I pledged to read a book a week and a short story a day in 2012. I've just completed my March challenge. These are the highlights of February's readings.
I read three works of non-fiction and one short story anthology in February (Dark Faith, which I posted about in my January reading report.)
Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin (HarperOne 1992) took me several months to read because I could not read it in bed at night. This slowed down my progress considerably because I do much of my reading at bedtime. This book is so cuckoonuts terrifying that I had to reserve my reading sessions for broad daylight. Malachi Martin was a Catholic priest and theologian who participated in hundreds of exorcisms during his lifetime. Hostage follows five case studies of people suffering from demonic possession and the priests who exorcised them.
Okay, okay, let's say you have a skeptical mind and don't believe in demons. Even so, there is something creepy about the concept of malevolent forces whose only recourse is to both hate and feed off us. It is a classic horror trope: maybe the classic horror trope. Fabulous storytelling here.
David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife is his essay on the purpose of drama, broken down into the key problems and issues at play in each of the three acts. Although the focus is on stage and (sort of) screen, this is useful stuff for any writer of fiction. My favourite bit, on reaching the third act and the all-too-common montage / unnecessary pause for self-reflection that happens there (from page 76):
It has been said that a poem is never completed; it is only abandoned. Like a poem, a drama is difficult to structure. In my experience the dramatist gets tired at precisely the same point as the protagonist: facing the third act. The act is outlined, the task is plain, if difficult, and the very clarity of the task is dispiriting.
Once the third act is planned, for better or worse, the play is done. Dramatists complete the act with whatever gifts of dialogue and invention they have been given, but the die is cast. The potter has fired the piece. Still, the act has to be written (the pot still has to be glazed), and the dramatist thinks, again, "Oh, come on - it's in my head. Must I go on? Are you really going to make me write it down?"I read that and I thought, amen, brother. I've been there on every story I've written. I like the idea of the unnecessary pause in the narrative (the fireside chat before the battle, the backstory about the detective's pet turtle) arising as a result of the writer being all tuckered out. (I guess that means we should be editing these out, right?)
The final book I read ("read") in February was Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind, which is a lecture and an interview cobbled together, but substantial enough that I counted it as a book. Candace Pert is a pharmacologist who has researched and written about the interconnection between the molecules our cells use to communicate and our physical, emotional, and spiritual states. Most interesting facts from Your Body Is Your Subconscious Mind: neurotransmitters are found everywhere in the body, not just in the brain. Cell receptors - the little "keyholes" into which neurotransmitters plug - are not steady state. They change configuration from moment to moment, determining to some degree which precise versions of neurotransmitters can "unlock" them. Neurotransmitters seem to work at a physical distance from the cells they trigger. The brain makes insulin.
I read my way through the last bit of the Dark Faith anthology. In particular I loved "Ring Road" by Mary Robinette Kowal and Lucien Soulban's "The Choir." Catherynne M. Valente's zombie tale, "The Days of Flaming Motorcycles," was everything zombie fiction should be and more.
I started in on Fragile Things, Neil Gaiman's story collection. There is something about reading single-author story collections that is extra instructive. You pick up a subtle thread that runs through all the stories, even in a collection as eclectic as this one. If you want a sample, "A Study in Emerald," a Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes story, is available online. Worth it for the fun typeset. Because I used to be an academic I enjoyed "Bitter Grounds" also.
With all this collection and anthology reading I didn't focus as much on online stories in February. I did pick up a copy of Stupefying Stories (issue 1.3), because it's a new-ish magazine and I hadn't had the chance to look at it yet. I read and liked "Oogie Tucker's Mission" by Gary Cuba. Because I hang out in some woowoo social circles who are all "2012! The end is nigh!" the final image of this story stuck with me for a while. More on Stupefying in my post on my March readings.