What I've Been Reading (Instead of Blogging)

There are a number of reasons for the absence of posts around here, but at least one of the more valid ones is that I've been reading more books lately. I figured I'd break the blogging drought and share a bit about those books, which fall into two categories: memoirs and zombies.

In the former category we have two books by the same author, Jeanette Walls: The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses. Both of these books were recommended by relatives - an aunt for one and a cousin for the other - and they were absolutely correct in their strong recommendations.

The Glass Castle was published a few years ago, but Half Broke Horses is new and is actually a prequel to The Glass Castle. Both books trace the lives of the author and her family, starting with her grandmother (in Half Broke Horses) and continuing through her own upbringing (in The Glass Castle). I don't know that I'd go so far as to recommend reading Horses before Castle, but if it worked out that way for you, I don't think you'd be disappointed.

Walls is a splendid storyteller, and her early childhood unfolds like a slow motion train wreck. At times, I didn't want to look, but I couldn't help it. If you want to feel better about how you were raised, The Glass Castle might just be the ticket.

Half Broke Horses was a bit more enjoyable for me, because most of it takes place in the desert Southwest, including West Texas. Walls account of her grandmother's life as a rancher/teacher is just fascinating. She calls the book a "true life novel" because she wasn't able to verify all the stories she heard about the characters in the book, but that's in no way a shortcoming.

I highly recommend both books.

Once I got past the relative intensity of the preceding volumes, I was ready for lighter fare, and I succumbed to the temptation to download the Kindle edition of a book I'd had my eye on for more than a year: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. I can't recall when I enjoyed a book this much. According to other reviews, 85% (an odd number, made more credible by its oddity) of the original novel was retained, with the remainder being comprised of "ultraviolent zombie mayhem." Actually, the mayhem was rather tame, although there was quite a bit of vomiting into one's own hands, which I assume was the etiquette of the day, yet another reason I'm glad not to live in 19th century England. But it added just the right amount of edge needed to produce a first-rate satire.

OK, let's stop for a moment for a confession. I've never read Pride and Prejudice. I know; I'm a crass philistine, a backward rube. But if Jane had written her book this way in the beginning, I think she'd have reached an audience that was hitherto inaccessible. I could be wrong.

Another strong recommendation, especially if you enjoyed the original, because - face it -  everything is better with zombies.

So, while I was in a zombie state of mind, I grabbed another Kindle book from the genre: Best New Zombie Tales, Volume One, a collection of short stories assembled by James Roy Daley. It was on sale via Amazon.com for $2.99 and thus irresistible. The Kindle version of the book (which appears to be the only version available) was horribly laid out, with weird page breaks and misspelled words, but those flaws seemed to just highlight the pulp fiction attractiveness of the subject matter. And, in fact, there are more than a few excellent tales in this collection of nineteen short stories.

Think about it. The concept of the dead returning to life is rife with possibilities beyond the shambling brain-eating stereotype. For example, what if the undead weren't really evil; what rights might they have as nonproductive but also non-consumptive members of society? What are the theological implications of zombies (other than the idea that they'd make darned fine church ushers, at least the non-brain eating ones)?

Some of the stories in the collection bordered on high schoolish lameness, while others were right out of Stephen King's playbook (although in a couple of cases, executed better, no pun intended). If you're in the mood for this kind of speculative/horror/fantasy fiction, you'll more than get your money's worth.

Bonus review: Somewhere in the midst of all the preceding, I also read Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. This was another Kindle version, although it's also available in paperback. It's a steampunk alternative-history novel set in Seattle during the Civil War, and the city has been overrun by - wait for it - zombies. If you're into the whole steampunk thing (and if you don't know what that is, you're not), this is worth reading. Otherwise, meh.


I didn't know you were reading The Glass Castle also! It's an amazing and well told story, isn't it? My take away from it was complete and utter amazement at the strength of the human spirit. While not a tale of Holocaust type desperation, it gives a birds eye view into "ordinary" poverty that still makes you laugh. I'm planning to read the prequel also.

Eric, I was never able to get into reading zombie books or J.K. Rallings(not sure of that spelling)either. Too many good books to read with out going into weird world!JMO
I'm wondering if Walls is wriring another book

Back when I was fighting the paycheck wars, I had two tactics that were sure-fire "win friends and influence people" schemes. 1.) I'd carve several hundred bucks a year out of the charitable giving budget. (It's possible to express several hundred bucks as a percent of anything, I might note.) Then, when a co-worker would zoom me about sponsoring a bike ride or a fun run, I'd whip out a check and write a c-note's worth of a pledge. 2.) If I heard someone mention a book they were reading, I'd make a silent, mental note ... get the book, read it, then later casually drop in conversation that I'd "read that book you mentioned." I swear. Both tactics are 100% guaranteed ... to "win a friend and influence a people." I was explaining this to my bride, once. She noted as how, "You never read 'Pride and Prejudice' and I talk about it all the time. You must not love me." So, I made a deal. I'd read P&P if she'd read a book I was reading. "Like what?" she inquired. "Maybe, 'Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980,' by Charles Murray," I suggested. "It's a deal," she said. I read "Pride and Prejudice" (and enjoyed it immensely). My bride was so proud of me. "When are you going to read 'Losing Ground'?" I asked. "I'm not reading that ****," she explained. There's no winning the Battles of the Sexes, Eric.

That would be an apt opening line! There were many instances where I wanted to reach in the book and strangle the parents. The kids would have been more cared for by wolves. Thank God for His mercy.

Eric, good luck on "Pride and Prejudice!" I'm a big fan of Austen's, loving her respect for the reader and her refined craftsmanship in language - both in her proces, and in the verbal exchanges of her books' characters.

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This page contains a single entry by Eric published on June 23, 2010 5:44 PM.

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