Cormac McCarthy – author profile

Cormac McCarthy is one of my top three favorite authors along with China Mieville and Jose Saramago. It’s tough to rank the three. I’ve certainly read the most of Mieville and Saramago’s Blindness well deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature he received, but McCarthy’s prose is so beautiful and compelling his books really draw me in. He has been called the “best American author since Mark Twain”.

McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction for The Road, and his novel All the Pretty Horses won the U.S. National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Both of these, along with No Country for Old Men, have been adapted into films. The film adaptation of No Country, directed by the Coen brothers, received four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

I was first exposed to McCarthy in my Sophomore year of College at the University of Oregon. I took a modern American literature course and among the extensive reading was his novel Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. At first I found his prose difficult. I had never been exposed to writing such as his. However, after about 25 pages I couldn’t put the book down. It is, admittedly, disturbing in its content and imagery. It follows the story of the Galton Gang, a historical band of scalp hunters who, during the years of 1849-1850, massacred Native Americans and others on the border between the US and Mexico. However, there is a certain compelling beauty in the prose that is in sharp contrast to the images it portrays.

After Blood Meridian I sought out McCarthy’s work. All the Pretty Horses, at heart a love story, is again filled with powerful imagery and stunning prose. I have described his writing as prose poetry when discussing his work with others, and I think that hits the mark. 2006’s The Road was, much like Blood Meridian, a bit disturbing being the tale of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic United States. However, the love shown between the father and son is amazing, and the ending powerful.

In an interesting side note McCarthy chose his publisher simply because Random House was the “only publisher he had heard of.” When he submitted it he was fortunate enough to have it passed on to Albert Erskine who had been William Faulkner’s editor until Faulkner’s death in 1962. McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper, came out in 1965 and Erskine edited all of his books for the next 20 years.

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Flight – Book Review

One of my favorite genres is the graphic novel. I love picking one up and enjoying not just the story but the art. The Watchmen, Blankets, The Sandman – all have been great reads. Today, though, is about one of my absolute favorites: Flight.

Flight is actually a series of graphic novels based around the theme of, you guessed it, flight. Each book is a collection of short form graphic stories from various artists and authors. The art is consistently beautiful and wonderfully varied, letting you get a glimpse into the style of multiple artists.

Perhaps my favorite of the stories is by Vera Brosgol. It is the story of a young woman who wakes up one day with wings growing on her back. She and her friend explore the implications and possibilities. Brosgol’s art is fantastic and I recommend checking out all of her works. Her early work, Return to Sender, was one of my favorite web comics and I have always been sad that she left it unfinished. However, she has followed it up with a wonderful career including Anya’s Ghost and work for the movie studio Laika, makers of Coraline and The Boxtrolls. Check out her blog at

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What I’m reading now

I’ve fallen a bit behind on my blogging, but it’s for good reason. I’m working on reading some new titles to share with you! Since I’ve been spending so much time on fiction, this selection is devoted to non-fiction.

I’ve been wanting to get back into pottery for the last few years. I loved it back in high school, working on projects nearly every day. I’ve corresponded with a couple potters I know trying to figure out what I’ll need for a home studio. The main thing I’m debating about is the type of kiln to purchase. To help with that decision I picked up a book recommended by one of them called Glazes: Materials Recipes and Techniques. It’s a collection of articles from the magazine Ceramics Monthly, something my art teacher subscribed to and I have read many issues of. It’s a great read, although a bit technical. Unfortunately it is out of print and hard to find, so I don’t have any copies in stock. However, it is available in PDF form from the publishers of Ceramics Monthly. If you are interested in ceramics, particularly glazes, I highly recommend it.

I’m also reading Waging Peace by a good friend of mine John Lamoreau and his friend Ralph Beebe. John was a peace activist during the Vietnam War and holds a Masters of Peace Studies, so he’s quite knowledgable on the subject. Although written from a Christian perspective I believe the book should be a great resource for anyone who wants to work towards a more peaceful world. Unfortunately this seems to be a blog post of hard to find books. John tells me some copies are still available, so if you are interested please contact me and I will get one for you. It may even be autographed.

What are your current reads? Please share in the comments so readers can get even more recommendations.

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Karen Lord – The Best of All Possible Worlds – Review

Karen lord has about as diverse a history as a person can. She has been everything from a soldier to a diplomat, settling now on writing and research consultation in Barbados. Redemption in Indigo, her debut novel, won the 2008 Frank Collymore Literary Award, the 2011 William L. Crawford Award, and the 2011 Mythopoeic Fantasy award for Adult Literature. It was also nominated for Best Novel in the World Fantasy Award.

Her 2013 novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds, was an engaging and beautiful read. Her prose and ideas are on par with Ursula K. LeGuin, and although it is not a sequel it is a worthy follow up to Lord’s first novel. Science fiction of the thoughtful, rather than action-adventure variety, a nice change from what we see on the big screen these days as the Star Trek franchise becomes a series of action flicks and Marvel superheroes dominate the box office.

Much like Asimov’s Foundation series, The Best of All Possible Worlds takes place in a galaxy populated largely, if not entirely by humans. However, each branch of humanity has unique traits that distinguish it from the others. There are the Sadiri, mentalists focused on building and perfecting the power of the mind, telepathic, with great mental discipline and emotional control; the Ntshune, a branch with great understanding and control of emotions; the Zhinuvians, masters of the body, both human and artificial, and the Terrans, our own world, a blend of the four fond of debate and action. Our story, however, excludes the Terrans, placed under quarantine until their society matures, with the exception of small groups spirited away by the mysterious Caretakers. The novel opens with the complete destruction of Sadira and the scattering of the remaining Sadiri throughout the galaxy.

Although the background is sweeping, and Lord has obviously put a great deal of thought into the larger universe of this tale, the story focuses on two individuals on one planet, Cygnus Beta. Dllenach, a Sadiri, and Grace Delarua, a woman of mixed descent who identifies merely as Cygnian, are partnered to oversee the development of Sadiri homesteads on Cygnus Beta. Soon a plan is developed to form a team to travel the planet looking for taSadiri, humans of Sadiri background with some remnants of Sadiri culture, with the hope of finding women who would be appropriate and willing to marry Sadiri homesteaders. The majority of the book takes place during this expedition.

The expedition, although moving the story forward, merely provides a framework for the true focus of the story – the characters and their relationships to one another. The growth of the friendships, the love among the characters, and the depth to which these people grow together is where Lord’s storytelling truly shines.

Although some of the outcomes in the book are apparent from the beginning, that did not detract from the joy I found in seeing things develop. I recommend this story to anyone, not just science fiction lovers, who wants a break from pulp fiction and action adventure, and instead wants to dive deeply into human relationships and emotions.

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The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm – Review

I’ve spent a lot of time this month on books for adults, so this week I’m going to take a turn into a younger category. With a small child at home I spend a lot of time reading children’s books, perhaps more than I spend reading adult books! So this week I’ll talk about the latest edition to my child’s library.

Last year I was excited to see a Kickstarter to do a Reading Rainbow reboot to take it online and bring it to schools around the country. I very happily backed this as Reading Rainbow was one of my favorite shows as a kid and I’m a big fan of LeVar Burton, both from that show and from Star Trek. One of the great rewards I received was an autographed copy of his new children’s book: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. So not only do I get to give my child a beautifully illustrated book, but a signed one no less! Maybe this will set her down the road I’ve been on, collecting signed firsts.

But enough of the back story. The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm is a lovely story about friendship, sorrow, anger, and how we deal with them. It begins in a very meta way with a little mouse feeling afraid of the storm raging outside her home. Her family had been made homeless the year before by just such a storm. Papa Mouse, seeing his daughter’s distress, pulls out our book and begins to read.

Just like baby mouse, Rhino loses his home to a tremendous storm. In his fear and anger he yells up at the storm and swallows it whole, ending the torrential downpour, but metaphorically bottling all his fear and anger inside. The story is his journey to release that anger with the help of his friends.

Although the writing is a little rough at times the story is sweet and a good lesson for a young child in how to deal with anger and fear before it gets bottled up inside and causes problems. The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging and I think any young child will enjoy The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. But, to quote LeVar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

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The Man Booker Prize – Reader’s Shelf

Last week I wrote about The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey. This winner of the Man Booker Prize (Carey’s second) was a joy to read and makes me want to share some of the other winners of the prize.

1988 saw Carey win his first Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda, a story of an Anglican priest struggling to reconcile his fear of damnation with his addiction to gambling, and a rich heiress, owner of a glass factory in Sydney, Australia. The two meet on the boat from London to Sydney, and when Lucinda bets Oscar he cannot transport a glass church up the coast their lives are changed forever.

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker, 1995’s prize winner, is the third in a trilogy following the tale of a group of shell-shocked World War I British officers. This tale focuses on a working-class man who has made officer, Billy Prior, and his relationship to real life psychoanalyst William Rivers, allowing Barker to explore World War I through eyes both fictional and actual.

No Booker Prize overview would be complete without Salman Rushdie, one of the English speaking world’s greatest authors. Longlisted multiple times Rushdie won the prize for Midnight’s Children in 1981, and the Best of the Booker in 2008. Combining magical realism with historical fiction, Midnight’s Children is a postcolonial work examining India’s independence through the biography of a telepathic “midnight child” – a child born at midnight on the eve of India’s independence.

Last year saw author Richard Flanagan win for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The title is taken from one of the most famous works by Japanese poet Basho and is centers around the tale of one of the darkest incidents in Japanese history, the building of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway during World War II. Epic in scope it encompasses a century of Australian history, following wartime love affairs and the post-war lives of Japanese prison guards and Australian Far East Prisoners of War.

Judges and dates for this year’s prize have been set. The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015 is chaired by Michael Wood, with judges Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. The longlist will be announced on Wednesday July 29, 2015, with the shortlist following on Tuesday September 15, 2015. The winner will be announced on Tuesday October 13, 2015. I’ll write more here about the nominees when they are announced.

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The True History of the Kelly Gang – Review

In The True History of the Kelly Gang (Booker Prize winner 2001) award winning Peter Carey brings to us the story of Ned Kelly, Australian bushranger and outlaw. In prose both illiterate and beautiful Kelly tells us of his life of crime in Victoria, Australia through the eyes of a man about to hang leaving his legacy to a daughter he barely knows. “I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false,” writes Kelly.

In this book Carey rivals American author Cormac McCarthy (a personal favorite of mine who will most certainly make an appearance here) in the beauty of his prose and the wonder of the outlaw wilds of an untamed land. While both authors may be difficult to approach at first due to their unique writing style I guarantee that if you give The True History time you will be engrossed. When I read this in 2006 I finished it in a matter of days and immediately posted my recommendation on the shelf, featuring it in a display of award winning books of the previous 10 years.

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The Revolution in Seattle – Review

“Strike Call all unions to go out” reads the newspaper clipping that composes part of the cover of “Revolution in Seattle” by Harvey O’Connor. From the early utopian settlements in the area to the general strike of 1919 and the Everett Massacre the Revolution in Seattle presents an engaging picture of the movement from the turn of the 20th century through the early 1920’s.

Using a mixture of narratives from local labor leaders and newspaper clippings from the era, O’Connor takes you through an engaging and sometimes shocking ride through the struggles of labor in early Seattle. Although O’Connor was himself an activist and is perhaps slightly biased in his retelling the stories he presents still give great historical background of what it took to earn the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, and the right to organize.

As a former labor activist myself (I was a bargaining unit rep to the ILWU and an active member of Jobs With Justice) I can’t help but relate to O’Connor’s tales. The struggles today are perhaps not as violent as days past but are present nonetheless. Seattle is making good progress with a large increase in the minimum wage and work towards paid maternity leave for city workers, but other areas of the country are seeing massive hits to workers’ rights and ability to organize. Perhaps “The Revolution in Seattle” will inspire new movements across the country to reclaim the middle class and rejuvenate the American dream.

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Reader’s Shelf – The Hugo Award

Awarded every year since 1955, the Hugo Awards represent one of the top awards for science fiction and fantasy. Winners include such big names as Neil Gaiman (American Gods 2002), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 2001), Neal Stephenson (The Diamond Age 1996), and William Gibson (Neuromancer 1985). We all know most, if not all, of these winners. But what about the runners-up? Here we’ll take a look at some of the Hugo Award Nominees from years past.

Most know Cory Doctorow for his somewhat controversial stance on copyright and his blog BoingBoing. However, he is also a prolific writer of science fiction. Despite being targeted at young adults, Little Brother garnered a nomination in 2009. It follows the story of a teenage hacker combating the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack and the ensuing crackdown.

Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer, previous winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, was nominated in 2008 for his work Rollback. In order to help her translate an alien message, Sarah Halifax and her husband Don are both given a treatment called “rollback” to rejuvenate their octogenarian bodies and give them a new lease on life. Unfortunately, Sarah’s treatment is unsuccessful and the couple are left to negotiate Don’s new 25-year-old body and the complications to their relationship that result.

In 2005, China Miéville received his third Hugo nomination for Iron Council, the third in the trilogy started by 2002 Hugo Award nominee Perdido Street Station and continued in 2003 nominee The Scar. The novels are both set in Miéville’s unique steam-punk-meets-magic world, Perdido in the city of New Crobuzon (a city built around the remains of some ancient, unknown beast), The Scar on the forbidding ocean, and Iron Council on the wider continent. All three mix Miéville’s political views and potent imagination with a compelling story that will keep you turning the page.

Jumping back in time a bit to 1990 we have Grass by Sheri S. Tepper. In a distant future where humans have spread across the galaxy, the planet Grass (so named because that is practically all that grows there) is the only planet immune to a mysterious plague that is destroying humanity.

Last but not least, we’ll visit 1970, the year when Ursula Le Guin won her first Hugo for The Left Hand of Darkness. Also up that year were Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Up the Line by Robert Silverberg (not currently in our inventory – please use our offline search feature, although we do have a selection of his other works). Up the Line features Judson Daniel Elliott III, a Time Courier who takes tourists on trips to the past, while Slaughterhouse Five follows a World War II vet who has become “unstuck in time” from his time in the war to his future in an alien “zoo”.



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China Mieville

This month we are featuring author China Mieville, in particular his novel “The City and the City“. Some of you may be familiar with Mieville’s work already, some of you have never heard of him. To start, here’s the brief overview of Mieville from Wikipedia:

China Tom Miéville (pronounced /ˈtʃaɪnə miˈeɪvəl/; born 6 September 1972 in Norwich) is an award-winning English fantasy fiction writer. He is fond of describing his work as “weird fiction” (after early 20th century pulp and horror writers such as H. P. Lovecraft), and belongs to a loose group of writers sometimes called New Weird who consciously attempt to move fantasy away from commercial, genre clichés of Tolkien epigones. He is also active in left-wing politics as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. He has stood for the House of Commons for the Socialist Alliance, and published a book on Marxism and international law. He teaches creative writing at Warwick University. (

His awards include the Bram Stoker Award, the Arthur C. Clark Award, and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. He’s also been nominated multiple times for the Hugo Award and writes on socialism and international law.

What draws me to Mieville is his creativity. A lot of fantasy is so derivative as to border on plagiarism (Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle), or so repetitive as to be dull (Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth). Then there’s the overly epic, spend-five-pages-describing-a-woman’s-outfit of Robert Jordan, not to mention the plethora of Tolkein imitators. Mieville fits in none of these categories.

Much like Neil Gaiman, who’s American Gods beat Mieville’s Perdido Street Station for the Hugo in 2002, Mieville throws off the derivative and often boring shackles of most mainstream fantasy, going for his own completely unique style. In his New Crobuzon trilogy (Perdido Street Station, The Scar, and Iron Council) this includes combining the mainstay of fantasy — magic — with steam punk. Clockwork and steam engines play a huge part in the mis en scene of that trilogy.  His short stories toy with alternate realities and strange happenings, walking the line between fantasy and horror. Unlundun, his young adult novel full of puns and good humor, is the tale of a strange alternate city behind the scenes of the real London. The City and the City, a worthy addition to Mieville’s oeuvre, is completely unlike the rest of his work and serves to show his versatility as a writer. Reading this novel after all his others gives me confidence that he has avoided the trap of staying with one style or setting for too long.

The City and The City is essentially a hard boiled detective novel set in two fictional (presumably) Eastern European cities called Beszel and Ul Qoma. The thing is, the cities coexist, on top of each other, overlapping each other, bleeding into one another. However, the border between the two is constantly and militantly policed by a force called “Breach”. Citizens are trained from youth to “unsee”, “unsmell”, “unhear” things from the sister city. Something as small as nodding to a passerby in the other city will bring Breach down to enforce the border. Outside the cities, the world is much as we know it. America is an economic super-power and all our real-world countries exist (what is never addressed is whether they have any uniquely fantastic attributes like Beszel and Ul Qoma).

The story begins simply enough with a murder. A young woman is found dead in a park with no identification and very few clues.   Tyador Borlú, Extreme Crime Squad, is called in to investigate.

Borlú fits the ideal of the hard-boiled detective. He has no family to speak of, two sometimes-lovers, and a bit of a mysterious past. He spent time abroad, both in London and Ul Qoma, and speaks the language of both fluently. Although his background is never explicitly stated, one gets the impression he is well educated and worldly. There’s definitely more to Borlú than meets the eye.

The investigation quickly hits a dead end. Borlú and his assistant Corwi run out of leads. It is not until an anonymous caller from Ul Qoma gives them a name that they can make any progress. The problem is, this is Breach, and illegal.

“My informant should not have seen the posters. They were not in his country. He should never have told me. He made me accessory. The information was an allergen in Beszel – the mere fact of it in my head was a kind of trauma. I was complicit. It was done.”

Borlú, however, can’t give up, and draws you through an extraordinary story.

“[T]he whole investigation might be breach too. I should not incriminate myself by pushing this… It was escapism for a moment to pretend I might do so. In the end I would do my job, though doing it meant breaking a code, an existential protocol more basic by a long way than any I was paid to enforce.”

Check out our full list of Mieville books. He covers the gamut of fantasy, sci-fi, and even graphic novels. Oh, and for a bit of fun, visit Could They Beat up China Mieville. You won’t regret it.



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