say and do the right things, combined with the delicious escapism of books.

I owe you and the writers some rather large debts of gratitude.

So now the time has come to report from the trenches of book addiction. I’ve read an alarming amount of Agatha Christie. And I very nearly made a mistake. I was all set to tell you that she had nothing but cardboard characters and plywood scenery. Even her major characters, the beloved Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, reminded me of the character sheets one used to roll for Vampire: the Masquerade or D&amputee;D. You began with a basic type, slapped on some vivid merits and flaws, and voila, a character. The other characters, the murderers and the murdered, the hapless red herrings and the plucky assistants, struck me as the kind of folks we used to call non-player characters, those characters tossed at us by not terribly adept DMs or Storytellers in order to move the game along. They were never what you might call fully-fleshed.

I haven’t been reading Christie for the rich language and deep characters and vivid scenery, in other words. I’ve been reading for the puzzles, the sheer joy of brain teasers, trying to get inside the author’s head and figure out who she’d styled the guilty party. I’m not very good at it, which makes it more fun. It’s sheer escapism that puts no demands on my mind, and since mysteries aren’t what I write, it’s not at all work. It’s been nice to read things that expect so little of me. It’s been a kindness, reading stories where I only mildly y about the characters, if at all.

And then, in the midst of all this cardboard, she turned round and shattered my illusions. It was a book called The Hollow that did it. The woman had serious chops, when she chose to write deep characters. In very few pages, she had me intimately involved in a great many varied lives, had me loving, admiring, fearing them. She kept me in a lather of anxiety, hoping it would turn out well for them, terrified it would not.

So that book rather broke the trend, and it’s why I won’t say a damned word about Agatha Christie’s inability to write deep characters, because she bloody well could when she chose to.

I have to confess something to those of you who mentioned Dorothy Sayers: I’m a bit angry with her. I read Whose Body? and disliked it. She had this one person I could identify with, the science-minded man, the one who had interesting theories and knew the mind was matter, not some silly ethereal soul, the one whom I found intensely interesting, and she went and made him the murderer. It offended my sensibilities as a lover of science and as an atheist. I didn’t like Lord Peter Wimsey to begin with. But I’ll stick it out, and give a few other of her books a try, because I can’t read Agatha Christie forever. Agatha Christie, you see, only wrote a finite number of books, and I’m going through them at an alarming rate.

I’ll be turning my attentions soon to an author called Toni Dwiggins. She’s written two mystery novels about forensic geologists, and the sample I read didn’t make me cringe away in horror, and one book is free, so I see no reason not to give it a try. If you’ve read her, feel free to let me know your thoughts. I will, of course, report back when I’m done.

I’d be taking reader suggestions and reading some Susan Cummins Miller, but her books aren’t on Kindle until March. Even then, it’ll only be the first two books. You’ll hear me scream once I’ve finished them. Then I’ll probably break down and buy paper, because when I like a thing, I must have it immediately, and I’ve been told she’s a good writer.

I went to the used bookstore tonight for a fresh infusion of Christie and found a copy of Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology that made my mouth water, but that I didn’t get because I thought I’d seen it cheaper elsewhere. I was wrong. So it’s back to the bookstore tomorrow, hoping someone else hasn’t snapped it up. In the process of searching for the Kindle edition, though, I also came across Fundamentals of Fluvial Geomorphology by Ro Charlton, and decided I must have it as well. I downloaded a sample and began drooling whilst reading the list of illustrations and figures. For a while, during this dry spell and in the midst of all this fluff reading, I’d become afraid I’d lost my taste for serious geological reading. It appears not.

I’ve downloaded Lyell’s Principles of Geology. Also, a book put together by Louis Agassiz’s wife Elizabeth, which includes his correspondence and papers along with sketches of his life. I’ve been making a lot of finds like this, rare and unusual books that I’d pass over regretfully if I had to purchase them, but which have been made available for free by splendid volunteers and thus become irresistible. Poor Amazon’s recommendations algorithm is probably having conniptions trying to figure me out. I’ve taken it all the way from turn-of-the-century detective stories through old Asian literature and fairy tales, on through architecture, traipsed through the SF section, tripped through Travel, and thoroughly ransacked Science.

And all of this is serving its purpose. The Muse has twitched the whip a few times. A few scenes have sleeted through my mind. I think I may return soon to writing with something a little whimsical and fun, which may or may not include an Evil Geologist with an Evil Geologist Lair™. It seems to have a little something to do with murder victims that are cities, and the resurrection of a partnership. And Silver Fox wanted a story about an Evil Geologist, so it doesn’t matter this story is inspired merely by a crap ton of Agatha Christie combined with the desire to avoid serious work a while longer.

The Muse stirs. That’s all that matters.

And perhaps, soon, I’ll even manage a substantial blog post for you, my long-suffering and fiercely loyal readers.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Aliasalpha

    Hehe sounds similar to me when I got my kindle, I must have dropped a few hundred dollars on books in a few months

    I’m guessing this post was also writtin on your fire, autocorrect seems to have struck, instead of D&D it says D&amputee;D, I don’t specificaly remember any amputee dragons in any of the editions I’ve played

  2. 2
    Evelyn

    Glad you’re still enjoying the Kindle Fire. I’m in love with my Kindle Touch, and even more so after I had a problem with it and Amazon customer service was amazing.

    I’ll have to try Toni Dwiggins. I tried two of the Sarah Andrews forensic geology novels, and I almost gouged my eyes out because they were so terrible. I know that they’re supposedly award-winning books, but the two I read weren’t very impressive… either in terms of the writing or the geology.

    1. 2.1
      Silver Fox

      I’ve much prefered the Susan Cummins Miller books over the Sarah Andrews books. The geologists seem a little more real to me.

  3. 3
    Dorothy

    I have been given a Kobo Vox for Yulemas by my daughter. It says that it has something either in it or able to communicate with it, but I havent been able to make it work yet. Since there are an enormous number of old and out of print books I want to re-read, I may go to Chapters today to have the thing decypered.
    The love for the old and out of print is probably because I also am . . .
    Well, not out of print yet.

  4. 4
    Lyle

    One of the best things that has happened is the digitization and placing on line of books that are in the public domain (generally 1920 and before). Many of these books likley had 2 or 3 copies in the entire US hiding in some university library back in the deep stacks. Now one can access them. I recall reading a book telling the life story of someone who lived in LA in the 19th century, including describing the 1886 land boom.

  5. 5
    cassmorrison

    Have you explored the Albert Campion books by Margery Allingham? She’s another of the “golden age” mystery writers whose stories take you a lot of places. I found Albert hard to fathom at first (much like Lord Peter) but both characters are an advancement of the Bertie Wooster (flaky upper crust) character style – or so it seemed to me.

    1. 5.1
      Stephanie Zvan

      Yes, yes, yes to the Allingham, Dana. Not so much to the flaky, exactly, but you’ll get that sorted out. Don’t necessarily expect fair-play mysteries, though. In fact, don’t expect any one thing from all of the Campion books. They aren’t meant to work that way.

  6. 6
    otrame

    Don’t go by Whose Body. It is BY FAR the worst of the Lord Peter stories.

    1. 6.1
      pHred

      I second that. Who’s Body is from when Sayers was learning to write ficition. It is extremely rough. You need to get into The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club or read Strong Poison, the first one with Harriet Vane to get a better feel for the stories.

  7. 7
    otrame

    And I admit that I am spending quite a bit of time reading on my iPad these days as well. Darwin, Sherlock Holmes, Shakespeare. And did you know that The Mysterious Affair at Styles is availablele free now? Wait a couple more years and more early Christie will be there too.

    Also, since I am a big fan fiction reader, it delights me that many of the more intense writers have made ebooks of their stories. I now spend a good bit of time every day reading blogs and books. I love this technology.

    1. 7.1
      Anonymous Atheist

      FYI: http://www.fanfictiondownloader.net/
      Generates ebooks of any fanfics from fanfiction.net and a number of lesser-known fanfic sites.

  8. 8
    Hank Fox

    Nice post. I confess I clicked over because I thought it said “Confessions of a Boob Addict,” but hey …

    The bit about the general quality of Agatha Christie’s works made me think of the years in my younger life when I read everything I could find by Louis L’Amour.

    After a decades-long holiday, I read one recently, one of his longer works, and it was ratty as hell. Wooden characters, stilted, stiff writing, and a dull story. Gah, horrible! Makes me wish I could have that time back. But my Dad liked ‘em, and he got me hooked.

  9. 9
    movablebooklady

    Oh good, someone mentioned Susan Cummins Miller. Good stuff. And someone said “Whose Body” was the worst of the Wimsey — true. Although it helps to read the series in order, you could go straight to the best of them: “Gaudy Night.” Or you might enjoy her oddities such as the Montague Egg books.

    And don’t forget to check out Gutenberg.org (I think it’s .org; might be .net) for all sorts of OP stuff that’s been scanned and then proofed by volunteers such as me.

    And let’s not forget Dana Stabenow’s SF trilogy.

    Enjoy the escapes and may they help stave off all other trials and tribulations.

  10. 10
    geocatherder

    And be sure to download Jim Downey’s Kindle version of “Communion of Dreams” — available for FREE through today! I haven’t read the book yet, but I have read a lot of Jim’s short writing and he’s a good writer.

  11. 11
    peicurmudgeon

    My gift this yest was a Pandigital Supernova, an 8in android tablet. I have rediscovered Haruki Mutakami. I find even his secondary characters to be extremely complex. Now it’s difficult to return to writers wiyhout his deft touch.

  12. 12
    Oxalis

    Many thanks for the Dwiggins and Miller recommendations, I hadn’t run across them, and I’m currently in dire need of fresh authors.

    The only problem with ebooks is that they aren’t such good insulation as full to bursting bookshelves.

    You can also check out ebooks from Seattle Public Library. I don’t know the steps to get them on a kindle (I use adobe epubs on iThings), but they presumably have instructions. In addition to a fair whack of mysteries and science fiction, they have some of Dawkins and Hitchins available, and enough good light science stuff that my wish list will keep me going for a few years at least.

    Excellent light reading, though it’s chemistry not geology–The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. They’re nominally children’s mysteries, but I’m not sure that I’d want to live near a child who’s read them… SPL has the first three as ebooks. Read them in order.

    For Sayers, The Nine Tailors is by far my favorite. Five Red Herrings, like Who’s Body, is skippable; the others are at least good.

    Happy reading!

    1. 12.1
      pHred

      Good lord – who considers those children’s mysteries ???? That is like considering The Exorcist a children’s horror story because the main character is a child. Good grief!

  13. 13
    remysecor

    Must, respectfully of course, disagree re Christie. About three years ago, I read every mystery in order of publication (paperbacks collected over many years of scrounging used bookstroes). I had expected to be disdainful of her “cozies” that time around but, well, let me start with the modern world of detective & sci-fi/fantasy.

    Have you noticed how obese these works have become? They’re practically the size of War and Peace. And seem to be written by twitterers on Day 1: I got up, I brushed my teeth, evaluated the clothes in my closet and decided on the maroon rather than the navy shirt but then decided the day deserved fire-engine red ….

    I don’t care what the detective is thinking, what her relationship with her significant other(s) is, whether or not she has good, bad or no kids. I read detective stories for the mystery, not for the gore, not for psychology, not for a deep, intimate exploration of the detective’s mind and life. If I wanted literarature, I’d buy literature.

    And don’t even get me started on the fantasy/sci-fi landscape where trilogies have morphed into, well what do you call series of 500-page books that are now into double digits?

    Back to Christie. What I found in that marathon was that, with a few exceptions, Christie was completely fair to her readers. You can re-read a Christie right after finishing one and see all the clues. (I contrast Christie here to P.D. James, a writer I dislike for many reasons one of which is that she seems to pick her murderers out of thin air.)

    Second, in small paperbacks of about 200 pages, Christie tells you all you need to know about the characters (how did I never guess that Poirot had OCD?) and the crime. She doesn’t depend on gore or endless scenes of torture or female degradation so popular among even the distaff mystery writers today. Elizabeth George, a writer I used to like, now needs hundreds of pages to explain her characters, to delve into their psyches; Christie can tell you all you need to know in a few well-crafted paragraphs.

    OTOH, The Hollow is one of the few Christie books that I loathed, so it is quite likely that we want and expect different things from the detective genre.

    As for Sayers. It has been quite a while since I read the Peter Wimsey books, and my experience was very much colored by the fact that I read them after seeing the BBC series – so my image of the main characters was firmly fixed before I read the first word. That said, I remember them fondly and if it weren’t for all the free Kindle books I’ve downloaded, and the sample chapters of books I’m deciding whether to buy or rent, as well as the slew of books I bought at my favorite store’s holiday sale – just a week or two before the Fire claimed my life – well, I would definitely re-read the series.

  14. 14
    Mike Ducey

    Your blog name caught my eye when I was visiting PZ Meyers’ site. Wouldn’t a better translation of In vino Veratas be En tequila está la verdad? That is, the truth is found in wine not that wine (or in your case tequila) is true.
    Nomás no me llamen pedante.
    Saludos,
    MD

  15. 15
    geocatherder

    Okay, this Kindle thing is seductive. I don’t have a Kindle, but I did download the app to my PC. It’s sooo easy to read books on my PC now. It’s the only place in my house where a cat won’t settle himself on my book (I use a laptop stand, so there’s no horizontal keyboard for a furry pest to lay down on). I’ve gone in a few days from Never to Maybe to Hey, This Is Cool…

  16. 16
    Ann

    I’m not surprised you’ve fallen in love with your kindle fire. Its easy to do. I hope all this reading is inspiring you and waking your muse up to wanting to write about that evil geologist and her/his lair.

  17. 17
    Physicalist

    Agatha Christie always bugged the hell out of me because she cheats. I would always come away thinking that the last chapter contained so much revealed misdirection, that one would only have to rewrite that last chapter (with a tale no more strained or convoluted) to make another suspect turn out to be guilty. (I mean, OK, so the guy was only faking his death. But then any of the others could have faked their death instead.)

  18. 18
    Jason Rosenhouse

    Dorothy Sayers was very religious and had a second career writing about Christian theology, so I’m not surprised that bias would show up in some of her books. If you like good puzzles, though, I think John Dickson Carr is hard to beat, especially the early Henry Merrivale novels (written under his pseudonym Carter Dickson.) Carr specialized in locked-room mysteries. Also, any of Ellery Queen’s first nine novels will serve you well. They are easily recognizable since they all had titles of the form The Nationality Object Mystery. The first one was The Roman Hat Mystery for example.

    One thing though. Let me suggest that if you are going to reveal the murderer of a detective story then you should add a spoiler alert!

  19. 19
    BrianX

    I have a Kindle Fire, and I must say I have mixed feelings about the design — it has a well-disguised slapped-together feel to it that makes it seem like Amazon left all their quality control save their selector interface to Google. It doesn’t even feel like a Kindle — it comes off more like a tablet that just happens to read AZW docs. (I had to install the Merriam-Webster app because the search interface to the Oxford dictionary it comes with is unusable, for example.) I’m expecting it’ll get better the longer it’s in use, but it feels really half-assed compared to its brandmates. (And let’s not even get into the PDF rendering issues — suffice to say that if you read a lot of bitmapped PDFs, you need the Adobe app.)

    That said, the entire e-book concept is an interesting and complex one. I mean, it didn’t even take off till e-ink became the standard display, but having done that, a lot of fiction is of a somewhat ephemeral nature — you might read it once and never get back to it. Also, there’s a lot of online content that never sees paper; for those sorts of things, it’s a lot easier to have an e-book reader than print it out, especially given the price of ink. On the other hand, authorial luddite freakouts aside, books will never go away for a number of reasons, for the same reasons vinyl records have had a minor renaissance over the last decade — some people prefer the format, and hard copy beats digital for archiving any day. But I think the most telling thing is that since the beginning of the e-ink era, people have been reading a lot more than they would just buying their books in a bookstore. Good for the author, good for the reader… not so good for retail though.

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