Category Archives: Reading

Spring catch-up

It’s been–yikes!–half a year since I posted anything, so here’s a quick catch-up, starting with a photo from last week’s visit to one of my favorite places in Portland, the Japanese Garden. The garden has a number of cherry trees, which were in beautiful bloom, but only one Weeping Cherry, this venerable and well-cared-for specimen. It once stood on private property and was slated for destruction, but it was moved to the Japanese Garden, where it continues to flourish. We should all be so lucky.

One adventure of recent months was a week-long trip to Costa Rica with a friend in February. We stayed in a rental bungalow on a hillside above Bijagua de Upala in the north-central highlands, about a 90-minute drive from Liberia. It’s close to Tenorio Volcano National Park, where we had a memorable hike. Another highlight was a three-hour private boat tour of the Cano Negro wetlands reserve, where we saw a great variety of birds and many splendid reptiles: caiman, basilisks, iguanas. Also some tiny bats roosting in crevices in the bark of a tree. Although the roads to Cano Negro are pretty bad and call for slow and careful driving, it’s well worth the effort to see this distinctive piece of Costa Rica’s ecology. Alas, I did not see a tapir on this trip–although my friend may have glimpsed one–but we did see two varieties each of wild sloths and monkeys, and a glorious abundance of bird life, including this Yellow-Fronted Toucan, photographed from our bungalow balcony, who just wouldn’t come any closer.

On the writing front, I’ve just had my first look at the layout and illustration sketches for the MG adaptation I wrote of David Barrie’s wonderful natural-history book Supernavigators. When the adaptation comes out from Tra Publishing, it’s going to be gorgeous. And soon I’ll be diving into the revising and polishing phase of my MG adaptation of Loren Grush’s The Six, about our first six women astronauts.

A total solar eclipse will cross much of North America next week. I’d thought about driving to south-central Texas–the closest point at which I could intersect the path of totality–but I’ve dropped the idea. Much as I would love experiencing another eclipse, I had a perfect one an hour from home in 2017. I decided I didn’t want to drive for 30 hours, park myself by the side of a dusty road (along with who knows how many other drivers), and hope that the 50-50 weather would let the eclipse be seen. All respect to the eclipse chasers who manage to see as many as possible, but I’m happy with the one total eclipse I’ve seen in my life.

Finally, a few of my favorite recent reads: The Silver Wind and The Rift by Nina Allan, both of which bring an oblique and ambiguous touch to science-fictional themes; Haruki Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a weird and compelling novel that to me suggested elements both of the same author’s later novel 1Q84 and the unsettling 2004 Japanese horror film Marebito; and Gone: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures, by naturalist Michael Blencowe, whose account of his travels to see the preserved relics of creatures such as the Great Auk, Steller’s Sea Cow, and (of course) the Dodo, includes fascinating details about the animals, their discoverers and exploiters, and the author’s own feelings about the natural world and what we are making of it.

Eighteen days by the sea

I had the great good fortune to spend much of October 2023 in a solo retreat at the beach house of some generous friends. Located on the Oregon coast south of Newport, the house is a five-minute walk up the cliff from this glorious beach.

I wasn’t entirely alone.

Xanthe the Speckled Menace was excellent company. Here she shows her arboreal nature on one of the beach house’s many ledges and windowsills, which she immediately saw as a jumping and perching paradise. She did not care for the beach–perhaps because of the big loud wet thing adjacent to it–but she enjoyed leash walks in the yard around the house, grumbling at the gulls and jays.

The beach house has neither cell coverage nor wifi. The former was available on the beach or a few hundred yards down the street, the latter at the library in Newport, a ten-minute drive away. It was both liberating and frustrating to be out of the instant communication (and diversion) to which many of us are accustomed. I did some writing, some outlining, and some reading. The latter mostly consisted of books that had lingered too long in the “Unread” category on my Kindle, among which were a number of pretty good books, only one real dud, and one darkly Shining Trapezohedron of a gem, Scott R. Jones’s Stonefish.

I’ve always wanted to have a quiet, extended time next to the ocean. For eighteen days and seventeen nights I had the sound of it in my ears. I saw it every time I looked out the front windows, and I walked along it for an hour or so at least once each day. What a gift.

A writing family to love

It’s no secret that I’m a Stephen King fan. The first book of his I read, more years ago than I care to remember, was Salem’s Lot, which I devoured like a vampire falling on a small town. Since then I’ve read most of what he’s published, and while I have my favorites–From a Buick 8, Revival, The Stand, the Dark Tower books, and a lot of the short stories and novellas–I greatly admire many of his other works. I also admire his willingness to genre-blend and to write different kinds of fiction. It was a great treat for me to write a critical YA bio of King a while back, part of a series of books for young people about writers’ lives and major works.

I’ve also read and enjoyed work by Tabitha King and Joe Hill (the elder son of Stephen and Tabitha). I especially love Hill’s novels NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box. And then there’s Owen King, the younger son, whose most recent novel, The Curator, became an instant favorite.

A lot of people have called The Curator “Dickensian,” and they’re partly right. The novel’s sprawling cast of characters and the equally sprawling, endlessly weird and wonderful city in which it unfolds do recall Dickens, as does the novel’s keen eye and ear for issues of class and revolution. But a review in the NYTBR that mentioned The Curator’s affinity to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels bumped the book to the top of my to-read list, and I’m glad it did. For those seeking an original, engrossing read with flavors of Peake and Mieville, Owen King has what you’re looking for.

Recent entertainments

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been working on my YA adaptation of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a big project with many aspects (such as photo research and aquisition) that will continue to keep me busy for some time. I am thrilled with the editorial support I’ve gotten from Simon & Schuster and am excited about the book that my ms. is becoming.

But woman does not live by work alone. In recent weeks I’ve enjoyed entertainments on page, stage, and screen. Here are a couple of highlights:

The Devil’s Detective, a novel by Simon Kurt Unsworth. I believe I was tipped to it by a post on the Lovecraft eZine Facebook page. It is dark (very), beautifully written, and deeply disturbing. I’m looking forward to the sequel, which I believe comes out this fall.

Peter and the Starcatcher, a hilarious, bawdy play that unfolds Peter Pan’s origin story. It’s based on a book by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, but I didn’t know that until I saw the play. Lots of laughs and well worth seeing, if you get a chance.

Green Room. Damn, what a movie. Unrelentingly violent, but compelling and very well acted. Patrick Stewart as the patriarch of a bunch of skinheads in the woods of southern Oregon will put Captain Picard waaaay out of mind. Imogen Poots inhabits her role with terrifying completeness. But Anton Yelchin, who died a few days ago in a tragic accident, gives the standout performance. The film stayed in my mind to such an extent that I had to watch the Goosebumps movie the next day to derail it. But I will see it again (Green Room, that is) one of these days.

Stephen King’s Return to Cosmic Horror

A couple of days ago I finished Revival, Stephen King’s latest. (“Latest” as of this writing. By the time I finish this post and put it up, it may have been supplanted.) I enjoyed it a lot. It was leaner and less over-stuffed than many of his novels–even many I like–and it marked a return to his roots in horror. Not chase-you-with-an-ax stuff but cosmic horror in the Lovecraftian vein. Indeed, Lovecraft’s work, along with Machen’s The Great God Pan, gets a shout-out from King when he lists his influences, and HPL, the Lovecrafty Ludwig Prinn, and other notable names in the pedigree of this particular vein of doors-not-meant-to-be-opened horror get name-checked or obliquely referenced toward the end of the novel. Revival‘s got that authentic 60s Maine flavor that King does so well, although it ends in 2014; it’s got a character-driven story and a narrator you cannot help but like and trust; and it sticks the knife deep into religion and twists it, which is something I always appreciate. In its tone and its air of dark weirdness it reminded me of another favorite, From a Buick 8. Nicely done.