On What I Looted From Borders’ Corpse and Why

Today was the last day that Borders was open (also, by that you might realize that today is not in fact today, but the day of several weeks ago).  Megan and I went to breakfast at House of Pies, then drove across the street to the giant Borders that has haunted my dreams since I moved to Houston.  By then, they’d taken down the signs and almost completely closed up shop.  All the books that were left barely covered a tiny table at the front of store, and they were a sad and sorry lot.

The Saturday before, we’d stopped by and delved into the bookcases, seeking out what was worth a chance at $2 to $6 and stacking our arms high.  I left with eleven books, all thick hardbacks or trade paperbacks, venturing beyond YA and SF&F to history and memoir and thriller and biography because well, why not?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the why of each below.

I know nothing about John Kelly.  I know very little about the Black Plague (or, as the cover calls it, the Black Death).  But I’ve always been interested in plagues and society’s response to them (how different, really, from a zombie outbreak?) and the novel I’m working on now has what I imagine to be the close, hothouse atmosphere created by the Black Death.  At least, I’ll know whether it does when I’m done reading this.

I love Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, and I’m not just saying that because he was a professor of mine (Hi, Nick!), but because it embodies what I see as real and vital in memoir.  He writes in short fragments that are as much poetry as they are prose, and in a way that frankly amazes me.  What perhaps kept me so long from picking up this book was that, in my mind, it seemed a reactionary text to the war.  Now, a year after it’s release, I’m no longer afraid that’s the case (and suspicious of my reserve to begin with).  Also, I love the title.

As with The Great Mortality, I have no knowledge of the book or the writer.  This novel is an Elizabethan Thriller, so it covers two bases for me: it’s a thriller/mystery and its historical.  The novel I’m writing at the moment is a mystery, so the more examples of the genre I can gulp down, the more competent (I hope) I’ll be in the execution.  Also, my novel takes place in another world, and so I need to make that world read — just the same way a historical author has to make the past real to the present.  But, to tell the truth, the real selling point here that the main character is Giordano Bruno, a person I studied for my Renaissance comprehensive exam.  He’s a magician and an alchemist and pretty much an intellectual badass.  How could I resist? (Hint: I couldn’t.)

Burleigh is the third author I knew nothing of before buying his book.  His book was in the military history section, one which I would normally skip over, but this book caught my eyes because of its focus: good and evil in World War II.  Basically, he’s talking about what good and evil mean in war, and how moral compasses change for individuals and societies as a whole during war.  As I’m interested in people’s reactions to extreme circumstances, this book jumped into my hand and demanded that I buy it.  Books, really, should not be implanted with voice chips. (Jason, I refuse to acknowledge that I bought this book because it sounds suspiciously similar to Mortal Kombat.  So there.)

And here’s a book I bought only because I know the author.  I’ve read both his YA novel The Prince of Mist and his adult novel The Angel’s Game and really enjoyed his writing and his ideas.  The Midnight Palace seems to expand further on his themes of temptation and religion.  It’s a YA book, so I’m not looking for the verbal splendor that I know Zafón can achieve.  Instead, his wondrous ability to create atmosphere and tension will have to suffice.

For this book choice, you need to blame Phoebe North.  Or perhaps I do.  Either way the onus lies, you can find her review that sparked this purchase here.   Phoebe and I met because of our mutual history with the University of Florida (MFAs!) and because we were posting on Absolute Write about our attempt to find agents for our YA novels.  Turns out, Phoebe is much more into the science-fiction side of YA, while I’m more in line with fantasy.  And though Revis’ novel is firmly SF, I’m expecting to enjoy it.  And if not, I’m coming to get you, Phoebe.

The last time I read something by Guy Gavriel Kay was in high school.  It was The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy which used the trope (I already knew at the time) of taking people from our world and throwing them into a fantasy world, shaking, and putting the resultant concoction in the oven.  Cook at nine-hundred pages for several days.  Serves one.  The thing is, Kay is a wonderful cook.  I don’t know why I never read anything else of his, but now’s the time to make up the difference and get fat on words.

I have no real excuse for not having read Sarah Vowell before now.  I have heard her read on This American Life and enjoyed her stories.  She writes non-fiction that deals with the vagaries and oddities of history in way that makes the facts go down like honey.  And facts of all stripes are what I use to frame my poems and fiction, so why haven’t I availed myself?  Probably because she’s popular.  Everyone loves her.  I wanted to ask her to the dance, but I was sure she already had a date.  I stayed at home and watched reruns of I Love Lucy instead.  What have I done with my life?

I first heard about Patrick Ness from Sean Wills, another YA writer (whose re-reading of the Animorphs series you can find here).  I know very little about him (Ness, not Wills), except that he’s also the author of The Knife of Never Letting Go, another book that wins the Title-So-Awesome-I-Must-Buy-It-Now Award.  Except I haven’t bought it now, or then.  I picked up the second book because it was only $2, and I knew that I wanted to read it at some point, and stop judging me with your eyes!  Okay, okay.  I’m a little bit of a book-a-holic.

I don’t really like biographies.  Granted, I can’t remember the last one I read, which either proves my point or points out that I’m a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And who doesn’t want to be a prophecy?  Regardless, I picked up this one because 1) Heinlein is a giant in the SF field and 2) the book promises (or implies (or suggests)) to have the early history of speculative fiction intertwined with the facts of Heinlein’s life.

I have no specific interest in the War for Independence, but I found myself at Borders looking for things that might feed my imagination in unexpected ways.  Sure, Ferling’s book could be seen as military history, but I was buying it more for the snapshot of the world at that time.  Facts already learned?  Most of the population did not want independence from England.  Even after the war started, the colonies were fighting to get their demands met rather than to be a free country, on its own.  Also, some guy named George Washington was apparently an important guy.

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4 Responses to On What I Looted From Borders’ Corpse and Why

  1. Phoebe says:

    Eep! I hope you like it.

  2. Andrew says:

    If not, I won’t blame you. Much.

    But I’m pretty sure I will. At least, I’m excited to read it. 🙂

  3. AndrewPC says:

    I like your write up. Gives me alternative options for when I go to the library later today.

  4. Andrew says:

    My aspiring-Librarian girlfriend will thank me for inspiring library love. So no, sir, thank you.

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