Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Morning at the Bookstore


I went to Barnes & Noble this morning to drink coffee and browse. I picked up a cinnamon dolce latte at the Starbucks next door to the bookstore and then began roaming the shelves, beginning with the Mystery section. The first thing that caught my eye was the word Pemberly. Jane Austen fan that I am, I had to have a look to see what author was doing their take on Jane Austen's work this time. (Pretty much everyone does at one time or another. I even have a sword and sorcery plot for Regency England. Don't dare me. I'll write it. Then you'll be sorry.) I was somewhat surprised to find that it was a new mystery by P.D. James, one of the great ladies of British Mystery. Apparently James is also a big admirer of Austen. I might have to give that one a try at some point.
The I spotted a book called Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making, which is John Curran's follow up to his earlier book, Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks. I enjoyed the first book immensely. It was fascinating to read Christie's notes about writing her novels. I've told the story here before of how I once read 23 Christie books in a row and wrote down outlines of the plots to understand how to plot whodunits. This was suggested by mystery novelist Carolyn G. Hart, who provided the list of books in an article in Mystery Scene Magazine. I recommend the exercise to anyone considering writing traditional mystery novels. Christie is still hard to beat in terms of plot.
Anyway, the new book looks to be more of the same. It too, I'll probably pick up after the Holidays.
Then I bumped over to the SF/Fantasy section and had a look around. Still too many Tolkien clones, but now salted with too many Game of Thrones wannabes and far far too many Anita Blake knock-offs. I did find a nice new collection of the short stories of Fritz Leiber which I picked up. Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories, from Nightshade Books has a nice balance of Leibers' fiction. Some horror. Some SF. A few Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories. It has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, which I was pleased about until I read said introduction and found a dig at Robert E. Howard (or more precisely, at Conan) that I may come back to for a later post. Or I'll just point it out to Al Harron and than Gaiman will rue the day. (Really it's fairly mild but I didn't like it.)
I didn't make it to the history section, figuring I'd just see more stuff I wanted to buy. I try to spend more money on others than on myself at Christmas. heh. Week after next though, the kid gloves are off.

2 comments:

Taranaich said...

It has an introduction by Neil Gaiman, which I was pleased about until I read said introduction and found a dig at Robert E. Howard (or more precisely, at Conan) that I may come back to for a later post. Or I'll just point it out to Al Harron and than Gaiman will rue the day. (Really it's fairly mild but I didn't like it.)

Lightin' Al strikes: might be a month late, but grrr all the same!

Is this what you mean?

I read Sword of Sorcery, the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser comics that DC comics brought out in 1973, and finally found a copy of The Swords of Lankhmar at the age of thirteen, in the cupboard at the back of Mr. Wright's English class, its cover (I would later discover) a bad English copy of the Jeff Jones painting on the cover of the US edition; and I read it, learned what the tall barbarian and the little thief were like in Leiber's glittering, half-amused prose, and I loved it, and I was content.

I couldn't enjoy Conan the Barbarian after that. Not really. I missed the wit.


I think it says more about Gaiman's personal taste than being a jab at Conan per se. Gaiman always struck me as one of those authors who couldn't take things seriously for long stretches. Just look at American Gods.

It's kind of telling, because that "glittering, half-amused prose" is precisely what turned me off more than a few of the Lankhmar tales, until I came across the earlier stories with more of a sense of gravitas and urgency accompanying the wit.

Of more concern to me in the introduction is when he said Leiber produced some "stinkers," especially citing his science fiction: why would you bring that up in your introduction that's supposed to be selling me on an author again?

Anyway, Gaiman lives to write another day: he quite reasonably said HE couldn't enjoy Conan after that, which is certainly his prerogative. In any case, he puts Robert E. Howard on the "literary road map" of great genre writers: even if I hate the misuse of "genre," the fact that he places REH alongside Lovecraft and Campbell earns me a thumbs up.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Yep, that was it, Al. I think what got a knee-jerk growl out of me was that Gaiman's statement seems to imply that all writing is to be judged by the same scale. It's that literary versus genre thing that always bugs me, as if Howard's work is inferior because it lacks irony and humor,(which isn't the case) something I've seen stated before. But yeah, he is clear that it's just his take, so as I said, fairly mild. As always, you raise some good points, so yes, we'll let Neil go on. Generally speaking, I enjoy his writing quite a bit. He also made a great guest appearance on this season of The Guild.