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You have found my dusty little corner of the Web. Feel free to poke around. I mostly write about books, reading, writing, sometimes movies, sometimes other things. Who am I anyway? I frequently share on Google+ and Twitter, so follow me, if you’re there. Thanks for visiting.

Halloween picks: The Scariest books

I usually like to get in the Halloween spirit by reading a scary book or two. This year, my top pick is NOS4A2 by Joe Hill. If you like Stephen King, you’ll love this book by his son. Not only does it read like King, but it reads like King at his absolute best–one of those great big books that takes you by the throat and forces you to race through the pages just to find out what happens. NOS4A2 has a Christmas theme, so this one will keep you chilled all through the holidays.

Alternatively, you may go for a classic read this Halloween. I just finished The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson, a short surreal piece that inspired Lovecraft. It’s got pig-people in it. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Edgar Allan Poe are also favorites this time of year. (Here’s my essay on Frankenstein as the first science fiction novel.)

For more Halloween reading ideas, here are my picks for the top 10 scariest books of all time:

  1. The Shining by Stephen King
  2. It by Stephen King
  3. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  5. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  6. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  7. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  8. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
  9. World War Z by Max Brooks
  10. The Ruins by Scott Smith

What is the scariest book you’ve read?

It’s election season…

I felt moved to comment on this story posted on the New York Times today: In Democratic Election Ads in South, a Focus on Racial Scars.

Here is my comment, which is a NYT Pick and one of the top recommended comments:

We have all seen ads that invoke race to get white voters out to the polls. Why is it shocking to turn it around, especially when there is no denying facts like the overwhelmingly high numbers of African Americans who are suspended from school, jailed and otherwise targeted? African Americans fought hard for the right to vote and some even gave their lives. Even half a century later, Republicans in states like mine are trying to curtail that right any way they can. African Americans need to get out to the polls and vote just to protect their basic rights. These ads aren’t hyperbole.

The defining characteristic of our era…

I recently came upon this bit of wisdom, from In the Woods by Tana French:

To my mind the defining characteristic of our era is spin, everything tailored to vanishing point by market research, brands and bands manufactured to precise specifications; we are so used to things transmuting into whatever we would like them to be that it comes as a profound outrage to encounter death, stubbornly unspinnable, only and immutably itself.

The marketing, packaging and branding of just about everything is one of the most insidious evils of modern life, I think. I get so tired of absolutely everything I encounter being something I have to purchase and consume. There seems no motivation to do anything anymore, not even make art, without coming up with a way to commodify it. We can’t even just be people anymore. Everyone has to have a personal brand these days, and a presence on Twitter to support it.

No wonder death outrages us. It’s the one thing we haven’t yet figured out how to sell.

PS If you click the link above, you can buy a copy of French’s book and send a few shekels my way. Yes, I appreciate the irony…

Recommended reading: Americanah

An occasional feature where I recommend newish books you might like to read.

Americanah Cover

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“You can’t write an honest novel about race in this country. If you write about how people are really affected by race, it’ll be too obvious. Black writers who do literary fiction in this country, all three of them, not the ten thousand who write those bullshit ghetto books with the bright covers, have two choices: they can do precious or they can do pretentious. When you do neither, nobody knows what to do with you. So if you’re going to write about race, you have to make sure it’s so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn’t read between the lines won’t even know it’s about race. You know, a Proustian meditation, all watery and fuzzy, that at the end just leaves you feeling watery and fuzzy.”

This is a book about race, but it’s also a book about writing, ambition, culture and love.

Reading with focus, or the annual theme read…

This year, for the first time, I tried reading around a theme or focus. The focus I picked was mysteries, a genre I have not paid much attention to since I devoured them as a youngster. To tell the truth, I really didn’t get focused until around August, so most of my reading was random and haphazard as per usual, but I did read more mysteries than I normally would (normal being zero).

I am enjoying it. I finally read some classics I had been meaning to get around to, I dabbled in a couple of the sub-genres, I tried a mystery set in my hometown, and I rounded it out with several mysteries from around the world. I know–the year is not done yet. I still have quite a few mysteries loaded on the Kindle and waiting for me.

To be clear, I didn’t read only mysteries. But I did make a list and tried to focus on them. I read with intent, which was to re-educate myself in the genre.

I think it might be fun to do this every year. Next year, I’m considering reading through time and reading speculative fiction by women as two potential focuses.

Since I love making book lists, I thought it might be fun to come up with some mini-courses that a reader could do in a year or less to learn more about a particular genre or type of literature. The courses could be organized in several ways. I could pick representative works or authors from the earliest examples through to the present day and get a broad overview. Or I could focus on reading the best example from several different sub-genres. Finally, I could narrow the selection to a focus within the genre, such as reading works by women or by minority writers. If I put a few of these mini-courses together, I’ll post them.

Have you ever tried reading around a theme or focus for a specific period of time?

How to decide what to read next…

Over on that most wonderful bookish online community, LibraryThing, entire groups and challenges are dedicated to helping us pick what to read next from the gigantic wishlist of everything we’ve ever wanted to read. My favorite way is to join in on theme challenges, selecting a book from a randomly proposed theme like “books with disasters in them” (Rivers, my next read) or even “a book that has blood on the cover” (NOS4A2my last read).

It appears that readers everywhere have this very perplexing problem of picking what to read next and have devised all sorts of solutions. There are website services like this one or this one or this one, librarians can provide custom recommendations, or go the simple route and create a book jar. Also an attractive option for displaying next to the bookshelves.

How do you decide what to read next?

Rule number 1 for self-publishers: Proofread!

In the last few years, services like Kindle Direct Publishing and  Lulu have made it incredibly easy for writers to self-publish, which I think is mostly a good thing for writers and readers. Self-publishing enables writers to build and audience and demonstrate their talents, and it puts more voices out there than ever before. Some terrific writers have gotten their start through self-publishing, such as Hugh Howey (Wooland Andy Weir (The Martian: A Novel).

But self-published books have already acquired a tarnished reputation, and with good reason: They are all-too-often riddled with errors. Spelling mistakes, typos, punctuation misuse, grammar abuse, word confusion, incorrect names and facts–when a reader encounters too many of these in the first few pages of a book, she will stop reading, and with good reason. How can a writer expect readers to pay good money for an unprofessional product? It’s not enough to run a spell-checker. Writers who aspire to the professional level must show some respect for their craft and knowledge of the language that is their medium. They must proofread.

We’ve all seen errors in professionally published books as well, especially e-books, but the amount and types of errors aren’t nearly so egregious. Professional publishing assures the reader that someone has read the book beside the writer and has probably caught most of the major goofs. Self-published writers have to give readers a very good reason to dip their toes in the sea of dreck and seek out their books. They have to be even better than their professionally published competitors.

The bare minimum self-published writers can do is hire a professional proofreader or copyeditor to give their books a thorough vetting. If your book is riddled with errors, your ideas simply won’t shine through.