Tagged: Reading

…but, baby, it’s cold outside

A solid week of windchills in excess of forty below.

So, I’ve been hunkered down, editing my Notebooks, prepping for a May release of what will be my fifteenth book.

Fifteen books, not one of them a dog, all of them written out of love for the printed word, rather than for the purpose of fulfilling a contract or meeting some hairy-palmed editor’s neolithic expectations. Let’s see you top that, all you hacks and wannabes.

The editing process is always incredibly intense for me, driving myself nuts finding the exact right word (and, as Don DeLillo insists, “the right sounding word”). 

At the same time I am still not back to 100% from my hip replacement surgery so can’t stay seated for the prolonged periods of time I’m accustomed to—gotta get up frequently to stretch, move about, which, of course, interrupts my train of thought and then it takes me awhile to re-focus on the manuscript. I’m having trouble adapting to the new regime but that’s the reality I have to deal with now, no use bitching about it.

When I’m not editing, I’m reading and some of the excellent books I’ve finished since the beginning of the year include N.K. Jemsin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson, The Cold Millions (Jess Walter), The Great Glass Sea (Josh Weil) and Jane Mayer’s Dark Money, a stunning exposé of how wealthy special interest groups are undermining democracy.

Movies with Sherron to unwind after a hard day of polishing my book: last night it was “Hud”, a classic starring Paul Newman; other favorites are David Fincher’s “Mank” (best movie of the year so far), Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”.

I tend to devote the first part of the morning to catching up on Twitter, checking out the headlines and snorting with laughter as I read other writers’ self-congratulatory posts about their latest zombie novel or slasher offering. Sometimes I can’t help firing a comment their way and am always amazed by the sheer vitriol of their replies. The moment you bring up literary standards to these arseholes they completely lose their shit. Their reactions always serve as a reminder that genre people tend to have the smallest brains and thinnest skin.

But once I’ve had my fun it’s back to the business at hand.

Giving myself a deadline/release date is always an effective way of directing my nose to the grindstone. Otherwise I’d drag the process out past the point of sanity.

As I wrote in the introduction to the Notebooks, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would have even the slightest interest in the thoughts and reflections of a cult author with a tiny readership and a marked propensity for misanthropy. 

Nonetheless, come May Notebooks: 2010-2020 will be released into the world and we will just have to wait and see how it’s received.

I’ll probably be posting some teasers in the coming weeks so I hope you’ll pop in for a look.

Have to say, I love having another title in the publishing pipeline. 

It’s not for all tastes but, then again, that pretty well sums up my entire body of work, don’t you think?

After 30+ years, why would I change my approach now?

Photo courtesy Ashley Johnson

Best Books Read in 2020: The Roundup

I try to read at least a hundred (100) books a year but in 2020, due to various circumstances, I didn’t quite make that goal.

Ninety-three was the best I could manage; not bad, but still, c’mon, Cliff, you should be able to make it to the century mark. There was a roughly equal split between fiction and non-fiction and, as usual, my tastes were all over the place.

Here’s my “Best of…” roster for 2020 and, man, when compiling it I had to make some very difficult choices:

Fiction:

PROCESSED CHEESE by Stephen Wright

YELLOW EARTH by John Sayles

VANISHED BIRDS by Simon Jimenez

RED PILL by Hari Kunzru

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad

AUSTERLITZ by W.G. Sebald

RULE OF CAPTURE by Christopher Brown

METROPOLIS by Philip Kerr

PLAINSONG by Kent Haruf

GROWING THINGS (Stories) by Paul Tremblay

A CHILDREN’S BIBLE by Lydia Millet

Honorable Mention:

PROVIDENCE by Max Barry

THE ASSAULT by Harry Mulisch

MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES (Stories) by Amber Sparks

THE GLASS HOTEL by Emily St. John Mandel

RABBIT FACTORY by Larry Brown

Non-Fiction:

HITLER: ASCENT (1889-1939) by Volker Ulrich

POETRY FROM THE FUTURE by Srecko Horvat

SAPIENS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMANKIND by Yuval Noah Harari

ON TYRANNY by Timothy Snyder

THE UNWOMANLY FACE OF WAR by Svetlana Alexievich

IN TRUTH: A HISTORY OF LIES FROM ANCIENT ROME TO MODERN AMERICA by Matthew Fraser

CULT OF GLORY: THE BOLD AND BRUTAL HISTORY OF THE TEXAS RANGERS by Doug J. Swanson

CHURCHILL AND ORWELL by Thomas E. Ricks

THATCHER STOLE MY TROUSERS by Alexei Sayle

Honorable Mention:

SONGLINES by Bruce Chatwin

ROAD TO LITTLE DRIBBLING by Bill Bryson

HOW THE SCOTS INVENTED THE MODERN WORLD by Arthur Herman

Poem of the day

September 19, 2020

I begged you to linger
because you kept the chills at bay
but you insisted you had
business elsewhere
and took leave of me
with an air kiss
that brushed my cheek
with the last warm breath
I’d feel until Easter
paid its ritual visit
on bended pagan knees

“Electric Castles”—Cover Art

A peek at the cover of my next release through Black Dog Press, ELECTRIC CASTLES: A BOOK OF URBAN LEGENDS.

Chris Kent performed his usual design magic and special thanks to Gabriele Marras, who supplied the original photo.

My odd little imprint has always focussed on releasing the best and most beautiful books, but this cover surpasses anything we’ve come up with before. As you can probably tell, we’re mighty pleased with it.

The proof has been printed and is already winging its way toward my mailbox and the ePub and Kindle versions should be available later today.

Place your order with me if you’d like an autographed copy, otherwise buy ELECTRIC CASTLES at your favorite independent bookstore.

Support indie publishers and booksellers!

Best Books Read in 2019

Overview:

In all, I read 102 books in 2019.

Forty-one (41) non-fiction, sixty-one (61) fiction and poetry.

I thought the ratio would’ve been more evenly split, closer to 50-50, but I was wrong.

Only one author placed two entries on my personal “Best of…” list, Ben H. Winters, and a big shout out to that man and his unique imagination.

Here’s my roster of favorite reads during 2019—how does it compare to yours?

Fiction:

Their Lips Talk of Mischief by Alan Warner
Infinite Detail by Tim Maugham
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
The Emerald Light in the Air (stories) by Donald Antrim
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
The Tropic of Kansas by Christopher Brown
Grand Opening by Jon Hassler
Benediction by Kent Haruf
Hystopia by David Means
Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Thin Air by Richard K. Morgan
Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

Honorable Mentions:

The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Money by Martin Amis
The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr
A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
The Masque of Mañana by Robert Sheckley

Worst novel read this year:  Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Non-fiction:

Falter by Bill McKibben
Working by Robert Caro
Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis
Read & Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism by Nadya Tolokonnikova
The Weird and the Eerie by Mark Fisher
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
The Wayfinders by Wade Davis
How Fascism Works by David Stanley
Utopia For Realists by Rutger Bregman

Honorable Mentions:

The Destiny Thief (essays) by Richard Russo
The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, A Revolution in Hollywood by W.K. Stratton
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Worst non-fiction book read this year:  Wolf At The Table by Augusten Burroughs

 

Best Books Read in 2018

My book count was down 40% in 2018.

Gad, that’s embarrassing.

For the first time in ages I read less than one hundred books last year—blame that on Netflix and podcasts, both of which have been stealing my time like a furtive thief.

Below, you’ll find my list of favorite reads, fiction and non-fiction.

How does it compare with your choices?

Fiction:

The World to Come (Stories) by Jim Shepard

Sweet Nothing (Stories) by Richard Lange

All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski (Translated by Anthea Bell)

Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

The Implacable Hunter by Gerald Kersh

To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann (Translated by Shaun Whiteside)

Honorable Mentions:

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

Straight Cut by Madison Smartt Bell

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante

Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Non-Fiction

Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

The Once and Future Liberal by Mark Lilla

Tunnel At the End of the Light (Essays) by Jim Shepard

Fighting Fascism by Clara Zetkin

Reporter, A Memoir by Seymour Hersh

Stanley: An Impossible Life by Tim Jeal

The Bending Cross (Life of Eugene Debs) by Ray Ginger

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler

Space Odyssey (Making of 2001) by Michael Benson

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

Honorable Mentions:

St. Paul, The Apostle We Love to Hate by Karen Armstrong

The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seymour Hersh

Remember, Remember (Essays) by Charles Beaumont

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Note: You’ll find a list of my favorite films of 2018 over at Cinema Arete.

Quote of the day: Ray Bradbury

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”

― Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451

Charles Beaumont, Co-Creator of “The Twilight Zone”

About twenty-five years ago, I wrote a short essay on the life and work of Charles Beaumont that was eventually published in a small press magazine in Florida.

Since that one-time appearance, that essay has sat in my archives, gathering dust. I thought it was high time I dug it out, polished it up and posted it on Beautiful Desolation.

Beaumont had enormous influence on my early writing. He and Richard Matheson were my guys, the ones who felt (like I do) that horror/suspense is at its best when it tells small, intimate, gripping, intense, human stories.

In the case of both authors, many of the tales they wrote in the 1950s, long before Twilight Zone was even a gleam in Rod Serling’s eye, exhibited all the best qualities of classic TZ episodes: brevity, satire, empathy and bloody great twist endings.

I don’t want to steal any thunder from my essay—click on the link below and it will take you directly to the PDF, which I make available, like everything else on this site, at absolutely no cost. Just one of the perqs you collect for hanging out here in my odd little literary salon.

Read on:

Charles Beaumont: An Appreciation