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.

Still Obsessing, I’m Afraid

I swear to you, I’ll be back soon. And I’ve taken Saturday off, part of which will be devoted to clearing a rather critical email backlog. At the moment, however, I’m mostly offline. I’ve a horror of empty bookshelves, you see. It doesn’t matter if they’re virtual. I see gaping holes where books should be, and I cannot rest until they’re filled.

I’ve been doing some mad shopping in the Kindle store. I’ve found myself lost for hours in the virtual stacks. The free, the cheap, the rare and the odd all vie for my attention. I’ll need another lifetime to read it all. I’d miss the smell of paper if it weren’t for the fact I’m getting my hands on so much stuff that would cost a fortune had I been forced to track it down via used bookstores. The frequent screams of delight are probably disturbing my neighbors’ tranquilly, but it can’t be helped.

And the Fire has not yet made me want to throw it against the wall. It has some quirks and limitations, but nothing like what I expected of a first gen device. Early passion is settling into an enduring love.

Also, I discovered the Pandora app tonight. Bliss, my darlings. Sheer bliss. Music and book shopping on one handy handheld device.

Why did I wait so long?

On Fire

I’m writing this brief missive on my Kindle Fire. I’m desperately in love. Granted, this isn’t the easiest way to blog, but it works and that’s all that matters.

I’ve just downloaded a number of fiction and science tomes. I may not surface for a few days, but there will be a full report when I’m done.

The Kindle has once again proved I am a geek, or possibly a nerd. I screamed for joy when I saw that footnotes and page numbers in the index are hyperlinked. By the end of this week I’ll be so spoiled I’ll whine when forced to read footnoted, indexed tomes in physical book form.

As for those of you who were magnificently kind enough to send me science papers, I’ll be reading those soon, now that I can comfortably take them to bed, work and everywhere. Granted, one can print pdfs, but not when one’s printer is nonfunctional. And on a Kindle, unknown words and phrases are no obstacle. It has a web browser.

The awesome is incalculable.

I’m off to read on my favorite electronics purchase since the laptop. Eventually, I’ll get round to doing a proper blog post. I just downloaded some of Charles Darwin’s geology writings. That should spark something, eh?

But first, moar Agatha Christie….

Scenes from Snowpocalypse 2012 Vol. 2: Wherein I Am Thwarted, Plus Rocks

You know, I don’t normally like to go anywhere. I like being at home. Snuggling with the cat, reading and writing, maybe watching a movie or some teevee, that’s just my speed. But having been snowed in for days, my usual amusements no longer amuse. It’s the knowledge that I can’t get out. It makes me think of things I’d do if I could get out, and since I can’t do them, I actually want to do them.

I’m convinced this is a universal conspiracy to prevent me from ever obtaining another Agatha Christie novel on something more comfortable than my laptop, which is a desktop replacement and not suitable for curling up in bed with. It’s no use suggesting that things can be downloaded to my smartphone, because I haven’t got one. And I’ve read blogs on smartphones, and shudder at the idea of attempting to read a novel on one. And I’d read on a tablet, but I still haven’t got one of those, either. You see? Evidence of a conspiracy.

Staples was open just long enough for me to drop in and play with the paltry few tablets they had on display. I have no idea how any of their employees made it in. On top of the snow, we had an ice storm. Then more snow. And I really thought, after making my various phone calls to my mother’s mental health care professionals, and leaving messages for others, that I’d not get a chance to play with tablets. But Staples was open for part of the day, so I bundled up and hoofed it down. I made friends with their display copy of the Kindle Fire. It does what I need a tablet to do, and it’s cheap. I told them I’d take one. They said they hadn’t got any in stock.

You see? Evidence of a conspiracy.

I’ve ordered one from Amazon, to be delivered next day air, because I’m getting desperate. I guarantee you that despite the fact that the delivery trucks have chains on their tires and the weather’s supposed to stop being absolutely evil that something will happen. Seatac will close due to flooding as the incoming rainstorm melts all this snow and ice, or the Kindle Fire will self-destruct inside the box, or a tree will fall on our powerlines just as I’m getting ready to charge the damned thing, or the delivery company will call everything off due to drivers having nervous breakdowns en masse after dealing with trees falling all over the roadways, on top of the ice, snow, and insane drivers. I cannot be optimistic at this point, because I still want an Agatha Christie novel on a device that fits comfortably in my hand, and the universe seems determined to ensure I shall not have it.

The weather also froze my rocks to their shelves, nixing my plans to take the hand lens to them today whilst waiting for various and sundry social services people to return my calls. That was the last straw. I took a nap, and then watched Have You Heard About the Morgans? If you haven’t seen it, take my advice and don’t bother, unless you need practice rolling your eyes. It’s one of the most poorly-written movies I’ve ever watched. The writers seem to have sat around a table with pages of the script and asked each other, “What can we do to make this scene more trite and full of cliches? What can we insert here to ensure it’s overdone?” And then they threw in everything they could think of. I don’t deny it has it’s moments, but only those. Afterward, since I was annoyed and still suffering cabin fever, I watched Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” As far as I’m concerned, Darin Morgan can do no wrong. Any X-Files episode written by him is well worth your time. This is why I love my Amazon Prime membership: I can watch Darin Morgan episodes of The X-Files whenever I wish, for free, and feel better about life.

This doesn’t help me with identifying rocks, but they’re still pretty, and perhaps the geologists in the audience will weigh in. All of the following rocks were picked up around Richmond Beach, on the Sound, and had a considerable way to travel in most cases.

[Read more...]

Scenes from Snowpocalyse 2012

This bird’s arse illustrates how I feel about yesterday:

We’re snowed in. I took the day off, and spoke to various relatives regarding deceased and mentally disabled relatives, and prepared to put out a few brush fires which I shall tell you about when we know whether they’re truly out or liable to erupt into a crown fire. Then I snapped this picture of a bird’s arse through the window, because I am cooped up inside and getting bored. It turned around a moment later and presented a more suitable angle for photography:

Cujo has a rather more flattering portrait of a similar bird. They were adorable. They were also the only entertainment on offer.

Relations spoken to, equipment in readiness for some firefighting on the morrow (now today), I found myself no longer amused by bird butts, and bundled up to walk to Staples. I’ve been deprived of bookstores due to snowstorms since Sunday. I’m out of the turn-of-the-century detective literature I’m craving. So, I thought, I’d get myself a tablet. That way, I could sneer at the weather and just download whatever the fuck I pleased, thus thumbing my nose at the weather whilst still being able to comfortably read in bed.

Staples, however, had closed due to weather. Bastards. How dare they care for their employees’ well-being when I’m literature-deprived? And then, having denied me the chance at a tablet, make me applaud them for their good sense and kindness in allowing their employees to head home while there was still a chance of making it there alive?

There was nothing left to do but drop by my friend Starspider’s apartment and help torture her cat.

This is Galahad, learning that outside is made of cold, wet and pain. We did this to him because he thought outside was made of birds and rainbows and fun, and threatened to run out into traffic. We think he’s been disabused of these tendencies.

This is Galahad considering whether or not to murder his mother. He decided if he did, the chances of the door being opened were minimal, so he refrained.

We tortured the cat until we’d finished our cigarettes, then relented. He still loves us. I’m not sure why. And before you have too much sympathy for him, remember he’s a long-haired cat who never even got damp, and it was ultimately for his own good. He has not, as yet, asked to go back outside, so the experiment so far seems successful.

This experiment will not be repeated with my cat. I value my life.

The snow’s lingering. Next course on the weather menu is a bit more snow and possibly some freezing rain, followed by a rapid warming, which will mean flooding and possible landslides. Fun and more fun. At least it doesn’t do this often.

I took some good images of my outdoor rocks dusted with snow. In our next edition of Scenes from Snowpocalyse 2012, I’ll find some clever things to say about them. Either that, or I’ll just post them without comment, chuck my cat into a snowdrift as a distraction, and flee. Or I could take the safe route and direct you toward Starspider’s post on bitters. For now, it’s time for another dose of Rex Stout. I believe I’ll filch Archie Goodwin’s personality for dealing with counselors, lawyers and snow today. It could come in useful, especially as a tool for retaining my sanity.

In Memoriam My Maternal Grandfather, I Shall Now Inflict The Statler Brothers On You

I got that message today that you know, in the back of your mind, is liable to come at any time. The tall, thin man with the funny hair and the thick-rimmed glasses was nearly ninety, if not past it, and he’d been ailing recently. So I wasn’t surprised to find a succession of messages on my phone from aunt and mother advising that he had passed, peacefully.

Still, expected and unsurprising as it is, it still seems sudden. These things always do.

We weren’t close. We hadn’t actually spoken in years. Over the last few years, he’s been slipping into dementia, but long before that, we’d run out of things to talk about. My family isn’t a close-knit one. It might have been different, if we’d stayed in Indiana, but we left there when I was three, and we were never good at the long-distance relationships, and the grandparents had stopped traveling a long time ago. So there’s a grandfather-shaped hole, but it’s not a gaping one. I’ve skipped the shedding tears routine in favor of the flickering smile, as memories pop up unbidden. I see him holding a sparkler, that last time we were all a family and whole, back when I was sixteen and I’d insisted on a summer visit. Great provider of the fireworks, he was. He’d always been a provider. The house he lived in to the end of his life was built with his own hands, and he’d never stopped wanting to do for his kids. I remember a photo of him, on a picnic bench outside that house, feeding a squirrel he’d befriended. He was so damned pleased with that squirrel.

The strongest memory, though, is one seared into the little gray cells by sheer terror. You see, I was thirteen or thereabouts, and the grandfolk had come to visit us when we lived in Sedona. They’d roust me out of bed at five in the ay-em for long healthy walks round the neighborhood. And then they wanted to take a drive up to Flagstaff, do the whole Oak Creek Canyon thing, which I was down with. I love driving the canyon. And, what with it being late spring or summerish, there’d be a lot of RVs holding up proceedings and so plenty of time to gawk at the scenery, whilst having a goodish chat with the elder folk. The only thing that worried me was the tape deck, because elder folk are notorious for playing things the youngsters cannot abide.

They put in the Statler Brothers. And we howled the lyrics, once I’d got them. We nearly wore the mylar off that tape, up the canyon and around. This was certainly not the hip music. I’d been listening to stuff like Aerosmith and Pet Shop Boys and (shudder) Icehouse, along with a bit of the old Maxi Priest kind of slightly reggae version of “Wild World” I was absolutely nuts for. No way, you’d say, such a youth would appreciate the Statler Bros. But I did, very much so, and I appreciated the old grandparents for having such discerning musical taste.

We had the time of our lives on that trip. And it was all going along swimmingly until ye olde granddad decided he wanted to take Schnebly Hill Road back home.

The road is about two inches wide, unpaved, with turns that aren’t so much hairpin as a corkscrew dosed with strychnine (which, if a corkscrew were a member of the animal kingdom, would cause it to seize up in a sort of frenzy of right-angle kinks). You may be headed due north on Schnebly Hill Road, and a nanosecond later discover you are, if you were very fortunate and didn’t hurtle into the abyss in attempting to execute the bend, now headed due south. It’s a washboard, with bits often washed out, and there are what the uninitiated call “vistas.” Some even call it “breathtaking,” without mentioning that it’s not so much the spectacular views into the red rock canyon that steal the breath as the ongoing suspense as to your chances of survival. There are no guard rails. There is no shoulder. If you misjudge the thing, you are sailing a few thousand feet straight down into a vista. At least you will die scenically, but that’s small consolation when you are young and wish to live to a ripe old age, like 18.

I dimly remembered all of this from a trip we’d taken along it with a group of intrepid young parents. The parents had enjoyed themselves immensely. The assorted kids had huddled on the floor in the back, teeth chattering from the ridges in the road combined with pants-pissing terror, and tried not to look out the windows. I remember looking out the window once, and coming eye-to-eye with an agave plant that was in full, spectacular bloom. The problem was that it was growing straight up the side of a cliff, and I could have rolled the window down and plucked a blossom, if by that time all traces of bravery hadn’t drained from me and soaked into the potholed road.

“Um,” I said to my grandfather, who at that time was already getting a little shaky in the hands with age, developed some few issues with sight and hearing, had suffered a fairly serious heart attack not too many years back, and had a reputation for not always paying as much attention to the road as he should, “are you sure?”

I attempted to warn him away, listing a few of the many perils of such a journey. I gave it up as a bad job when his eyes gleamed brighter with each warning.

At that point, I would’ve gotten out and walked, if I hadn’t been sandwiched between him and my grandmother on a bench seat. Ah, well, I said to myself as he turned off the perfectly-good pavement onto the gap in the pine forest that marked the beginning of the end, at least he’s old. And he’s from Indiana. He’ll probably take it at a top speed of 5mph. No problem.

I don’t think the speedometer dipped below 35 the whole way down. Most of the time, he seemed to be going a strong 50. Red rocks went by in a blur. Red dust billowed up from the tires. And the man had the audacity to comment on how lovely the scenery was, with enthusiastic assent from my grandmother, whom I’d always considered a sensible sort in the past. How they could even see the scenery at that speed was beyond my ken, and he certainly had no business eyeballing it, in my considered opinion. Not that I could tell him this. It’s impossible to force words past a throat clamped shut like an imperiled oyster.

I had just enough time at the beginning to think that a man who hailed from anywhere as flat as Indiana had no business driving such a steep, windy road to begin with, much less at speeds that even drunk teenagers bent on suicide wouldn’t dare attempt. Then I spent a mile or two contemplating my impeding death several times per second, and bewailing the fact that I was going to die before I’d even finished puberty. The rest of the road finished in one sustained mental scream. I think my grandmother was humming contentedly in between exclamations of delight. I have no idea what my grandfather was doing, aside from slewing the wheel this way and that whilst exploring how far the gas pedal could be mashed. I was too afraid to look or listen.

And then, somehow, as if by miracle, we made it to the bottom of the canyon. I don’t remember where Schnebly Hill Road comes out, because I have never visited it since. I just recall staring at the pavement of good old US 89A with mute astonishment. And when we pulled up at the house, I wobbled out of the truck and refused to ever get back in it as long as Grandpa was at the wheel. Not in Arizona, at least. Not anywhere near a road with so much as a gentle curve or risk of a slight incline.

My mother, damn her, thought it was screamingly funny.

Years later, the immediate shock had faded well enough that I didn’t have too many flashbacks when he drove us to Nashville, Indiana, which is about the only part of the state with topographic relief. And, although the Statler Bros. had played all the way down Schnebly Hill Road, soundtrack for what I believed were the last moments of my existence, I retained a fondness for them. Because it had been one hell of a ride, and in the end, with survival a known fact, sort of fun. You can keep your expensive super-duper-mega-rollercoasters-of-instant-death. My old granddad could do you one magnitude better for the price of a half a tank of gas.

So, in memoriam, here’s a picture of Schnebly Hill Road I filched from the intertoobz:

Red Rocks seen from the vista of Schebly Hill road. Taken on 7-7-09 by Brienne Magee. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest.

And the song we’d loved the most on that long-ago trip:

Adios, Grandpa. I’m glad we survived that trip by over twenty years.

 

In lieu of condolences, funny stories of various aged relatives may be left in the comments.

I’m Still Alive, Only Very Badly Blocked

Oh, my darlings, I didn’t mean to worry you! Several of you lately have expressed concern. I should have put a note up explaining I’d be away for a bit.

Some writers like to pretend there’s no such thing as writer’s block. For some writers, happily, that’s even true. For this writer, alas, being blocked is a sad reality. Usually, only my fictional or non-fictional well goes dry, not both at the same instant, which means I can continue drawing from one whilst the other refills. In this case, both of the buggers have gone bone-dry. And so I decided to stop trying to put one word in front of another for a bit. Then a bit longer. Now it’s been long enough people have started to wonder what became of me, and that’s no way to treat you.

However, until I’ve tracked down this Muse of mine and dragged her blind-drunk self out of whatever Mexican cantina she’s managed to lodge herself in, words will be scarce. It shouldn’t last much longer. I’m taking the cure: stuffing myself with other people’s words. I’ve just finished Volume I of the Complete Sherlock Holmes, and am about to finish the second volume, and have watched endless hours of shows that manage to be both clever and occasionally profound, and if all of that doesn’t break something loose soon, I’ve got shelves’ worth of books and movies that will eventually break through the water table and fill the wells once more.

While doing such drilling, I’ll probably remain scarce round the internets. But I’ll try not to be so silent that you begin to fear for my safety, or the health of my relatives, again.

Pray excuse the somewhat Victorian and formal tone of this missive. I’ve started thinking and dreaming in Victorian prose. Over 1,000 pages of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will do that to a person. But believe me when I say this particular cure was necessary. Those of you who have seen the new movie which purports to be Sherlock Holmes and would be more faithfully described as a steampunk version of James Bond will know what I mean. Avoid it at all costs, and if you cannot, have your Complete Novels and Stories handy to effect a remedy.

I’ll see you soon, my darlings! Love and hugs to you.

Sunday Song: New Year’s Day

New year, old traditions. I always play “New Year’s Day” on the first day of a brand new year. Then I try on resolutions like new clothes and usually discard the lot.

This year, I resolve to laugh me arse off at all the Mayan calendar end-of-world nonsense. That’s one I’m certain I can keep. You?

Happy New Year, my darlings!