Sunday, November 30, 2008

The First Fifty-Five

#1: Crossfire by Miyuki Miyabe
#2: Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe
#3: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe
#4: Piercing by Ryu Murakami
#5: After Dark by Haruki Murakami
#6: Jennifer Government by Max Barry
#7: Strangers by Taichi Yamada
#8: The Devil’s Whisper by Miyuki Miyabe
#9: Vibrator by Mari Akasaka
#10: Dark Wars: The Tale of Meiji Dracula by Hideyuki Kikuchi
#11: Missing: Spirited Away by Gakuto Coda
#12: Calling You by Otsuichi
#13: Sayonara, Gangsters by Genichiro Takahashi
#14: In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki
#15: Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto
#16: Missing: Letter of Misfortune by Gakuto Coda
#17: The Hunter by Asa Nonami
#18: I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying For a While by Taichi Yamada
#19: The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
#20: Boogiepop and Others by Kouhei Kadono
#21: 100 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know by Russ Kick
#22: Real World by Natsuo Kirino
#23: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
#24: New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
#25: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
#26: Ring by Koji Suzuki
#27: Syrup by Max Barry
#28: Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Hurakami
#29: Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan
#30: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
#31: Ballad of a Shinigami, vol. 1 by Keisuke Hasegawa
#32: Company by Max Barry
#33: A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
#34: Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
#35: Boogiepop at Dawn by Kouhei Kadono
#36: Boogiepop Returns: vs. Imaginator, vol 1. by Kouhei Kadono
#37: Boogiepop Returns: vs. Imaginator, vol 2. by Kouhei Kadono
#38: Ballad of a Shinigami, vol. 2 by Keisuke Hasegawa
#39: Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
#40: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
#41: South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
#42: exit here. by Jason Myers
#43: Dangerous Angels: the Weetzie Bat Books by Francesca Lia Block
#44: Psyche in a Dress by Francesca Lia Block
#45: Secret Vampire by L.J. Smith
#46: The Rose and the Beast: Fairy Tales Retold by Francesca Lia Block
#47: Daughters of Darkness by L.J. Smith
#48: New Tastes in Green Tea by Mutsuko Tokunaga
#49: Echo by Francesca Lia Block
#50: Necklace of Kisses by Francesca Lia Block
#51: Sunglasses After Dark by Nancy A. Collins
#52: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
#53: The Writer’s Little Helper by James V. Smith
#54: No Plot? No Problem by Chris Baty
#55: The Hunter by L.J. Smith

#56 of 2008 - Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

I first read Drawing Blood when I was much younger. The copyright is October 1994, so I would have just turned sixteen when it was released. I bought it shortly thereafter, during the days when I would walk into town and raid the bookstores (the new one and both of the used shops) for horror books on a near-daily basis.

Drawing Blood is the story of one very creepy haunted house that was the setting for a multiple murder-suicide and the now-grown survivor who revisits it to find out why he is still alive. On the way through his journey he meets and grows close to many people, including a young hacker on the run from the Secret Service who had a dysfunctional childhood of his own. Full of blood, drugs and explicit (gay) sex, this isn’t the kind of book I’d imagine would attract a teenaged girl. But it did. In fact, the sex didn’t phase me much, despite having not grown up in a home that was overly open about “alternate lifestyles” or sexuality in general. We kind of glossed over that stuff at the old Brown homestead.

I had such amazingly fond memories of this book that I had to reread it at some point. I raided my attic looking for my cache of prized paperbacks, but it was nowhere to be found. All those obscure 90s vampire books, all the Dell Abyss novels, my hardback of Lost Souls with the dust jacket intact that I’d bought from the library for fifty cents in the ninth grade, all gone. I resigned myself to the fact that some of these books, especially the ones that I did not remember the exact titles for, were gone forever, or at least until I stumbled across them in a dusty used bookstore, and those establishments are about as common as fountain pens in a drawer full of Bics these days.

Brite’s books, though, are still in bookstores, and for $8 I bought my second copy of Drawing Blood. There were a lot of pop culture references I didn’t pick up on way back when, and now the “hacker speak” sounds somewhat dated, though it’s not horrible or even irritating enough to slow down the plot. It just plants Drawing Blood firmly in the early-to-mid-90s as surely as Zach the hacker’s 2800 baud modem does. And that’s all right, really.

This book makes me want to befriend the nearest Jamaican (if there are any nearby) and smoke some “smart ganja” all damn day. Just the descriptions of the smell of pot and pot smoke make my mouth water, and I’m not all that much of a fan of it in real life.

This is one of THE novels that made me want to write long fiction, along with Kirino’s Out and Miyabe’s Crossfire. The characters are painfully exquisite, the drama familiar enough to feel a connection to while alien enough to remain interesting. This is one of those books that, when I look at my own short little 200-page rough draft, I feel woefully inadequate. I can only pray that revision and polishing render my own characters this lifelike and wonderful.


A Rambling Introduction

2008 was the first year for me to attempt the Fifty Book Challenge. As a young girl and as a teenager I read voraciously, and I cannot even begin to count all the books that came and went through my possession during those years. I read mostly horror, vampire stories predominantly, and somewhere in those years I decided I was going to be a writer.

Actually, the writing began in the sixth grade. I wrote fantasy and horror stories with meandering plots that eventually went nowhere, weak characters and cliche dialogue. But I had a fun time with it, and my friends were impressed, so I continued. Eventually I improved enough to be published a few times when I was in my late teens and early twenties, by Shadow Feast and the Nocturnal Lyric. published one of my raunchy vampire stories, of which there had been quite a few.

And then, suddenly, I dropped out of college, thrust myself into the world of working stiffs and lost all sense of self self-worth I’d possessed (which hadn’t been a lot to begin with, having been born with the common writer’s twin traits of self-doubt and perfectionism). I became depressed. I doubled my body weight. I had a brief and unromantic relationship with alcohol. I considered killing myself multiple times but never enjoyed the idea enough to actually do it. I looked down, and when I looked up more than five years had gone by and I’d gained nothing but debt, pounds and a few grey hairs.

I hadn’t been writing, not even in a journal. Those feel now like lost years, memories that are blurry at best. I vaguely remember being a complete ass to people, refusing to allow myself to have a good time, refusing to be creative and, worst of all, refusing to stand up for myself. That last one earned me a nice reputation at work as a keyboard bitch and all-around office moron, which I’m still trying to shrug off but will probably only escape me when I actually decide to leave the job.

All of that brings me to this. I’m back to writing, and have been for a good two years or more. I’ve been keeping a blog here on Blogspot dedicated solely to writing and my observations on my literary self-improvement. One of the things that I do in my quest to become a better writer (and it’s hardly unique - most writers do this) is force myself to read, even when I’d rather be working on my own stuff. It’s not difficult to convince myself to pick up a book - all I need is a few works of encouragement from someone else, a snippet of an Amazon review, a few lines of description on a message board. I’ve accumulated over the years hundreds of books, most of the ones not in storage catalogued lovingly over at LibraryThing, where I’ve been posting my 50 Book Challenge updates one novel at a time.

I’d like to create this blog as the twin to my writing blog. There’s so much I can say about books that I’ve read that I almost want to ditch the fiction writing and turn to essays - almost. I lack the credentials and the vast knowledge of “literary” fiction that would make a run at essay-writing even potentially lucrative. Still, I’d like to share my reading lists and attempt to engage others in discussion or debate over them, and this is as good a place as any.

I find myself wanting to reread old books lately, which is why I’ve named the blog “New Reads and Old Standbys.” Over the past few months I’ve been revisiting Francesca Lia Block and L.J. Smith, two YA writers I enjoyed a great deal when I was younger. I’ve been picking up Poppy Z. Brite’s horror novels and rereading them as well. I’m eager to see just how accurate my memory is, and if these books hold up to the test of time. At the same time, my queue of books to be read for the first time is growing rapidly, and I’m constantly worried about falling behind.

I suppose all I can do is keep reading.

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