Reading: January & February 2019

I’ve resolved to spend more time reading in 2019, with some more focus on short stories.

I resolved, in what is my only specific New Year’s resolution, to read 100 short stories in 2019, in addition to reading about the same amount, in total, of material as I did last year split among short fiction, novels and other things like non-fiction.

In January, I mostly started reading books I didn’t finish reading that same month. I started reading Emily Wilson’s Odyssey, a volume of Richard Matheson’s short fiction, a graphic novel, On a Sunbeam which Chessie got me for Christmas.

Books I finished reading in January were all ones I’m counting toward my goal of reading 100 stories in 2019. I enjoyed the ebook I read of Ursula K. Le Guin: The Stars Below. That story did an astounding job of making you feel close to the main character and to feel his loss and how he grows to replace that loss with some substitute that amounts to either passion or madness.

In thinking about the short stories and novellas I’ve been reading so far this year and at the tail end of last year, I think reading them in one sitting is critical. I read a Zelazny story, He Who Shapes but did so over the course of an entire week and I think that sapped it of its impact.

The other side of the Tor double novel was Kate Wilhelm’s The Infinity Box a story which I hated intensely for its main character who thinks about his conscience without allowing it to stir him and who is rendered vaguely except in his increasing disregard for anything but ongoing, total control of another person’s body. The character’s actions were disgusting and I finished it only to see if the story would see him punished or his victim overcome his domination but which ended with the narrator questioning the reality of their entire experience as possibly unreal. This seems a tremendous copout that pulls the rug out from any moral stand the story might be making. It’s possible I am just a poor reader of the story but I have to roll my eyes at the decision to reprint, let alone publish in the first place a story which ends on a rhetorical question worthy of a stoned creative writing student and destroyed what was in places a very good short story. That hamstringing of an ending is a big part of why I’m so angry about this story and it’s failure to deliver a meaningful, profound or even satisfying conclusion.

Being able to sit quietly and consume an entire book is always a great pleasure and the short story and novella allow you to do so more often. Tor and Subterranean Press often publish the perfect little books at 80 or 100 pages which perfectly scratch that itch. One late afternoon I sat down and read Warren Ellis’s novella Dead Pig Collector in a single sitting and have done that a few times with a story or two from the little Penguin volume of Matheson stories I’ve also been reading.

Those stories are all, as with the Twilight Zone adaptations little master classes in getting precisely to the point. They’re sparse little mechanisms that spring the terrifying or surprising little trap on you. In fact, them seem to work best when they’re simplest as in Counterfeit Bills, Shipshape Home, and Button, Button and less so when there’s more scene setting and world-building crammed into so small a space.

I haven’t made much time for reading lately and have felt either overwhelmed or unfocused at work, when I might normally read over my lunch break and too busy at home to carve out much time except my bedside reading of The Odyssey.

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