Now Playing: Beach House--"Lazuli"
It may come as little surprise to readers that I manifest, on occasion, signs of artistic conservatism (just look at that sentence, for example). I make a point to delve into old, even ancient, sometimes long-forgotten works of fiction, history and other subjects, and my own writing owes a great deal in inspiration--and often style--to the "weird fiction" produced by Anglo-American writers of the early twentieth century: Lovecraft, Dunsany, Merritt, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, M.R. James, and others. That said, I don't consider my interests and orientation to be the hallmarks of a reactionary. My fondness for the past isn't based, for the most part, on a rejection of the future (grim though it objectively appears, and little of it though I think I'll live to see). There's just so much material out there, though, a pile that grows inexorably larger by the day, and I worry over the literary and scholarly delights on which I may well miss out if I don't cast my net as far and as wide as possible. In addition, I think a thorough--and continuing--foundation in the work of the past better enables one to understand and appreciate art of the present and future. The same goes for a knowledge of history and a consciousness of humanity's present situation, and its bleakly likely tomorrow. I could certainly do a better job of balancing the old and the new, but have been improving, I think, over the past year. There's little doubt, though, that this delicate balancing act will only get more precarious as I age.
It's all a terribly pompous and long-winded way of announcing that I bought a Kindle. One of the chief pleasures of my life has been the purchase of books, especially in used bookstores, where the possibility of discovering a long out-of-print classic daily tempts so many to penetrate the murky exteriors of establishments such as the intermittently functioning Cross Street Book Shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as well as the stalwart, delightful Dawn Treader in Ann Arbor. Many favorite boyhood memories connect with the snooty yet lovable Elliott's Bookshop in Baton Rouge (d. 1996-97), and few of these with actually acquiring books, but simply exploring the wealth of experience, both real and imagined, that lay behind the serried ranks of spines and covers both tasteful and gaudy, muted and colorful. That said, though, I'm not one of those people who fetishize the physical existence of books--their feel, smell, heft, etc.--at least to the exclusion of all else; the words are the important thing. I didn't connect the development of e-readers with any interests of my own, but this wasn't due to any hostility. Like post-Romanesque architecture, non-Islamic ceramics, post-Greco-Roman sculpture, video games, and comic books, it was a medium (though "content delivery system" sounds more appropriate) that somehow failed to evoke a personal response. Still, it was genuinely all right for some people, and as my friends, family, and eventually I became more and more culturally dependent on the Internet, the idea didn't seem as far-fetched or foreign.
My reasons? For an aspiring writer such as myself, the idea of a device that (theoretically, at least) allowed for the greater dissemination of material not so beholden to established publishing concerns greatly appealed. There's naturally the danger of so much offal released along with the gems, but that, to me, makes the whole enterprise that much more exciting. One of my heroes, Canadian sci-fi author and multimedia artist Jim Munroe, has long touted the virtues of self-publishing--or at least keeping the option open--and the Kindle offers a number of possibilities in that regard which I feel I should at least support. My own extant published stories, appearing years ago in The First BHF Book of Horror Stories (Northwich, UK: BHF Books, 2006), were collected and edited by Chris Wood, who has recently published his own novel, Dead Weight (2012), available in the US on Kindle download, and which I feel impelled to visit from both gratitude and curiosity (primarily the latter). Another major factor in my decision was the sheer wealth of pre-1923 (???) material available, some of which--U.S. Grant's Memoirs and Eugene Sue's The Mysteries of Paris--I've already earmarked for download once the thing arrives. Though friends of mine and Amazon reviewers have drawn attention to potential drawbacks and multitudinous errors in the works' transliteration to e-readers--Tolstoy and Gibbon being prominent examples--I reckon it's a small gamble to dare (especially given the long and honored history of bastardization and bowdlerization in orthodox, paper-based publishing). There's also the issue of physical space. Unlike (I suspect) most people of my age group and cultural background (and possibly present socioeconomic class), I might as well inhabit a monastic cell when it comes to storage space: my "apartment" is a room of maybe 125-150 sq. ft. in a commonly-inhabited house. Desires to keep current with modern literature, further explore the "long tail," and support fellow writers, clash with basic household logistics, to say nothing of the eventual possibility of moving (I don't want to live in my cozy cell forever, and there are various externalities that might remove the element of choice). Last but certainly not least, a story of mine (on which I have mixed feelings, but that's enough of that, eh?) was accepted last month for publication--scheduled late summer of this year--and the venue, both current and back issues, is available on Kindle. Atop everything else, I'd feel remiss if I didn't check out the competition-cum-colleagues.
The thing arrived on the 7th, and after a little mystery, I started to have fun, reading Dead Weight and adding several other titles, most of them nineteenth and early twentieth century French novels (Zola, Prosper Merimee, Pierre Loti, Maurice Leblanc) poorly available through terrestrial sources. I'm almost at the end of my spring pile (an Icelandic saga and an out-of-date medieval history are all that's left) and will likely alternate Kindle and "handhelds" afterward. Browsing through the various features, the concept of "Kindle Singles" intrigues the most. Apparently an attempt by Amazon to stem the unsurprising tide of fraud and spam that hit the Kindle shortly after its release (still unsure how that works), the Singles are a variety of pieces shorter than novels--essays, humor, short stories--available over the Kindle. Though inevitably increasing the size of the haystack at the needle's cost, it's a refreshing way to acknowledge that the novel isn't the end-all, be-all of writing. Maybe it'll even help the short story make a comeback; who knows? I haven't browsed very far, of course, though it appears that Showgirls and Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has a tell-all of his troubled relationship with Mel Gibson that must surely be worth the three bucks--in entertainment, if nothing else. Again, I haven't looked very far. The actual experience is quite relaxing, if a little weird at first. I'd seen Kindles before, though bigger than my own, and the backlighting is just as unintrusive as advertised. It's strange, too, to notice the ergonomic differences between reading a Kindle and reading a physical book (mostly having to do with having another hand free, and not what you might be thinking). I was a little put off at first by the constant display of "space read" at the bottom, but then realized I often did that myself by checking page numbers or book width. So, all in all, pretty positive thus far. I don't see it replacing the physical book anytime soon--it's more of a supplement--but I'm glad it's here.
Chris Wood, Dead Weight (2012): Towards the end of The First BHF Book of Horror Stories, there was an extra tidbit that surprised those of us who contributed. An old-fashioned "printer error" (numbered 666), followed the end credits, and was followed in turn by a hair-raising little tale from the pen of one Ambrose Dubois, found a suicide in his prison cell while awaiting execution for murder in the late nineteenth century. Our editor's surprise story apparently formed the seed for this novel, set in the present day and focusing on the travails of Will and Lewis, a pair of small-town journalists who realize that all isn't well in their "car park"- laden landscape after a series of bizarre murders begin to suggest a supernatural connection. Chris's victory in a BBC competition, supplying the end to a story begun by British cult horror phenomenon Shaun Hutson, inspired him to start the "Your Creations" forum on the British Horror Films site, which in turn helped to convince yours truly that he wasn't completely without talent (and introduced me to a number of other, very talented, writers). Dead Weight is a lively, pacey tale that takes a familiar British horror trope--the friendly village concealing dark secrets--and turns it on its head. The method might sound familiar in a contemporary context to those who've seen the Edgar Wright film Hot Fuzz (2007), but there are a number of differences. The village in Dead Weight is more of a small town; there's very little touristy ambience and a palpable feeling of depression and unease that has little to do with the supernatural threat hanging over the proceedings. The journalism angle is also refreshing; Chris started out as a journalist, and the constant reminders of the profession's doldrums almost give Dead Weight the feel of The Wire's fifth season at times. Will and Lewis's small town paper is in decline due to falling subscriptions and impersonal corporate ownership, and the eldritch terror that eventually pursues our heroes actually vies in existential dread with the looming, faceless doom that threatens their vocation. The pacing is fast and loose, with a number of well-written action setpieces that anchor the horror. Though fully contemporary, it (unsurprisingly) has happy echoes of classic British horror films (Will and Lewis carry on a passive-aggressive meta-argument throughout concerning Hammer films vs. 80s slashers), with Will occasionally wondering "what would Peter Cushing do?" when faced with various threats. I'm obviously biased, as it's written by a great guy, friendly editor, and cracking writer, but also as it's a great example of how self-publishing can actually work (and a good inspiration for me, perhaps, some time down the road). And at less than two bucks (if, of course, you have a Kindle), I feel confident in saying that it's a pretty great deal.