“…my standard advice to people who want to write fantasy: Stop reading fantasy” – Michael Moorcock.

I’m not about to give up comics but it is a fact; comics tend to be hackneyed and creatively inbred. Fanboys writing stories for fanboys.

So I’ve been reading some of the superlative novels of the last fifty years. Books I wouldn’t normally read since they’re not about monsters, spaceships or magic. Here’s what I’ve read so far and the empirical knowledge gained.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved
I wanted to start with a book that is as far from a sci-fi as possible, the flagship of the Oprah Book Club.
Holy Fucking Shit this book intense! Turns out, it’s not that different from what I usually read. This book shows what a damaging experience American slavery was. Most of the characters in this book were driven insane by the experience. It shows that the African-American background is different then other ethnic groups. I have a number of black characters in Seize Him! and a separate novel that’s stewing in the back of my mind. I need to keep Beloved in mind when developing their personalities.

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
My favorite so far. I love Heller’s style. He refers to &#147the dead man in Yossarian’s tent&#148 every couple of chapters but doesn’t explain who the dead man is, how he died and what he’s doing in Yossarian’s tent until the book is almost over. It’s like the self-referential humor of The Simpsons, except backwards.
I’ll be reading more Heller.

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces
I didn’t find this novel as funny as everyone else told me it’d be. Probably because I kept looking for signs of the author’s pending suicide in the narrative and prose.
I don’t think that I learned anything about writing from this book, but it did remind me that you can write a truly great book, but it won’t matter if you don’t get it to market.

Julies Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The only science fiction novel on this list and the dullest book I’ve read in a long time. (I’m also reading the books that inspired The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) It’s about traveling around under the world’s oceans looking at fish and eating them. Yeah, that’s exciting.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake
This one was weird. The original Timequake was giving Vonnegut trouble. He just couldn’t make it work. So he kept the best parts and interlaced them with stories from his life.
This alternation between life and fiction almost puts you in the space Vonnegut was in while he was writing the original Timequake.
I learned that creativity doesn’t have to end in one’s late forties, and that you don’t have to be Jewish to be quippy.

At Xanadu in 2001, I asked Kilgore Trout for his ballpark opinion of John Wilkes Booth. He said Booth's performance in Ford's Theater in Washington D.C., on the night of Good Friday, April 14th, 1865, when he shot Lincoln and then jumped from a theater box to the stage, breaking his leg, was “the sort of thing which is bound to happen whenever an actor creates his own material.”

I’m about to read an Ian Flemming collection. I think it’ll be an good influence for Seize Him! and I read in the Aleister Crowley biography Do What Thou Wilt that Flemming knew Crowley during WWII and based the bad guy in Casino Royale off of him. Then I’ll move on to other authors with styles that I think I’ll like; Dorothy Parker, Philip K Dick and Ernest Hemingway.

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Comments: (6)


  1. 1. I’m glad you liked “Catch-22;” it’s been one of my favorites for years. The other good Heller novel is “God Knows,” which relates the Biblical story of David. Laugh-out-loud funny (especially when you realize that all those bizarre “Bible stories” are, well, actual Bible stories), and poignant.

    2. Other Vonnegut: “Slaughterhouse-Five” is interesting when read back-to-back with “Catch-22.” There are a lot of parallels: black humor, anti-war themes, complete disregard of chronology as a stylistic tool, and so on. I also think you’ll enjoy “Cat’s Cradle” a _lot_

    Timequake was also excellent. My favorite line (out of many wonderful ones) was “If you want to disappoint your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.”

    3. Speaking of “homosexual”… does my ass look big in these leather pants?

    Comment by the_bone — December 30, 2003 @ 10:28 am

  2. No. It’s all the fat on your ass that makes your ass look big.

    I wanted to read Slaughterhouse Five but my local library doesn’t have a copy. It is on my list though, along with God Knows

    Comment by tone_milazzo — December 31, 2003 @ 5:12 am

  3. A couple of suggestions:

    1. Read some more stuff by female authors. With the exception of the Morrison book, all the stuff you have up there is very masculine.

    I’d make some recommendations but, uh, I don’t really like stuff by female authors. Then again, I’m not trying to become a writer, so it’s not as important for me to expose myself to a wide variety of fiction.

    I lied- here’s a name for you: Margaret Atwood.

    2. If you’re like me and you’re uninterested in female authors, try reading some stuff by male authors that’s a bit more “precious” (for lack of a better word). Suggestions, with books listed in order of personal preference:

    A. John Irving (he rocks!): A Prayer For Owen Meany; The Hotel New Hampshire; The World According to Garp; The Cider House Rules. Irving is brilliant at characterization; I never wanted Owen Meany to end. That book broke my fucking heart.

    B. Dave Eggers: You Shall Know Our Velocity; A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It’s kind of fashionable to hate Eggers right now, but he blows me away.

    C. Douglas Coupland: Generation-X; Life After God.

    Enough with the lit-crit nonsense; I’m off to buy Ultimate Fantastic Four #1.

    Comment by the_bone — January 2, 2004 @ 3:29 am

  4. I want to read more female authors, but for some reason they all feel like Judy Blume to me. Even Anne Rice. One exception, Poppy Z Brite, who I will read more of when I return to reading horror.

    Ultimate FF was pretty good. I can see that Bendis is modeling this series after his work on Ultimate Spider-man which is OK.

    Thanks for the recommendations!

    Comment by tone_milazzo — January 2, 2004 @ 4:55 am

  5. Pretty much you can borrow any of these books from me.

    SF/F genre
    Ursula K LeGuin: Left-Hand of Darkness
    Melissa Scott: Trouble and her friends, Shadow Man
    Robin McKinley: Deerskin
    C.L. Moore: No Woman Born (short story) (also wrote as Lewis Padgett) (this is hard to find, i hope the book it is in is in oregon)

    Nawal El-Sadaawi: Woman at Point Zero

    Okay, I had to pause and write this enormous thing about the us govt so i am written out for a bit. These should be good to get you going. I’ve got loads more recs for you. I’ll toss them your way if you’re still looking for some.


    Comment by aliteraryaffair — January 13, 2005 @ 3:33 pm

  6. Dang, I am losing my mind. offer shoulda been author *sighs*

    Feelin’ old,

    Comment by aliteraryaffair — January 13, 2005 @ 3:34 pm

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