Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Twenty-Eight: Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison

As we are about to enter into the season of Advent, how appropriate that I read a book themed around -- death? But for Harlan Ellison, death is not always the end of the story. In fact, in many cases death is the start of the adventure. I had not heard of Ellison before a friend of mine not only recommended him, but put this book in my hands. Prolific would be the defining word for this author who has over 1,000 stories, novels, screenplays, etc. to his claim. He has penned episodes for The Twilight Zone  and Star Trek, and won numerous fantasy and science fiction awards.

This collection is, according to Ellison in his introduction, "the twenty-second or -third or -fifth book of stories I've done." With no disrespect to his fiction, the introduction is the best part of this collection. It opens with death of his friend, Emily (whose death also appears in a couple of the stories) and Ellison's "insensitive" but honest eulogy. Listed next to the text on two pages are 44 deaths which touched him in a two-year period. In some cases they were close friends and in other cases acquaintances, but the overwhelming amount of death clearly shook the hardened writer. He is angry about the deaths and the pain the losses create and this book is his attempt to come to grips with what he has experienced.

Which brings us to the last story, "The Function of Dream Sleep," in which the main character momentarily sees a mouth with teeth open near his stomach. When he goes to get help he eventually ends up with a group of people who take on the pain of others, but the character's pain is so great he actually kills several of them. Where does his pain come from? The loss of friends (including an Emily) which he has not been able to deal with in a positive way. He eventually seeks out a guru type figure who informs him the pain is from the dead whom he will not let go. He is told to "Let the mouth open...let the wind of the soul pass through, and take emptiness as a release." We end the book with "when he cried for them, he was, at last, able to say goodbye." The process is complete and Ellison seems to have worked through his anger and let his friends go.

The stories in between the introduction and final story hit a range of topics, times, and creatures, but they all deal with death. The problem with prolific writers is usually that the quality ranges as well, and Ellison is no exception. Some of these are forgettable ("Escapegoat") and Ellison is prone to the last sentence surprise ending, like the ending of some bad jokes. But when he hits a story well it is well worth the effort. "Laugh Track" is a creatively written story in which a man follows his deceased Aunt through the years as her laugh shows up on laugh tracks over the decades. The twist is that the laugh track keeps her alive and he is able to connect with her, setting her off in a new direction. The story not only has a interesting premise, but shows a sense of humor as well -- a welcome diversion in this heavy book.

The best story is the opening "Paladin of the Lost Hour," in which human temptation is all that holds us back from chaos as one person holds the key to a lost hour in time. Should the hour be used for personal reasons the time will disappear and the world will disappear. Ellison manages to make the holder of time both human and other worldly as he finds a new person to protect time.

One of the more disturbing, yet most powerful, stories is "Broken Glass" in which a woman combats a rapist who enters her mind. Trapped on a bus she knows one of the men on the bus has entered her mind and raped her, but she does not know which person it is and he continues to taunt her. In the end she realizes she must use her mind to combat him. "On the Slab" is another standout in which a creature on display shows it is not yet dead, but there are those who want him that way. The "owner" goes from seeing this as a money-making venture to true compassion for the creature, and the relationship is touching.

Of the seventeen short stories here a good editor could have dropped eight of them to make this a stronger book, but I get the impression that at this stage in his career Ellison calls his own shots.  There are a couple of Ellison "essential" collections on his 35th and 50th writing anniversaries, which may be a better place start. But Ellison is definitely a writer who should drop into most people's reading lists at some point.

He has also led a lively existence full of controversy, wives, and general mayham which you can read more about at Wikipedia if interested.

Reading Challenges
Thanksgiving week actually means a slower week for me so this worked out well. The book is not short and some of the stories dragged (and tired me out), but the good stories flew by and the book ends with some strong pieces. Even managed to grade 2/3 of some papers I needed to get out of the way and read some other reading blogs on one night.

Up Next
Two books this week A Mercy by Toni Morrison. Beloved ranks as one of my all time favorite books and this books somehow ties into that and is getting strong reviews. I'm also going to get in a new collection of poetry from Louise Gluck.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Book Twenty-Seven: Love in Infant Monkey by Lydia Millet (plus a bonus Christmas CD recommendation)

Lydia Millet has received a lot of praise for her work and is seen by many as one of the best writer's in the U.S. Stepping into her world for the first time with her collection of stories, Love in Infant Monkeys, shows a writer willing to take risks in her material. The collection revolves around animals, be they pets, circus elephants, or even the lions from the movie Born Free. Millet further layers the collection with real life celebrities or historical figures so in the course of the book we see David Hasselhoff, hear the musings of Madonna, learn of the religious leanings of Thomas Edison, and witness a confession from former President Jimmy Carter -- and there are more. Many of the stories are based on true stories of animals with famous people, although Millett takes artistic license and uses them as springboards.

The result is a strong, if uneven, collection with the famous names at times proving to be a distraction and at other times an annoyance. The book opens with Madonna pondering a range of ideas as she looks over a dying pheasant she has shot in "Sexing the Pheasant." The animal here serves as a catalyst for her thoughts, but the focus is on Madonna and her musings on celebrity life, her husband's friends, and her attempts to conquer English phrases. Madonna is such an easy target to make fun of that she is hardly worth the effort; this story could be written by some talented undergrads with a sense of humor.

Such entries are frustrating when you see Millet's skills in a story such as "Sir Henry," a moving tale of a dog walker who is forced beyond his dog world when he suddenly recognizes humanity which rises to the level of, well,  dogs. Sir Henry, a dachshund, belongs to a famous performer, but this means nothing to the dogwalker. He likes the dog because of the dog itself, not any association. He walks the dog with "Blackie," who belongs to a dying violinist who asks the walker to take the dog after he dies, which by the violinist's own admission will be soon. The request goes against the walker's own protocol, but he is moved enough to consider it and begins to see the violinist and his caretaker in a new light. We do not hear the final decision, but it is the questioning which is enlightening. Toward the end of the story Millet reveals that Sir Henry's absent owner is David Hasselhoff, who bestows some glancing attention on the dog when he accidentally meets up with the walker in the park. The walker hears the excited reactions of those around him, but is clearly not moved by the connection. The question is, why throw this diversion in what is an otherwise strong story. Millet shifts the reader's attention in a way the dog walker himself escapes, and the rationale is not clear.

Millet does better with less "celebrity" people such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Although not as well known today, Tesla was a influential inventor who counts the radio among his creations. Millet focuses on his death as debt laden scientist living out his life in the Hotel New Yorker. Tesla develops a moving relationship with one of the maids, and the story is told from the viewpoint of another maid who knew both of them. In the story Tesla is devoted to pigeons who share his apartment, causing the maids to spend extra time with the man. Millet's building of the relationship is as light and touching as the relationship itself. That Tesla was famous does not impact the story significantly. Instead of celebrity watching we simply see humans at their best as they try to help one another. Millet has a gift for finding emphasizing the human emotion without cheapening it, in part because the animals serve as a foil to the human characters (and at times this is reversed).

Humor is also an important part of the collection, and is best seen in "Jimmy Carter's Rabbit," which takes on Carter's famous oar defense when a rabbit swam toward his boat at one point during his presidency. As a former President, Carter pays a surprise visit on a childhood friend who is now a psychologist. As children they were involved in an incident which caused the boy and his family to leave the town, and Carter has come to offer a belated apology. The humor comes as the psychologist tries to figure out Carter's real reason for visiting in what is a clearly an attempt not to focus on the incident Carter wants to discuss. A similar sense of avoiding reality shows up in "The Lady and the Dragon" where a billionaire Indonesian businessman purchases a Komodo dragon who had bitten Sharon Stone's husband at a zoo. The businessman hopes to use the animal to meet Stone, with whom he is obsessed, and when one of his employees cannot contact the real one he instead hires a sexually willing substitute. 

The title story uses the real life experiments of Harold Harlow on monkeys as its basis. While Harlow is going against his colleagues in the 1950s and calling for mothers to be more loving, he gets his theories by isolating and thus torturing monkeys. While he claims no love for the monkeys, he pushes away his nightmares about the animals by drinking too much. With his own wife dying at home he spends all his time on his work, and the story ends with the nightmare of a mother monkey screaming for her baby. "He knew the feeling of loss that would last till she died."

Overall we can see Millet using the animals as a way for us to see ourselves differently. She shows a respect for animals most writers do not have by showing they are worthy of our attention as they are. In addition, as Millet any pet owner knows, animals often show us more about ourselves than we are comfortable knowing.

Reading Challenges
Tough motivational week! This is a short book so I though it would be an easy week, but you can see that although I liked the book I was not running to it every night. Perhaps it was post-six month anniversary depression? I also had a very busy week at work and was a bit exhausted in the evening, not to mention working two of the nights. So this is a week I read because I had to since I could have easily gone comatose in front of some movie (any movie) on t.v. But hey, who said this is all supposed to be easy?

Next Up
Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy. This came as a recommendation from a friend who thought I could use a bit of weirdness in life. He noted that Ellison wrote some episodes for the Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and promised a unique read. I asked my oldest son about him and he said the same things, so the weirdness was confirmed. I read the introduction standing up because what I thought would be a quick glance turned into a ten-page read. I've almost finished the first story and really like it, although the ending promises to be crucial.

CD Review: Hot Club of San Francisco's Cool Yule
I wrote this review for Blogcritics and thought I would include it for fun. Hot Club of San Francisco appeared on my artists series last year and were great! This CD is a fun listen and highly recommended.
Another Christmas recording? As certain as the rising of the Christmas tree is the annual release of a plethora of Christmas recordings from a variety of artists and genres. Classical guitar for Christmas? No problem. An accordion fan? Relax to Rudolph on the squeezebox. "Fill in the name" pop star doing the standards? Several available for your choosing. So here comes the Hot Club of San Francisco to add some gypsy jazz from the smoke filled bars of ...uh...San Francisco to the mix?

But relax. Here is a Christmas recording offering something a bit different and worth listening to in the midst of the season. The Hot Club of San Francisco may not be a mainstream ensemble, but they are generally considered one of the best gypsy jazz groups in the U.S. For those not familiar with the genre, gypsy jazz is an acoustic guitar dominated format created by the incredible guitarist Django Reinhardt with violinist Stephane Grappelli in the smoky bars of Paris in the 1930s. The name of their group was the Quintette du Hot Club de France, and gypsy jazz groups often attach the "Hot Club" title to their own city. The quintet arrangement holds with the Hot Club of San Francisco which is led by guitarist Paul Mehling and violinist Evan Price, along with bassist Clint Baker, and rhythm guitarists Jeff Magidson and Jason Vanderford.

Mehling's gift as a leader has been to honor tradition while not being afraid of stretching the genre. In this recording he clearly moves beyond the normal library and also employs several guest singers and other ensembles to offer some new sounds. The result is a wide ranging, but solid, recording of a variety of Christmas classics. The quintet takes on Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and pairs it with the traditional "Carol of the Bells," and then soon jumps to "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

While gypsy jazz music is not afraid of the scorching solos, it also relishes the slow, quiet rhythms of the late night. At times it is a bit too slow ("The Christmas Song"), but when balanced with the moving Applachian song, "I Wonder As I Wander," you can hear the power of the slower sound.

Those looking for the upbeat sounds which have captivated so many listeners will not be disappointed. Mehling's arrangement of "Jingle Bells," here called "Djingle Bells" in homage to Reinhardt, is a gem which should be a new Christmas standard. Even "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" benefits from gypsy sound as it finds new life in this rendition. They even manage to add a great deal of life to the difficult to like traditional song, "March of the Toys." These songs feature the Hot Club of San Francisco without their guests and the comfort of the band is clear -- they have a lot of musical fun with one another which shows a camaraderie extending beyond the music. They also extend the tradition with the best over-seven-minute version of "Auld Lang Syne" you may ever hear.

That this CD is successful comes as no surprise since the basis is five excellent musicians. Mehling is a gifted guitarist with an ear for the soulful and the skill to pull off some blistering solos bound to make most guitarists give up in frustration. Price is equally talented as a violinist and can either blend in the background or drive a song forward at will. But gypsy jazz also needs a strong rhythm section, especially since it does not include any drums. The percussive and bass sounds are amply handled by Baker, Magidson, and Vanderford.

So in the midst of the holiday chaos grab this CD to get a respite from the rush. Or if you know someone with an openness to some unique musical sounds, you have a stocking stuffer at hand. You are not likely to find this is mainstream CD outlets, but it is worth the internet search.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Book 26: Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy (and 26A-C: Three Christmas Graphic Novels)

Week 26. Half way to my goal! Of course you've already read my comments on this, but if not, see above! This week's main book reminds me of why I'm doing this. The excitement of finding a new writer which impacts your world view is rare, but worth the wait.

Love Begins in Winter is a collection of five short stories written around the theme of love. Yes, love. In today's cynical world it is hard to find many talented writers who can celebrate love without making it sound like a bad Hallmark card. Van Booy not only succeeds, he excels. These are exquisitely written stories which show us a writer with the ability to see the many shades of love through a variety of fully drawn characters with a variety of experiences.

The title story is a short masterpiece of writing. We meet a world famous musician who is cut off from the world and people as he remembers the loss of a young companion. We are also introduced to a woman who lost a beloved brother at a young age and has struggled with companionship since then. If you hope for love at first sight, you find it in this story in a way which is remarkably above any lustful look. Instead, kindred souls recognize one another and begin what is the process of loving. Van Booy knows love can happen quickly, but even a loving relationship takes time to develop. This does not give away as much of the plot as it sounds since the story's constant progress is its plot.

"Tiger Tiger" shows the surprising places and way love appears, even across generations. A young doctor and her boyfriend see the dissolution of his parent's marriage as they work on their own relationship. When she receives a book her boyfriend's family doctor had written years before she passes on reading it, but when she looks over it a few years later she realizes he had written about children with an insight and love not expected from a single man. In other words, love shows up in unexpected ways.

"The Missing Statues" is a beautiful short story about how the power of love from years before can move a young man to tears with a simple reminder. Van Booy explores the many ways love appears, and in this story we see the simple caring of the stranger as a gift of love. Love's intensity is seen most clearly in "The Coming and Going of Strangers," where the love of a Romany Irish gypsy for a Canadian girl he does not know is beyond reason. The end provides a unique twist, and while Van Booy is never above the surprise ending, upon reflection they are never as surprising as they seem.

He ends the book with "The City of Windy Trees" in which years after the fact a man a one-night stand has given him a child. As he seeks out to reconnect, the power of love to transform a person is nearly overwhelming. And here we see one of Van Booy's clearest themes as his characters move from isolation to love, seeing the gift of love for what it is -- an act of grace beyond our control, but open to our reception.

The fact that Van Booy pulls all this off without becoming sentimental is a testament to his understanding the topic he addresses. He avoids the idea of love sick strangers staring longingly into one another's eyes. Instead, his characters often resist the idea of love until the reality hits them, which emphasizes the power love has in our lives. How wonderful to find a writer who intelligently celebrates what so many of us do experience even in a world seemingly devoid of love. 

Visit Simon Van Booy's Website

The publisher HarperCollins has created a new imprint called It Books to capture the popular culture audience, so it is no surprise they would release three graphic novel representations of three Christmas stories While their publicity claims these are Christmas classics, few will be familiar with L. Frank Baum's "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" which is adapted here by Alex Robinson. Baum, better known for the "Wizard of Oz," created a short fable about Santa who is kidnapped in flight by the demons Selfishness, Envy, Hatred, and Repentance. His work is carried on by four helpful assistants who know how to get the sleigh around, but mix up the presents the children are receiving. All could be lost, but never count out the magic of Christmas. Robinson adds a small love story and a great deal of humor to Baum's story, which seems perfectly suited for the graphic novel format. Robinson's stark black and white illustrations are either filled with details or clear in their simplicity, depending on how he wants to move the story forward. Of the three books released, Robinson's style will be the most familiar to those with a long history of comics with several panels on a page and balloon text throughout.  His adaptations to the story are an improvement and worth seeking out.

The truly classic "The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry gets a retelling by Joel Priddy. The story of a young couple selling their prized possessions to purchase each other a gift is well known to most through a variety of adaptations. Priddy also keeps the colors simple, mainly black and white although at times with a bluish tint, that is until Della's legendary hair is revealed. From a black and white bun comes a wave of orange which cannot be contained in even two pages and only disappears slowly as the hair goes back into hiding.  The impact is immediate and successful in its attempt to portray the beauty of the hair to the reader. He keeps very close to the story itself, omitting just a few lines which he can easily show, and he moves the story along at the leisurely pace in which it was written. Many pages contain no text as Priddy gives us a glimpse into the couple's private life which he plays out at times with full pages, at times with panels, and often a mix of arrangements. The book opens with several pages setting the scene without text as we see a store window version of the magi give way to the snow and our story; as the story ends he takes away from the domestic life and out into the stars as O. Henry's text puts the story in perspective. Priddy's adaptation rescues the story from the numerous sentimental versions in existence by allowing O. Henry's voice to be heard, and providing a vehicle which enhances the story.

Lilli Carre's adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Fir Tree" adds more than a splash of color to the trio. She also keeps very close to the text, which is too bad since the story of a short tree full of self pity sounds like just so much whinnying in today's world. Written over 160 years ago, Anderson's readers may have been more sympathetic than many of us to the "victim" format. But Carre takes Anderson at his word and her illustrations reflect his work with little comment. In fact, the book feels more like a picture book than a graphic novel as her simple, yet beautiful, illustrations reflect the text but stand alongside it rather than being involved. It is a lively book, but would benefit from having the illustrations frame the story.

If It Books is hoping to hit a more pop culture audience than this is the right method. The small books are created with the possibility of being stocking stuffers this holiday season, and they would be a good fit for many stockings.

Reading Challenges

As you can see I did plenty of reading and writing and actually finished all this by Friday. Van Booy's novel is a quick read because it is so good. Do not rush through his book because the writing is too good to miss, but be it still will not take long. I have a busier week coming up, but the collection I'm reading is short.

Next Up

Which brings me to the interestingly titled "Love in Infant Monkeys" by Lydia Millet. After this I'm caught up with my review books and I have a couple of others I want to read, but I'll get some new books ordered soon. 

Happy reading!

The Half Way Point

I'm well on my way to succeeding in my quest to read one book per week for a year -- half way there to be exact. The six months have not gone as expected, especially in my selection of reading material; overall, I could not be happier about that fact. Thanks to posting reviews on I have access to many free books to review and I've taken advantage of it to read books I would have otherwise passed by. As a result I've discovered some great new writers that I intend to follow for years to come. Originally I thought I would revisit a number of classics, and I've done some of that, but I like it when a project takes you in unexpected (yet pleasant) directions.

My reading has included fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and now even the world of graphic novels. I've always read a wide range of books, but I used to more selective because I read so little. With the promise of a new book every week I do not hesitate to reach beyond my normal interests -- I've been justly rewarded for the stretching.

As for the challenge of reading a book every week, well, it has become a matter of habit. A few times I've had to push myself to read, but I now find the reading to be my welcome escape from the world at the end of the day. My mind is challenged and refreshed, my views and opinions are reevaluated, and I still take joy in the simple pleasure of a well-crafted sentence (by others that is, I'm still hoping to write one such sentence someday).

My original reason for doing this was simply to read more than I have been the past few years. It is working! I'll have read as much in 2009 as I have the previous three years combined. I'm not sure whether I'm proud of how much reading I've done this year, or simply embarrassed by how little I've read in the past. And I'm aware that in the scheme of things one book a week is not a big deal for some. I see other bloggers doing similar things, and one of the links on my blog is to a woman reading Random House's 100 Best Books in a year -- and she teaches, has children, and started with Joyce's Ulysses! People like her are easy to hate. (Although she recently admitted she will not come close to her goal, so I feel better).  But I'm not too ashamed to share my attempts (thus this blog) at improving myself.

So for myself I've broken down the books I've read so far  by category. The books are for all off 2009, but since I started this in June I've read 29 books in 26 weeks.

1) The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
2) The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh
3) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
4) Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
5) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6) The Music Room by Namita Devidayal
7) American Woman by Susan Choi
8) A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
9) My Antonia by Willa Cather
10) The Road by Cormac McCarthy
11) The Known World by Edward P. Jones
12) The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
13) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
14) Fear of the Dark by Walter Mosley
15) Pastoralia by George Saunders
16) A Map of Home by Randa Jarrar
17) Departing at Dawn: A Novel of Argentina's Dirty War by Gloris Lise
18) Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar

Poetry (this list is way too short -- but outstanding)

19) Losing Season by Jack Ridl
20) Strong Is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell
21) Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell

22) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
23) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
24) Lifehacker: 88 Tech Tricks to Turbocharge Your Day by Gina Trapani
25) The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn
26) Better by Atul Gwande
27) Fordlandia by Greg Grandin
28) Unquenchable by Robert Glennon
29) Direct Red by Gabriel Weston
30) QBQ: The Question Behind the Question by John Miller
31) Operation Bit Back: Rod Coronado's War to Save American Wilderness by Dean Kuipers
32) America's Prophet: Moses and the Spirit of a Nation by Bruce Feiler
33) The Firefly Effect: Build Teams That Capture Creativity and Catapult Results by Kimberly Douglas
34) Let's Have Lunch Together by Marshall Howard
35) Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles by Pierre Bayard
36) One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer

Graphic Novels
37) A Kidnapped Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum, Adapted by Alex Robinson
38) The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, Adapted by Joel Priddy
39) The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen, Adapted by Lilli Carre

...and the late addition of the latest fiction...
40) Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy

And so I continue on. I'll get in A Christmas Carol before Christmas, although my plan of reading Lovecraft in preparation for Halloween was thwarted -- but he is really beyond the normal scare anyway. I still want to read Austen's other novels (again) and a few of the authors above also have books on my short list. In other words, I'm not going to get read what I "planned" in the next six months...and that is a good thing.

Thanks for your interest, support, and comments (well, if not on my blog but at least privately).


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Twenty-Five: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

...and 25(a) Let's Have Lunch Together by Marshall Howard
First, my main focus for the week. I've read Haddon's book before and found it interesting enough to build in to my college freshman writing class in which we talk about ways we approach life. Haddon's book allows us to have the discussion of what "limits" we may have in determining our outlook.

Told from the point of a view of a teenage boy with autism (perhaps Aspergers) this novel is a great way for us to recognize the predetermined ways in which we view the world. The idea that we are free to make whatever choices we want is an appealing thought (especially to first year college students), but indeed our choices are directed by physical, social, emotional, and even spiritual dilemmas. To steal from the speaker of the second book I'm discussing, he likes to quote "We are all prisoners in unlocked cells." In other words, we have created and have created for us our own boundaries and the only thing holding us back are our own decisions. Of course, this is only partially correct. As for Christopher (the main character in The Curious Incident) he has no choice in some of the walls which surround him. His creativity is in learning how to work within the limits he faces.

The story is a billed by Christopher himself as a murder-mystery, but since the murder is solved rather undramatically  half way through the book, this is clearly not the focus. The story starts with murder of a neighborhood dog and Christopher's decision to solve the mystery. In the process we learn that his mother has died, his father raises him alone, and he is brilliant in the area of mathematics. He always never mixes the food on his plate, hates the color yellow, and has decided that color of cars he sees in the morning determines what kind of day he will have. I could say more, but as the plot unfolds the surprises are interesting enough to leave to those of you who have not read it.
A fan of Sherlock Holmes stories (as am I -- see week eight!) he decides to pursue the case through Holmesian methods. In fact, the title of the book is inspired by the short story "The Silver Blaze" in which a prize racehorse is stolen. When Holmes remarks on the curious behavior of the dog in night time, Watson asks what is so curious -- he did not even bark. That, says Holmes, is what is curious. In other words, look at the obvious and question it and look for what is not there.  This makes sense since Christopher deals in logic and mathematics -- life is black and white to him. But of course, there is nothing logical about not liking yellow or letting car colors determine your day. In Christopher's mind this makes sense, but not to anyone else.

Once the murder mystery is resolved the focus becomes on Christopher's attempts to overcome his own limitations. Crossing a strange room is taxing for him, so he imagines a line leading across and then follows the way. Crowds overwhelm him so he waits them out until only a few people are around. He succeeds by handling each new situation one at a time and pulling back when he needs to think. In other words, he builds on his strengths and works around his walls.

The novel has garnered a lot of praise for a variety of reasons, including getting in the mind of an autistic person to see how the mind may work. Haddon worked with autistic children for some time so he may know more than most, but of course we need the autistic people to speak for the themselves (and this has been done). But that does not matter to Haddon because he does not see this as a work about autism. From his own blog: curious incident is not a book about asperger’s. it’s a novel whose central character describes himself as ‘a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’. indeed he never uses the words ‘asperger’s’ or ‘autism’ (i slightly regret that fact that the word ‘asperger’s’ was used on the cover). if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. it’s as much a novel about us as it is about christopher.

And therein lies the strength. In many ways Christopher is like a poet seeing the world  in new and unique ways and we see how the world treats and handles this uniqueness. What is great about Christopher is he never questions himself and how he sees himself. How many of us can say the same? He is different, it is frustrating at times, but in the end he works with what he has.

It is a book worth reading on many levels and for many reasons. But it should definitely be read.

Book 25 (a) Let's Have Lunch Together by Marshall Howard
Okay, I fully admit that last week I figured this book would fall into the worst category of my incredibly insightful breakdown of all business books into three categories (see last weeks blog to be reminded of my insight -- in case you forgot). Wrong! Despite the weak title, lousy layout, and large font, this is a book packed with great ideas.

Howard puts it in the context of a novel, but this is no literary masterpiece (nor was this his intent). Instead he puts his ideas in a large case study format and we can see how things would work out. The book is written to help with fund raising, but the focus is on relationships. Howard's refrain is "chase the relationship, not the money."  While this may not seem incredibly insightful, Howard does well to remind us that success comes from our relationships. People truly need to trust us and we need to trust them if we want to move forward.

I went through a day long workshop with Howard last week and it was noted that this methods could also be used by a good con artist. Which of course is true -- con artists know that relationships are essential. But because evil may use it does not make it wrong. We can fall into our cynical selves and give up on treating people as they should be. The difference is motivation and the idea is that strong relationships will bring about good things. But if you build the relationships for monetary or power reasons, the relationship will never be strong because it is built on a weak base (all biblically-minded can think stone vs sand here).

Howard's emphasis on relationships makes this work for people in all areas of business. While not a fundraiser myself, it did remind me of how I take for granted some people's support when I should be seeking to find out why support my endeavors to begin with. I have nothing more "to gain" from them, but certainly strengthening those relationships will not only make the business side of things stronger, they may also impact my life. What a concept.

Reading Challenges
I graded all my class essays early so I was not as far behind as normal. However, I also was a bit under the weather this week (second eye/ear infection in just over a month) which also cost me a couple of nights of reading. But Howard's book is an easy one night read and Haddon's book makes you want to keep reading. All in all, a surprisingly productive week. How productive?...

Next Up
...I've already started Simon Van Booy's collection of short stories (okay, five longish type stories), Love Begins in Winter. The first story was either overwritten or simply one of the best things I've read in a long time. I was captivated and stayed up much later than I should have to see how it would end. And love wins! Why do so few people see such hope today? And (I know, like a reading machine) I've read 2 of 3 graphic novel adaptations of Christmas classics. Well, they are supposed to be classics but anyone who has read L. Frank Baum's "A Kidnapped Santa Claus" raise their hands...I thought so. Even my oldest son with the most eclectic tastes I know has not read it. I'm reviewing all four books mentioned plus I hope to get a CD review done this week as well.

Happy reading!