Book Review: 10 Bits of My Brain

10 Bits of My Brain by Stuart Jaffe

Recommended for people who like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, or Philip K. Dick.

This collection of 10 short stories is like all collections. There’s one or two stories which will cling in your brain for a long time and others which were fun reads or didn’t catch you. And they’re always difficult to review because you want to gush about the two that your heart grabbed onto and ignore the ones you just liked.

So, of course, I’m going to give into the temptation and gush about the story that keeps circling back into my brain when I look at the cover — the story about the Polish Necromancer in a WWII ghetto.

It’s got a great mix of creepiness and magic. Its internal consistency is excellent and the end payoff is excellent. I want to tell you everything about it, but I also don’t want to spoil you.

So, I’ll summarize this review with — grab this for reading on the bus or in those moments when you have a little spare time and I’m sure you’ll find a gem.

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Book Review: The One Thing

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan

Recommended for: Everyone, but especially creative types and entrepreneurs.

Not my usual format here. Cross-posted from The Art of Procrastination:

Okay, here’s something you won’t see me do too often on this blog, I’m going to recommend a business productivity book. Hey! Wait! Come back here. It’s a good one.

In fact, What’s Your One Thing? by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan is not just a business book. (Though I’ve been arguing that writers do need to think like business people for ages.) It is an excellent book for life in general and for artists and creative people of all stripes.

What it boils down to is “What is the One thing you can do right now that will help you reach your goal?”

That question is a focus question. You have to make a very specific answer for it. You can’t have a to do of 10 things. What is the One Thing that must get done right now to make your goal attainable. Of course, you also need to have a goal and actually think about and create a progression from here to there. I’m not re-capping all the steps, just the biggies. READ the BOOK.

Follow up? Why aren’t you doing that thing?

Second step, after this focus question, is to make time for that one thing and to guard that time jealously. Keller and Papasan suggest a four hour block in the morning. I would adjust that to a four hour block whenever you are at your best. If you’re a night owl, carve out a slice of time at night. If you’re a morning person, do it in the morning.

I say, if you can’t do four hours right now, carve out half-an-hour. If you can’t do that, you don’t actually give a shit about your goal and need to find one you *do* care about.

Make that time, that precious, precious time, and do it every day, five days a week. Your goal will get closer and closer. And once you spend 2-3 months carving out your time, it will be a habit and you’ll feel *wrong* when you don’t spend the time on your goal. After that, it’s inertia and time to work on the next habit you want to create.

Time, repetition, habit. Train in new habits, and over-write old ones.

When I say guard that time, it means, work without distractions. Turn off the internet. Kill the phone. Do not move away from whatever your task is until it is done.

One task a day, that’s not that hard right? Write 5 pages. Hell, write 5 sentences. Whatever the goal is, hammer at it every day.

But first, read the book. It’s worth the time.

Highly Recommended.

Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road

Sparrow Hill Road – Seanan McGuire.
Recommended for: Supernatural fans, people who grew up on Scary Stories, and road warriors

Our main character Rose is the basis of the phantom prom date. One of them at least. She’s a hitch-hiking ghost who needs to borrow a jacket to be physically present in the world. She was 16 when she died and ever will be. She’s also a psychopomp — you know, like the sparrows in The Dark Half. She guides souls to their rest. Sometimes, she can even save lives.

She’s running from the man who killed her, but she’ll have to confront him soon or he’ll keep killing. He’s not alive anymore you know?

Sparrow Hill Road is where Rose died. Where she “lives” though is the heart of America — roads, diners, truck stops — a place full of the smell of exhaust and exhaustion, road weary and wary, grease and coffee. There is a pulse made of coffee and small kindnesses in milkshakes and fries. It’s where truly American folk tales start and survive.

And it’s fracking awesome.

I loved this book from the first page to the last. I hope I’ll get to see more of Rose in the future and I want everyone to grab a copy of this book so we’ll get another.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: Archie Goodwin Meets Nero Wolfe

Archie Goodwin Meets Nero Wolfe – Robert Goldsborough

Recommended for: Fans of the series, folks who enjoy Glen Cook’s Garrett PI, Sherlock fans, and mystery fans.

This book is bittersweet for me. I am an ardent Nero Wolfe fan and have read every one of the books. (Rex Stout’s and Robert Goldsborough’s)

In this book, Archie Goodwin as a nineteen year old rookie from Ohio learning his way around the private detective business. Which is slightly jarring, because of course, I will always think of him as the thirty-something he was in the rest of the series. (Rex Stout made a decision. The world around the brownstone changed, but the characters remained the same age from the beginning of the series to the end. If he were writing today, Archie would have a smart phone, and Wolfe would Skype to orchid growers around the world, but they’d be the same age they were in 1930.)

This is not the Archie from the rest of the Nero Wolfe books and Wolfe himself is more of a spider hidden in his web than usual because the two haven’t bounced against each other for ten years yet.

Saul is there. Along with the rest of the family. I think that’s the bittersweet part. Everyone is spot on. (Goldsborough wrote seven Wolfe books after Stout’s death. All of them are wonderful.)

It’s just… I know what happens in A Family Affair. Seeing Orrie, Fred, Saul, and Archie in their younger selves is like seeing an them come into focus on a Polaroid. It’s an excellent use of the characters. I see who they will become hinted in who they are now. Wolfe too, is not himself yet. He has his routines, but he has not filled out to his handsome proportions yet.

The Williamson kidnapping case is satisfyingly complex. The Prohibition era details are exceedingly rich. And Archie is a perfect mirror for it. He’s still adjusting to his new world, but his voice is perfect and shows the man he will become.

The book is an easy read and — as always — all the clues are laid out for you. You just have to be clever enough to string them together.

Highly recommended.

Book Review: House of Leaves

Recommended for those you liked: American Gods, Welcome to Nightvale, or/and China Mieville.

House of Leaves by Mark. Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves is not an easy book. It is rumored to have started life as a collection in a file folder that was passed around in the underground art communities. I can easily believe that it was in an accordion file. There’s far too much of it for one file folder. The edition I read maintained all the original formatting — Thank goodness.

This is documentation fiction at its best. It is not one story, but two. Possibly even more if you follow it down dark alleys. The main idea is that it is a scholarly book about the Navidson Report: a documentary/mockumentary/art film/who the Heck knows short film. The book, as it stands, is written by Zampano a blind old man our narrator meets early on. Our narrator – Johnny – takes on the project of translating the writing from Braille to typed English.

Johnny’s story is woven through the footnotes.

Did I mention the footnotes? Not just one level of footnotes either. There are Johnny’s footnotes. And then there are his editor’s footnotes on top of that.

The chapters are more like scholarly articles, complete with references. The story that these argumentative articles wind around rather than through is the Navidson Report (NR). NR is … subtly creepifying? I think that’s the only term I can place against it. My first instinct was to try to look for the original sources. The illusion was strong enough that I wondered if I’d just missed some sort of cultural explosion of a movie. (Not an impossibility given that I was woefully out of pop culture touch for a long time.) The Navidson’s discover a room that keeps changing size. Zampano implies that his room has been changing size as well. He went so far as to nail down a ruler to prove it.

Johnny, starts to lose the same thread along the way. Johnny is… fascinating. His part of the narrative is low-rent and lives in the area of drug addicts and cheap living. His mother was schizophrenic – we get to read her letters. His story, as I’ve said, is told in the footnotes. And do not make the mistake of trying to read the footnotes later. You need to read them when they pop up. It’s partly his commentary on the NR articles, and partly his own slide into what could be a schizophrenic break. Or maybe it’s really just his acceptance of his own memories.

The hollowness that fills him is a hollow as the cavernous void that Navidson finds in/beneath/through the walls of his house.

It is a poetic book. A scholarly book. A book that loves its contradictions and lives in the middle ground of the dream-memory.

I have been a total sucker for it and I highly recommend it.

If you’re brave enough to take the journey and stubborn enough to see it through.

Crossposted at Goodreads.

Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Recommended for: People who liked The Butterfly and the Diving Bell or Salt

I picked up this quiet little book at the library because I could not pass up the title. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating just intrigued me the way The Elegance of the Hedgehog did. On top of that it was a short book, not even 200 pages.

Bailey’s voice is what comes through most. This is a true story. It’s more than just information about snails. It’s about the idea of slowing down and watching. It’s also about the isolation of illness.

Bailey suffers from a nasty little autoimmune disorder that kept her bedridden. She was living in a studio apartment rather than her home so that she could be close to treatment. One of her friends brought her some flowers from the backyard and included a little snail.

This random gift of a pet set off a chain of research and observation that turned into a lovely little book. It’s part meditation on the reality of illness and connection to the world, and part detailed information about wild snails. I learned a lot of things. For instance, did you know that not all snail mucous is alike? I didn’t. I also didn’t know that they could send a mix of healing mucous to different areas of their bodies. I also didn’t know they had kin relationships.

There is an amazing amount of knowledge hidden in this slender little set of essays. I’ve recommended it to at least five people already and now I’m recommending it to all of you. Go read it.

Now.

ED: Crossposted on Goodreads

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Recommended for: Anyone who likes Tamela Ritter, Margaret Atwood, and oddly enough, Richard Kadrey or Chuck Palahniuk

John Green made me cry in public and I won’t even bother to blame it on my allergy meds. (Side effects include depression and suicidal ideation, but hey, I can breathe.)

I knew when I started The Fault in Our Stars that the author was going to shatter my heart.

I didn’t care. I never even interspersed my reading… oh, I can’t even like like that. I am a biblioslut. Still, I finished it in three sittings. It was an ebook too. I’m notorious for not finishing those.

Anyway, the quick summary is that it’s a love story between two teens with cancer that meet in a support group. But it’s more than that somehow. It’s love and friendship and family and life. The language is beautiful. The humor is black. And the meaning is hidden in the multiple infinities of the bounded set that is life and death.

Agustus and Hazel are young survivors. Agustus has one leg. Hazel has an oxygen tank. And it could have become a horrible, sickly sweet, Hallmark movie from there, but it never did. What id did become was life: messy, lovely, broken, mended, and punctuated by magical moments of love, laughter and tears.

Bravo, John Green. You’ve hooked me.

Go read it now. I’ll hand you a tissue at the end.