Library Chicken Update :: 12.5.17

Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!


I’m back from Thanksgiving break with an extra-long list of books (read while digesting and/or having just a smidge more pumpkin pie). And if Thanksgiving’s over, that means it’s time to make up my holiday reading wishlist! (As in: I sure wish I had time to read all these books stacked all over my floor.)

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

My Girl-Who-Reads-Woolf project continues with a reread of her first novel, where Europeans travel to the wilds of South America for rest and recuperation, desperate (and doomed) love affairs, and many intense discussions on Life, Truth, and Connection (and the impossibility of same in today’s bourgeois world). Plus: a guest appearance by Mrs. Dalloway!

(LC Score: +1)

Landscape With Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

I’m a big fan of Anderson (especially his Pals in Peril series) and was excited to read this new YA novella about life on Earth after the arrival of the vuvv, an alien race that promises to deliver magical alien tech and a wonderful life for all. Not everything works out as planned, however, and it’s possible that Anderson is using this tale of alien invasion to comment on the dangers of imperialism and cultural appropriation. (SPOILER: That is DEFINITELY what he’s doing.) In fact, this would be a great conversation-starter (along with being a fun read) for middle and high schoolers as they are introduced to the (not so fun) idea of colonialism.

(LC Score: +1)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King

And this was another great YA read with something to say about today’s world. Glory has just graduated from high school and is trying to figure out her future and deal with the long-delayed fallout of her mother’s suicide. Plus, the other day she and her best friend decided to drink a petrified bat (that is not a typo) and now Glory is having visions of a near-future Second American Civil War, which starts as a backlash to the feminist movement. King explores loss and friendship (and the loss of friendship) in original and memorable ways.

(LC Score: +1)

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

“I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father,” our Victorian narrator tells us in the opening sentence of this ghost story, as she explains how, after being orphaned, she was forced to become a governess and ended up in a strange empty mansion with her odd young charges and no other adults in sight. And YES, I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS, LET’S GO. Unfortunately, if you’re going to write about an isolated governess in a possibly haunted house, The Turn of the Screw sets a very high bar, and this story has too few surprises and drags on a bit too long to fulfill my initial excitement. (Also, when the governess tries to get help from the townsfolk because she’s living in a CLEARLY HAUNTED HOUSE THAT HAS ALREADY KILLED HER THREE PREDECESSORS they all treat her like she’s crazy, and I found that very annoying. IT’S SUPER OBVIOUSLY HAUNTED, PEOPLE.)

(LC Score: +1)

Slade House by David Mitchell

Haunted houses everywhere! This novella, a companion to Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (and the extended universe he’s apparently creating across all of his novels), tells the story of Slade House, occupied by “soul carnivores” who must feed every nine years. We learn its secrets from a series of doomed narrators (the first one, an autistic boy, is especially compelling) as the house reappears briefly and then vanishes on its nine-year cycle, leading to mysterious disappearances among the locals. I enjoyed this, but it did feel more like a DVD-extra or bonus track (is there a term for the literary version of that?) than a strong, stand-alone story.

(LC Score: +1)

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

And while I’m reading about haunted houses, it must be finally time to tackle this massive piece of metafiction. I love this kind of epistolary-plus storytelling, where we have different narrators telling different sections of the story that may themselves take the form of letters, transcripts, diagrams, and everything else, so it’s no surprise that I was completely caught up in this tale of a not-so-ordinary suburban house with corridors that appear and disappear and change shape in very disturbing fashion. It wasn’t quite as scary as I was expecting — perhaps because I’ve heard so much about it and have read other works that were obviously inspired by it — although Chapter Nine did give me a headache. Still totally worth it.

(LC Score: +1)

The Whalestoe Letters by Mark Z. Danielewski

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about me, but I’m something of a completist (see: my Alcott-adjacent reading project, my Georgia history reading project, my Bronte sister reading project, my Girl-Who-Reads-Woolf project, etc. etc.) so once I learned that Danielewski had published this addition to House of Leaves, containing material that was mostly already published in that book as an appendix but WITH SEVERAL ADDITIONAL PAGES I of course had to check it out. As it turns out, I couldn’t really tell the new stuff from the old. Probably not worth it (unless you’re a fellow obsessive), though it only took an hour or so to read so no big deal.

(LC Score: +1)

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

From the dismayingly Lovecraftian hallways of the House of Leaves we go to a murder mystery set at a Lovecraft convention in Providence, RI. It begins promisingly (and appropriately) with first-person narration from the corpse, who is inexplicably missing his face. As a long-term attendee of various science fiction conventions (only 269 days until DragonCon 2018, y’all!) I am always up for a literary glimpse of fandom, but Mamatas lost me when he depicted pretty much all of Lovecraft fandom as a sad, pathetic group of racist, sexist losers. Granted, Lovecraft himself was something of a racist, sexist loser, but that view ignores all of the recent amazing writing from diverse authors bringing Lovecraftian horrors to the modern world in creative and continually surprising ways. (See Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country and Ellen Datlow’s two anthologies, Lovecraft Unbound and Lovecraft’s Monsters, to name just a few.) When depicting fandom, the line between affectionate mockery and vicious satire can be hard to define (and varies with the eye of the beholder), but if you’re in the mood for a murder at a con, may I suggest Sharyn McCrumb’s Bimbos of the Death Sun — though I should warn you that younger readers may need to google ‘floppy disc’ and other 80s relics to understand certain plot points.

(LC Score: +1)

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls

So basically at this point I’m reading big thick biographies of Thoreau so I can put off finally reading Walden, which I’m not looking forward to but should really read because I’m doing this whole Transcendentalist thing right now and it’s an American masterpiece and I think of myself as a well-read person and all that. (I had to have read excerpts in high school, right? If so, I have completely blocked it out, which doesn’t make me eager to give it another go.) Whatever my motivations, though, I enjoyed this biography of the (often annoying) Thoreau. Walls is clearly a Big Fan, but she tells an engaging story and I appreciated her often insightful commentary on the Transcendentalist movement in general.

(LC Score: +1)

The Modern Tradition: An Anthology of Short Stories edited by Daniel F. Howard

The Short Story: Fifty Masterpieces edited by Ellen C. Wynn

I’m teaching a short story course next semester, which means I get to pick a bunch of stories for the syllabus! And I probably should have started figuring the list out earlier! Especially as it’s been a long long time since I’ve read most of these! That said, I’m enjoying my trip down short-story lane — I’ve read novels almost exclusively for the past couple of decades, but I think that’s going to change. These collections contain stories and authors that have stood the test of time, so I was rereading old standbys (“Young Goodman Brown”) and finally reading classics that I’ve never quite gotten around to (“The Metamorphosis”) and discovering authors that I’ve heard of but never read and it turns out they’re awesome and I should read more of their stuff immediately (Doris Lessing). Also it turns out that I’ve been confusing Flannery O’Connor with Carson McCullers and I actually kind of like O’Connor? (Another blow to my long-standing prejudice against Southern Gothic fiction.) Anyway, it’s possible that I’ve picked up another dozen or so anthologies (i.e., more books that I can possibly read before the start of next semester) to keep me busy over the holidays. (I appear to be in an even more obsessive mood than usual these days.)

[Editor's note: Ahem.]

(LC Score: +2)

Sadly, even with Thanksgiving break I was unable to keep up with all those due dates and my RETURNED UNREAD score for this week stands at a very disappointing -8. I feel like I owe my library branch an apology. (LC Score: -8)


Library Chicken Score for 12/5/17: 3
Running Score: 118 ½

On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week: