Friday, February 16, 2018

Habits of a Northeastern Bookworm

I was reading a message board thread a few weeks ago about how many pages folks would read into a book before they decided not to finish it.  The discussion made me really think about the evolution of my own reading habits.

When I was younger, I read the whole thing because... well, that's just what you do, right?  I didn't question much of anything before the age of 13.  Including the protocol of reading books.  I was a voracious reader, and just plowed through everything I read.

Later on, I still read books all the way through, but more because I was an aspiring writer, and I felt like I should give the author a chance to paint their full picture.  I saw a book as a canvas.  Sometimes the parts were lesser than the whole, and reading the full book would fill in all the blanks.  Sometimes this just meant I wasted time on mediocre books, but other times it was rewarding (Frank Herbert's Dune series for instance).

I tempered this a bit when working at the local library.  If a book didn't really grab me, that was okay.  I still walked away with an idea of what the author's prose and technique were like, and the themes of the book, so even if I returned the book without finishing, I still had enough of a grasp of it to be helpful to library patrons if they asked me for recommendations. 

I also started doing book reviews around this time, and sometimes there just wasn't enough time to linger on a book -- I had to get it done and assessed by the deadline.  This really helped me think critically about what I was reading, and why it did or didn't hook me, and what qualities it might (or might not) have that I had to gauge regardless of my personal preferences.

The next step was when I opened my used bookshop.  All the skimming skills I picked up at the library had to kick into high gear -- customers weren't borrowing these books for free, so the stakes of recommending books to someone were much higher.  I take my job pretty seriously, and I do my best to help my customers spend their money carefully.

These last couple of changes in my reading habits were more on a professional level -- my personal reading stayed on its own track for the most part.  I still didn't feel beholden to finish a book if it wasn't grabbing me, but I did give it an honest try in respect to the author and the piece of work.

Then even my personal reading habits changed in response to a series of events.  Over the course of a year, I found myself in the position to help dissolve and re-house the personal libraries of two different friends, both of them writers and avid book-lovers, both of whom died suddenly from heart attacks with no warning.  I had to handle this professionally, assisting the families with my expertise and heavy labor when they were just coming out of the shock of unexpected bereavement -- coping better but still overwhelmed.

My grief for these two was brought to bear on the number of books they had on their shelves that had obviously not been read yet.  I began to think of the number of books I had yet to read, and for a time my reading choices were laser-focused, channeling an urgency I had never felt before.

Thankfully, that urgency has been tempered, because there is nothing like the untrammeled joy of picking up a book and taking it home just because it looks tasty. 

It still flares up from time to time, but this is helpful in small bits. It means my "to read" pile gets weeded out on a regular basis to eliminate the flash-in-the-pan appeal of certain books that (to be honest) I know I'll never actually get around to reading. 

Instead, I'll add the title to my "To Read" list in case I do want to read it some day in the future when I have time (ha!).  This allows me to put the book itself back in circulation freely, without any wistful longing to hang onto it.

I have also stopped making New Years resolutions -- instead I make two or three lists of 10-20 books apiece that I want to read during the year, including a "Books I Should Have Read by Now" list.  It's working out pretty great so far -- I'm on my third year of doing this now, with at least a 50% success rate (often more) for each of the little lists.

How do you guys direct your own reading choices to get to the books you wind up actually reading?
(IF you've read this far in my surprisingly long post!  Where did all that come from?!)

Friday, February 2, 2018

Remembering Rick Hautala

Just a reminder for those of you who knew Rick Hautala or loved his books -- this is going on this weekend here in Portland!!!
WHAT: Remembering Rick Hautala
WHEN:  Saturday, February 03, 2018 - 1:00pm - 3:00pm
WHERE:  Rines Auditorium, Portland Public Library, 1 Monument Square, Portland, Maine

Legendary Portland-area horror writer Rick Hautala was the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a New York Times bestselling author with dozens of novels to his name. Five years after his passing, Hautala’s contemporaries gather to celebrate the indelible mark he made on horror fiction, both as author and mentor to so many other writers.
Literary friend Ghristopher Golden will host a discussion, and fellow authors including James A. Moore, John M. McIlveen, Catherine Grant, Bracken MacLeod, and Nate Kenyon will read short excerpts from Hautala’s work.

Please join us to remember and celebrate this local treasure Saturday, February 3rd, 1-3pm, in the Rines Auditorium.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book signing - Gravestones and great stories!

Just a reminder for anyone who does not follow the shop on Facebook -- author Ron Romano will be at the Green Hand Bookshop tomorrow, Sunday October 29th, 2017, from 12:00 noon until 2:00.  Ron will be happy to sign copies of his books, which will also be available for purchase!  Both of them are great reads if you are a cemetery geek or Maine history buff -- Ron really brings history to life!

Ron's newest books is Portland's Historic Eastern Cemetery: A Field of Ancient Graves, and his prior book (in case you missed it!) is Early Gravestones in Southern Maine: The Genius of Bartlett Adams.  Both are fascinating reads that will make you want to go clambering around looking for handcarved treasures in whichever New England cemetery you happen to find yourself in.  They are also a wonderful glimpse into the every-day life and customs of Portland, Maine, well-illustrated with photos and old newspaper clippings, as well as maps to help you find your way along the lanes.

I highly recommend both books -- and besides, Ron is a great guy to meet in person, too!  Come on down and say hello when you're out wandering on Sunday!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Summer reading wrap-up at the Green Hand

Well, I know that summer is really not over for another month, but here in Maine the weather has suddenly decided (at least for today!) that boy, maybe fall really is on its way!  But that does not mean that reading comes to an end.  To the contrary!  We Mainers know the secret to surviving winter is laying in a good store of books.

Meanwhile, we while away the still-a-bit-warm months, nibbling on a bit of the prospective titles here and there as we go, just a morsel to tide us over in between county fairs, apple picking, and coffee drinking.
This time I'd love to talk about two diametrically opposed books. One is a classic, one is a new kid on the block (relatively speaking).

Let's talk about the classic first. Like so many other classics, I knew Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog) by reputation long before I read it.  In fact, I read Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog, an amazing and highly entertaining time travel novel riffing delightfully on Jerome's book, years before I read the original, which I tell you gave it a certain absurd level of surprise.

Jerome's original is a confection of frippery, ostensibly centered around what should be a relaxing riverboat journey in the company of friends.  Well, you know how that goes.  A little from Column A, a little from unmentioned Column B, C, and D.

It is worth noting the asides from the narrator, which are many and varied throughout the journey.  You learn such practical lessons as: how one should never, ever, travel with a large wheel of stinky cheese, no matter how much your nice friend wheedles you to take it with you.  This is probably a good lesson for me to learn before accidentally finding it out for myself in person.  Trust me.

In summary, Three Men in a Boat is a perfect book for dipping in and out of during idle moments.  I wish all of you may have many of these during your summer months, this year and for all the years to come!

The second book, Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, edited by Lynne Jamneck, was released by Dark Regions Press in early 2016, about a year after the project was successfully funded (and then some!) via IndieGogo.  This is another book I've been dipping in and out of -- as I am wont to do with most short story anthologies I read.  So far the stories I've read have been wonderful -- eerie, unsettling, and uniquely different from much of the Lovecraftian fiction I've read in the past few decades.

The volume is a lush affair, oversized and rampant with full-color reproductions of paintings by Daniele Serra, an Italian illustrator some of you may know already from cover art on some of the Joe Lansdale novel reprint editions which I carry at the shop.  Authors include some old favorites like Joyce Carol Oates and Storm Constantine, and many newer authors for readers to explore further, such as Tamsym Muir, whose story "The Woman in the Hill" strikes just the right creepy note.

If you are interested in copies of either Three Men in a Boat or Dreams from the Witch House, I do have both of them at the shop for your reading pleasure, along with all sorts of other volumes, old and new, that have been flowing through our doors all summer long since we returned to a more normal operating schedule.  Drop in when you can -- you never know what you might find!

Some of you may have noticed that I missed a couple of weeks on here, mostly because I had the great pleasure of going to NecronomiCon 2017 a couple of weeks ago, down in Providence, Rhode Island.  It was a great feast of literary, cultural, and social delights.  I will write a post giving you the highlights shortly, so stay tuned!

My cat Meep inspects the additions to the home library.
Meanwhile, here is a snapshot of my haul from the weekend (not as big as it should have been; I demonstrated admirable restraint, but only because I'm going to be ordering a few things wholesale for the store shortly).

First, flanking the stack of bookish bounty, are a couple of issues of Ravenwood, full of the names of friends and other intriguing peeps, including cover art by Sam Heimer and Pencilmancer (Josh Yelle)!  Hot damn.  Next is Dean Kuhta's debut novel, Silvarum, promising all manner of marvels (Hi Dean!).

The slim volume below?  Oh, that's In the Gray of the Dusk: A Collection of Typewritten Treasures by Muriel E. Eddy, neighbor to H.P. Lovecraft himself, a nice addition to the copy of her other book, The Gentleman from Angell Street, which has been on my bookshelf since I bought it at one of the original NecronomiCons, back in the 1990s. Next on the menu is the delicious souvenir program from the convention, a feast unto itself.

Next, Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 2 from Hippocampus Press, recording the 2015 proceedings of the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Symposium, a celebration of Lovecraftian scholarship and exploration which features in the lecture schedule at the convention each year.
Following that is the anthology Carnacki: The Lost Cases: 12 Tales of the Classic Detective, edited by Sam Gafford, which I've been wanting to read since the idea for the collection was first announced.   Then, two titles bought from the nice folks at Cellar Stories, Providence RI's used book oasis, steps away from the historic Biltmore Hotel:  Shapes of the Supernatural, another great weird fiction anthology by the powerhouse editing team of two sisters, Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge, which I've been meaning to read for a while now.

So... stay tuned for future developments!  And enjoy the tail-end of summer!!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Summer reading at the Green Hand: Fantastical tales!

While I read a lot of genre fiction, I rarely read books that might be termed as fantasy, having binged on it heavily as a teenager.  However, once in a while a book comes to hand, often randomly, that tips the scales and pushes me to read something full of dragons, wizards, kings and queens.  This is the case with tonight's addition to the summer roster of Recently Read Books.

First let me sing the praises of one Charles de Lint.  I have long loved his Newford Stories, but have not often read his pure fantasy.  Enter The Harp of the Grey Rose: the Legend of Cerin Songweaver, found by happenstance on a gray day on the Free Book shelf at Flatbread Pizza here in Portland -- because there is nothing more alluring than a book you didn't have a moment before, and de Lint's name is always a glint of gold in amongst any assortment.

This is a brief novel, a delightfully refreshing 230 pages in paperback.  In it we meet Cerin, maturing from young orphanhood with his foster mother at the edges of Wran Cheaping village, watching her witching ways, meeting her tinker kin, and wishing the old tales were alive for him to experience. 

Then he meets the solitary Grey Rose, losing her almost immediately to a horrible warlock long thought to be only a legend.  And so his quest begins.  Along the way there are the requisite near-freezings, near-drowings, and the companionable talking bearfolk.  I won't tell you more -- just know that you will meet many myths and mythical creatures, experience harrowing sorrows and witness desperate acts of heroism.  Again, this is a fast ride -- de Lint's pen fires a lightning streak among the forests and shadows for you to follow.

While I love de Lint's storytelling, it is hard to explain precisely why.  What makes him soar above other fantasy writers for me, luring me to keep on reading?  I suppose for one thing de Lint is not heavy-handed with exposition of plot, setting, and characters.  He describes within the telling.  His characters bring you into their world through their eyes, into their heads through their thoughts.  The magic in his stories is lived by the characters, and by you at the same time, likewise their doubts and questionings.

So if you want to escape into another world, follow that harper of the pen, Charles de Lint.

Secondly, we come to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, which I will treat more briefly, since it is so much in the public eyes these days with the new Starz adaptation fresh in people's minds. 

No, I hadn't read it yet.  I knew it only by reputation.  ("BLASPHEMY!" you shriek in shock and amazement, holding your head between your hands and staring in shock at the Recalcitrant Bookstore Owner!)  It was on my personal 2017 list of Books I Should Have Read By Now, and I was bound and determined to read it before I sat down to watch the show.

I had tried reading Good Omens shortly before, but it fell flat for me.  (I know, again you shriek "BLASPHEMY!" right?)  So with that disappointment fresh in my mind, I had no high expectations for American Gods, even with almost two decades of my friends' and customers' hype ahead of it.

I fell for it almost immediately.  Something about the deadpan delivery of our narrator, Shadow, perhaps.  And the idea of all the layers of deities and entities that we humans so love to conjure up, no matter what era or belief system we are a part of. 

But overall there is a great feeling of trueness about it -- and I'm not saying TRUTH here -- I'm saying trueness.  True humanity, true imagination, true nighttime logic -- because one last thing I must say is that the entire book, real as it feels, also feels like a dream.

I hope you have all found time to read some wonderful books of your own out there this summer. 

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand: Egyptian magic & ghosts!

Here is the latest in our (almost) weekly blog posts about our own summer reading here at the Green Hand Bookshop.

From my massive stack of now-reading and to-be-reads, here are a couple of goodies!

One of these is a re-read: Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos.  This is part of a series by R.L. LaFevers which I highly recommend.  This one, the first in the series, is dedicated by the author "To clever girls everywhere who get tired of feeling like no one's listening."  The series' main character is Theodosia, young daughter of two Egyptologists, and alongside her we find ourselves treading the lanes and sidewalks (and museum crypts) of the early 1900s.

Spiced liberally with run-ins with interfering relatives, daft and distracted parents, the suspicious behavior of museum staff members, Egyptian mythology and magic, as well as a dash of international intrigue, this is my favorite kids' series written in recent years.  It is a worthy successor to Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Three Investigators, and all the other books about sleuthtastic risk-taking smartypants I loved reading as a kid.  Don't miss a chance to pick some of these up.

The next one, A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof by Roger Clarke, is a book I've had on my to-read shelf since a friend recommended it ... two and a half years ago!!!  So, long overdue to be read, in other words.

Well, it was worth the wait.  Roger Clarke knows his stuff, and while a lifelong ghost hunter himself, he also is well-versed in the accompaniment of ghostly fiction that has trailed along in the wake of our obsession with true-life hauntings over the centuries, making this book a double delight. 

Clarke writes fluidly, so that the reader doesn't feel like a row of placenames and dates is just being reeled past your inner eye.  He doesn't repeat things others have written -- he extrapolates, he draws connections together, and illuminates dark corners of the past long forgotten.  He throws a spotlight on ghosts you may only know as a whispered name, a reference dropped during a Ghost Hunters episode, an intriguing aside in an Astonishing Legends podcast... but now you'll know all about them yourself, thanks to Clarke!

In fact, by the time you're done reading this book, you'll have a long list of hauntings to go research further, as well as a slew of great books to read on the topic.  Clarke is generous in citing his sources, and the book is fully indexed for those among you (like myself) who like to know where everything is, as well as treating readers to a smattering of illustrations to whet your appetite for period pictorials and far away locations (well, for us in the U.S. that is, as most of the book focuses on the UK, Clarke's home turf).

Hope everyone out there is having a good time with their summer reading too!  'Til next time...

Friday, June 30, 2017

Now reading at the Green Hand: Night Marchers by Daniel Braum!

Hello everyone -- here is the latest weekly report on what the heck I'm reading when I'm not doing hard labor in the bookmines.

In spite of the books already in my current reading pile, I set everything aside this week when my copy of Daniel Braum's The Night Marchers arrived.  I started reading, curious to find out what he'd been up to.  A couple stories in, I was pleasantly surprised.  Now, seven stories in, more than halfway through, I am CONVINCED.  This is a fantastic book.

Whether it's the glorious but haunting hues of ghostfish appearing in the dark corners of the room, or the burning aftermath of grief, or strange death slithering through the thatched jungle roof, there is something in each of these stories that makes it impossible to stop reading them. 

But what something is that?

Maybe it's the way the reader finds themselves so immediately immersed in each new story.  The entry is sharp and complete and vivid, a spell only the best short stories are able to snare us with.

Maybe it is the voice of each character, crystal clear in the reader's mind, so clear that no matter what they are telling the reader, it is immediately real, no matter how strange or unfamiliar.  This is because no matter how fantastical the details, the human element at the heart of the story is so strong it pervades everything within.

Maybe it is the velocity of each story, a living current that sweeps the reader along -- you are caught, you are part of that moment in that world, you are led into the jungle, the ratty apartment building, the ocean, the burning building.

Whatever these dark and magical ingredients are that he's been playing with to achieve this wondrous collection of tales, Daniel Braum has succeeded in mixing them in new and different combinations that surprise and captivate, startle and thrill.

I'll be getting copies of the book into the shop soon, but if you're not in the Portland, Maine area and you would like to order from the publisher, it's easy to check out The Night Marchers and a bunch of other titles in the Grey Matter Press shop online:

Alright, I've gotta go -- more stories to read before I'm done!!!

UPDATE:  WE HAVE COPIES of The Night Marchers at the Green Hand Bookshop now!  Come visit!  ๐Ÿ˜ƒ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ˜ƒ