Penny Dreadfuls

penny dreadfuls

I picked up Penny Dreadfuls from Pioneer Book around Halloween time. I picked it up for a few reasons. It was on the Halloween display, and I kind of love that holiday. It was also a pretty attractive book. Bright red, with razors all over the front. (I have a pretty messed up version of “attractive” around October.) It contained the original story of Sweeney Todd, which I’ve always wanted to read. And it was edited by a man whose last name was Dziemanowicz, which is important because I have seen way too many Homestar Runner cartoons, and HR’s email address is DJmankiewicz@homestarrunner.com.

So anyways, I clearly had to get it. And then it took me forever to get through it because the very first thing they’ve got in there is the original 1818 version of Frankenstein. Tactical blunder. I mean, it’s pretty good—and Ethan was reading the later version at the same time, so it was fun to see what Shelley’s editors made her change—but man, that is not a short story. It is a long story. It is a novel.

This collection claimed to be a whole bunch of terrifying, gory short stories. What it actually is, is a whole bunch of over-the-top, gory-to-the-point-of-just-being-depressing, badly written first attempts from well-known authors who probably wish nobody remembered these particular stories. All of this sandwiched in between two classic novels. One of which was Frankenstein (which I don’t really care for, but I understand why it’s a classic), and the other of which was Sweeney Todd (which I absolutely loved, but I understand why people haven’t read it in forever. Plot holes, everywhere. No character development at all. Still a great ride.)

Don’t waste your time on this book. Read Frankenstein if you want, and read Sweeney Todd if you haven’t, but please for the love of every author who’s ever published something terrible just to make their next paycheck, don’t immortalize all this garbage in between. ♦

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The Art of Racing in the Rain

the art of racing in the rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is a bestseller. So when I wandered through a thrift shop in St. George and found it in their books section for only twenty-five cents, I bought it immediately. Even if I don’t like it, I thought, I’ll just give it to Pioneer Book. It’s only a twenty-five cent risk.

I knew nothing about this book going into it, except that there was a dog on the front cover and the book is popular. I expected some sappy story about a dog doing great things and then dying, and assumed it would be a tear-jerker.

Technically, all of those things were true. But what this book actually is, is more of a philosophical musing on humanity generally, told through the eyes of an outsider (the dog Enzo.) It’s the story of Denny, his wife’s death, and his terrible struggle with his no-good-dirty-rotten-in-laws for custody of his daughter Zoë.  It’s about life, love, death, and the refusal to give up on the things that matter most.

This is a beautiful book. I was not, however, moved to tears by it. I knew I probably should be. And since I weep openly at Disney movies, I was very surprised that I didn’t end up with at least a little water in my eyes. But I think what happened was this: somehow, I didn’t connect with the characters quite enough. I knew it was fiction. Maybe it was because the main character was a dog. Or maybe it’s because so much of the book is musings about death, the afterlife, and ethics generally – and I’ve been brought up in a very spiritual environment that frequently address these as everyday topics. But somehow, I found myself saying, “This book has a lot of soul,” without feeling like it really touched mine.

Also, here’s a content warning: there’s a lot of foul language in this book. Like, at least half a dozen F-bombs. (I wasn’t really counting.) Also some nudey scenes (told from a dog’s perspective, these are less erotic than you’d think), death, sexual assault, and some generally very heavy content. In a nutshell, this book is rated-R. If you want a lighter version, I just learned today that there’s a “for young readers” version (with a puppy on the front cover, which I think is hilarious.) If you’re fine with the content, however, it’s a great book.

I give this book 4 stars. It’s well-written, tells a beautiful story, and leaves you with a lot of hope for humanity. I can’t give it 5 stars, though, because there was still something missing. I don’t know what it is – it just didn’t connect with me like it should have. ♦

In Which I Seriously Need a Read-a-Thon

So here’s the problem.

I had my “currently-reading” shelf pretty packed during college. Mostly with coursework. I sometimes bought a book just for me, but homework would crowd it out pretty fast.

Then I graduated, and I had a bunch of books I had bought but hadn’t read, because homework happened.

Then I got married, and I also had all of my husband’s books.

Then I inherited a bunch of books from my grandpa.

Last year, I had over 100 books on my “to-be-read” shelf. (*Shelves.)

This year, I consolidated. I’ve read a few of them. I’ve abandoned hope of reading quite a few of them and donated them to Pioneer Book. Some of them I’ve given to friends and family. And some of them I’ve started. A lot of them I’ve started.

Herein lies the problem: during college I got used to reading 7 or 8 books at a time, because I needed them for classes. All at the same time. Then I started reading novels again. I’d start a new one, get 60 pages in, and get bored with the subject. So I’d start another one. A few months ago, I had over a dozen books on my “currently reading” shelf.

My husband staged an intervention when the books no longer fit on one shelf. He put a sticky-note on the shelf that said, “Nothing new till you read two!” and two little check-boxes. Maybe it’s because it rhymed, or maybe I’m just getting better at taking my husband’s advice, but I listened this time. I finished two books before I started a new one.

And then I did that again. And again. Pretty soon, I got my shelf down to an actually-fits-on-my-shelf status. And now I have another problem. All the books still left on said shelf are the ones that are too long to finish easily.

There’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I’ve simplified that one by saying that one play counts as a whole book. That way I actually do make progress. I made Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass easier by giving up and sending the book to the used bookstore. (Why was I forcing myself through the only poet I’ve ever really hated?) But now I’ve got books on there like The Catholic Catechism and Les Miserables – which I started before I even started dating my husband. And I’m supposed to finish two of them before I start a new book.

And I’m supposed to have a new book finished by Thursday, because that’s when book club is.

I’m totally cheating this week. ♦

The October Country

So I work at Pioneer Book, which is a used bookstore on Center Street. (If you live in Provo, you’ll probably recognize it. It’s the one with all the books painted on the front facade.) Anyways, I work from home, but I still have an Employee Picks shelf.

I was looking through the science fiction section to see if we had any Ray Bradbury – because I almost always recommend Ray Bradbury – and I found The October Country. I picked it up to put on my Employee Picks… and by the time I read the inside jacket blurb, I decided I just needed to buy it.

October Country

The October Country is a collection of Bradbury’s stories. It’s somewhere between horror, nostalgia, macabre, and silly. It’s kind of like Tim Burton, but more poetic and – at times – much more creepy. But then, some of the stories are pretty tame. It’s a peculiar mix.

I still prefer Dandelion Wine or Something Wicked This Way Comes (for summer or Halloween, respectively), but Bradbury is a wonderful writer, and these stories were brilliant. I highly recommend The October Country to anyone who wants a taste of Bradbury, or anyone who didn’t like Fahrenheit 451 (in my opinion, far from his best work), but still wants to give him a shot. ♦

How to Publish an Indie Book: An Asymmetrical Guide

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The Minimalists recently did a presentation at Pioneer Book, and my husband brought back a copy of their guide, How to Publish an Indie Book (by Colin Wright). At first, I was skeptical. I thanked my husband for being supportive of my writing, and thought back to some other “how to” books on publishing. Some of them were helpful. Most of them told you to drop everything and relentlessly hound publishing agencies.

These guys, however, have an interesting perspective. They tell you to avoid the publishers. And while many established authors will tell you to avoid self-publishing, it should be noted that this book is self-published, and we bought it. So I gave it a shot.

One of the first things they note is that self-publishing used to be a bad idea. It meant ordering 5,000 copies of your own book and then desperately hoping you could sell them all and make a profit. Now, however, there are a lot of companies (Amazon is my current favorite) that will publish on-demand, one at a time. You don’t have to pay up-front, which means even if you only sell three books, you don’t lose money.

This is probably the best how-to book I’ve ever read. It’s short, to the point, easy to read, and exhaustive. It walks you through the writing process, editing process, formatting process, and self-publishing process, with notes on which companies offer which services, and why you might prefer one over the other for certain types of books. It has helped me out tremendously – I’m now planning on publishing a book within the next few months.

I would highly recommend this book for any aspiring author, or even just any person who wants to improve their writing. I think the editing sections would be a great read for a high school student who wants to improve his or her English grade. (There is some occasional strong language, fyi.) And I now have a resource to go to, whether I want to publish a novel, a friend’s poetry collection, or my child’s first incoherent attempt at storytelling. If you’re a writer, go online and buy it. ♥

I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud: …And Other Poems You Half-Remember from School


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I picked up Ana Sampson’s collection I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud at Pioneer Book a month or two ago, just to make sure I had a steady stream of good poetry. The collection is what it claims to be: a collection of poems you’ve probably heard before, most likely because you studied them in school.

Of course, it was printed in the UK, so there were actually quite a few that I hadn’t studied in school, and a few historical references I didn’t understand. My fault – I should study more British history. And apparently, I’ve now skimmed a few more British poets than before. And every now and then, I kept thinking, “This is a little Anglo-centric,” and then I remembered. Oh, yeah. Poems British kids study in school. Duh.

One particular quirk I enjoyed was that the poets are arranged in chronological order. This means that, while the poems change quickly in topic, there’s still some consistency in style as the forms of poetry change. The beginning is littered with old English poets. There’s a whole section of WWI poetry, because those were the poets who lived during WWI. The last few poems suddenly get very coarse and choppy (and, if you’re considering letting your children read this, you should know there are some F-bombs in there.)

Overall, I feel like it’s a good collection to have, even if I keep it out of reach of my little ones for a while. ♦

The Dark is Rising

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Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising is the first in a sequence of four: The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, and Silver on the Tree (with a connected prequel, Over Sea, Under Stone). I mentioned the books to Ethan a while ago, remembering how much I enjoyed them as a child. I can’t say I remembered much about them, but they were good. Ethan bought them behind my back and surprised me with the series!

The Dark is Rising follows an eleven-year-old boy, Will Stanton, as he discovers that he is the last of the Old Ones, a race of immortals bound to protect the world against the forces of the Dark. While little is explained outright, the reader (and Will) gradually comes to understand how the Dark works, what is expected of Will, and how he can collect the Signs he needs to keep the Dark at bay as it tries to overcome him.

The book is a wonderful fantasy, especially for a young child hoping to be able to feel like the hero of the story. As an adult, however, I find the book just as enticing as it was when I was little. Susan Cooper does a great job of weaving the known and the unknown, the fantastic and the real, and makes common mythology come to life and gives it a spin of her own. While many of her ideas seem to come from Pagan traditions, she doesn’t seem to argue against any religious beliefs except ignorance or selfishness, and the result is a rich supernatural fantasy epic.

Another thing I really like about The Dark is Rising: it leaves me wanting to read Greenwitch, but not needing to. I don’t like click-bait. I don’t like feeling manipulated. I don’t want an author to make me feel like I have to go buy the sequel. But at the end of this book, I feel enough closure to stop there, but just enough excitement that I don’t want to. I want to read more. As such, you can probably expect a review of Greenwitch within the next few weeks. ♦