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Creative Research

My research explores multimodal creativity through print and digital stories. Please feel free to comment or contact me!

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Monday, January 9, 2006

Books I've Read - 2005

1. Double Your Creative Power!, Stebel – a great book for any writer trying to create a worthy long piece (i.e., novel or screenplay). Really helps you to conceptualize ideas and put them into a concrete story that is sellable.

2. Empire Falls, Russo – The beginning of a beautiful love affair. This guy is like a McMurtry for New England. I wanted to meet these people in this book, hang out with them, eat in the diner, have a beer. I love that it’s just a story about regular people living regular lives, and that you get completely sucked in by the hug-ability of his characters. It’s just fun and touching all at the same time.

3. Odd Thomas, Koontz – Fairly average for Koontz. I didn’t really buy the main character (Koontz has been in love with genetically weird characters for a while). It was more like a fun hour on the SciFi channel than a really epic suspense adventure.

4. Straight Man, Russo – This has become my second favorite book, after Lonesome Dove. Incredibly funny, with slow twists and completely off-the-wall yet somehow on-target characters. I could read it a million times.

5. The Rule of Four – Eh. Mostly a book about four coming-of-age Princeton kids, most of whom are flat and uninteresting. Slight mystery, but completely drowned by the constant flashbacks to how the boys met, etc.

6. The Taking, Koontz – I liked this better than Odd Thomas, though after so many years of reading Koontz, I wish he’d get brave enough to give us some flawed characters. They’re always so innately good that they really don’t have to experience any kind of arc or transformation during their trials.

7. Nobody’s Fool, Russo – I love the Paul Newman movie, of course, and in my desire to read all things Russo, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. There’s so much the movie left out, of course, and the book is much more down and dirty. Fantabulous.

8. Cry of the Peacock, Nahai – This book was written before Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, and it really shows. Nahai hadn’t quite mastered the technique of weaving the legends and history into a cohesive, flowing narrative. It’s very choppy, jumps around to a somewhat confusing degree, but is still beautiful and epic. I just wish it had a more logical flow, more like floating on undulating waves than being peppered randomly with BBs.

9. Bliss, Gabrielle Pina – I have to admit, I was biased toward this book because the author is my thesis advisor. But it turned out to be totally worth it. I read it in one night, couldn’t put it down. I was worried at first because it is marketed as an “African-American” book, and I, being a white girl, didn’t think I’d be able to relate. Also, in hearing Gabrielle talk about it, she mentions guys being hit in the head with baseball bats, etc. Sounded violent and sad, not something I’d be able to stomach. But I forged on, and was so glad I did. It was beautiful, more about the strength and independence of women than a bitch and moan about how they had it so bad. The characters in the novel are brilliant, even if the settings left a little to be desired. It’s a first novel, so she wasn’t quite on her stride yet, but I highly recommend it.

10. The Risk Pool, Russo – It started off a bit slow, and it’s really a flipped version of Nobody’s Fool, this time with the son narrating, telling us about his life with his neglectful father. By the end, though, I was in love with it. It’s one of Russo’s earlier novels, and you can see the base he builds for the rest, the building blocks he’s putting together to create these small-town epics. Not my favorite, but still better than 75% of everything else I’ve ever read!

11. How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters, John Wood – Very in-depth source on effective letter-writing from a man who has experience as an editor, freelancer, and novelist. 80% of the book, however, is dedicated to the magazine query letter, with only a few pages dedicated to the novel query & synopsis. Still, good tips, good sample letters, etc.

12. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Morrell, Susanna Clarke - Synopsis: Set in early 19th C England, this is a fantasy novel along the lines of an adult Harry Potter. It has that charming, one-eyebrow-raised English tone about it. Two magicians, polar opposites in their ideals, try to bring about a resurgence in English magic, which has fallen into the realm of history and lore rather than practical use.

My thoughts: It's an amusing book, but it rambles. At almost 800 pages, it could easily be 400, and would probably come off the better for it. I found myself thinking "When this is made into a movie, they will cut out this whole character/subplot/incident." It wasn't until page 550 or so that the real story really emerged.

For all that it was meandering, it held my interest simply for the fun. If she does a sequel (she left plenty of room for one), I hope she's more succinct about her ideas. I also hope it doesn't take her 10 years to write it (as it did this one).

13. The Professor and the Madman, Winchester – A nice little nonfiction story about two central figures in the creation of the OED. Winchester does a nice job of weaving the history of the OED (decades-long) into the tale of the “Professor”, the original editor/creator of the OED, and the “Madman”, and American Civil War veteran suffering from what we now know is paranoid schizophrenia. The Madman had murdered an innocent man in London, was incarcerated for life in an asylum, so had plenty of time to submit tens of thousands of words and quotes to the OED, though no one knew of his mental state for years. Very cool little book.

14. Infinite Jest, Wallace – Sheer torture. I can’t remember the last time I read such a piece of self-important drivel. I normally don’t consider a book to have really started till about page 100 or so, so I usually hold off judgment by then, but by page 50 of this one, I wanted to burn it and all other published copies in a pyre. Wallace rambles on for pages and pages and pages with no thread line for any of the chapters or characters, no timeline, no clear plot, no NOTHING to keep us interested. Took me three WEEKS to read 75 pages, simply because I dreaded picking it up and sifting through it. And that was skipping whole paragraphs and pages that contributed NOTHING to the non-existent story. This guy needs an editor. Or thirteen. I gave up while waiting for 2 hours in a doctor’s office when I realized that listening to my neighbors talk about their urinary tract infections was more enjoyable.

15. Catch 22, Heller – One of my favorite books for the year so far. There’s no real plot, and it doesn’t particularly go anywhere, but it’s so damn funny. It’s basically a bunch of pilots in WW2 trying not to die, and getting into crazy, paradoxical, catch-22 situations (and yes, this is where the phrase came from). This book has to be where M.A.S.H. came from – you can totally pick out the characters. I highly recommend it.

16. Daggerspell, Kerr – A really fun sword & sorcery epic that incorporates warriors, elves, dwarves, magic, reincarnation, star-crossed lovers…how could it not be good? Katherine Kerr has a stark, direct style that gets a fantasy story across so well it seems like history, as opposed to a roll-your-eyes unbelievable fairy tale.

17. The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, Clark – I picked this book up simply because of its title – and I was very glad I did. The protagonist is a youngish Southern judge whose brother is a proud pothead, whose wife is cheating on him with a hick farmer, and whose life is dull, plodding, and thoroughly uninteresting. Until he is approached by a woman who cries alabaster tears, who offers him a chance at adventure if only he will let her brother off the hook in his court. The plot is meandering, full of loops and pauses and digressions, which makes sense since the characters are stoned almost 95% of the time. Overall, the story is very funny, very engaging, a really good time with some theological twists tossed in for fun. Highly recommended.

18. She’s Come Undone, Lamb – Reading this book just reinforced for me why I never pick up books with that “Oprah’s Book Club” stamp. The protagonist is touted as witty and funny; I simply found her bratty, whiny, and self-destructive. Plus, it had the added Oprah requisite of involved the rape and repression of a female. Now, my main question was: how the hell does a middle aged man (Wally Lamb) write an authentic story about a young girl from age 7 or so till age 30, a girl who experiences the singularly female victimization of rape??? I didn’t buy her reaction to her parents’ split, didn’t buy her relationship with her mother or grandmother, didn’t believe anything involving the more intimate details of her life. It was very obviously a book written by a man who thinks he understands these things that happen to women, but who misses the mark enough to make it obvious he hasn’t the first clue about what goes on inside a young girl’s head and heart.

19. Bet Me, Jennifer Crusie – Good airplane fodder. Also good for a break from all the deep sh*t I’ve been reading. When the first page makes you laugh out loud, you know it’s going to be fun, anyway:

“This relationship is not working for me,” David said.

I could shove this swizzle stick through his heart, Min thought. She wouldn’t do it, of course. The stick was plastic and not nearly pointed enough on the end.

20. Faking It, Crusie – Um, return flight. I like her books because the characters are pretty well done for romance novels, they’re always unique (the two in this book are con men), everything’s damn funny and engaging, and the heroines aren’t 5’5” and 105 pounds (ew).

21. Valhalla Rising, Clyde Cussler – Still on a break from the emotionally deep books (hey, it’s summer). My mom had been ranting to me about how fun the Dirk Pitt novels are, and after Mr. McConahey represented him so sexily in Sahara, how could I resist? Great adventure book with some cool history and science packed in.

22. Metro Girl, Evanovich – I was worried the new series wouldn’t be as funny as the Stephanie Plum books, but I was wrong. Amazingly, the lead character is distinctly different from Plum, and the love interest is less of a mysterious tough guy than he is a hilariously arrogant, sex-driven NASCAR driver – who refers to himself in superhero-fashion as “NASCAR Guy.” Definitely a great beach/airplane read.

23. Life Expectancy, Koontz – One of his better books in recent years. A baby boy is born at the exact same instant his grandfather dies – but not before his grandfather predicts 5 “terrible days” to come in the boy’s life. The book follows what happens on these 5 days, and how the main character deals with these terrible events he can’t prepare for. Notably, it’s one of the few Koontz books in which the main character has children – as opposed to a dog – and it adds a nice element of depth and desperation. Of course, as always, Koontz’s life philosophy (he could ostensibly write for Disney if the vehicles of his ideals weren’t so twisted) imbues the plot, as does his always effervescent writing style.

24. Bless Me Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya – I’ve been attempting to read a lot of Anaya, and other New Mexico writers in an effort to immerse myself into the culture and folklore I grew up with. My next book is set back in NM, with some very distinctive Southwestern threads, so I needed to get out of my CA mindset. Bless Me, Ultima is Anaya’s classic from 1974, conveying the story of a young boy in rural WWII-era NM who struggles with his identity and his faith through numerous fateful events in his childhood. The story explores Catholic mythology and local native folklore. On top of all that, it’s a fantastic story (I hate to say coming-of-age tale, but that’s what it is).

25. Alburquerque, Rudolfo Anaya – A very different kind of story from Ultima. This novel centers around the heart of urban NM, in the only big city, Albuquerque (the original spelling did have that first ‘r’). The story centers on a young boxer from the barrio who finds out he is adopted, his birth mother a wealthy Anglo and his father an unknown Mexican boy. As he struggles to learn who his father is, and by extension who he is, Abran becomes caught up in the politics of the city and the legends of his Hispanic heritage.

On a personal note, for me this is a very different Albuquerque from the one I grew up in. Anaya describes my part of town as areas where Anglos go to get away from the barrio, but in my memory there were far more Hispanics than Anglos no matter where you go in the city. True, you don’t find many Anglos in the South Valley, but neither are the Northeast Heights or Tanoan areas completely white, as he describes them. I suppose he made things more black and white for the sake of literature.

26. La Llorona, A Short Novel, Anaya – More directed research for my next book, since this is the legend I want to use. My eighth grade English teacher read this book aloud to us, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Now, of course, the story is simplistic and the language is anachronistic, much like a TV historical epic where they use modern slang. At any rate, it is a fascinating weaving of the various versions of the La Llorona legend into one tale of historical significance – throughout the book she is the spiritual guide, the slut, the loving mother, the vengeful wife, and of course, the lamenting murderess.

27. The Day It Snowed Tortillas, Joe Hayes – A collection of supposedly “Southwestern/Hispanic Tales”, though I could only pick out one or two that were distinctly traceable to stories I’ve heard. Most were barely altered Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which the author shrugged off by saying the Grimm brothers took from ancient Spain…whatever. Pretty disappointing, all around. The La Llorona tale here is the haughty, selfish shrew version, where she drowns her children as payback to a philandering husband. Not my favorite version.

28. Coyote &..., Joe Hayes – His collection of Native American coyote (“Trickster”) tales. These at least felt more authentic, but they were all pretty much variations of the same story, just the cast of characters changed. I much enjoyed the coyote stories recounted in my anthology of North American literature. Hayes’ versions seem like dumbed-down, elementary school versions of the true oral traditions.

29. Charlie All Night, Crusie – Intersting to see a favored author’s earlier work. Characters not quite fully developed. Storyline still focused on lust, with the romance novel’s required sex scenes #4 and 7. Rather run-of-the-mill plot, and not as much confidence in her wit as in her later books. Still, you can see the potential.

30. Evidence of Things Unseen, Marianne Wiggins – While not what I expected, it was still a good book. The book description makes it sound like the book’s plot is based on the development of the atom bomb in Tennessee, while in reality, that section only takes up about 10% of the book. What it really is is the story of a small family in the post-WW1 South. It’s a love story, with some science as plot-device, not the other way around. A good read, and the characters are well-drawn, the writing excellent, but I’d hoped for more details on the actual history of the period, as opposed to every detail and thought in the characters’ minds.

31. Fast Women, Crusie – If it seems like I’m reading a lot of light beach reads during this time, it’s because I’ve been out with a sprained ankle for a month, my mom has been in the hospital with a crushed pelvis, and I really can’t deal too well with anything that even has the possibility of an unhappy ending or of a tear-jerker scene.

32. The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Billie Letts – Fair to middlin’. Reminded me a lot of the movie The Spitfire Grill. All about how people who are lost center on this crappy diner and become a family, only without the tragedy. A nice light read, without any real drama. I never got a great feel for any of the characters, though I suppose they were significantly “quirky”. Just not a book I felt a great deal about.

33. The Timeships, Stephen Baxter – Very fun “sequel” to The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. We pick up where that left off, as the protagonist tries to go back to the future to save his “poor Weena” from the Morlocks. What he discovers, however, is that his jumping about in time has created a Multiplicity of universes (yay for good science and an update on time traveling with new theories of quantum physics!). Overall, the book was very fun, a very good look at physics, at humanism, at evolution, and just a good adventure/sci-fi read.

34. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Rowling – Loved it, just as I always do. Rowling has this great ability to keep a story interesting, jam-packed and moving swiftly, all the while developing complex characters that you can’t help but feel for. The ending killed me, both for the major event that happened, and for the cliffhanger to the 7th and final book on the series. Now I must go back and reread the first five…

35. Watermelon, Marian Keyes – I read this because a friend recommended it as a funny, light read. The jacket summarized it as a woman is left by her sh*t of a husband 5 minutes after their daughter is born, so she goes back to Ireland, surrounded by a zany family and has lots of adventures. I thought the bulk of the book would take place long after she gets to Ireland, like it’s years later, maybe. I was mistaken. We have to go through her husband leaving, her post-natal depression, her insecurity, her bitchiness, her falling in love with some new guy, totally neglecting her child…and then to deal with her sh*t of a husband all over again. Throughout she is not so much funny as a whiny, neurotic, insecure bitch. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. Ever.

36. High Maintenance, Jennifer Belle – Again, supposedly a light, funny read. Like the last book, it wasn’t so much funny as it was like watching a child fall down. The book is about a woman who can only be described as a NY socialite simpleton. She spends 8 days in college to find herself a rich older man who marries her and treats her just like her rich father did. 7 years later, he cheats her and she leaves, very stupidly noble because she doesn’t want anything from him. She has no education, no skills, no money. She lives in a tenement and gets a job first as a reader to a blind judge (who she steals from), then becomes a real estate agent working for a he/she lesbian who falls in love with her. She also begins to date a certified psychopath who bites her ear off – but she’s in love with him. Aw. Not funny. Just stupid.

37. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling – decided to go back and read books 4 & 5 since I can’t remember a damn thing from them (I’d read 1-3 in preparation for the release of the Prisoner of Azkaban film). Amazing how much I’d forgotten. I wish I’d read them again before 6 came out – more stuff would have been clearer. Oh well, gives me an excuse to read them again.

38. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling

39. His Dark Materials: Book One, Pullman – Recommended to me by a friend, I picked this up because it looked like a fun fantasy read. It’s got some really great concepts, but for some reason I just couldn’t get very into it. The protagonist is a young orphaned girl, somewhat like a Skywalker character. I just wasn’t pulled into her character at all, and she’s the only one the reader is presented with to sympathize with. I just didn’t get emotionally attached, so didn’t really care too much what happened to her. Unlikely I’ll read the rest of the trilogy.

40. Eleven on Top, Evanovich – Just as fun as usual.

41. Grave Secrets, Kathy Reichs – A little boring, and I’ve decided I really don’t like the main character. She’s a whiny bitch. Her job depresses and sickens her, she hates everyone, and has no sense of humor. I won’t read another of these books again.

42. The Gunslinger, Stephen King – I read this because a friend sent it to me, but I wouldn’t have if that hadn’t been the case. I really wish he hadn’t sent it to me. This book is not one of King’s best (okay, it’s closer to worst). Boring. Nothing happens, you don’t find anything out, really, and there are even some zombies. Trash, and there are 6 more volumes that follow. I’ll pass, thanks.

43. The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry – One of my favorite books, all about a bunch of young kids growing up in oil-country west Texas. So familiar to me, I just love the characters and interaction. I think Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd played the leads in the film version.

44. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman – One of the best books I’ve read lately. Comedic version of the apocalypse, kind of similar to Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff. An angel and a demon don’t really want the world to end, so they screw around with God’s ineffable plan, including misplacing the Antichrist. Loved it!

45. Witches Abroad, Pratchett, Terry – I’m going to have to read more of this guy’s stuff. This book was really fun, what they now sickeningly often call a “fractured fairy tale” about three witches who go to make sure “Emberella” doesn’t marry the prince. Frog-princes, voodoo, big bad wolves, and terrible puns abound. I read it in only a couple of days (leaving me bookless on a weekend trip).

46. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells – The result of being bookless after Witches Abroad, I had to find something to read on the flight home (BTW, the bookstore at gate A15 in DFW airport sucks donkey). I always like Wells, and I haven’t been poisoned by the Spielberg/Cruise abomination yet (because anything with Cruise is an abomination, IMO). Anyway, it’s amazing to me, reading this so shortly after Hurricane Katrina and all the insanity that happened in New Orleans, to see that Wells could have been describing that same scene from all the way back in 1893.

47. Undead and Unemployed – Just fun. I’m going to have to read the others. Good weekend reading.

48. Frankenstein, Book 1, Koontz – Very cool to see an update of such a classic horror novel/societal statement. As usual, Koontz puts in some mentally challenged characters (who always know more than the hero/heroine), and a fun twosome cop couple tracking down multiple monsters. Looking forward to Book 2.

49. Enchantment, Orson Scott Card – Read it in a couple of days over Christmas break. Very cool interweaving of magic, history, romance, and fairy tale. Highly recommend.

50. Frankenstein, Book 2, Koontz – Continuation of book 1 (obviously). Introduced some new twists, but for the most part it’s just the middle of a book. Will have to wait till summer 2006 for the final installment. Withholding judgment till then.

51. Lonesome Dove, McMurtry – Okay, I’m not quite finished with this one as of year-end, but I figure since I’m over halfway through, it can go on this year’s total. It being my favorite book, I’ve read it umpteen times. It’s just NEVER bad. I lurve it.

52. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson – Again, only mostly finished with this one, but whatever. Seriously fascinating. Not so much the science, because it’s really dumbed down and basic, but the history behind the scientific discoveries is what’s truly interesting. I keep walking around giving everyone I know nerdy little factoids.

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