Monday, December 31, 2012

Two SFF Novels Due Back at the Library Yesterday

These two books don't have a whole lot in common -- they're both novels, both SFF, both in established series by popular  authors, and probably both really bad places to begin those respective series -- but they are both overdue library books, which means I need to scribble something down quickly and get them back to minimize The Wrath of the Librarians. (Edit: Too late. They're already back now -- after an emergency library run for a school reading project that Thing 2 was supposed to have been working on for the last week -- so see if you can find the point in each write-up when I lost the book itself to check my facts in. Also, note that "yesterday" here means "Saturday.")

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Long-running series can easily fall into a rut -- and here you can pretend that I'm pointing to your favorite example of that truism, without actually making an example of any specific authors who might take a snit -- but Fforde's "Thursday Next" books have been able to avoid that recently through the odd tactic of writing about different versions of the heroine.

The previous book, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (see my review), focused on the fictional Thursday -- the one who "plays" the character in the novels as they were published (and ghostwritten) in the world in which Thursday is real. But Woman Who Died a Lot returns to the "real" Thursday -- the one who was the heroine of the other novels in the series, most specifically picking up the plot from 2007's First Among Sequels -- and her ongoing battles with the evil world-bestriding Goliath Corporation, usually in the person of her nemesis Jack Schitt.

Died a Lot takes place during one week in 2004 -- two years after One of Our Thursdays, in the wake of a decision to reform all of the SpecOps divisions disbanded a dozen years before. (That's all backstory -- and mostly between-book backstory, too -- so it's mostly just scene-setting for fans of the series.) Thursday interviews for the job of heading her old division -- the Literary Detectives -- but instead is hired as chief librarian of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat at Fatso's Drink Not Included Library. (One of the slier bits of backstory is the ongoing discussion of the Stupidity Deficit -- this fictional UK has a government run by the Sensible Party, which means that all of the unexpressed stupidity backs up at useful-to-the-plot times to explode in various amusing ways. In this book, the government has taken steps to introduce carefully moderated levels of stupidity in their actions, including truly bizarre naming deals.)

But the real core of Dies a Lot is Thursday's family -- her son Friday will now no longer become the longest-serving head of the ChronoGuard, since it's been proven that no one invented their time machines and they shut down before they began; her genius daughter Tuesday is trying to perfect a technological Smite Shield to protect Swindon from the wrath of God (who has been prodded by the dominant Global Standard Deity religion to reveal himself and begin a pattern of overwhelming smitings); and her third child Jenny is completely imaginary, a false memory planted (originally in her head, later elsewhere) by Aornis Hades, a memory-controlling mnemonomorph and the second-most deadly of that clan.

Oh, and Goliath has been sending ever-more-sophisticated robotic duplicates of Thursday to learn her secrets -- which is the explanation of the title, since Thursday and her husband Landen (with occasional help from others) has been disposing of those for some time.

It all comes together in that one week -- Thursday's new job, the upcoming smiting, Friday's predicted murder of another young ChronoGuard would-have-been, and a secret Goliath plot that involves palimpsests of incredibly rare but also incredibly boring incunabula. I wouldn't dream of explaining how it all comes out: Fforde is wonderful at juggling several odd plotlines and bringing them all to a head at once, so this is a book that has to be read. The whole Thursday Next series started out as a love letter to Great Books, but it's widened since then: Dies a Lot is not just a deeply entertaining romp, but a Rube Goldberg device encompassing the whole of the literary world, with an emphasis on librarians this time around. It's a series deeply appealing to anyone who loves books and reading, which should be everyone reading this.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold 

And this is the most recent -- though not the latest, since it's actually set earlier in time than the prior book, Cryoburn -- book in Bujold's long-running "Vorkosigan" series. It's the long-promised "Ivan book," focusing on the usual series hero's ne'er-do-well cousin (who actually isn't all that ne'er-do-well, actually; it's just that he seems that way compared with omnicompetent, manic Miles).

And it's been thoroughly chewed up and digested by the fans of the series by this point; I wouldn't at all be surprised if there were already page-by-page concordances of Alliance explaining which plots of which entire books Bujold tosses off in a sentence of dialogue.

Personally, I enjoy reading Bujold's books, but I don't feel the need to re-read the entire series before a new one so all of the references are fresh -- I also don't think Bujold deliberately writes for that audience either, but her quietly competent and all-encompassing style makes it a useful reading technique.

I've always liked Ivan better than Miles -- Miles is the kind of person I'd try very hard to avoid in real life, while Ivan is someone I could aspire to be, if I was born into the minor nobility of a far-future alien world -- so seeing him find what I must assume is the love of his life (Bujold doesn't do divorces for her viewpoint characters) was nice.

So, this is Bujold in mostly-light mode, along the lines of A Civil Campaign (though not as frivolous as that book), and it's better-balanced than the last Vorkosigan novel, 2010's Cryoburn. But the people who are likely to want to read this book probably already have. Hope you all liked it.

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/29

If I were a betting man, I'd be willing to lay down some serious moolah that today's post will be the least-trafficked "Reviewing the Mail" post of the year.; I expect everyone will be busy with other things, and not reading blogs as assiduously this Monday morning as they do other weeks.

And that's just fine with me, since I've been writing much less assiduously over this vacation week -- or not writing at all, most of the time -- so it seems only fair.

Anyway, as usual this post lists whatever came in my mail last week -- which, this time, is four manga volumes from Yen (and that means my old colleague -- we started at Wiley the same day -- Ellen Wright was working last week, even if no one else in publishing was). All are coming in January, which is looming very close. I haven't read these books yet, but here's what I can tell you about them:

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Vol. 3 continues a Haruhi Suzumiya side-story, with a story from series creator Nagaru Tanigawa and art by Puyo. As you know Bob, the Haruhi stories began as light novels illustrated by Noizi Ito (who is credited here for character design), and have since expanded nearly to the limits of the known universe -- besides the novels, the main manga, the TV anime, the anime movie, the audio dramas, and the videogames, there's also another manga side-story that began earlier this year and an official parody 4-koma manga. (Notice how I carefully try to hide the fact that I'm not familiar with the content of any of those media properties, since I haven't read them? Oops....)

Kaoru Mori's A Bride's Story -- an interesting historical story that follows an Englishman down the 19th century Silk Road through central Asia, with each volume covering one stop, and one young woman's journey to marriage at that location -- reaches a fourth volume with a stop at a small fishing village on the Aral Sea. The bride this time is actually twin sisters -- you're not seeing double on that cover -- Laila and Leily, who energetically seek a pair of wealthy and handsome brothers for themselves.

Yana Toboso's popular Black Butler series, about a young British lord in a world that's not quite our own, and (more importantly) his amazingly resourceful butler, Sebastian, continues into a twelfth volume. The main cast is still on the Campania, a ship hired by the Aurora Society to show off a resurrection process, but that process has gone, predictably, very wrong, and the creatures the back cover copy carefully does not call zombies are shuffling about, wreaking havoc, as the ship meanders towards a gigantic iceberg.

And last for this week is Black God, Vol. 18, the very exciting boys' manga by Korean creators Dall-Young Lim and Sung-Woo Park. (See my reviews of volumes 2, 3, 4, and 15 for more details -- this one is a lot of fun in that superpowered all-fighting mode of Bleach and Naruto.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Death and Death: Two Graphic Novels

These two books are both death, in very different ways. So I thought they could share a post.

Lovers' Lane by Rick Geary
Old murder cases have a complicated fascination: the usual surprise and apprehension at lives being cut short, mixed in with our own incomplete understanding of the time and place and a sense that all of those people are dead now, anyway, making the "cutting life short" argument at least very ironic. Rick Geary has been working that angle for over twenty years now, with a series of small graphic novels, each about one murder case -- first as "A Treasury of Victorian Murder," and more recently moving slightly forward in time with "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder."

(I've reviewed a number of those books over the past few years: The Case of Madeleine Smith, The Saga of the Blood Benders (here), The Saga of the Bloody Benders (ComicMix), The Lindbergh Child, Famous Players, The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti (at the end of a round-up).)

Geary's approach is as painstaking as his precisely parallel shading lines: the facts of a case, meticulously researched (with a bibliography of sources) and laid out systematically, as far as anyone knows them, and the mysteries presented equally carefully, with just a hint of which explanations Geary finds more plausible. He has an eye for faces and for the details of dress -- both useful in stories about people a hundred or more years in the past who are usually depicted as either stunned or stoic.

Lovers' Lane is the story of a double murder in 1922: the Rev. Edward Hall and his equally married lover, Eleanor Mills, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Their bodies were found one morning, posed under a tree in farmland on the outskirts of town, with their love letters scattered all around them. The obvious first suspects were the wronged families: Hall's wife, Johnson & Johnson heiress Frances (and her brother, Willie Stevens, who lives with them and has an unspecified mental disorder), and Mills's husband, the meek janitor James. Both acted suspiciously the day or the murders, but both had alibis, and both had no obvious reason to suddenly break, after months of the affair.

The bulk of Lovers' Lane covers the investigation and eventual trial, with a large cast of characters -- not just the families but the witnesses or potential witnesses, including a colorful local "Pig Woman," the police and prosecutors and coroners, all involved in a complicated case right on a country border and connected to a prominent family (and, of course, one victim was prominent himself as the minister of a major Episcopal church). There are many details, and many contradictions -- plus the usual routine ruining of evidence that always happened in those days -- but Geary skillfully presents all of this material cleanly and compellingly; he has a good story to tell, and he's going to do it right.

This is not one of the most famous cases Geary has retold -- it's from my home state, and even I hadn't heard of it before this book -- but one of the great strengths of this series is that everydayness of it. All of these murders were sensations in their days, as there's a sensational murder, somewhere, every day of this year. But sensations die in time, and what's left is the facts -- and that's what Geary will show you, with a face almost completely straight and a twinkle in his eye as he runs through the suspects and witnesses, the weapons and wounds, the alibis and lies and confusions left to history. It's a magnificent achievement, all the more because Geary makes it all seem both easy and routine.

The Song of Roland by Michel Rabagliati

Everyone dies. Every single person: the good and the bad, the ones you can't live without and the ones you can't believe are still around. Even the people that are absolutely central to your life, even the ones who leave holes that can't be filled. One of those people is Roland Beaulieu, the stepfather of "Paul," Michel Rabagliati's self-insert character in the series of graphic novels based on his life.

All of the other books have been titled around Paul -- see my reviews of Paul Has a Summer Job, Paul Moves Out, and Paul Goes Fishing -- but this one is The Song of Roland; it's the story of an older man and his big family. (Three daughters, three sons-in-law, five grandkids.) He's a particular man in a particular place -- a retired supermarket executive and Quebecois who loves his province and country but complains when his children are too loudly in favor of independence. When Song of Roland begins, he has the traditional house in the country, where the whole family gathers for summers and holidays, but it's turning into suburb and Roland is feeling too far from his family (his "rabbits," as he calls them), so he moves to a condo in the middle of this story.

Song of Roland isn't a plot-driven story; it's about the times spent with family over the course of a few specific years -- and the memories and stories told at those times of older holidays and summers, of childhoods and early lives and other people who aren't there this year, or at all. Like the other Paul books, it's from Paul's point-of-view, but it's less focused on his life and graphic-arts career: this is Roland's story.

Song focuses down as it goes, beginning with one summer, moving on to the next year, and then tightening the pace of events, first to months and then, near the end, to days. And everyone knows how it must end; Roland is terminally ill with pancreatic cancer, and he goes from being strong and central to first a complaining, crabby patient, then a man at peace with his fate, and, finally, just a body in a bed, working his way out of the world heartbreakingly slowly.

Rabagliati takes a leap with Song of Roland, in telling a story that isn't about him (or his fictional stand-in), but that widens out that fictional world. His UPA-ish clean lines and minimalist but expressive faces move the story along, with humor (even slapstick) where appropriate but a growing deep sadness and acceptance as the book rolls towards its end. His prior books were lovely, sweet stories, but Song of Roland is something more resonant and wide, the story of one man's death and all of the lives he touched and made and enriched.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 12/22

For those of you who wouldn't be offended by it, best wishes for a Merry Christmas. (For those who would be offended by it, my heartiest wishes for a heaping pile of coal wherever it would be least pleasant.)

There was mail this week, and so I'll tell you about it -- as usual, these are all books that came compliments of their publishers, with the hope/expectation that I would review them. But I can't manage to review everything I see -- some week, it feels like I can't review any of them -- so I write about them all this way, to give whatever tiny bit of publicity I can muster to all of them. I haven't read any of these books yet, so what I'm going to tell you is probably, but not necessarily, entirely correct. Just assume anything that you don't like is a case of me getting it wrong -- all of these book are most likely the Platonic ideal of the book like that in your head, and so you should check them out right now.

Luck of the Draw is Piers Anthony's 36th Xanth novel, about an 80-year-old man who finds himself magically transported to Xanth and into a young body -- and I suppose one can take that as Anthony's own wish-fulfillment (he's 78, himself), if one wants to. It's a hardcover from Tor, officially on-sale today.

I also have three paperbacks from the fine folks at DAW, all publishing in January in the popular mass-market format:
  •  Touch of the Demon, third in Diana Rowland's urban fantasy series about cop/demon summoner Kara Gillian -- who, this time, finds herself summoned by a demon.
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first novel by Saladin Ahmed, a secondary world fantasy novel set in an Arabian Nights-inspired world, which I've been planning to read for some time now. (So maybe this more portable edition will help get that done.)
  • And Skirmish, the fourth book in Michelle West's epic fantasy "House War" series (which will, I note, be followed by Battle and War).
I have one lonely manga volume this week -- Atsushi Ohkubo's Soul Eater, Vol. 12 -- but that's just fine, since this is a fun, energetic battling-witches series that my two sons are particularly enjoying. (I've reviewed the first and eighth volumes of this series.) It's coming from Yen Press in January.

Also from Yen in January is Book Girl and the Undine Who Bore a Moonflower, sixth in the light novel series by Mizuki Nomura about some kind of supernatural creature (head of a high school literature, she can only read stories by actually eating them) and the obligatory mousy boy who does whatever she wants. As I said, these are light novels -- short books with a lot of illustrations (in this case, by Miho Takeoka) rather than manga proper, but I expect people who like manga for the characters and Japanese cultural tropes will find a lot to enjoy here as well.

Farseed, the middle novel in Pamela Sargent's long-gestating "Seed" trilogy -- between 1982's Earthseed and 2010's Seed Seeker -- is getting re-released in a trade paperback edition, with a hopeful cover quote comparing it to Hunger Games. (Which, since it's from The Hollywood Reporter, is probably shorthand for "Hey! This is another SF novel for young readers, and it's really darn good!") The Seed trilogy seems to be in the manner of a generational saga, with each book taking up the story of a new (young) generation of settlers on a dangerous alien world. The new edition of Farseed will be coming from Tor on January 8th.

Also from Tor is the new novel from John C. Wright, The Hermetic Millennia, hitting stores in hardcover today. It continues the story from Wright's last novel, Count to a Trillion, focusing on "Menelaus Illation Montrose -- gunslinger, idealist, and posthuman genius" who puts himself into coldsleep because a nasty alien race will be coming to audit humanity in eight thousand years. (Some people might want to act ahead of that event; ol' Mene wants to be well-rested when it happens.)

And last for this week is a novel publishing today from Tor's fraternal twin, Forge -- Dinosaur Thunder by James F. David. It's the third in a series -- the first two are Footprints of Thunder and Thunder of Time -- in which the aftershocks from nuclear tests in the '50s and '60s hit earth with a "Time Quilt" that transported huge chunks of the Cretaceous to modern Earth (and, presumably, vice versa). This is a thriller rather than a SF novel, which means complaining about the plausibility of that premise is entirely besides the point -- there's also some backstory about ecoterrorists using orgonic energy to blast an Aztec temple to the moon in a failed attempt to make a more comprehensive 'Time Quilt," so clearly the point here is big stakes, crazy action, and not so much science that your friends at CalTech would like.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett has been many things over his long career, but he's never before been Charles Dickens. With Dodger, Pratchett tries to correct that, with an adventurous story set in a mildly fictionalized early-Victorian England (perhaps the homeland version of the world of Nation) about a young man of humble birth but incredible talents.

Pratchett still isn't all that much like Dickens -- for all of the talk about Dickens's sentimentality, he killed off plenty of sympathetic characters in his bloody 19th century way, and Pratchett could never be that cruel. And Dickens's characters were never as omnicompetent as the smart and sneaky eponymous hero is in Dodger. But, for a simulacrum of Dickens a hundred and fifty years later -- for a novel that tries to be to 2012 what Dickens was to the 1850s and '60s -- Dodger fits the bill closely.

As noted, Dodger himself is an urchin of the street, a tosher -- who mucks about in the sewers to find valuables -- and, unlike what Dickens might have done, he is not a boy of the upper or merchant classes fallen on hard times, but a boy born in the gutter but looking, now and then, out of it. Besides his individually plausible street-smarts, preternatural ability at finding worthwhile objects in the cloaca of London, fighting skill, and position as one of the best-known and respected lower-class men of the city, he's also living with a Jewish jeweler with his own secret depths and unlikely knowledge. (Though that, of course, is utterly Dickensian, and so entirely in character for a novel like Dodger.)

We meet Dodger in the first pages, as he leaps out of a sewer on a dark, rainy night to save a nameless young woman from thugs -- she has fled their cruel care, and Dodger thumps them and keeps her free. Miraculously, two gentlemen witness this feat, and they're both honest, liberal, and later famous -- Dickens himself and the reformer Henry Mayhew -- and so they take the nameless woman (later called Simplicity) in hand and deliver her to Mayhew's house to recuperate in secret.

Of course the forces that had Simplicity in durance vile will not rest, and of course they are powerful and well-connected -- though I won't explain further who she is or who they are -- which leads to the expected derring-do and adventures. (More than Dickens would have provided, actually -- Dodger is a high-speed novel, and Dickens's audience always wanted more about people and society, which young Dodger only interacts with, in his own brash way, intermittently, and without any real bite.)

Dodger, I have to say, is one of those heroes who can do no wrong and around whom events bend to create the happiest of all possibly happy endings. He and Simplicity do appear to be in danger, once in a while, but it's not a particularly convincing appearance; Dodger is simply too competent and too much loved by his Creator to come to any harm. And the novel that bears his name is not one of Pratchett's best, though it is compulsively readable and comprehensively entertaining, as we've come to expect from Pratchett.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Complete Peanuts, 1983 to 1984 by Charles M. Schulz

It's pointless to wish for things to always stay the same, since they never have and never will. And the early '80s Peanuts cartoons are not the same as the the punchier strips of the '60s and early '70s, just as those high points were very different from the early days of Peanuts in the '50s. I've lamented that change in the past -- see my slew of posts about the previous dozen-plus books in this series -- but perhaps I've learned better, or just gotten used to the change.

There also was a shock-of-the-new effect going on, I expect: I was born in 1969, so my own Peanuts-reading days mostly started in the mid to late '70s, corresponding very closely with Schulz's gradual shift from sadness to sun during that period. Oh, Peanuts always had a lot of sadness to it -- more than anything else on the comics page -- but in the '70s, it changed fundamentally from being primarily a strip about a boy tormented by his failures to being mostly a strip about a dog's flights of fancy.

These are still good cartoons, here in The Complete Peanuts 1983-1984, this dispatch from the early '80s -- maybe not as good as the cartoons from fifteen years earlier, and certainly not good in the same way -- but they're reliably funny and occasionally moving. The deep sadness that used to manifest in Charlie Brown now comes up, less rawly, in Peppermint Patty's school troubles, which are usually just for laughs but sometimes still bring up that old sense of existential failure that was Peanuts's go-to emotion in those bleak late-60s days.

But who wants bleak all the time? Peanuts was never that; the difference between 1968 and 1983 is really the question of the emotional center of the strip. In the '60s and early '70s, Charlie Brown -- battered by baseball failure, his own kid sister, his bad penmanship, and Lucy in the days when she was a real force -- was that core, standing in for everything Schulz felt as a failure in his own life. By 1983, Snoopy (and his growing family) was that center, and Snoopy, for all of his occasional moments of worry, is the omnicompetent one of Peanuts, secure in his own ability to redefine himself for whatever he needs to be.

So these two years see a lot of Snoopy and Spike, a lot of Rerun (who is nearly impossible to tell apart from Linus, other than the situations he's in), and a lot of Charlie Brown being a straight man. They were the best thing on a whole lot of comics pages some of the days of those two years -- depending on what else a particular paper was carrying -- and they were good and entertaining comics then, and are still that now. For work done by the same one man, day after day, more than thirty years after he started that project, that's not just impressive, it's amazing.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Incoming Books: December 20

Today was the beginning of my holiday vacation, and that means one thing: last minute panicked shopping! I did manage to get a couple of things for The Wife, but the primary goal of today's big trip -- to hit the Union Square Holiday Market and buy artisanal something-or-others for various people that need gifts -- was only successful in a very minor way.

Luckily, there was a secondary goal for that big trip -- visiting Forbidden Planet and the Strand, both just down the block from Union Square -- and that was entirely successful; I found several books for my sons and the following towering stack for myself:

Spleenal by Nigel Auchterlounie -- a collection of comics from the blog of the same name (which is also the name of the title character, who is not nearly as autobiographical as he started out). Auchterlounie has a distinct, quirky cartoony art style and an amusingly slanted view, and I keep hoping he's going to get so famous that everyone will remember how to spell his name. This is, I think, his only book-really-printed-on-paper, and it's difficult to find in the US (Auchterlounie is British). But I saw Spleenal on a shelf for the first time ever today, and now It Is Mine.

Nexus Archives, Vol. 5 by Mike Baron and Steve Rude -- one of my favorite people-took-great-pains-to-point-out-the-vanishingly-tiny-ways-it-wasn't-a-superhero comics from the '80s and '90s, which has been reprinted in a series of classy hardcovers that I keep thinking I need to collect and read. This one was shopworn and cheap, and now I have three of the series, which is a start.

The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell -- Bell is one of the best of the current crop of autobio cartoonists; she does stories on her own website and for various publications. This is her new book, full of comics stories I haven't read yet.

Heavy Liquid by Paul Pope -- I had mostly forgotten that I already read this (during my Eisner-judging frenzy in early 2009), but I haven't kept up with Pope's work the way I wanted to. (I started reading THB, his big Martian series, about the first time it went on extended hiatus.)

The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz -- Wertz is another autobio cartoonist, much rawer and down in the muck than Bell -- more solidly in that ol' Crumb tradition, in other words -- who originally published her work online under the title The Fart Party. (She's since moved away from that title, and the perceived juvenility of it.) This book has three stories from Wertz's life, in her usual loose, almost primitivist style. (Wertz is probably the only autobio cartoonist to draw herself less attractive than she actually is.)

Philip Roth: Novels 1973-1977 -- This is part of a massive Library of America series that looks to reprint all of Roth's work in those wonderful little green cloth books in their matching tan slipcases. I already have a couple of them, and I have periodic wishes to read all of Roth, so I'd better have as many of his books on hand as possible. Besides, this has The Great American Novel in it, and I've got at least three reasons to want to read that.

The Golden Ass by Apuleius, translated by Robert Graves -- One of the great bawdy, crazy, supernatural, bizarre classics, as translated by one of the best writers of the 20th century; I think I had a copy of this before the flood, so it's time to replenish.

Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company by Roy Morris, Jr. -- This is the standard biography of Bierce for this generation, and Bierce is probably my favorite American writer. (I had an older Bierce bio sitting on the shelves unread at the time of the flood -- I think Richard O'Connor's late-60s take.)

The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum -- I might have heard of this in passing before, but I picked it up because of the title and cover (yes, all of those people who claim that covers do not influence their decisions are lying -- possibly to themselves, but definitely lying). It's the non-fictional tale of how poisoning stopped being such an easy way to kill people around 1920 in New York when science (and some particular forensic scientists) caught up to human ingenuity, not for the first or last time.

Banvard's Folly by Paul Collins -- The first major non-fiction book by the author of Not Even Wrong, The Trouble With Tom, The Book of William, and Sixpence House, which I finally found in person after years of looking vaguely for it. (I also see that Collins had a new book last year, The Murder of the Century, which I missed entirely.) It consists of biographical portraits of thirteen men and women, all of whom failed at the great work of their lives.

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household -- I'm pretty sure I've been recommended this book several times (though I also keep mixing it up with Rogue Herries, which other than one word is apparently nothing like it): it's a thriller from just before WWII, told in what seems to be a very cold and distanced manner by a first-person narrator who nearly dies on page 2.

Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz -- I had this book before the flood; in fact, I had this very edition (trade paperback with all the eyeballs) before the flood. And, since I finally read the first book (and really liked it), I might just get to this one sometime soon.

Worst Laid Plans edited by Alexandra Lydon & Laura Kindred -- A collection of short, funny stories about bad sex, which originated as a comedy show, by a whole bunch of people (mostly women, and mostly using what seems to be their real names). If I didn't have two teen/tween boys in the house, this would be an awesome bathroom book, but I guess I'll find some other way to read it.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Maculay -- I have the sense that every literary person two generations older than me has read this book, and hardly anyone at all since then. That's an interesting phenomenon, no matter the actual merits of the book, so I snatched up this nice New York Review Books edition.

Dracula Cha Cha Cha by Kim Newman -- I was a big fan of the original Anno Dracula (an alternate-historical vampire novel in which pretty much every 19th century fictional vampire appeared -- it's from 1992, and so predated both the ongoing vampire boom and Alan Moore's multiple projects doing pretty much exactly the same thing), but I somehow missed this third book in the series the first time around (in 1998). But the wonderful thing about books is that it's never too late to read any of them.

Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan -- I had a copy of this pre-flood, and I want to read it before I read O'Nan's Emily, Alone (which is a sequel to WYWH), so I clearly had to buy it today.

The Complete Henry Bech by John Updike -- Somehow, someday, I will read some Updike; I feel weird admitting that I still haven't touched any of his work yet. Maybe this smallish omnibus of four books about a Rothian literary writer will do it.

Winner of the National Book Award by Jincy Willett -- This is supposed to be very funny, and very inside-publishing, and I had a copy of it before the flood (which, I think, I got free, back in those halcyon bookclub days when the books flowed like water).

The Girl in Blue and Indiscretions of Archie by P.G. Wodehouse -- I had about three shelves full of the Overlook editions of Wodehouse pre-flood, and I definitely need to replace and complete that set. So I buy a couple whenever I get a chance. These are two minor Wodehouse books, true, but they're also two Wodehouse books I've never read, which is pretty good.