Reading List 2016, Updated

Just finished:  The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart (Charming)

Starting: The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason: a novel set in Burma


  • The Piano Player, by Kurt Vonnegut (Nephew’s favorite writer)
  • Road Dogs, by Elmore Leonard (One of self’s favorite writers)
  • The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters (Another of self’s favorite writers)
  • The Forever War, by Dexter Filkins

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Beginning THE STRAIN, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Why, self, why?

She is such a Fraidy Cat she gets spooked by every breath of wind.

The stairs leading up to her unit are high and creaky. The wood is slick with rain.

And yet she reads horror.

Truly, self is a masochist of the highest order.

The Strain begins very prettily, with a fable about a giant by the name of Master Sardu.

Master Sardu surpassed everyone around him in height by the age of nine. He was a giant, but humble.

Yet his malady — if gigantism can be said to be a malady, in self’s humble opinion it is not — is deemed a pox on the family name. The only thing that can cure it is eating wolf meat. So off the Sardu men go in search of this wolf meat. And here is the setting of the fable:

  • When they arrived in the dark forest, the woodlands felt alive around him. Packs of animals roamed the woods at night, almost like refugees displaced from their shelters, their dens, nests, and lairs. So many animals that the hunters were unable to sleep at night in their camps.

What a cunning way to begin a horror story.

Stay tuned.

Mendocino Again! Still Writing About Cheating Peeta

Self took her leisurely time, leaving the Bay Area a little past 9, going slow in heavy rain through the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin, Cloverdale, Route 128, Highway 1, Yorkville, Albion, Little River. She saw all the usual stuff: sheep, redwoods, wineries. She didn’t stop until she got to Booneville, where she dropped another chapter of her Cheating Peeta fan fic (It is so much FUN to write about Cheating Peeta! The most fun she remembers having in aaaaages! The readers are vested to the max in her characters. They even offer tips about what they think should happen next. For instance, one reader suggests that Katniss and Cheating Peeta, to repair their dysfunctional marriage, go on a vacation “to a white sand beach, preferably right away, preferably without telling anyone.” Now, why didn’t self think of that before? Who wouldn’t love a getaway to a white sand beach? Or, how about this comment: “Oh, I do hope there is a fistfight!” LOL LOL LOL)

Since the internet can be quite poky here in the far northern California coast, she took the opportunity to stop at the Mosswood Café in Booneville where, while munching on delicious chorizo & goat cheese empanadas, she hurriedly dropped a new chapter — QED because her chapters are short, only about four pages long — and then watched with excitement and satisfaction as the # of hits climbed and climbed and climbed, with every passing second!

The only drawbacks so far since she installed herself in her unit at the Mendocino Art Center are: (1) It is cold; (2) At night, there are no lights; (3) She forgot to bring a flashlight; and (4) She discovered she left behind her copy of Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, which she was meaning to read when she got through with Philipp Meyer’s American Rust.

The Strain is a horror story involving one or both of these elements: (1) vampires; (2) zombies. She knows she can always pick up a copy from Gallery Bookstore (one of her faaaave hangouts in Mendocino!) tomorrow, but perhaps she should re-think reading horror while in Mendocino. At least, until the days start getting longer. Because when she poked her head out of her unit about two hours ago, there was a stiff wind, it was mighty cold, and she couldn’t see her car because the night darkness was so total. And The Strain sounds genuinely scary. And maybe, just maybe, she doesn’t really need to add that kind of tension to her life right now?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


AMERICAN RUST, p. 80: Lee’s Point of View

Self is really enjoying this novel. It’s one of those with a chapter devoted to a different point of view. Usually, she is impatient with this method, as it seems to be a very convenient “out” for a writer who doesn’t want to be bothered with the intricacies of plot. But so far, she’s loving it. Especially the women’s point of view. She liked “Grace” and now she likes “Lee.”

Here’s a longer-than-usual excerpt from the “Lee” point of view:

To help her get to sleep she decided to read in front of a fire. She opened the flue and piled some logs on the grate and put newspaper under them and lit the paper but after the paper burned out the logs were just smoldering, no real heat or flame. The smell of smoke filled the house and she opened the windows so the smoke detectors wouldn’t go off. She was an idiot, really, how she’d managed to grow up in Pennsyltucky, for Christ’s sake, it was embarrassing. Maybe before she left she would ask her father to do that, teach her to shoot one of his handguns, tin cans in the backyard or something. That was something he’d be happy to do.

Looking through the books she’d brought, she picked up Ulysses, but couldn’t figure out where she’d stopped. She wondered if it was really such a great book if you could never remember what you’d just read. She liked Bloom but Stephen Dedalus bored the crap out of her. And Molly, she’d skipped ahead to read that part.

Self thinks it is so unusual to encounter a character who picks up Ulysses to read and continues reading simply for the parts about self-pleasuring?

And BTW self is really crushing the Cheating Peeta fan fic right now. She began three weeks ago, and has gotten it up to almost 30,000 words. It’s a very angst-y story that takes place on two continents. And for much of it, her Katniss and Peeta aren’t even together. Conveniently, she knows how to wield interior monologue. She wields it so often, in fact, that she has readers complaining about how self’s story has reduced them to “angry tears.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.




The most compelling point of view in this novel, in self’s humble opinion, is a woman’s (Grace):

Of course she could just keep going like this, being alone, but there was no point to it. You felt strong for about a week and then you were just alone. And Bud Harris, he was a good man, uncomfortable but what did it matter, the ones that had the easiest time talking also had the easiest time screwing around behind your back.

— p. 51, American Rust

Stay tuned, dear blog reader. Stay tuned.



“I talked to a lawyer from the shelter.”

He looked at her, half-grinning.

“She said the house is legally mine until you pay your share.”

“That’s a bunch of bullshit,” he told her.

He was right. She hadn’t talked to any lawyer. But she was surprised how angry her own lie made her feel. She believed those words. They might not have been the truth but they should have been.

p. 49, American Rust, by Philipp Meyer

Philipp Meyer grew up in Baltimore, dropped out of high school, and got his GED when he was sixteen. After spending several years volunteering at a trauma center in downtown Baltimore, he attended Cornell University, where he studied English. His writing has been published by McSweeney’s, The Iowa Review,, and New Stories from the South.

Quote of the First Sunday After Christmas (2015)

American Rust is such a guy story. At first, self wasn’t sure she should follow up her reading of Middlemarch with this, but she decided to give it a go.

As it turns out, American Rust is the perfect story to follow her reading of George Eliot. There is an accidental killing, and right now, in her present mood, self really enjoys seeing someone (other than self, for once) make questionable decisions. Such as: panicking after accidentally killing someone, and then not hiding the body well enough. Those are two big, big, big questionable decisions.

But there is a woman in the story who makes perfect sense. And here is something from her point of view:

They’re simple facts is all. Your only power is choosing what to make of them. She stayed under two weeks with a few pounds of rocks in her pockets. There is your lesson from that.

(Ever wonder why self’s holiday reading is so dark? Well, self wonders that, too!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

A Stephen Hawking Mention!

p. 33 of Phillip Meyer’s novel, American Rust:

“. . . take Stephen Hawking — your favorite crippled genius abandons his wife. Twenty-six years of changing his bedpan and then — sorry, honey, I think it’s time for a newer model.”

Advice For Writers: Story # 6 of BAD BEHAVIOR

If you really want to be a writer, then don’t move to New York. You’ll just wind up in some dank little dump in the East Village with bars on the windows, and oh, I don’t know.


She had to admit that a large part of the reason she was even trying to get a job was for the approval of people she’d known in Illinois, many of whom were living in New York and thought of her as a hopeless neurotic . . .

— “Trying to Be,” Story # 6 in Bad Behavior

It’s after Story # 6 that self decides she will leave the collection. Because Story # 7 is “Secretary,” which was made into an excellent movie about self-mutilation (The main character was played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, a casting choice that was sheer genius) and how much Maggie’s character wants to be whipped by her boss, played by James Spader.

And self doesn’t believe for one moment that there exists in the universe a woman who secretly wants to be whipped by her boss. Of course, this is fiction, and Gaitskill does have a point she wants to make.


Why has this trope proven to be so enduring? Fifty Shades of Grey, hello!

This evening, self went to Barnes & Noble on 86th and had just mentioned to the woman at the Info desk that she was looking for The Strain when the woman said: “Science fiction. Shelved by title. Look under del Toro.” Impressive!

It’s exactly the same type of reaction self got when she was in Hodges & Figgis in Dublin. She barely even had time to say The Bane Chronicles when the saleswoman said, “YA. Look under Cassandra Clare.”

Stay tuned.


Bookshelf Survey: Folklore Thursday’s Dee Dee Chainey

Read this list . . . and die!

No, self doesn’t mean die like in that Japanese horror movie The Ring.

She means, die as in perfection! Bliss!

And, just so you know, self did get those two fairy tale books she mentioned in an earlier post. So that’s what she’ll be reading after Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior.

Self knows she just did major adjustment to her reading list. For one thing, she was supposed to read The Strain. But after delving more into that book, she just couldn’t rid herself of the nightmares.

No book should be giving her nightmares: it’s almost Christmas!

So she got the Philip Pullman translation of the Brothers Grimm, and a collection of Chinese folk tales (Publisher: Princeton University Press). She got both books from the Strand.

Also, today, by happenstance, self wandered into the editorial offices of J Journal, in the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and met the two extremely nice and committed editors, Adam Berlin and Jeffrey Heiman. If you like reading and writing about social justice, then you should know about J Journal. And you should subscribe. And submit.


10th and 59th, New York City

After the death of Isotope, which she felt most keenly (and not just because they published one of her hybrid pieces), she feels journals that go beyond one specific area of knowledge (like medicine; or law; or criminal justice) and explore what creative writers can bring to the table, journals like that should be cherished.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


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