Friday, June 20, 2008

The Reading Report

So what have I been reading? While on vacation I read the third of Dean Koontz's Odd Thomas books, Brother Odd. I didn't like it quite as much as the first two, but I think that was mostly plot related and the fact that the book takes place in a snow bound monastery. I missed the supporting cast from the earlier books. At least the ghost of Elvis was still around. I'll definitely read the fourth book, but I'll probably wait a while.
Also read the first three stories in the Manly Wade Wellman collection John the Balladeer. These are my favorites of Wellman's work so far, even as fond as I am of his sword & sorcery hero Kardios. The stories about John take place in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina back in the 1950s and there's not much difference in the mountains of North Carolina and the mountains of Georgia. I know those woods and those paths and those kinds of people. I grew up in a very rural area. I know it's hard to believe, sophisticated and literate bon vivant and man about town that I am, but my background was pure country. My grandparents picked cotton and ran a sawmill. I lived on a dirt road until I was in my teens. (We didn't move, They just paved the road.) The John the Balladeer tales, steeped in folk songs and southern mountain lore, strike a particular cord of familiarity with me. John travels about the mountains, armed only with his guitar with the silver strings, fighting witches and monsters and all manner of supernatural menaces. Not like anything else I've ever read. Great stuff.
While I was in Santa Fe I picked up the Cambridge Companion to Gothic Literature and I've almost finished that. I was a little worried when I read the introduction and the editor kept referring to the genre in Freudian terms. I'm not big on Freud. But it turned out that all the contributors had their own takes on the Gothic novels of the 1700s/1800s, so I've really enjoyed the book. I learned quite a bit about Horace Walpole, author of what is considered the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, and how the genre evolved from his work.
And speaking of Gothic, I re-read Karl Edward Wagner's Kane story, Reflections for the Winter of My Soul, which certainly shows Wagner's Gothic roots. Kane is pitted against a werewolf in an old castle surrounded by a blizzard. Must be my week for snowbound heroes. Also read The Old Nurse's Tale, a Gothic story by Elizabeth Gaskell, who was a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens. Dickens, who relished a good ghost story, published Gaskell's work in his magazine Household Words. Gaskell's novels Cranford and North and South were also serialized in the magazine.
Not sure what's up next. I picked up Robert B. Parker's Resolution, which is the sequel to one of my favorites of his books, Appaloosa. Always a little nervous when I start a follow up to a much loved novel. Still have more stories by Gaskell and Wellman in various collections, and I've been meaning to read Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon. I'm sure I'll find other stuff as well. I'll let you know.

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