Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hub City Bookshop - Spartanburg, SC

From Reading Envy

I have a new favorite bookstore. This is dangerous. Most chain bookstores, I can walk around and while I might see titles I'm interested in, I never feel compelled to buy anything. I know I can always get it cheaper online, or even better, use the library. I am, after all, a librarian.

But every once in a while I will go into a bookstore that has a selection that is basically my to-read list, and is either laid out in a way that makes me very happy, or has amazing knowledgeable staff, or has selected editions of things that make you pine for them, even if you have other versions of the same books at home. All of these elements describe the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC. I wandered in because I had visited the Cakehead Bakeshop for my baking blog, but couldn't resist looking around. Most of what is on display is what I would call literary fiction. If there were any genre fiction books I didn't see any, since the focus was on the types of books that would be reviewed in the New York Times or on NPR. There was an entire shelf dedicated to indie publishers, from which I chose a book that I'd never heard of. I never do this!! I also chose a book from their recommendations shelf.

I was lucky to get out of there without giving them all my money. These bookshops are rare. I hope they can stay in business, because they are doing it right!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Speed Dating Books

Lately my Books to Read list has started encroaching on 600. At this point, I'll never keep up! So I've committed to checking out piles of the available books and going through a sort of speed-dating process with them, so that I can remove the books I probably won't actually read from the list.

How does it work? I'm glad you asked. Since I've been overthinking it already, I might as well share it.

1. Start at the beginning of the list and pick out the books that you don't necessarily remember the reasons for adding them to the to-read list in the first place, or books that you were so sure I wanted to read that you may as well do so now. Don't include substantial books that you know you want to read eventually but will take a considerable investment (Infinite Jest, the Updike Rabbit series, etc.)

2. Check the various library catalogs you borrow books from and see if any are immediately available (this limits my options quite a bit, particularly when I want to go that day and don't have time from a transfer of books from the much better stocked main library).

3. Bring home a good-sized pile, maybe 7 books or so.

4. Open the book that appeals the most. I started with The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters because it had such a cool name. Read the first chapter.

5. Stop for a minute and ponder your experience. Did it really grab you? Are you into it? Is it everything you hoped for? Usually, if it has, you won't remember to stop after chapter 1. And if the answer is no, that doesn't mean you won't get back to it eventually. But if the answer is no, set it aside.

6. Repeat steps #4-5 with the next book. Stop when you find one that you want to keep reading, and finish it first.

7. Repeat steps #4-6 until you have read through what you feel interested in at the time, up until when the books expire. Only renew those that you really really want to read, otherwise use that time period as your speed-dating period. When the time is out, that book is over, unless you have some compelling reason to continue.

8. Remove the books from your to-read list that weren't as good as you were hoping, and write reviews for the books you have finally gotten around to.

Oh, what is that you are saying? You aren't obsessive like me, and therefore don't really have a to-read list? What are you waiting for? Combine all your post-it notes and mental notes and create a list! My favorite way has been in GoodReads since I can access it from anywhere, but a saved document would also work. There is reading to do!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My Picks for the Hugo Awards

The Dervish House
I have finally finished reading all the nominees in the categories of Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, and Best Short Story for the 2011 Hugo Awards. I would have liked to read the nominated graphic novels, but since I do most of my reading from library loans and found those difficult to track down even from an interlibrary loan, I went without reading that category this year, as well as the compilations. One of these years I might just become a supporting member of Renovation SF so I can get the reading packet and also vote!

According to a friend over on GoodReads, the nominees are actually ranked, rather than just a winner being selected. I will attempt to do the same. The following lists are ranked by me, the no. 1 being who I would select as the winner in each category.

Nominees for Best Novel

1. The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
Amazing setting, cool nanotech, interesting stories, dense language.

2. Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)
A zombie story that I didn't hate! I may even read #2!

3. Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
Enjoyable romps... okay, more like long journeys... through time travel during the Blitz.

4. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
I didn't finish this for the Nebulas but read it with the Sword and Laser bookclub. I thought the story was an interesting concept but didn't enjoy the journey, if that makes sense.

5. Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Why nominate a book that is #20 in a series? It didn't stand alone and I wasn't going to read 19 books to put it into context.

Nominees for Best Novella

1. The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
Virtual pets turning into sentient, sexual beings - well developed and interesting.

2. “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
Embodying another woman’s body to kill the queen.... Swirsky always writes emotions well.

3. “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon” by Elizabeth Hand (Stories: All New Tales, William Morrow)
I appreciated this for the sentiment rather, and the setting was more of an after thought. It is really about loss, with inventors and little steampunkness and South Carolina thrown in there.

4. “Troika” by Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines, Science Fiction Book Club)
Man goes to space, sees something he can’t explain, is eternally changed. Uhuh. Haven't I read this before?

5. “The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s, September 2010)
This one suffers at #5 because it is a subgenre of SF I have always struggled with. Spaaaaaace and I can’t focus.

Nominees for Best Novelette

1. “Plus or Minus” by James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, December 2010)
This edged out the others because it was a lot of fun to read, and had some unique ideas. I loved that humans were altered depending on which environment they are meant for - space, moon, mars, earth.

2. “The Jaguar House, in Shadow” by Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s, July 2010)
Interesting pairing of fantasy and religion, ancient religion with USA to the north.

3. “The Emperor of Mars” by Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s, June 2010)
Chronicles the craziness leading to the reading of early fictional accounts of mars. Well, okay. Seems like a canon literary tribute more than anything else.

4. “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone (Analog, September 2010)
Ugh, ?Mormons and Swales, too much religious undertone.

5. “Eight Miles” by Sean McMullen (Analog, September 2010)
I'm laughing at myself but I hated this because it was so illogical. The premise is that high altitude causes humans to evolve on the spot. It is completely ridiculous - why aren't swimmers mermaids hmm?

Best Short Story

1. “Ponies” by Kij Johnson (, November 17, 2010)
TheOtherGirls nod. “You don’t have a pony.”

2. “Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
What is motherhood in a world of population control?

3. “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
A confusing story about AIs that hold family memory.

4. “The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
"Mutinous biomass sloughed off despite my most desperate attempts to hold myself together: panic-stricken little clots of meat, instinctively growing whatever limbs they could remember and fleeing across the burning ice."
Despite fun little wordy sections like the above quotation, the story was overall pretty repetitive and nebulous. I read this pretty soon after reading Blindsight.

The winners will be announced Saturday, August 20th, 2011, during the Hugo Awards Ceremony at Renovation in Reno, Nevada.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A good audio book experience

Patricia Highsmith: Selected Novels and Short Stories
Since June is Audio Book Month, and it is still early in June, I thought I'd post about one of the books I listened to while on vacation.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of what most people call "vacation reads," in fact I once read Gravity's Rainbow on a cruise. Actually one benefit of going on vacation is extended, focused reading time (at least for me, but I'm a bit of a dork).

Of course, I do have my issues with paying attention to audio books to contend with, no matter where I am. I'm starting to see that crime/thriller books really do seem to be a good balance to get me to pay attention. Patricia Highsmith has always seemed slightly more "literary" than a lot of genre crime fiction, but I may just be trying to justify my reading choices. I found this volume of two novels and a bunch of short stories through Overdrive, and enjoyed listening to them all.

What makes them work? Well, there are two different narrators - Bronson Pinchot and Cassandra Campbell - and they alternate reading the stories and novels. Bronson reads Strangers on a Train and Cassandra reads The Price of Salt, which works very well, considering that most of the characters in Strangers on a Train are male and the opposite is true about The Price of Salt.

Bronson Pinchot in particular does an excellent job at creating subtle variations in voices of different characters - not different enough that it is ridiculous, but changes where I could easily tell who was talking. I hadn't paid attention to who the narrators were, and his voice reminded me quite a bit of James Marsters in his reading of the Dresden Files - kind of back in the jaw, slightly dry sarcasm, both of which work really well for Highsmith, I think, and crime/suspense in general.

As far as the contents of the novels and stories themselves - I haven't ever seen the Hitchcock film "Strangers on a Train," which he bought the rights to from Highsmith not long after she had published it. It is in a very similar vein to the Ripley novels, with characters who go down these dark paths that don't seem very practical. The Price of Salt is known as her "lesbian novel," and I can see how it was pretty startling at the time (so much that she published it originally under a pen name), but I loved hearing that it was based on some real-life experiences Highsmith had.

The short stories included in this volume are varied - from somewhat cute (the pigeons one) to startling (the wax museum one, good lord). It kept me interested, and that is always the highest praise I can give to a book in audio form.

I've just downloaded The Hunger Games as an audiobook. I have read it in print before, but one of the book clubs I am in is reading it for June, and I decided to do my re-read by listening. It seems like a book that would translate well to my listening needs - fast paced, strong characters, and since they are YA don't suffer from a lot of filler.