Tag Archives: fantasy

The Monday Book: MEMOIRS OF A SURVIVOR by Doris Lessing

I like most of Lessing’s work, but she can be a real downer. This book picks up on some scenes that appear in others, and since this was published in 1974, I’m assuming these were the first appearances, and their refinement came in later works.

Somewhere in her life, Lessing saw or felt that girl children were valued less than boys. She’s got this running as a sub-theme through a lot of her novels, and it’s here in a few of the scenes involving Emily, the teenage protagonist of this novel.

The novel has two protagonists, the second one also being the narrator, a woman in late mid-life who watches from her London flat window as society breaks down around her. Think “The Road” because there’s no specification of what’s happened, just reactions to it. The societal disorder is actually pretty ill-defined, because it’s mostly there to explain why there are bands of roaming young people terrorizing the city. Think “Children of Men.” Something’s gone wrong centrally.

The narrator gets Emily in a very strange way; one day a man knocks on her door and tells her this child is her responsibility from here on out. And the narrator says “Fine.” Think Stephen King, eschewing explanation and yet not sounding implausible because it’s all so human-nature driven.

Then Emily gets into all sorts of scrapes and her pet Hugo is getting eyed up by the gangs for dinner, and it’s not going well, and…. well, the ending is a bit of a shocker. It’s actually happy. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This book requires a lot of the reader. Nothing is what it seems, except is is. Everything is falling apart, and yet some things are getting better for no reason. If you like literary fantasy – and I’m not even sure that’s a genre – you’re going to love Lessing’s Memoirs of a Survivor. If you like things explained, best pick up something else.

When she published it in 1974, Lessing called it a dystopian fable. Apparently, it was made into a movie in 1981. I don’t even want to think what violence the subtle writing and edgy themes would have suffered in that process. I’d say this book is like steel lace. The beauty is unusual in where it’s found, yet the writing is so delicate in describing bluntness. Steel lace.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA

Cleaning up the SF/Fantasy Section

sf catThe other day I tackled a job I’d been dreading. Only because it offered procrastination on a job I dreaded more.

So now we know: when it comes to cleaning and culling the Science Fiction and Fantasy shelves versus doing laundry, SFF wins.

Not casting aspersions, CJ Cherryh needed some serious attention along the spines. It’s the hazard of being shelved low in a cat-fostering bookstore; hair accumulates. And of course, the cats WOULD gravitate to Cherryh….. (Inside joke: for those who haven’t read her, she has a feline world thing going. I suppose if we had staff unicorns, they’d hang with the Anne McCaffreys. But do unicorns shed?)

And then there was alphabetization….The SFF shelves line the walls, but one sticks out, chest-height, at a right angle into the room. So, should A – or, as it’s known in the biz, Asimov, Anderson, Anthony – start on the wall or the sticky-out shelf.

It would have made more sense to plan this from the get-go, but not until I hit the Hubbards and Forgotten Realms (for some reason side by side in my mismanaged universe) did I decide the series would fit on that low shelf. So sensible, so orderly, so non-chaos-theory!

Until one tries to decide what a series is.

Star Trek, TekWars, Dragonlance – sure. But what about Jordan’s Wheel of Time, or Martin’s Game of Thrones? A chance to put him alphabetically next to, oh, say Meuller’s lesser-known trilogy would afford opportunity to see it while hunting famous people.

Yeah, we book sellers are sneaky like that.

But then there are the space issues (heh heh). Herbert’s Dune is the 1970s Hunger Games more’s the pity – but it’s just too MUCH to get all that shelf space devoted to it. So I double-stacked him in the series section.

It felt a little like sending a has-been to the minor leagues. Spaceball? Hmmm…..

Anyway, I got all the way to L (aka Lackey and Lawhead) before I had to decide again. Jack Whyte went to series, but Lawhead? He’s esoteric: Christian themes, fantasy SF combo… Should I put him next to Bradley in series? Oooh, talk about a catfight. Bradley’s lusty Merlin next to Lawhead’s lawful good guy? Eeek.

So yes, I admit my organization of the SFF books became rather random and “because I say so” toward the end there. Burroughs isn’t in series, but Tolkien is–next to Star Wars, poor sweet elves. Pendleton’s bad-guy survivor series is, Axler’s Deathlands isn’t.

Because space dictated it. Space, the final frontier? More like the final border. There’s only so much room, guys.

But I must admit, all this arranging got me in the mood for some fun, campy, spacing out. When I picked up my cat afghan crocheting that evening, I started in on Firefly, which is silly, and sweet, and has GREAT music. A friend described it as “intellectual, plus all the guys wear tight pants.”

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Sarcastic Shelf Guides involving Sexual Innuendoes we Fantasize about putting up in the Bookshop

I’ve spent the past few days moving large masses of books around the shop, reshelving sections that have shrunk or expanded, making certain like sits with like. This has included creating new overhead hanging signs, showing what’s on the shelves below.

As happens about hour three of scrutinizing books title by title, carrying armloads back and forth across the shop floor, Jack and I got the wee bit silly. We began to create “totally honest shelf guides.” Here are a few you will never see in a bookstore. Not if it wants to stay in business, anyway.

Celebrity biographies

Biographies of people who have actually done something

Memoirs

Interesting Memoirs

Classics because the school system says so

Real Classics

Science Fiction

Science Fiction involving Science

Bikini Bimbo Science Fiction

Science Fiction with an Apocalyptic Christian Twist

Science Fiction with an Apocalyptic Amish Christian Twist

Cozy Mysteries: candles, soap, needlecraft

Cozy Mysteries: medieval

Cozy Mysteries: cookery

Cozy Mysteries: cats, dogs and other animals with big brown eyes

Cozy Mysteries: someone actually cares when murder occurs

Non-Cozy Mysteries: Native American

Non-Cozy Mysteries: Everything Else

Historic Fiction

Historic Fiction with at least 30% accuracy

Poetry

Poetry that Rhymes

Christian Values

Christian Values that are in the Bible

Modern Values packaged as Christian to sell Better

Paranormal Romances: Fleas and Fangs

Paranormal Romances: three or more pages occurring before coupling (Literary)

Cookbooks by celebrities and diet fad gurus

Cookbooks by people who know what they’re doing

Guys with Big Guns, Fiction and Non

Estrogen Express (Self-help, Career and Relationships)

Hippies, Retro

Hippies, New Age

Hippies, Green

Stephen King (Horror, but we’ve stopped bothering)

Bestsellers (please stack latest Cornwall, Evanovich, Grisham or Patterson here)

War (aka American History; please note Middle East and WWII are located here)

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Whuffling Through the Social Sciences

IN THIS EPISODE: Shopsitter Andrew Whalen gets more than he bargained for while trying to impose a little order on life’s chaos….

Things got a little too real today when I tore apart the “-Ology” bookshelf and set out to rebuild it. This shelf contains folklore, sociology, anthropology, self-help, career advice and research best practices.

At first reorganizing was fun. In a confusing world it can be comforting to establish hierarchies and draw borders. This is the appeal of the low-stakes nerd debate. Does it matter if Kirk or Picard were the better starship captain? No, but it feels good to put things in order (this one always seemed easy to me: one survived the reign of Kodos the Executioner, has the middle name Tiberius, passed the Kobayashi Maru test, and defeated conqueror-of-all-Asia Khan Noonien Singh… the other is Picard).

But some chaos cannot be cornered, tagged and boxed. Some chaos can only be whuffled, which is the word I made up to describe the sensation and action of bottling various fogs. Or the word I thought I had made up until I typed it into a search engine and found it used to describe sniffling, gentle affection and thankless online forum moderation. If we’re going by my definition (not endorsed by the Internet) it’s a feeling that accompanies so much of what we try to set in place. And the more I stared down the “-Ology” shelf, the more I begin to think the whole world is made of whuffle.

Yes, whuffle is verb, adjective and noun. It’s very versatile.

Before the “-Ology” shelf this uncertainty seemed very abstract to me. It came up primarily when considering genre. Is it fantasy just because there are swords? Is it sci-fi just because there are spaceships? Read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and get back to me. Welcome back. See what I mean? And that’s before we get into odd-balls like Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Thomas Pynchon, and Margaret Atwood. No wonder people just gave up and invented the term speculative fiction.

The “-Ology” shelf was supposed to be different. It represents entirely separate realms of human knowledge! It’s like a UN of social sciences, each field a tiny nation-state with its own territories and agendas.

But my distinct borders kept getting knocked down. What to do with Typetalk, which purports to be a study of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator, but has self-help cover language promising to aid in determining how you “live, love and work”? Things only blurred more from there. When is a study on families anthropology and when is it sociology? Are Coping with Difficult People and Coping with Difficult Bosses really so different that they should be three shelves apart, one in sociology, the other in career guidance? ARGH.

So I started fresh, with a new theory. I could arrange the shelf like a continuity. There was a spectrum at play, beginning with psychology: the individual opening up onto the family, expanding into the society, then reaching out to other societies and forms of governance before finally drilling back down into the individual stories each society treasures. Brain to Folklore, with all of human experience in between. Made total sense for like two seconds. But things just got worse. And by the end I had almost convinced myself that Life-Span Developmental Psychology and Normative Life Crises was interchangeable with Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads.

I look at the shelf now and see nothing but whuffle. No matter how hard we try (I’m looking at you, Dewey, with all your decimals) nothing exists entirely separate and apart. Categories are cool, but they are never definite. All things interlock and nothing is simple. But as maddening and confusing as that can get for the bookshelf organizer, it probably makes for a more interesting world.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Uncategorized, VA