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The Best of Modern Humour
Mordecai Richler
Progress: 230/543 pages
The Big Book of Jack the Ripper (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Original)
Otto Penzler
Progress: 499/848 pages
The Count of Monte Cristo
Alexandre Dumas, Lorenzo Carcaterra
Progress: 148/1462 pages

Reading progress update: I've read 120 out of 1462 pages.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas, Lorenzo Carcaterra

almost certainly going to devour more tonight- I would like to average at least 150 pages a day. and that should zoom higher on days off work.


so I knew this time would come, this section of the book: where I wait, swathed in angst, for Edmond to be free of prison. how long will I wait? will scenes carrying me through this painful phase feature Edmond - tortured, suicidal, visited by mockers and betrayers - or will the narrative shift to those on the outside. this is gonna be years, isn’t it!, I mean from Edmond’s perspective. and he was such a nice guy, he doesn’t deserve this...


will there be a time jump? ha, I know the drill from other books like this....as long as this: it will only be after a brilliant author has wrung every drop of angst and tension from me, and given rich scenes that stoke my desire for Edmond’s revenge...


I want the next phase, but I must be patient. I know this from before...Stephen King, Eugene Sue. things will evolve, but not until the author is ready. it’s what makes it beautiful.

Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 1462 pages.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas, Lorenzo Carcaterra

obviously, I already despise the triumvirate of villains I have been quickly introduced to. they are going to be 1400 pages of trouble, I can tell. a terrific start to the book - books one-tenth this long should learn this pace, at least if they are dealing in adventure and excitement.


this book will be competing mightily with The Wandering Jew, by Eugene Sue, for my affections. that was 1367 pages or something, that was French, it had been serialized in the 1840s, it was insanely popular at the time and cemented the author's reputation, and it was High Adventure chock full of wonderful heroes and villains. I can already tell with Monte Cristo that I am about to undergo a similar satisfying reading experience and, once again, it's nice to be less than 50 pages into a book about 1400 pages long and know that it's going to be heaven...and there may come a time that I wish it actually did not end. I solved Eugene Sue withdrawal by reading The Mysteries of Paris when a new edition appeared a few years ago, and if Dumas becomes another favorite - I expect him to - I will read more.


but for now, it's all about my long, thrilling journey with this fellow Edmond, who proves - like it has been proven before - maybe don't go away for months at sea. crap goes on while you are away...

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 1462 pages.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas, Lorenzo Carcaterra

big book. biiiiiiiiiiiiiiig book.

"Daphne Dolby’s first port of call before going on to her office was Number 5 Murphy’s Mews, which is situated in the seedier part of Chelsea and inhabited by some of the most dubious characters in London. A few may have hearts of gold, but the best that can be said for most of them is that they are not actually wanted by the police, though it is always a matter for speculation as to when the police may not feel a yearning for their society. One of these was Daphne’s betrothed, Sir Jaklyn Warner. He had been living there for some weeks and would continue to live there as long as the rent-collector was prepared to accept charm of manner and glibness of speech as a substitute for cash."

Bachelors Anonymous, by P. G. Wodehouse (copyright 1973; quote is from page 45 of the Penguin Books paperback edition, 1982).

"Percy was the dog’s name, and mention was made earlier of his habit of chasing Miss Priestley’s cats. But he was not a specialist who confined himself to this branch of industry. Postmen paled beneath their tan when they saw him, and representatives of consumer research firms were equally affected. His guiding rule in life was. ‘If it moves, bite it’, and it was unfortunate, therefore, that at this moment Mr Trout should have moved. Abandoning the more prudent policy of standing rigid and hoping that he would be mistaken for a flowering shrub of some kind, he thrust forward a trembling hand, an action against which his best friends would have warned him, and said:

‘Good dog. Good boy. Good old fellow.’"

Bachelors Anonymous, by P. G. Wodehouse (copyright 1973; quote is from page 88 of the Penguin Books paperback edition, 1982).

Reading progress update: I've read 23 out of 139 pages.

Bachelors Anonymous - P.G. Wodehouse

OMG, I'm 51, I must have last read this when I was 17.

25 Essential Reads, My Final Draft

1. The Haunted Woman, by David Lindsay


2. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, by Angela Carter


3. Hotel de Dream, by Emma Tennant


4. Replay, by Ken Grimwood


5. The False Inspector Dew, by Peter Lovesey


6. Killer Tune, by Dreda Say Mitchell


7. The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L. Sayers


8. Black Water Lilies, by Michel Bussi


9. Seconds, by David Ely


10. The Wandering Jew, by Eugene Sue


11. The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons


12. Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon


13. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, by Gordon Honeycombe


14. Bug Jack Barron, by Norman Spinrad


15. The Color of Distance, by Amy Thomson


16. Blindsight, by Peter Watts


17. Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy


18. The Female Man, by Joanna Russ


19. Bear, by Marian Engel


20. Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton


21. Kentuckiana, by Johnny Payne


22. The History of Mr. Polly, by H. G. Wells


23. The Confidence-Man, by Herman Melville


24. The Quiller Memorandum, by Adam Hall


25. The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory


the one that won't fit: The Story of Lucy Gault, by William Trevor

My "25 Essential Reads"/Defending the Picks: Pt. 2 A Thriller and a Quiller

time to talk about two more books on my "25 Essential Reads" List (First Draft, now about to become a Second Draft, as you will understand as I go along here): Seconds by David Ely...and The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall which is replacing Follett's The Eye of the Needle.


the Seconds chat:


first off: I'll be brutally frank...I love the film version of Seconds more than I love the original novel. I do; I'm free about it. the 1966 film added the perfect music; I can't get that from the novel. the film added the best, creepiest, most mind-blowing cinematography you could ever be smart enough to pick for this incredible story - mainly Thriller, part Horror, certainly a Crime & Mystery effort supreme, and mostly just yummy nightmare.


when I worked in a DVD store - when such things existed - some young got-up-in-Goth dude heard me praising the fates that the film Seconds was finally coming back on the market, and became curious about all my exhilaration, instant-flashback-to-last-time-I saw-it shenanigans (and I had since found and read the novel)...


"it's gonna be pricey (well, staff-discount, but still...). do you think I would like it?"


"I don't know you well enough to say for sure, Steve. But from what I can tell, you are one of the people who should see this film. What kind of movies do you like?"


"My favorite Horror movie is Rosemary's Baby."


"Yes. yah. yes. uh-huh. yes, it's a yes. if I could do a resounding Yes properly, I would...but I've made do with saying yes over and over again. yes. you...yes...yes, you should watch Seconds."


Steve came to work the day after he had bought it and watched it that night:


"I watched it. I freaked out. I loved it  - I immediately had to go out to a bar and have some beer, and I just kept thinking about it. And at some point I went home I and watched it again. And then before I went to bed I watched it again. And I'll probably watch it all week."


"Ah, Steve. See, that's different from me: I watched it once, went crazy for it, but was also so horrified that I knew I didn't want to watch it again for a long time. But I did find and read the book."


"There's a book?"


Yeah, there's a book. I tracked down a paperback copy and devoured it - it's a quick read - and my copy had a blurb from Ian Fleming on the cover, something like "The best Thriller of 1964!". I maybe rate it a bit higher than that: I am putting it on my "Essential 25".


I hear you: is this just about loving the film, Tigus?


no, the book is brilliant. the story is the same, thank goodness, except for one scene where the main character sneaks away from the organization controlling his life by that point, and goes to see his daughter and her new baby on the sly. She of course does not recognize him.


I love that this book features all men who hit a "mid-life crisis" and take the ultimate step - I want to start again, leave my wife and everything else, and start a new life somewhere, with a new identity, with no repurcussions. oh wow, a friend who did this has told me all about a secret organization/company that does this for money...and I have to sign a few things. It will of course involve them faking my death.


Do I need to say that there's a catch, or that the organization is shady, and that it's bad news for you if you start to have regrets.


It's all there in the novel. See Rock Hudson nail it, in the film, but the book is brilliant, and we wouldn't have the movie without this wonderful, amazing idea as cooked up by David Ely.


NOTE: dammit, I have to stop here, because my lunch is ending at work. No longer doing this while lounging around on my day off. Tonight, I will return and discuss my Espionage pick for my "Essential 25", The Quiller Memorandum by Adam Hall. (I may mention the film, but this is a totally different situation...because the film is totally different than the book! And this time, I prefer the book). Seeya later!

"'But I've never heard that he grumbled. And Napoleon. He suffered from chronic dyspepsia. Couldn't digest a thing. Every time he got up from dinner he felt as if a couple of wild cats were fighting for the wild cat welterweight championship inside him. And Waterloo on top of that.'

'And probably all he said was *Oo la la*.'

'I shouldn't wonder.'

'Or *Zut*.'

'Yes, possibly *Zut*.'

Bachelors Anonymous, by P. G. Wodehouse (copyright 1973; quote is from page 23 of the Penguin Books paperback edition, 1982).

Reading progress update: I've read 4 out of 139 pages.

Bachelors Anonymous - P.G. Wodehouse

another Wodehouse re-read. ahead of schedule, but I need it.


this is late Wodehouse, and apparently inspired by his fondness for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

"It was beyond desolate: it was where desolate goes to be by itself."

Generation Loss, by Elizabeth Hand (copyright 2007; quote is from page 223 of the Harvest Book/Harcourt, Inc. trade paperback edition).

Reading progress update: I've read 26 out of 138 pages.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien - Georges Simenon, Linda Coverdale

why is this book reminding me so much of the movie Charade?!

My “25 Essential Reads”/Defending The Picks: Pt. 1, SF

okay, some general notes before I zero in on SF chat...


with only 25 picks, but no compunctions about including genre fiction, I seem to have landed on 5 SF choices, and then closed that door. whatever changes I may make as I head towards a Final Draft, I would prefer not to add an SF pick and remove some other type of fiction. push come to shove, it would be more likely I would be somehow compelled to remove an SF choice, and clip it down to 4 SF books. I mean, you notice there is no Wodehouse on my First Draft, and my favorite book, The Anubis Gates (Fantasy), is not on my “Essentials” List. yet. and I will discuss those omissions in another essay...but 5 SF choices burns up one fifth of my picks, and that’s very interesting to me, when I self-reflect.


so, my SF Essentials, such as they are now...


Blindsight and The Color of Distance, first of all - lumped together, because this means I have seen fit to include two ’First Contact with Aliens’ novels. first off, they are very different - but yes, that means trouble fitting in a great Robot Novel, or a Post-Apocalyptic Novel, or Steampunk, and on and on and on, in terms of what’s missing. in the end, it’s just a simple case of “too bad”.  the two books in question are too wonderful leave out, I want people to compare them and see different approaches to First Contact with Aliens, and I get a novel I love onto the List that is written by a woman, and leaves me wondering why everyone who loves SF has not read it, or maybe even heard of it.


The Color of Distance: I love that it features almost no violence; no two factions warring by halfway through the book, no revenge plotlines, no battle of the whatever, let’s give good and evil a rest, shall we, and do something different! themes: adapting to survive, becoming ‘the other’, a new way of living a life, a new way of looking at life, living ‘wild’ but within a society (and deal with the harsh rules, it’s their world, not ours); new modes of communication, limited to honesty (!) - wow can humans even do that?!; being part of the greater whole. and I loved that alien rain forest, the Tendu, all of it.


Blindsight: this book will not be removed; it’s locked in, okay? I’ve discovered I need it on the List more than Orbitsville...and who knew that’s where my head’s at. hm. intelligent, challenging, 5 successful SF novels in one. how do you do that?? Big Dumb Object story becomes ultimate First Contact story. humans grappling with the truly alien, the terrifying Unknown; we’re in trouble! we are hampered by our own assumptions, everything we’ve built, and hampered by our ways of perceiving. illusion, trickery...what’s the final truth, what’s really going on? just a taste of a Spy novel (kind of weird that way...but I love it). we are not as smart as we think we are, we are not the center of the universe. and a book for vampire fans. I know, right?


on to Bug Jack Barron: will it ever not be relevant? radio, TV, the internet, Twitter, YouTube. worship of media gods...we put our brains and our faith in their hands. think for us, opinion us to death, capsulize, but stay cool, no shark-jumping or you go. meanwhile...what’s really going on, what’s the shit under the shell that allows it to happen, cuz it’s always there. and it’s gonna be sickening, horrible, you want to know, you don’t want to know, trust me. assembly-line evil...but the show in front of it is really cool, right? humans, ugh. Bug Jack Barron is not likely to get bumped off my List.


Woman on the Edge of Time, and The Female Man: angry; not going to take it anymore- we WILL be heard. SF, once the realm of middle-aged, sedentary, white male writers who have it all figured. but there have always been great SF novels by women, and I love putting three SF picks out of five by women on my List. sort of a kick in the ass, which I enjoy, because the books are so good, and I don’t do Diversity picks just for the sake of it. it’s 2019, and people need to read these books. change doesn’t just happen, the old guard really don’t want to give up power or have adulation diverted - you gotta wake up and fight to make change happen. a better world starts with listening to all the voices, not shutting them down to keep things the same. they’re so afraid of rebels. hogs.


(okay, um, I have a lot of picks for the 1970s on my List of 25, don’t I? I mean, it’s not crazy/out of control or anything, but yeah, wow, lots of 1970s representation. not on purpose or anything...but, should I think about it? is it worth probing at? am I being unfair? enh...I’ll deal with it in another essay.)


so, where am I at? two Feminist SF novels that blew my mind, changed the way I see the world, changed the way I see women, and certainly one of them must stay on my Final Draft. Woman on the Edge of Time is as essential as essentialness is to...something being essential. and then, what? - do I pull The Female Man so I can fit Wodehouse?! do I pull The Female Man, so people can read The Anubis Gates, the most fun I have ever had reading a novel, the most inventive novel I have ever read? do I do that? does that feel essential? is it essential that people read The Anubis Gates? what does Essential mean? does it mean Fun? Inventive? not at this time, it doesn’t. (and fuck, Tigus, if you’re removing anything from the List to make room for Anubis Gates, you’re removing The Wandering Jew by Eugene Sue - that’s your Pure Fun/Pure Inventiveness/Pure Adventure/ Pure “WTF, let’s at least have one major, frigging, 1365-page Party!!!” pick. no clipping out The Female Man, just to have some effing fun! (and the H. G. Wells book is the one that you allowed to bump out Wodehouse, Tigus, so leave the SF picks alone! anyway, this is all for another essay).


hey, we’ve arrived at Final General Thoughts (thank goodness):


my frank opinion is that a lot of once-relevant SF seems out of date. and as it happens, that’s a lot of books by white dudes. I mean, it just is. when Michael Moorcock did the Preface to David Pringle’s book Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books, it was 1985, and he was already questioning why the List had so many picks from the 1950s on it, and wanting to see more books, on any future Lists, by women, and people who are not white. okay, that’s 1985, feeling that 1950s SF ‘classics’ are becoming irrelevant. now it’s 2019. science, and the way we think about the world, has changed so much!  recent SF may actually be more relevant than anything - at least in my opinion - going back to, uh, 1962...except for some very special exceptions (one from 1818, and by a woman...and there’s Orwell, who knew exactly where we were going by the 1940s).


I love all my SF “Essentials”, and yes, I had to eliminate other picks by “dead white men” to show my love, my feelings about what’s essential to we of 2019ish. these are all carefully considered choices, and I ain’t fer-sure yet, to quote one of the bigger assholes in Pulp Fiction (by the way...if you loved Pulp Fiction, call me crazy, but you might want to take a look at Black Water Lilies...no really, I don’t mean because of gore or violence, no no, I draw a comparison there because of...okay okay, I’m off topic again, I’ll save this for the Crime & Mystery essay).


I’m tired, and the laundry stopped a while ago, and the dryer wants its fill, so I’m going to take a break, but I may come back later and discuss a few books that are ‘Honorable Mentions’ amongst SF picks I considered for my Essential 25, but have so far resisted including on the roster. I will say, now, that when it comes to books that are Listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die that can be flagged as SF that I feel you must read, there’s: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (’uh-hunh. really? I had no idea!’), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (‘yah, uh-huh’), and of course Under The Skin by Michel Faber (brutal read, but, I mean, yah, wow).




tomorrow, I think I will begin a series of Posts - carrying through the week - called ‘Defending the Picks’...that is, defending and discussing the books I selected for my “25 Essential Reads” List (First Draft).


I’m going to break down my discussions, for the most part, into genre sub-sections, and I’m going to start with my Science Fiction choices, which are BlindsightWoman on the Edge of TimeBug Jack BarronThe Female Man, and The Color of Distance.


I will also be talking about terrific SF choices that are not currently on my work-in-progress List, but may yet show up, if I decide to make changes. books I will discuss, with the focus being on why they have not made the cut (yet!) but are still up for consideration, are OrbitsvilleLimboWho Goes There?, Version Control, Earth Abides and Dr Bloodmoney..and there may be others.


I may discuss why there are two strong Feminist SF choices on my List, and, for that matter, why there are two First Contact SF books making the cut.


I may discuss why it is my opinion that a lot of essential SF reading should perhaps be post-early-1960s (“relevant SF is more recent”, yes?, no?).


I may talk about the (IMO) special relevance of Bug Jack Barron now more than ever.


I will discuss great SF novels that I was cut off from including on my List, because of my aim to omit anything already recommended in ‘1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die’ (ie. I have to leave out Under The Skin, dammit!!).

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 138 pages.

The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien - Georges Simenon, Linda Coverdale

so, it’ll be a couple of stories from the Jack the Ripper book, this early Maigret novel, Bachelors Anonymous (re-read) by Wodehouse...and then - The Count of Monte Cristo!

First Draft of “25 Essential Books” (final draft approx. June 23)

1. The Haunted Woman, by David Lindsay


2. Hotel de Dream, by Emma Tennant


3. Replay, by Ken Grimwood


4. The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, by Angela Carter


5. The False Inspector Dew, by Peter Lovesey


6. Killer Tune, by Dreda Say Mitchell


7. The Documents in the Case, by Dorothy L. Sayers


8. Black Water Lilies, by Michel Bussi


9. The Eye of the Needle, by Ken Follett


10. Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy


11. Blindsight, by Peter Watts


12. The Color of Distance, by Amy Thomson


13. Harvest Home, by Thomas Tryon


14. The House Next Door, by Anne Rivers Siddons


15. Neither the Sea Nor the Sand, by Gordon Honeycombe


16. The Far Pavilions, by M. M. Kaye


17. The Wandering Jew, by Eugene Sue


18. The History of Mr. Polly, by H. G. Wells


19. Bear, by Marian Engel


20. Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot


21. Bug Jack Barron, by Norman Spinrad


22. Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton


23. The Female Man, by Joanna Russ


24. Seconds, by David Ely


25. The Confidence-Man, by Herman Melville


Notes: I have deliberately avoided picking anything listed in the book 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.


As the title to this Post suggests, this list is considered a work in progress, and I give myself a week to make any changes (possibly as many as 5), before submitting it to Moonlight Reader, who originally made the call for submissions.


This is a tough task! Twenty-five choices suddenly becomes very limiting, and I shudder to think what I’ll be forced to omit. But, that’s okay - I stand by my choices, and I will do so again, at the final draft.