12 December 2010

Fangs, gangs, perpetual trains!

[Yes, I am SO PROUD of this title. Trademark me, 2010!!!]

December reading:

Dracula's Guest: A Connoisseur's Treasury of Victorian Vampire Stories, ed. Michael Sims: Out this summer, somehow slipped down to the bottom of my stack! I'm (probably not surprisingly) a peruser of vamp fiction from way back, since encountering Anne Rice at the tender age of 13 (and the less said about those books' influence on my burgeoning sexuality, the better) (the word for this kind of pointing-out-by-saying-you're-not-pointing-it-out, btw, is paralipsis! Second most useful word I learned this week--also, from a random Wikipedia article, "demonym," meaning the proper term for a person from a particular place, e.g. Kansas, New Yorker.). Really, this is one reason Twilight irritates me so much, because I KNOW VAMPIRES and these are NOT vampires, lady!!!
Returning to the anthology at hand: Dracula's Guest is a well-curated collection of tales, interspersed with some fun "non-fiction" accounts of Eastern European vampirism. Besides the obvious suspects (Polidori, Stoker), Sims collects some forgotten gems of bloodsucker lore--my favorite was "Let Loose" by Mary Cholmondeley, which involves an aficionado of early English fresco accidentally awakening a baneful (and slightly hilarious when revealed) presence. Other highlights include Mary Elizabeth Braddon's "Good Lady Ducayne" (and if you haven't read her Lady Audley's Secret, it's one of the Great Trashy Novels), a tantalizing excerpt from James Malcolm Rymer's penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre (can we say "overwrought"? And "can't stay in one tense within a paragraph"? Yes, we can), and yes-slightly-related Aleksei Tolstoy's "The Family of the Vourdalak."

Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America, Brian Francis Slattery: Heard M. Slattery read with Charles Yu at WORD back in yikes, September? accompanying himself on banjo: a dreamlike, sci-fi-by-way-of-folk experience and a perfect setup for the novel itself, which is a freewheelin' hippie road trip bluegrass heist dystopia about trying to correct the sins of history personal and national--and viciously, sardonically funny, and brutal and multicolored and just a great ride! Loved it.

Iron Council, China Mieville: Good luck of the draw reading this right after Liberation, as they're both Westerns at their heart. Remember what I said about Mieville's playing with The City as concept? In this, the city is also a revolution, and a constant escape--a train, seized by striking employees and set out across the continent over decades, laying tracks before it just long enough to travel over them, their path constantly disappearing in their wake. It's connected to New Crobuzon, the sick-at-heart metropolis introduced in Perdido Street Station, literally and figuratively. And as usual, I have trouble even discussing Mr. Mieville's work in any kind of intelligent fashion, as I am just so overwhelmed by his genius, and so aware of my inability to accurately reflect it in my own prose. Endlessly enjoyable.

And in sad news, coming full circle back to fangs: Francesca Lia Block's YA-vamp-bandwagon entry, Pretty Dead, is just awful. She's begun writing like a pale imitator of herself at her height, with none of the lushness or the heart that made her so important. Oh well, we'll always have Weetzie.

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