Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reading Update #7

In the bedroom: I'm about half way through The Last Colony by John Scalzi. I've been doing a lot of yard work this week, several hours at a time, which usually results in me falling asleep pretty quickly and not staying up until 2:00am to read no matter how much I want to.

In the downstairs bathroom: I'm reading AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. So far it is pretty interesting, but not compelling enough to keep me sitting there reading until my legs go numb. So after almost a week I'm only up to page 46. If I don't pick up the pace, or shift the book to another location (as I sometimes do), I probably won't get all the way through it.

At the office: I started A Tramp Abroad on Monday. Even though I've only been in the office one day this week, so far (I'll be there tomorrow), I've gotten further in this book than in AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. Of course the pages are smaller and the font is larger. And despite the small number laugh-out-loud passages encountered so far, I do find myself sitting there until my legs start to go numb.

In the car: While still waiting for A History of the English Language by Michael Drout I browsed the library over the weekend picked up, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (which I'm sure I haven't listened to before) and The Google Story by David A. Vise. The first two are pretty short so I'm starting with them. So far I am enjoying Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs immensely, even if I don't really agree with Chuck Klosterman on many of his points.

In fact, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs is one of those books I read (or listen to) that cause me to realize, again, I will never be a writer. Besides having skill at writing I believe a writer also needs to have something to say; something they feel strongly about, as Chuck clearly does. Typically I find myself either with no strong opinion one way or the other about things, or if I do have a strong opinion, I'd rather not share it. This makes for a very dull writer. I find this trait even affecting my attempts at writing fiction as I often feel that if a character says or does something, people will assume that is something I want to say or do. Or have already done or said. I don't think this when I read someone else's work, I'm pretty sure Stephen King's basement isn't full of dead bodies, but for some reason I find it uncomfortable to do myself.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reading Update #6 and Story Idea #5

Another Thursday deadline missed, but this past week I hit a perfect storm of deadlines; between updating, finishing Farmerphile #14 and oh yea, some actual work related projects. "Mike is thinking about books" got pushed to the bottom of the list.

In the bedroom: This last week I read The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. For some reason I seem to go a year or so between reading his books and I'm always a little surprised how good they are and how much I enjoy them. I finished that book on Thursday and then started The Last Colony by John Scalzi. The danger of reading Scalzi, for me anyway, is staying up past 2:00am reading because I can't put the book down.

In the downstairs bathroom: My wife and I were talking to our 8th grade daughter about what foreign language she wants to take in high school, her choices being Spanish, French, German or Latin. Being practical minded she is leaning towards Spanish but my wife and I think she should consider Latin, especially since she (for now) says she wants to be a teacher. So, I went to the library and found AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. I'm reading this hoping I will find something interesting enough, to get her to read, to perhaps pique her curiosity. However, I am a math geek with an engineering degree who always struggled in English and Grammar classes, so the chances of me finishing this book are 50/50.

At the office: I finished Wetware by Rudy Rucker on Friday. I can't imagine what reading his books stoned would be like, but straight they are quite a trip. Earlier this year I bought a 24 volume set of the complete works of Mark Twain. I had already read, or listened to, ten of them before I bought the set, and this is the first time I've had a chance to read one of these. I am taking A Tramp Abroad to the office on Monday. I hope it is even half as good as The Innocents Abroad which is my favorite Twain.

In the car: I wasn't too far into A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, when I realized I had listened to it before. That's ok, I happily listened to it again. While I was searching the library's database for books on Latin I came across A History of the English Language by Michael Drout. This is part of the Modern Scholar series of college lectures on cd I have talked about before. I put it on hold but since there is a wait I will need to find something else to listen to in the meantime.

Story Idea #5

Reading The Long Loud Silence reminded me of an idea I had a few years ago for an "End of the World" science fiction novel. It starts out with the main character, an unmarried loner, being in the hospital getting an MRI. He is in the machine surrounded by a strong magnetic field and, it being early in the morning, he falls asleep. Outside a meteor passes by very close to the earth and within a few hours nearly every single person and animal on the planet drops dead. Our hero finally wakes up, and after getting no replies to his question about how much longer this is going to take, he eventually slides himself out of the machine. He discovers the technicians on the other side of the glass wall slumped forward on their desks dead.

As he leaves the hospital he finds dead people sitting and lying everywhere. He has a hard time driving home because of all the car accidents which leads him to believe that everyone just dropped dead suddenly. Sometimes he has to get out and move a car or two in order to clear a path but he eventually makes it home.

(I thought about contacting the power company to ask them, if something like this happened, how long would electricity keep flowing? Would it be hours, days, weeks or months before the system shut down because someone didn't flip a switch somewhere. But, this being not that long after 9/11, I decided perhaps that wasn't a prudent idea. Although I am still curious about this.)

Our still freaked out hero goes through the usual steps of going to the nearest grocery store and loading up the biggest vehicle he can find and driving it home to store all the food that won't spoil. He gets a lot of frozen food crossing his fingers that he'll have electricity for a while. He posts messages on the internet hoping any other survivors will reply (again, I need to know how long he'll have electricity). After a few weeks of not finding any sign of other survivors and going out of his mind with boredom, he decides to explore his neighbors' houses for more canned goods. In one of the first few he finds a really nice book collection. This spurs him on to search the whole neighborhood for books and he finds several houses with large collections and some others with, if not large quantities, books he would have at one time considered valuable.

He keeps thinking about these books and eventually he lugs them back to his house. Then he starts widening his search and he finds more and more books until he gets to the point where he empties one of his neighbor's houses of furniture except for the book cases. Then adds more cases which he takes from all the other houses and in some instances builds himself. After a year or two he has a house full of science fiction, another full of mysteries, one of mainstream fiction, one of history, one of science, one of any other non-fiction... He plans longer and longer trips away from home to leave the suburbs and go to stores he knows of in the city. Though only twenty miles away these trips take days because he has to constantly move cars out of the way to get through the tangle of accidents.

As I was thinking about the slow building of the book collection and listing the finds he would make and the journeys he would take it finally dawned on me that there was no real conflict. After the shock of the all the dead bodies and figuring out how to store food and learning how to grow some vegetables, where was the problem? My title for the story was going to be "The Last Book Collector," but once I realized this was more of a fantasy than just an idea for a story...I decided to drop it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Does your whole family read?

While certainly not true in every case, that seems to be how it goes in most families; either everyone reads, or no one does.

In my family my wife reads even more than I do. She reads a lot faster and has more time. Luckily she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and room than we already do (or don't). She is perfectly happy to read library books and give them back when she is done. Yup, women are strange. This is not to say she doesn't have any valuable books. She does have signed first editions of some of her favorites. But since they were all Christmas or birthday presents from me...I guess that does defeat the point of mentioning them.

We used to read a lot of the same books, but she doesn't read nearly as much science fiction as she used to and I don't read very much fantasy anymore. And if I do it's most likely a 200 page paperback from the 70s (Michael Moorcock's Elrick series or Charles R. Saunders' Imaro series for example) instead of the flood of 500+ page hardcovers that seem to come out every week. She also reads a lot of mysteries, (I do too but usually not the same ones) and non-fiction (again mostly not the same non-fiction I'm reading).

Since they were very young I have been trying to instill a love of reading, and of science fiction, in my children. I have only been half successful with both of them.

My 13 year-old daughter loves to read. But, even though she enjoyed I, Robot very much (when I read it to her) she has no interest in reading any more Asimov. I thought for sure the Heinlein juveniles would work, but they do nothing for her. While she does enjoy the likes of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Eragon, and some other newer teen fantasy series, they comprise a small portion of her reading. The rest of it is all teenage girly stuff, that I suppose is probably more relevant to her life than reading about teenage boys in the 40s who build their own rocket from surplus parts and fly to the moon.

With my 7 year-old son things have gone completely the opposite. While he is reading above his grade level, he says he does not like to read. But he loves science fiction. He loves all six of the Star Wars movies. In fact, he even likes the newer ones better than the originals. I haven't given up on the reading yet though. He is fascinated by the book Splinter of the Mind's Eye, but I won't read it to him, I keep telling him he's going to have to do it himself.

I did have a breakthrough with my wife recently. I kept talking about how great John Scalzi's Old Man's War is and then I got a little devious and had her read this entry from his blog. She immediately warmed to him and picked up OMW, then Ghost Brigades, and now she is reading The Last Colony. She zipped past me and got to it before I did.

Notes on writing. I tried to just write the above without doing any self-editing along the way, now I am going to go back and make some changes which I will detail below.

Changed: She reads a lot faster and she has a lot more time
to: She reads a lot faster and has more time.

Changed: Luckily for us she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and less room in the house than we already do (or don't).
to: Luckily she is not also a book collector or we'd have less money and room than we already do (or don't).

Changed: She is perfectly happy to get books from the library and give them back when she is done.
to: She is perfectly happy to read library books and give them back when she is done.

Changed: I do too but for the most part not the same ones
to: I do too but usually not the same ones

My problem, which didn't manifest itself very much today and I can't think of any examples of, seems to be strings of short words. Just like with the word "that" I find myself looking for "to" and "of" and the words around them to see if they are necessary or not.

Not that I am all that happy with today's blog. The third paragraph is a mess, but I don't have time today to play with it any more.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Reading Update #5

As I admitted on Sunday, I missed my last Thursday deadline for talking about what I am currently reading. I was hoping this blog would put pressure on me to not only keep up my reading at a good clip but to think about writing more. It worked for a little while but lately it hasn't been a strong enough force to overcome the other things in my life which keep me from reading and writing. It is still helping some and I hope it will get better.

In the bedroom: I'm nearly done with Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell. To quote someone on Toby's blog, "That Pepper is a badass." When I finish it in the next day or two I'm going to read The Last Colony by John Scalzi, if my wife (who reads at least twice as fast as I do) is done with it. If not then I'll read The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. As usual, this is subject to change.

In the downstairs bathroom: For the time being I have stopped reading the collection of short stories about my favorite comic duo so I can get in the mood to start on Story Idea #1. Doing it a little at a time isn't getting me anywhere. Instead I need to read nothing but that for a while and really sink into it before I get the feel for the characters and dialog enough to try and emulate it.
I am still reading Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. I would probably be done with it if I didn't spend most of my reading time in there playing a stupid, yet oddly addictive, Bubble Breaking game on my cell phone.

At the office: I'm about a third of the way through Wetware by Rudy Rucker. I am normally in the office three or more times a week, but this is the third straight week I will only make it in twice so I'm not getting much reading done there.

In the car: I have started A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, but with there being some compelling things in the news lately, I have been listening to the radio more than usual.

A thought on writing. A coworker of mine who has done a lot of freelance writing for small newspapers read one of my monthly updates to a few years ago and offered this observation: nine times out of ten, the word "that" can be eliminated. I reread the entry and realized he was correct, nine of the ten "thats" on the page could be removed.

Removing most "thats" from what I write has become a habit, but as I reread these posts before I publish them I usually notice a word or two I use too often.

(I started to type the last sentence as "...I usually notice a word or two that I use too often." At first it may sound a little abrupt to me without "that" but I bet no one reading the sentence the first time thought it was missing. (I just did it again, I had to remove "that" from "...but I bet that no one reading the sentence the first time thought it was missing."))

Today I used the word "actually" four times. I took them all out.

I've also noticed when I edit these blogs I often go back and make sentences simpler. I will try to provide examples of this on my next blog. (Perhaps needless to say, I originally typed the previous sentence, "I've also noticed that when I edit these blogs..." Maybe its just me, maybe I'm the only one with a that problem.)