Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir MitchellStorm Moon Press and its new imprint, Wild Moon Books, will be traipsing over the blogosphere throughout October for their yearly blog tour. Today I'm hosting Cornelia Grey with the second special edition of the Inside Reader serial. Welcome Cornelia and its "international" list (Cornelia is Italian like me).
Cornelia: I decided to split the ten books in two groups. One is for my all-time favorites; and the other is for the top five books among the ones I read this year :).
The Truce, by Primo Levi. My number one, top favourite book. I read it the first time when I was 15, and since then I’ve re-read it more times than I can count. Primo Levi is my favourite author. He was a chemist fresh out of Turin university when he was captured by the nazi-fascists because of his Jewish origins. He spent one year in Auschwitz – the tale of which is told in his amazing book 'If this is a man' and in several touching poems – and a number of months being dragged all over Eastern Europe and deep into the heart of Russia before he managed to return to Italy. The Truce is the story of that journey, in a world that was rebuilding itself in curious formations after the devastation of the war. The atmosphere is best described by this quote: "In those days and in those parts, shortly after the passing of the front, a high wind was blowing over the face of the earth; the world around us seemed to have returned to primeval Chaos, and it was swarming with scalene, defective, abnormal
human specimens, and each of these clamoured, with blind or deliberate movements, in anxious search of his own place, his own sphere.”
The Truce never fails to fill me with the sensation of finally breathing in after a long apnea - the colourful chaos it describes, the madness of rebirth, a brand new horizon of possible futures blooming from the ruins of the war. Narrated in his dry witty tone, with a chemist's attention to singular details and peculiarities, this book is a tale of survival and of how life manages to adapt and carry on and a testimony to just how strong man can be. It always gives me hope.
Elianto, by Stefano Benni. It's hard to pick only one of Stefano Benni's books. He's the one most creative author I know. His imagination has no limits - he creates fantastical, colorful, absurd worlds filled with all sorts of creatures and characters. When his setting his Earth, he bathes is in a mixture of magical realism, plain magic, spirits, irony, political satire, blues... all topped up with a bittersweet irony on the human condition that, to me, is typical of Italian storytelling. For example, his book Elianto mixes the struggle of the people against an absurd state system that crushes them (sinisterly reminiscent of Italy), mixed with a hundred glimpses into the lives of random, curious characters, mixed with a mad journey across eight worlds to collect the ingredients of a mysterious medicine. Cloud warriors, two miniature yogi living in a ring, an elegant geeky devil and his companions, Satan and his tie collection, three adventurous city kids, legendary two-fingered bluesman Snailhand Slim, the Tango dancer of death, gentle monsters. One of the things I love the most about Benni's stories is how gentle, simple, good people, in the end, always triumph on the petty intrigues of the powerful and their army of lapdogs. This underlying dream-like quality is something that always draws me in. In Benni's latest books, the tone has shifted: the stories are more melancholic, less bright and sparkling, and the endings are bittersweet. While I understand Benni's disillusionment, I still like to find comfort in his tales that promise that, in the end, the good and colourful and strange will triumph.
Venus on the Half Shell, by Kilgore Trout. I have this memory of my father mentioning, during one of our long conversations, a book he'd really loved. A mad, insane, nonsensical ironic romp across a universe filled with strange planets and creatures; a man travelling with a banjo, a dog and an owl in a Chinese spaceship after the Earth has been flushed like a giant toilet, looking for the answer to the ultimate question: why are creatures born just to suffer and die? The absurdity of the tale, the sheer nonsense irony of it would be enough to make me love this book to pieces (I'm notoriously a lover of random absurd flights of fancy, and of cruel irony too!). But the way it tackles the big ol' issue of the Meaning of Life, and the answer, this one, brilliant, absurd, epic one-liner right at the end, pronounced by a giant cockroach-like creature that used to have tea with God... I used to think, and in many respects I still do, that this is the ultimate book. I mean, what else is worth writing about once the Big Issue has been addressed in such a brilliant, definitive way? I believe every author has the one book where they say the one big thing they had to say in life, and for Trout - who is actually sci-fi author Philip José Farmer - this is it.
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. I read and re-read this book throughout my childhood, and it's basically the blueprint for all my childhood fantasies and dreams, and for the kind of stories and adventures I still predilige nowadays. Compiling this list has made me realize just how much I love mixed genre fiction, complex tales that mix different lives, locations, adventures, characters, with a good sprlinking of unpredictable details. Pippi's adventures are bright and chaotic, with that layer of bittersweet that comes with her fear of growing up, her desire to remain in that fantastical word of adventures forever. This was something I could always relate to as a child - I remember spending one birthday crying because I had no intention of growing up! - and I think I'm still carrying it with me, which reflects in my taste in stories.
The Somnambulist, by Jonathan Barnes. An example of my beloved mixed genre fiction. This book combines steampunk, victorian, penny-dreadful, paranormal, with a flair for the grotesque and ironic which I find irresistible. Not to mention the array of random characters and details that I always find so compelling in stories. A silent giant, a scheming albino, a detective past his prime whose painful secret from the past is tantalizingly hinted at throughout the whole book - and there lies a dusting of m/m just so barely shimmering through that it makes the need to know more almost unbearably painful. I know mixed-genre fiction isn't for everyone - in fact, I've read several reviews of Barnes' books complaining about the fact that he doesn't follow a clear, easily identifiable blueprint. Me, I'm all for burning the blueprints and just going for the surprising, the random.
Solo Release: Apples and Regret and Wasted Time
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Buy Link: http://www.stormmoonpress.com/books/Apples-and-Regrets-and-Wasted-Time.aspx
Price: $1.99 (ebook)
Blurb: He lives in the shadows of the law. Now, wounded and stranded in the city after a job only he could do, he has no qualms about climbing through the window his old lover left open—or stealing his shampoo, at that. He has, however, not taken into account the possibility of being surprised in the shower.
Three years is a long time to go between visits, especially if you've left so much anger and hurt and desire unresolved. They try to negotiate a truce for one night—over Chinese takeaway leftovers and apples, and between the sheets.
The city is damp tonight.
I move quietly through the side streets, keeping out of sight. I lean against the brick walls and brace my hand on sticky metal bins when I feel my balance falter. My temple hurts where someone landed a punch. Blood is slowly spreading through the fabric of my shirt on my left side. Too slowly to be dangerous, I think.
I was too careless tonight. Distracted. I shouldn't have accepted this job.
Being back in the city is messing with my head.
I remember the road clearly, and it doesn't take long to reach the building. The house seems to be waiting for me—red tiles and dirty once-white plaster—squatting low and quiet in the night. I approach it from the back, where the drain pipes are, where there's no lamplights. It's easy, hauling myself up the wall and climbing in through the window. I pause, crouched on the windowsill, listening. He's not at home. I wonder if he leaves it half-open for the same reason he did years ago. I wonder if he still expects me to come back one night. I would have called him a fool for it, the usual soft-hearted wimp. Except... here I am. The soft-hearted wimp has a point.
I tiptoe through the cold living room, barely sparing a glance. Still a mess. Still no pictures.
I slip out of my ruined clothes and let them fall in a heavy, soggy heap on the bathroom floor. Mud and blood stain the white tiles, begin to seep in the stupid blue rug. I don't wonder whether he will mind. I'm quite sure he will.
The wound on my side is little more than a long scratch. It will stop bleeding soon. I press my fingertips to it, follow its path from above my hipbone to just below my ribcage. I was distracted, yes, but my reflexes didn't disappoint. Still, I can hardly believe I let one of them land such a close hit.
I check my face in the mirror. There is blood encrusting my eyebrow, where the skin split open. It dried in a trail down my cheek. The side of my jaw is darkening already; that will hurt tomorrow. My hair is plastered with mud. I grimace as I rip off the strap and try to untangle the soiled locks, feeling them fall damp and sticky all over my back.
The tub is surrounded by a ridiculous plastic curtain with ducks and palm trees, way too transparent. I was half-hoping he might have gotten a real shower at some point, but I guess I can't afford to be choosy. I turn the handle and wait for the water to warm up.
I press my hand to the left side of my chest. Under the taut muscle, I can feel my heart beating at an almost normal rhythm, working through the last traces of adrenalin.
When I step under the hot spray, it's the closest to bliss I've been in a long time. My strained muscles relax; the aches from the recent fight seem to fade, attenuated by the warmth. I rake my fingers through my hair, combing it back, pressing down on my scalp. I work through the tangles, feeling the hot water wash away mud and sweat. I have no qualms about stealing his shampoo. I take my time, lathering and rinsing, until my hair falls down my back in a heavy, drenched—but clean—black curtain.
The city is messing with my head. That's the only possible explanation of why I don't hear the key in the main door, the click of the lock. I don't even hear the footsteps until the shower curtain is pushed to the side and cool air is wafting over my wet skin, making me shiver.
As I turn my head and find him staring at me, I vaguely consider I should have just rinsed instead of rinsing and repeating.
2011 top five
Fight club, by Chuck Palahniuk. I'd seen the movie a few years ago, which kind of spoiled the twist, but never got around to reading the book. I've read other books by Palahniuk, but Fight Club is definitely my favourite: it feels like he got out his One Definitive Story in this first book, and like he's been struggling ever since to tell another story so striking, simple and effective like a gunshot. I love how the book never mentions the name of the narrator, and still manages not to make the readers notice right up until the end. I love the rough, striking writing style, and the random gruesome details that Palahniuk never shies away from, and that are much more effective when used with parsimony than in his other books, when he started going overboard with them to make them his trademark. I scruch my nose at times when the emo-nihilist-cool attitude is exaggerated a little and ends up sounding fake, but I think that might be part of the endless contradictions that Fight Club abrutply brings to light as it digs in the protagonist's psyche.
Memoirs of a geisha, by Arthur Golden. I've always been a little bit in love with Japan, and also with books that can recreate a setting with so many interesting details that it ends up feeling real. I have no clue whether Golden's details are correct or not, whether this book is some massive expression of Orientalism: what I do know is that I fell for it like, as we say in Italy, a ripe pear. While the plot was not particularly original - and I have to say I disliked the ending - I really enjoyed the world building. The detailed descriptions of the settings, the kimonos, the make-up process, the way the geisha world worked... I ended up re-reading whole chunks of the book time and time again just to get that feeling of being transported there again. The delicate and gentle narration just adds to the somewhat hypnotic effect that Golden achieved. I know chances are that reality was very different, and that this might be nothing more than an illusion custom-tailored for Western readers, but sometimes it's nice to just drop the critical distance and have a quiet swim in the illusion waters.
KoolAids, by Rabih Alameddine. This book moves between different times and places. It weaves together the stories of several characters, lovers, painters, militiamen, and deals with different topics – war-torn Lebanon, the AIDS epidemic in America, the difficulty of facing one’s homosexuality in the conservative Lebanese society. The prose is an odd mixture of points of views, dreamlike sequences, poems, articles, pages of nonsensical scripts, legends that mix the absurd and the religious. It took me a while to figure out the mosaic of characters and their connections, hopping from one’s point of view to third person narrations of someone else, now in their childhood, now on their deathbed. There’s lots of points left unclear, and it requires a conscious effort to connect all the threads and start to make sense of the whole tapestry. Personally, I love this narrative style, I love the random odds and ends that intersect the story. I fell in love with the glimpses of characters and places that Alameddine offers.
A hundred years of solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquéz. Yet another brilliant example of a story spreading like a tapestry, encompassing the lives of a number of characters, spanning over several generations. The story begins drenched in magical realism, which I’m always very fond of. As time passes and modernity reaches the isolated village of Macondo, the focus of the story widens to include a social critique, dealing with war and the disastrous advent of plantations. While a veil of magical realism always remain, the book becomes much more grounded in reality and history, and I’m amazed at how Marquez managed to weave seamlessly together history and imagination. The book is filled with striking character sketches, described in clean, clear-cut prose, cameo images (little Rebecca carrying the sack with her parents’ bones) that will certainly stay with me.
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. I think that after reading this list it will be quite obvious why I like this – and why I like Gaiman’s books in general! The sheer amount of imagination that comes into play when Gaiman starts creating characters and worlds makes me happy. Even more so because of the skillful way in which he weaves the magical world of London Below with the real London: the floating market, the tube stations coming to life (the dangerous seven sisters, the evil black friars…), the little touch of creepy that’s always welcome. While I wasn’t particularly fond of the protagonist, I fell utterly in love with the world building and the colourful characters that inhabit the underground, magical reality of London Below. Yet another of those books that present me with a strange world where I’d very much like to live!
Upcoming Release: "Bounty Hunter" (part of Weight of a Gun anthology)
Publisher: Storm Moon Press
Buy Link: http://www.stormmoonpress.com/books/Weight-of-a-Gun.aspx
Price: Pre-sales! 20% off! $5.59 (ebook), $11.19 (print), $12.79 (print & ebook)
All pre-sales of print or bundle include a poster of the cover art, too. :)
Blurb: Everyone knows that guns are dangerous; they have long been a subject surrounded by controversy. Combine them with sex and you have a subject that is virtually taboo, but smoking hot. This anthology explores the intersection of these two worlds, and the sensual possibilities they inspire.
In Bounty Hunter, William Hunt is hot on the trail of lover-turned-outlaw James Campbell. But when William finally catches up with James, bringing him to justice is the last thing on his mind.
The man walked in the saloon, the wooden doors swinging heavily behind him. Gravel crackled under his boots as he was welcomed by the reek of cheap alcohol and gin sweat. The handful of drunken men barely spared him a glance. Someone was singing a crooked, out of tune, love song. Worn out cards slapped on wooden tabletops, the tired clinking of glass against glass as someone poured a drink.
William Hunt didn't pay attention to any of it.
He had the best part of a whiskey flask in him, a gun heavy at his side, the stubble of four days on his face, and a sure lead. A lead he might have dragged out of a whimpering man, pressing the barrel of his gun hard into his cheek and wondering out loud whether at this particular angle the man's eye would explode as the bullet tore through it before it blew up his brain. The man couldn't speak fast enough to tell William what he wanted to know.
William hadn't shot the man, of course. He hadn't even intended to. He was just good at knowing what it would take to make a man talk; it came with the job after all. This one you could scare into spilling, that one you had to beat up, that one would crack after you broke a couple of fingers.
Whatever it took to get information.
William knew where James Campbell was holed up, and that was all he needed.
About Cornelia Grey: I'm a student, halfway through my creative writing degree (with a penchant for fine arts and the blues). Born and raised in the hills of Northern Italy, where I collected my share of poetry and narrative prizes, I'm now based in London - and I'm thoroughly enjoying the cultural melting pot that is the City.
When writing, I favour curious, surreal poems and short stories involving handsome young men seducing each other. This blog is dedicated to my male/male fiction; most of it includes erotic scenes. If we share this interest, I warmly invite you to have a look around - I hope you will find something you like.