Tag Archives: Times I Reference Freud’s Essay on the Uncanny

An Imaginary Curriculum: Which it’s Part the First of Kate’s Wild and Crazy Summer Reading Thoughts

A couple of days a week I work at my favorite bookstore, and last week I started one of my favorite projects: building the summer reads table for kids and teens. This got me thinking about all the research reading I’ve done over the last couple of years, the things I’ve learned since that weren’t part of my middle and high school education–discoveries of history, science, math, information theory, literature that I was lead to by people and projects I’ve met and worked on in my post-student years. Some of these subjects are things that I don’t think I would have looked up if not for those people and projects. My husband, for instance, frequently browbeats me into reading things he thinks I’ll like, oftentimes having to overcome heavy reluctance on my part before I’ll finally make space on my TBR pile. A prime example of this was when he finally got me to read Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books. I had absolutely no interest in starting them, but Nathan is, shall we say, persistent. And lo and behold: I LOVE THOSE BOOKS. Love them, love them, love them.

Anyway, long story longer, I got to thinking about these latter-life surprises, especially in subjects like math, which I stopped being good at in 7th grade and feared for the rest of my school days but which I love to read about now. I started thinking about whether my experiences in math, chemistry, physics–even history and literature, which I always loved–would’ve been different if I’d been introduced to some of these books earlier. Would they have opened my mind to aspects of those subjects that would’ve given me different ways to access them, to understand them, to find a reason to care about them even if I wasn’t good at them? For that matter, might I have discovered that struggling with math didn’t mean I couldn’t be good at physics? What if I had discovered something of the poetry of math back before I started to think I wasn’t good at it?

So with that in mind, a couple days ago I started making a special summer reading list of books that have changed my mind or showed me something fascinating where I didn’t know there was fascination to be found. Then the list started growing, so I think this may turn into a couple of posts rather than just one. These are books I think would be fantastic reads for teens, and in my wildest dreams I imagine some of them would be so cool to use in the classroom. I could be wrong; I’m not a teacher–but its summertime and I am going to indulge my wild imaginings. And here they are.

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Subway Literature: Cherie Priest’s BONESHAKER

Not long ago I was in Orlando at a company conference when I got a phone call from a very nice gentleman at McNally Jackson, one of my favorite bookstores. My copy of Boneshaker had arrived and was waiting for me when I got back to NYC. Hooray!

No, not my forthcoming first novel, in which a young girl battles the demonic forces of a traveling medicine show with the help of, among other things, an antique bicycle. I’m talking about Cherie Priest’s novel of the same name, which broke my heart when I first heard about it, despite the fact that the second I read the description I was immediately dying to read it. (Here’s Cory Doctorow’s review on BoingBoing: http://www.boingboing.net/2009/09/29/boneshaker-cherie-pr.html.) Well, last weekend, I finished reading it. This much I’ve already said on Twitter and Facebook: if I gotta share a title, this is the book I want to share with.

I’m a newbie novelist. Of course I hated the idea that my baby, my firstborn, after a long and painful title change process, had to share. I first learned about Ms. Priest’s book when I wrote a post about the agony of finding the perfect title (it’s here, for anybody who’s interested: http://community.livejournal.com/enchantedinkpot/21833.html). The first comment was a concerned poster wanting to be sure I was aware that the new, perfect title I’d changed mine to was a duplicate. I was, needless to say, not aware. But it turned out my publisher was, and Clarion had decided that, for a number of reasons, the duplication was a non-issue. My book’s for ages 10 and up; Ms. Priest’s is for adults. Her boneshaker’s a drill, mine’s a bicycle. Mine’s coming out six months later, and in a different format. No biggie, basically. Which makes me happy, because, as I said, I just finished reading BONESHAKER, and it’s so very good. If you like zombies, airships, Seattle, or maniacal inventors, you should really go pick this book up right now. Love steampunk? Love horror? This book is for you.

In Cherie Priest’s imagined Seattle, it’s 1879 and the Civil War is stretching on, and most of the city has been enclosed in a wall to hold in the disastrous effects of a blight gas loosed by the Boneshaker of the title. (Sixteen years ago, Leviticus Blue built and tested the Boneshaker, which was intended to expedite mining in the Klondike. Instead, it tore through the underpinnings of the city, releasing the Blight, which turns those who breathe it into flesh-eating undead “rotters.”) Ezekiel Wilkes, son of Leviticus Blue, is desperate to redeem the memory of his father, and finds a way into the enclosed city to search for something to prove Levi wasn’t the monster history has made of him. His mother, Briar, goes in after him when she discovers him missing. What follows are spectacular and deadly hijinks in a nightmarish landscape peopled not only with zombies but those who have, for one reason or another, chosen to make the deadly heart of Seattle their home. It’s a tremendous adventure (it’s going to make an insane film for somebody—I’m looking at you, Terry Gilliam; get cracking) but what I love best about it is the city Ms. Priest has built on the historically mutated bones of her hometown. Cities are and always will be my favorite characters, and although both Briar and Ezekiel are wonderful, it’s the scrappy survivor that is blighted Seattle that the author brings most vividly to life: a place that is at once hellish and awesome. This city is the perfect embodiment of Freud’s uncanny: homely and unknowable all at the same time.

So anyway, I recommend it. Highly. Go get it, why don’t you? And since you might have to order it, why not go ahead and order both Boneshakers? Just make sure you have Amazon or whoever send them separately. My book you’ve got to wait until May for, but Cherie Priest’s zombie phantasmagoria is out now. It’ll at least get you through October. Then you’ll only have four months to wait for mine.

Subway Literature: Shaun Tan’s Tales from Outer Suburbia

This book is going on my special bookcase, the one that used to be a pie-cooling cupboard and has chickenwire screens in front of each shelf. Only my very favorites go in the pie cupboard. Fortunately Tales from Outer Suburbia is very narrow, because there’s not much space left in there. If I can manage it, I will file it next to Barry Yourgrau’s Wearing Dad’s Head, because Outer Suburbia reminded me a lot of reading Yourgrau. Both books are made up of brief, perfect, odd moments just long enough to get under the skin, and in one case in Outer Suburbia, to actually make me cry (“Undertow”). Both books promise that the strange can–and likely will, if you bother to look–turn up right in your front yard and in your own family. If I was going to really geek out, I’d be tempted to start talking about Freud’s essay on the uncanny and how these books perfectly exemplify the way in which the familiar and the strange are so deeply intertwined, but I do my best geeking out after a glass of bourbon and I haven’t eaten yet today so the whole thing would probably result in a lot of misspellings and even longer sentences than this one.

And let me not begin to gush about Mr. Tan’s artwork.

In the negative column, you have to keep yourself from rushing through this book or you come up for air and not only is it already over, but you’ve also missed your subway stop. Unfortunately, although I tried to slow myself down, I wound up rushing from one story to the next way too quickly, and Tales from Outer Suburbia wound up being a one-way subway read (darn, had to go buy another book for the trip home). But I think that’s really my only complaint. Anyway I’m sure I’ll read it again.