60 in 60: #37 – Henry David Thoreau’s Where I Lived, and What I Lived For (Penguin’s Great Ideas)

(The Penguin Great Ideas series goes where it’s never gone before–St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, seven miles out on the Deep Creek/Stony Bayou Trail, far from any other human being, May 14, 2009.)

This blog post is part of my ongoing “60 Books in 60 Days” encounter with the Penguin Great Ideas series–a Guardian’s book site of the week (back in the day) and mentioned on the Penguin blog. (Their latest post comments on the first 20.)

My plan was to read one book in the series each night and post a blog entry about it the next morning. In actual fact, due to a series of delays beyond my control, the “60 in 60” has become more of a sad, shambolic, shuffling staggering death march, or like an intermittently flickering lightbulb in a drug addict’s derelict apartment. To preserve the vestiges of my lingering sanity, I will now complete my mission in a haphazard, almost pub-crawl fashion, thus reminding readers that writers are eccentric, undependable, and pathetic. Still, I will stick to the rules and review on the same day I read.

For more on this beautifully designed series of which I am unworthy, visit Penguin’s page about the books.

by Henry David Thoreau (1817 to 1862)

Memorable Line
“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”

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The Pathology of Derek Raymond’s Dead Man Upright

Click here for my thoughts on the first four Factory novels.

“Killers are like mushrooms; the deadly ones look like the ones you have for breakfast, unless you happen to have the sense to turn them over and look at the funny underneath.”

Dead Man Upright, the fifth and final volume of Derek Raymond’s Factory series is altogether a different beast than its precedessors. It inverts the structure and intent of most of the prior volumes by focusing more on the killer than the victims; in this respect, it most closely resembles The Devil’s Home on Leave, but with more variation and more interesting situations. Dead Man Upright also presumes a lot. There’s not much of our nameless detective’s personal life, mined to such effect in the other four novels, and as a result the killer assumes even more significance, especially for readers who haven’t encountered the other cases related by our Unexplained Deaths detective.

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Evil Monkey’s Thought For a Sunday

(Miraculous defecation?)

Hey, Evil! What’ve you been up to?

Evil Monkey:
Watching those Godzilla movies, like you asked me to. Gawd, most of them suck.

Thanks for doing that. I’ve got so much other work to do on the new novel, I haven’t had time for the research aspect.

Evil Monkey:
You know, they’re not very realistic, these movies.

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Shearwater for a Rainy Saturday

Fast becoming one of my favorite bands. Okkervil’s good and all, but at their best, Shearwater’s visionary qualities transport.

Finch: “We’ll Go Wherever You Want to Go.” No Matter How Far.

Woken by a sudden shifting of shadows. A vague awareness of a figure. A sound like a thousand soft gun shots. Dreamed he’d gone down the hole behind the station’s curtain. Into the underground. Found the gray caps there. Sleeping on their sides. Heads down like resting silverfish. Heretic and the skery lying peaceful on a mattress made of curling ferns. Finch went to join them and immediately exploded into spores. Was everywhere and nowhere all at once.

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Derek Raymond’s Factory Novels

(Update: Just added a review of Raymond’s Dead Man Upright.)

“I put down the book stunned. I was sitting outside and, suddenly, quite ordinary traffic along Camp Bowie Boulevard seemed fraught with meaning. Streetlamps came on, dim and trembling in early twilight. I realized that this novel on the bistro table…had carved its way into me the way relentless pain etches itself indelibly upon the body..Five or six times in a life you come across a book that sends electric shocks skittering and scorching through the whole of you and radically alters the way in which you perceive the world.” – James Sallis, about I Was Dora Suarez

The first four Factory novels by Derek Raymond–He Died with His Eyes Open, The Devil’s Home on Leave, How the Dead Live, and I Was Dora Suarez–have long been hailed as classics of noir mystery, with the new Serpent’s Tail editions featuring introductions by the likes of Will Self and James Sallis. Reviewers often reference the seeming contradictions of the series, for example the Daily Telegraph‘s observation that the novels contain “a bizarre mix of Chandleresque elegance…and naked brutality.” But life gives us order and elegance in equal measure with betrayal and brutality. Some of us are lucky enough to just experience the order, but Raymond knew that most of us experience some form of disorder or upheaval during our lives, and the most extreme version of this situation exists in the form of murder and murder investigations.

In the Factory series, the nameless narrator works as a detective in the Department of Unexplained Deaths. He often clashes with his superior, Bowman, and has turned down promotion at every turn. His wife is in a lunatic asylum and is responsible for the central tragedy of the detective’s life–as is an earlier relationship with a woman who will always retain a gravitational pull on his heart but who can never be brought back to him. He has a sister he wishes he were closer to, but otherwise, at the time of the cases related in the novels, the detective is utterly alone.

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Neil Gaiman on the Limits of the Reader-Writer Contract

I love this post by Neil Gaiman about entitlement, especially as concerns readers upset that George R.R. Martin hasn’t finished his latest novel in the bestselling series. It ain’t a science, the rate of burn-out is high, and anyone who thinks that just churning out novels is a good idea–either for readers or writers–is full of crap.

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An Interview with Clarke Winner MacLeod

I was really thrilled to hear recently that Ian R. MacLeod had won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Not only is he a great writer, but he’s also pretty hilarious in person. Ann and I have had the pleasure of talking to him both at Utopiales in France and Parcon in the Czech Republic (not to mention, at the beer bath we also shared with a messianic-looking Hal Duncan, heh). Ann still chuckles over some of the things Ian said.

Anyway, I’ve just posted an interview with MacLeod over at Omnivoracious.

Amazon.com: Does it bother you that Neal Stephenson apparently cried when he heard he’d lost?
Ian R. MacLeod: He was obviously expecting to win, which challenges the Gods, and is asking for tears before bedtime and all other sorts of trouble.

Elizabeth VanderMeer on E-Science

My sister just had a birthday, and it seemed like a good time to catch up with her for the blog. She’s been jettin’ around doin’ stuff…

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Booklife Excerpt: General Tips on PR

UPDATE 10/22/09–Check out Booklifenow, which went live Monday, for content from the book and new material. The TOC below is slightly out of date, btw.

UPDATE 5/15: Added the full table of contents for the book to the end of this post, for those who are interested.

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for 21st-Century Writers will be released on October 15th, and is available for pre-order. It’s a lazy Tuesday, and I’ve got nothin’, so here’s an excerpt from one of the general sections on PR. Please keep in mind: half the book is devoted to your Public Booklife and half to your Private Booklife. Any quotes out of context lose the cross-pollination between career and creativity. Which is to say, I don’t advocate being a PR hound in the book—I advocate being a balanced person who puts creativity first, while acknowledging you have to do some public things if you want your books to reach an audience… – Jeff


“New media” allows for amazing interconnectivity and cross-pollination of ideas. Because the primary purpose isn’t for PR, new media has also changed PR forever. However, some things will always be the same:

– Your sincerity and honesty make a huge difference. Try not to act like a telemarketer or a walking info-mercial. If you can have fun promoting your book or other creative project, all the better, because that means readers will probably have fun as well.

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