Books: Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

This isn't a review because I haven't finished reading the book yet. But although I'm enjoying the book, it has made me think . . .

The little author bio on the back flap of the book notes that Maggie Shipstead attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And I found myself thinking, Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing likely to come out of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. And that's not a bad thing, per se, just . . . [heave sigh here] It's all kind of the same, isn't it? What passes for "mainstream literary excellence," I mean. In this case it is a story of the days leading up to a wedding. It's something anyone might themselves live through, or observe, or even just imagine on their own without having to read someone else's imagining of it. It's the mediocrity of life packaged as something profound, when really it isn't. It's not even much of a story. It's just a collection of characters, their thoughts and feelings and interactions on paper. And it's written in a lovely way, and the characters have interesting moments (though I find none of them particularly compelling in whole), but still . . . I could go out and have my own thoughts and feelings and interactions and get more out of life than reading about these made-up ones.

Which is the problem with this type of literature. For me, anyway. It's sort of a waste on all sides: of the author's talent (surely she could write something truly profound instead of this minutiae that pretends to add up to something meaningful), and of the readers' time (because they could be out shopping at a market instead of reading a detailed description about it—one that takes longer to read than it would take a reader to, in fact, do his shopping). Never mind the enjoyment of reading such a book (as I said, I am enjoying it); enjoyment can be found in any number of places, after all, and not all of them are wastes such as this.

If a book is about escaping, about living the life of the protagonist as you travel along with him or her on his/her journeys, then reading a book in which nothing much happens, or reading a book in which life is ordinary, is pointless. Isn't it? Why not just go do for yourself? A good story takes you somewhere you can't go on your own. It turns you into the kind of person you can't be in everyday life. These literary novels seldom do that.

So I'll stick to the chick lit, and the fantasy and science fiction, the mystery, the historical novels, &c. Because these literary novels, so beloved by writing workshops and highbrowed critics, are boring.


Books: Redshirts by John Scalzi

John Scalzi
Tor, 2012

Just finished reading this one on my Kindle, and it was a lot of fun. In the way that, you know, movies where ridiculous coincidences happen can be fun. Except in Redshirts the ridiculous coincidences are kind of the point. Kind of, but not exactly.

Science fiction fans (especially of the Star Trek variety, though the nomenclature has leaked out over the genre as a whole, as these things will do) will understand immediately was is meant by the title. For those of you who may not, allow me to explain: a "redshirt" is a short-lived crewman on the original Star Trek series (and sometimes appearing in subsequent series), someone not known to the audience as a regular character. This person would end up accompanying main characters on an away team mission, or in some other dangerous situation, and inevitably end up dying. Another common name for them is "expendable crewman/crew member."

So without giving too many of the plot twists away, it's at least safe to say Redshirts is about a group of second-string members on a starship and their attempts to keep from getting killed off.

It's a cute, quick read, funny and pithy. Scalzi knows from sci-fi; besides being an author, he worked on Stargate: Universe, so he understands the structure of the sci-fi television universe and puts that knowledge to good use here. Attempts to be touching in Redshirts fall a little flat, and the coda go on a bit too long, but overall a very fine read, perfectly light for summer.


Music: Matchbox Twenty's Album Art for North

Matchbox Twenty unveiled the cover for their latest album, North, which is due out September 4 (their first single "She's So Mean" is already all over the radio).

Bravo to the guys for showing their faces this time, I suppose. (It's weird; I had a dream a month or so back about MB20 in the top room of an ornate building, and I was out in the parking lot looking up at the window . . . ::shrug::)

The whole thing is rather stark and somewhat antiseptic. Reminds me of high school newspaper and yearbook, discussions of "white space" and so forth. I dig the reflections in the windows, though.


Books: What I'm Reading & What's On Deck

Right now I'm reading Redshirts by John Scalzi. I'll post a full-on review when I'm done, but sufficient to say I'm really enjoying it so far. I picked it up because I'm waiting for Ben Aaronovitch's new Peter Grant novel to come out (Whispers Under Ground, due to deliver to my Kindle on 31 July). I wish they'd turn Grant & Nightingale into a television series already. That would be every kind of awesome.

And yes, now I will use this space to remind you that my novella "St. Peter in Chains" can be found on Kindle, Smashwords, and iBooks, with the Nook version due out any day now. Go fill in your own blank spaces between books with that quick little read of mine.