Monthly Archives: September 2014

September Recap

Oh, the heady days of September. Kids put away their swim trunks and, bowed, broken, march back to school. Pumpkin spice infuses everything, everywhere, all the f*cking time. Department stores put on display their Christmas decorations, in defiance of good taste and good sense. I dabble in the occult, seeking to bend the very fabric of reality to my own dark ambitions. And the leaves change. Foliage!

September 2014 was a busy time here at the Oxford comma-challenged Books, Brains and Beer (hereafter “BBB”). The dizzying highs, the tragic lows…if blogging be the food of life, read on.

jagannath

I attempted my first readalong, based on Karin Tidbeck’s short story collection, Jagannath. Due to unforeseen Real Life Events, the readalong, rather than the adorable, cooing newborn I expected, was birthed into the world a twisted mockery of all that is held dear by God and man. I may be exaggerating. In any case, there will be backfill throughout October, and the posts will then be present for posterity, and, I hope, future commentary. What I learned: In blogging, planning ahead of time is your friend.

September saw, too, the inauguration of a new BBB feature, You Can’t Do That in Book Blogging. The title of the series is an homage to the 80s television show You Can’t Do That on Television. (Lest anyone think I’m telling them what they can and can’t do. After all, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” according to Aleister Crowley.) I’ve enjoyed this feature because it permits me to talk with my blog buddies about the nuts-and-bolts of what we do. Topics so far have included post frequency and length and the age of the books one reviews. Have an idea for a future column? Or want to guest blog one? Make a note in the comments.

Nyctophobia, Christopher Fowler

Nyctophobia, Christopher Fowler

I reviewed Christopher Fowler’s Nyctophobia, to be published by Solaris in October 2014. Verdict: A spooky haunted house story with great imagery, it’s a good candidate for reading on an autumn evening, perhaps with a cup of tea by your side. I read City of Stairs, too, and am trying to find the time review it. I’m having difficulty only because I liked it so much. Damn my lack of objectivity!

I had the good fortune to hear Jeff VanderMeer speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia on September 25. He read from his most recent novel, Acceptance, and talked about jumping over alligators, much like the old Atari game Pitfall!, I imagine.

Finally, I celebrated the one year anniversary of BBB on September 23. Will I continue blogging? I’m not sure. But I didn’t think a year ago that I’d still be writing now.

I don't even like cake! Yay!

I don’t even like cake! Yay!

Onward, to October!

Advertisements

Jeff VanderMeer at FLP

Area X penetrated Philadelphia on the evening of Thursday, September 25. Author Jeff VanderMeer ushered in a night of the uncanny at the Free Library of Philadelphia, abetted by Geekadelphia, and an owl (the latter provided courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences).

The slideshow included photographs taken by VanderMeer, as well as promotional and fan art.

The slideshow included photographs taken by VanderMeer, as well as promotional and fan art.

I’ve gushed at length about VanderMeer’s recent novels, Annihilation and Authority, going to far as to collect links related to the former. (As of this writing, I’m one-third of the way through the last novel in the trilogy, Acceptance.) I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear VanderMeer speak in person. (And he signed my copy of Annihilation.)

VanderMeer did a short reading from Acceptance, from a portion I have not yet read. I considered bumrushing the podium and knocking the book from his hands, but decided that would be impolite. Fortunately, he read a few pages that weren’t too spoilery (confirmed for me by a friend who was also in attendance). VanderMeer’s tone and the pacing of his speech was flat, without inflection, hypnotic. Combined with his style, heavy with clauses, it reminded me of the surge and retreat of surf beating upon a shore. Hearing VanderMeer read from Acceptance was helpful for me; I’ve been having difficulty “getting into” this last book, and his reading made his style more accessible to me.

Chris Urie and VanderMeer discussed the novels.

Chris Urie and VanderMeer discussed the novels.

VanderMeer noted that the Southern Reach trilogy is his second attempt to write about Florida. He first wrote about the “Sebring Squid Festival,” a faux-journalistic account of a fictional festival set in a real Florida town. This story caused him no end of headaches: Packages of dried squid sent to him in the mail; notes from angry marine biologists; an offer from a BBC representative to talk about the squid for a documentary; and a voicemail from a fisherman who claimed to have caught one of the squid in Louisiana. After that call, unsure how the fisherman got his number, and given that the squid he describes is not real, VanderMeer decided to pursue a more fantastical approach.

VanderMeer discussed the novels at length with a representative from Geekadelphia. It’s clear that nature, and humanity’s relationship to it, is one of VanderMeer’s concerns. He lamented the state of environmental education (in the United States), noting that American children are “developmentally challenged” in regards to their connection with nature. He pointed to his essay “Bear versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection,” in which no publisher showed any interest; it was “too depressing.” Much of the novels were informed by his hikes throughout northern Florida, where he encountered the boar (noted in Annihilation). A slideshow running in the background included pictures VanderMeer took during his hikes.

Arizona & I.

Arizona & I.

One of the major themes of the novels is the encounter of individuals with institutions, and the conflict that ensues, “Lord of the Flies with middle management,” he called it. VanderMeer, in his previous work, which he can’t discuss (creepy), actually found a dead mouse and dead plant in a desk drawer, wondering if they were left as some kind of message. Likewise, the smashed mosquito that Control encounters in Authority was drawn from VanderMeer’s own experiences. So, too, was the character of Whitby. One of VanderMeer’s colleagues would, from time to time, approach him and ask, “Do you want to see a strange room?” His answer was always “no,” both because he wanted to continue to be employed, but also because his “writer’s brain” didn’t want to know what was in the room–he wanted to fill it in later. Edit: VanderMeer memorably described the character Whitby as “the Smeagol of the Southern Reach.”

She was spooked, and kept trying to fly away, so I was a *little* nervous.

She was spooked, and kept trying to fly away, so I was a *little* nervous.

Afterwards, there was a question and answer period with the audience. We then headed upstairs to get pictures with the owl! Why the owl, you might wonder. Its presence was informed by the character of the Biologist (“Ghost Bird”), who has an attachment to the creature. Given the novels’ focus on nature, it made sense, once it was suggested, to have the owl (“Arizona”) present. (FYI: Barn owls can live up to 15 years.)

A good evening with an author who is having great success this year.