Saturday, June 30, 2012

Half-year reading review...

It's time to do my half-year reading summary, since midnight tonight marks the halfway point in the year. I'm not sure where the time has gone, but I've apparently spent at least some of it reading.

This list comes from the Reading Challenge thread over at Ravelry (if you don't know what Ravelry is, Google it), where some of us set a goal for reading for the year and then keep track of what we've read while trying to reach that goal.

I'm not doing too badly so far this year. My goal is to read 40 books this year, and as of a couple of days ago, I've finished 19 books, which is just one below a pace to meet my goal for the year. That's much better than I did last year.

I've posted reviews of many of these books either here or over at my reading and literature blog. That blog decided to go all wonky a few weeks ago, so I won't link to that, although I might try to salvage a few of the reviews later on to post over here.

Looking back over the list, I can only find one that I probably wouldn't recommend - Natural Selection, by Dave Freedman. I'm not sure why I even finished reading it. I'm not shy about giving up on books that I don't like. Still, for some reason I kept reading. When I reached the end of the novel, however, and discovered the cheat Freedman had pulled, I was sorry I had given so much time to it.

I think my favorites from the list are Life, By Keith Richards, with James Fox, on the non-fiction side, while my favorite novel on the list is A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. I'm looking forward to the sequel, which comes out in a couple of weeks. I also really liked Latter-Day Secrets, by Natalie R. Collins, which I was lucky enough to read before it was published as one of Ms. Collins' beta readers. It's available now as an e-book, and I'd recommend you look for it, especially if you like romance-spiced contemporary mysteries with an historic hook.

Aside from the one book I mentioned earlier, I liked all of the books I've read so far this year, although I did have quibbles with one or two, including Restless Souls, by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate. The review is here somewhere, if you'd like to find out exactly what those quibbles were.

Anyway, here is the list. Maybe you can find something here that you haven't read and might like to spend some time with. For myself, I just hope I can find as many books I will enjoy as much as the books I read in the first half of the year.

(1) Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood 1910 - 1969, by William J. Mann (422 pages)
(2) Gun Games, by Faye Kellerman (375 pages)
(3) Red Mist, by Patricia Cornwell (498 pages)
(4) Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins, by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong (309 pages)

(5) Hotel Transylvania, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (252 pages)
(6) Ishmael, by Barbara Hambly (255 pages)

(7) Hangman, by Faye Kellerman (422 pages)
(8) Blood and Ice, by Robert Masello (675 pages)
(9) Victims, by Jonathan Kellerman (338 pages)

(10) A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness (579 pages)
(11) Restless Souls: The Sharon Tate Family’s Account of Stardom, the Manson Murders, and a Crusade for Justice, by Alisa Statman with Brie Tate (381 pages)
(12) Role Models, by John Waters (304 pages)
(13) Life, by Keith Richards, with James Fox (564 pages)

(14) Natural Selection, by Dave Freedman (414 pages)
(15) Dead Time, by Stephen White (400 pages)
(16) Latter-Day Secrets, by Natalie R. Collins (377 pages)

(17) The Calling: A Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns, by Catherine Whitney (250 pages)
(18) The Blackbird Papers, by Ian Smith (326 pages)
(19) Virgin, by F. Paul Wilson (309 pages)

My next task is to find something good to read. I've started a couple of novels since I finished reading Virgin, and I've put both of them down in disappointment. I might revisit one of them, to give it a few more pages, but I doubt I'll like it any more than what I've already read.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

In which I vent after a less than satisfying day...

I try to not use this space to moan too much about my personal stuff. I know no one wants to hear (read) it when I'm having a bad day. And most of what I have to complain about are decidedly first world problems, and much less serious than what other people are going through.

I understand that.

But, every once in awhile, I just have to vent. This is one of those times*

Start with the firecrackers that have been going off every night for the past three in my neighborhood, since they are the most immediate issue. Apparently, some of my neighbors either don't have a calendar or don't know how to read the one they have. The Fourth isn't until next week, people. I don't have anything against fireworks (except for their unfortunate tendency to start fires and blow peoples fingers and faces off sometimes), but I don't want to hear them every single night. A couple of nights ago, it sounded like they had a cannon out there.

Second of all, I haven't been able to concentrate at all today to get any writing done. It's been going really well since the end of last week. I've started the second draft of the novel I'm working on, and I've written nearly 11,000 words since last Friday night. Now? Nothing. I sat here and stared at the computer monitor for ages tonight, and...crickets.

Now, I know myself and my writing habits well enough to know that these things go in cycles, and that in a day or two I'll be on track again. At times like this, however, knowing that doesn't help.

So, after I gave up working on the novel, I figured I could get a newsletter I'm responsible for publishing up and going. I have a Saturday night deadline on that, and much of it is already written. But, I need to get everything into one document and formatted. Except, I couldn't get the reformatting to work, no matter what I did. I finally gave up on that, too. I try not to be a quitter, but it was either that or throw my laptop across the room, and that wouldn't have made anybody happy.

And then there's the job search. Nothing going on there, either. On the rare occasion I find a job posting that I have qualifications for, a talent for, and half a chance of getting, it turns out to be too far away for it to be practical for me to apply, considering that I cannot afford to relocate. As Roseanne Roseannadanna (the Sainted Gilda Radner) used to say on the old (good) Saturday Night Live, "It's always something."

I could just give up and go to bed. I've gotten the things I really needed to do, done today. Had a meeting at CVP, which went well, and where I volunteered to help with my committee's presentation during Seminar Week in a couple of weeks. I watered the plants (and discovered that I've got lots of cherry tomatoes on the vine and ripening). I washed dishes. I did the grocery shopping that I needed to do.

The hang-up with going to bed now, though, is that it isn't even 10 p.m. If I go to bed now, I'll wake up at three in the morning and not be able to go back to sleep. Since I don't have to get up early in the morning, that idea is a nonstarter. I might be able to find a book to start reading, but in the mood I'm in that's probably a long-shot.

Ah, well. I've probably vented enough for now, and it's served it's purpose; I feel slightly calmer now than I did when I started writing about half an hour ago or so.

So, if you've gotten this far, thanks for reading. I promise this isn't going to turn into an "oh-poor-me" blog. It's just been one of those days.

*Five extra points to whoever can identify the movie this line comes from.

Book Review: "Virgin", by F. Paul Wilson

Virgin (Borderlands Press, 2007; 309 pages), by F. Paul Wilson, is an odd book.

This is not a criticism, just a statement of fact. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where it took so long to figure out where it was going. Again, not a bad thing, although I did nearly give up on it about a quarter of the way in, just because I wasn't sure what the writer was up to.

It starts out with the discovery, in 1991, of an ancient manuscript in the wilderness of Israel. Some years later, two manuscripts surface, written in an archaic form of Aramaic, seemingly authentic...until it turns out that the words were written with ink that was only a few years old.

One of the manuscripts, along with a translation of the text, ends up in the hands of a Roman Catholic priest in New York, given to him by a friend who thinks he will get a kick out of it. But there is a Shin Bet agent who is after the manuscripts, and he is willing to kill to get them back.

Who is the agent? Why does he want the forged manuscripts so badly? What or who is he protecting? And who is he, really?

There is much more to the story, including a US Senator with aspirations to the presidency with secrets of his own and a nun who is determined to find what the priest’s manuscript says is hidden. To say much more than that would be to take all the fun out of the reading of this novel.

It would be easy to say that Wilson set out, in Virgin, to out-Dan Brown Dan Brown. And there is an element of that to the novel. But Wilson takes a different, much more original tack to the genre than Dan Brown could ever have managed.

I do have to say that I didn't find the resolution to the novel to be completely satisfying, but that has to do with my own personal outlook and not with anything in the storytelling. And, the quibble I have with it is so small within the whole that it didn't bother me enough to ruin my enjoyment of the reading experience as a whole, considering that the larger message was something that had me nodding my head in agreement as I read the last few pages of the book.

I've not read anything by Wilson before, but on the strength of my experience in reading Virgin, I suspect that I will be seeking out more of his work.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Music Sunday: The Looking for Work Edition

This is going to be an unusual Music Sunday, I think, because I haven't had the time to focus on music very much this week.

You see, I'm looking for work. I have been for a few months now, and so far all I've got is crickets. Part of this has to do with the fact that I'm not what you'd call a traditional professional. I'm a writer, editor, and proofreader, and while there are other things I can do, I don't have the on-paper qualifications a lot of employers think they need from their employees. I'd like to think that the fact that I am very good at the things I do would at least partly make up for that, but with the economy as it is, job-hunting is kind of a crap-shoot. Right now I'm convinced that the odds of finding a real job are worse than the odds casinos offer to gamblers.

The result of all of this is that I start to feel guilty if I'm not actually engaged in looking for work, or doing my volunteer hours at Central Valley Professionals, where I recently took a week-long seminar in job-search techniques, or doing something else to actively find work. Even though I know that I can only spend so many hours a day working on the search, I still feel guilty when I'm not either looking or thinking about looking. That translates into little time and little inclination to think about music.

Being a writer, however, means that I've also got writing projects going. I've written a little bit about those here in the past. One is a non-fiction project and the other is a novel. I don't feel quite so guilty when I'm working on those; I'm working, even if there is not an immediate pay-off for those projects. At least I'm doing something productive.

And this is where the music comes in. There aren't many songs about writing, really. But there is Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", which is at least in part about a writing frustrated with just sitting and trying to write his book. Appropriate, I think for the week I've had, although I'm not that frustrated with my writing at the moment, as I've written well over 5,000 words this weekend so far.

Then there is this promotional video, from before music videos were a thing, for The Beatles "Paperback Writer", about the frustrations surrounding trying to get published. It is really the only other rock song I can think of that has to do with writing. Let me know if you know of others.

So, it's back to the salt mines for me, even on Sunday. One of these days, the books I'm writing will be finished - and published one way or another. At least these days there is the option of self-publishing. There's still a stigma to that, but things are getting better on that front, I think. And, maybe one day I'll actually find a job.

Not holding my breath, you understand, but the economy can't stay this crappy forever. Can it?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Was your weekend as busy as mine was?...

Yes. Today is Monday. Yesterday was Sunday, and was meant to be Music Sunday.

It was, as you might have noticed, not.

There is an explanation for that. I was otherwise engaged all weekend at an event for an organization that I belong other words, it was Anniversary weekend for the Barony of Nordwache, Kingdom of Caid, Society for Creative Anachronism. That means that I was busy all weekend, from early Friday morning until late afternoon Sunday.

I was not nearly as busy there as some other people, but I did do several hours of volunteer work, sitting at Gate and running the Silent Auction. Additionally, it was hot at the event, which involved camping...and there was no air conditioning aside from the occasional breeze. I don't do heat, so I was exhausted by the time I got home. I did actually sit down and attempt to write and post the Music Sunday post yesterday evening, but I wasn't braining very well, as an imaginary* friend of mine has been known to put it.

Actually, I'm still not braining all that well today. I've also got dishes to do, and laundry to check to see if it's dry yet, and straightening, vacuuming, and mopping to clean up after having guests for two weeks. Three adults, two medium to large dogs and, occasionally, a five-year-old child in a two-bedroom apartment is a little crowded, and things tend to not stay neat and tidy. But roommate, her son and granddaughter, and the two dogs, are now gone on summer vacation, leaving room to actually do some cleaning up.

So, Music Sunday hasn't disappeared. It just went on hiatus for a week. I might even post a video or two along he way between now and then, if the spirit strikes me. No promises, but it could stay tuned.
*An imaginary friend is someone I know online but not in real life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Music Sunday - The Late Sixties/Early Seventies Edition

I like new music, old music, most kinds of music. It seems to me, however, that the period between 1967 and 1973 or so produced an amazing variety of good music - or at least a lot of music I liked when it came out and still like listening to today.

The thing that got me thinking about this this week was a surprise re-hearing of a song from 1969, "Ruby (Don't Take Your Love to Town)", by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. It was a song I liked when it was released, but I had nearly forgotten about it in the intervening years and it kind of surprised me to discover how glad I was to hear it again after so long. When it came on, I cranked the volume on the radio in the car and sang along - for some reason I tend to remember the lyrics of songs that I haven't heard in years - and despite the content of the song, just having heard it seemed to put me in a much better mood simply because I'd heard it.

Not that this is a song with fun, upbeat lyrics. Released during the height of US involvement in Vietnam, it tells the story of a man who was injured in the war, something that wsn't talked about a lot at the time, even with protests against the war heating up across the country and around the world. But it is a good song, and a good song is always a good thing.

Looking around for other songs from the time, I found a couple of others that are just as good, and just as good today as they were when they were recorded, also in 1969, even though they are much different than "Ruby". I found this 1989 performance by B. B. King of his 1969 hit "The Thrill Is Gone":

And then, for something completely different from either "Ruby" or "The Thrill Is Gone", there is "Come Together", the last song the Beatles ever recorded with all four of the band's members in the studio at the same time.

I think it is only appropriate to also include this song, from the following year, while the Beatles were in the process of breaking up. This is one of the first of Paul McCartney's songs as a solo artist, "Maybe I'm Amazed" which, for my money, is one of the most interesting love songs I've ever heard, and far from his later "silly love songs" period.

And, because I can, I'm going to include this song from a little earlier, The Animals' "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", from 1965. I've never been able to figure out if this is a song of rationalization or apology, but I've always liked it.

From a little later than the first songs this week, this is a live performance of "Heart of Gold", by Neil Young, from 1971 or 1972. I was lucky enough to see Young perform this song live in 1973. You'll have to bear with the first minute or two of the video, with Young searching for the right harmonica before he performs the song, but its worth the wait. And, really, it's kind of amusing watching him pull boxes out of various pockets before he finds the instrument he wants.

That's what? Six songs? I could post quite a few more, but this is probably enough for one Sunday. Enjoy.

Oh, and I'd love it if you'd drop a comment telling me about your favorte songs from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Ray Bradbury died Tuesday night, at the age of 91, and I am very sad about it.

It isn't that he didn't live a long, full life. He did. But now there won't be any new stories from him, and that is sad for his millions of readers. I've been one of those readers for many years now - since the age of about eight, when my father brought me a copy of one of Bradbury's short story collections when I was stuck home in bed with almost-pneumonia.

I honestly can't remember which collection it was (although I think it might have been R is for Rocket), or which stories were in it. That was a very long time ago. But I do remember reading his stories, loving them. I remember being entranced that he could take a series of short stories and weave them in and around each other so that when I think of books such as The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, I think of them as novels and not as collections of short stories, which was what they really were.

He did write actual novels as well. Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind, of course, as does Something Wicked This Way Comes. Somehow, I just read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time a couple of years ago, in the context of a public marathon read-aloud sponsored by my local library system. I got to participate as a reader and had a wonderful time. It was a unique and lovely way to finally read a book that manages to project hope even out of a story set in a dystopian future.

Bradbury was, above all, a storyteller, and he could do that sitting in front of an audience and talking as well as or better than he could on paper. I had the good fortune to hear him speak one year at LosCon, in the main ballroom at the Burbank Airport Hilton. The room was full, or close to it, and he held his audience in the palm of his hand for close to two hours, telling stories of writing short stories and novels, of screenwriting and playwriting, and of the writers and others he knew along the way. Among other things he said that day, he confirmed the story that he had actually heard L. Ron Hubbard say, as has been attributed to him and has also been called an urban legend, that the easiest way to make a million dollars is to start a religion...before Hubbard ever invented Scientology.

That book of Bradbury short stories that my father brought me when I was a child was...I guess you could call it a gateway drug into my love of science fiction. And, really, fantasy as well, because in many of Bradbury's stories, the line between fantasy and science fiction was fine, and sometimes nonexistent. It was one of the first science fiction books my father handed me to read, one of the first of many, and it was probably a good place to start, a good writer to start with, because throughout his writing, and his life, Bradbury was able to maintain a childlike wonder about the world and the universe and he was able, as well, to project that wonder onto the page and into the consciousness of his readers.

If there is anything this world needs, especially today, it is a sense of childlike wonder. We still needed Ray Bradbury in the world. But, since he is gone now, as many of us as are able need to take up the torch and carry it along with us and spread it as far as we possibly can.

So, go read something Ray Bradbury wrote, in remembrance of one of the greats. And spread the word...he may be gone, but is work is still here and it is still wonderful.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Voting day...if you were lucky

So, I went to vote this morning, since it was Primary Day here in California.

I was at my polling place by a quarter after seven, walked in, announced my name like you're supposed to do...and was told that the roster wasn't there, that it had never been mailed to the precinct inspector (that's the person in charge of the polling place, a thankless job if there ever was one...ask me how I know). They told me that I could either vote a provisional ballot, go downtown to the elections department and vote there, or come back later.

Going downtown was out of the question. There are no parking places downtown that you don't have to pay for and, anyway, I was on my way to the job search seminar I'm taking part in this week and I would not have had time to go downtown, vote, and get back to my seminar on time. So, I said I would come back later, wished the poll workers well, and went home and had breakfast before I had to be at the seminar.

None of this made me happy. Well, finding that I had time for breakfast after all made me happy, but that's about it. There is no good reason I can think of for the roster not have been mailed to the inspector. Yeah, there are reasons - incompetence downtown, too few workers downtown in this era of budget cuts to get everything done that needed to be done before the election, the US mail losing the envelope with the roster and street indexes in it - but these are not good reasons. Incompetence is never a good reason. I know that budgets are tight, but an election is an important thing, and other things need to go by the wayside before getting necessary voting materials to the polling places on time gets dropped from the list of priorities. And, well, if he post office can lose a large, thick manila envelope containing official government documents, they really need to look at their efficiency.

There is just no excuse for something like this happening. I worked on precinct boards for years, often as the inspector, and while the rosters occasionally got to me just the day before the election, they were always there before Election Day. And even if the package did not arrive on the day before the election, the inspector should have been instructed to call downtown, and someone should have been waiting at the polling place when the workers arrived at 6 a.m. with a copy of the roster so that the all the materials would be in place when the polls opened at 7 a.m. Even if the registrar of voters had to deliver it herself.

Well, I went back to vote after I got out of my seminar at 4 p.m., and the roster was there. It had, according to one of the precinct workers, arrived shortly after I left the polling place in the morning. This is good. It isn't good enough. And this wasn't the poll workers' fault. They were nothing but polite and apologetic, both when I was there this morning and when I went back in to vote in the afternoon. In fact, when I was leaving after finally getting to vote, the Precinct Inspector thanked me for being so patient and understanding with them this morning. Apparently, not everyone was so understanding. I just told her that I'd been on the receiving end of too many irate voters during the years I worked at elections to inflict that on someone else.

And speaking of working on the election...I had applied to do so, but no one ever got back to me about it. I tried going downtown a couple of times to find out why I had not been contacted but, again, there was no parking to be had and I never got to talk to them about it. When I was talking to one of the workers at the polling place this morning, he said the same thing happened to him, and that he was only working because he aggressively pursued them about it. Then, this afternoon, he told me that I should probably go talk to them about it because, during the course of the day, eight or ten other people who had come in to vote reported that they had also applied but were never contacted. This seems very odd when the election department is always complaining that they never have enough precinct workers on election days. This must have been especially true if the elections department did as they claim and opened twice as many polling places throughout the county as they had in the last election.

I will be pursuing this issue with them. I needed the work.

So, that was my Election Day. If you live in a place that had a primary today, how did your Election Day go?

Monday, June 04, 2012

It isn't Music Sunday...just an apology, an explanation, and one of my favorite songs...

Yes. I know. I missed Music Sunday this week.

All I can do is apologize and beg forgiveness. It was a crowded weekend, even though I was home the whole time. Saturday, after sleeping in a bit (hey, I have to indulge myself once in awhile), I spent time working on making award cords for my SCA Barony. Anniversary is coming up soon, and I need to have those finished by then. I also spent time...gasp...sewing. Nothing fancy, since I don't really sew. But, I'm making a quilt, so I spent a couple of hours sewing three-inch by three-inch squares together. I'm just pleased that I didn't break the machine, a real accomplishment considering the fact that sewing and I don't get along and that goes double (maybe triple) for sewing on a machine. I'm not proud of this fact, but truth is truth.

I also watched a movie, since I had the opportunity. It was The Lincoln Lawyer, based on a Michael Connelly novel and starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillipe, and William H. Macy. I'm not a big McConaughey fan, to be honest, but this was a good movie that stayed, as far as I can remember (I read the novel a couple of years ago), pretty close to the source material. There's a great twist at the end (no, I'm not telling), and McConaughey was better in this than anything else I've seen him in.

Then, on Sunday, I made the mistake of sitting down and starting to read a novel, The Blackbird Papers (Doubleday, 2004; 326 pages), by Ian Smith. I figured it was safe to dip into it because it was an author I haven't read before, and it usually takes me time to warm up to new mystery writers. But, I got sucked in almost immediately and spent most of the day reading, in between washing clothes and dishes and worrying about the job-search seminar I started today. Not really something to worry about, I know, but I always worry about going into new and unfamiliar situations. So, when I sat down to attempt to write the Music Sunday post, nothing I would have been comfortable posting got written. This is not to say that nothing got written...just nothing I considered usable.

So, by way of apology, I'll leave this...(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, by Otis for you, because I love this song.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Book Review: "The Calling", by Catherine Whitney

Every once in awhile, when I'm at the library, a book catches my eye for some reason as I'm walking down an aisle looking for something else. I'll pick it up for no other reason than I take noticing it as a sign that I should read it. I've found some really good books that way, books that I wouldn't have read otherwise.

That's the case with The Calling: A Year in the Life of an Order of Nuns (Crown Publishers, Inc., 1999; 250 pages), by Catherine Whitney. I was walking down the aisle between aisles of books, on my way out of the library on Thursday, when the title of the book caught my eye. I backed up, pulled it off the shelf, read the flyleaf, and put in in the pile of books I was taking home.

It might seem that this book is an odd choice for me to be interested in reading. I'm not Catholic, and never have been. I'm not really a religious person. However, when I was studying anthropology at university, my concentration was in the anthropology of religion. Additionally, I've always been fascinated by the question of why certain people choose to devote their entire lives to religion in a formal sense...those who believe they have a calling, whether it be as a priest or a nun or other Christian clergy, or as a religious professional in any religion. So, a book like this is really right up my alley.

Turned out, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. Yes, it explores the question of how some of the nuns in the teaching and nursing order that Ms. Whitney studied - it was the order that had educated her as a high school student - came to their callings, and how some of them felt that calling even after they left the order. But it also looks at the concept of the calling in a wider sense, in the sense that people often feel called to do the thing that they do, not only to make a living but to feel fulfilled in their lives. The gist of it, I think, is that one's calling is the thing one feels that they must do.

I was left with the impression that doing the research for and writing the book had left Ms. Whitney, who left her church and her faith behind after high school, and after a short flirtation with joining the order herself, with a sense of closure regarding her relationship with the nuns who had taught her. She notes that, when she spent some time with the sisters in the order, some of whom had been her teachers so many years before, they always referred to her as "one of our girls", and that this had left her with a feeling that she really had always been a part of the order, even though she had spent so many years feeling estranged from her high school experience and her religion.

The best part of the book, however, for my money, are the portraits Ms. Whitney draws of some of the women who were members of the order, and who remained, in many ways, members of the order even after leaving, as much members as the women who chose to stay when so many were choosing to change paths for many different reasons. Ms. Whitney does the valuable service of showing that these women, far from being the stereotype of women who became nuns because they were unmarriageable, or running away from the world, are in most cases, strong, intelligent, competent, vibrant women who chose the life they did as a positive step rather than as a "settling" for what was left for them.