Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Reader Interview: House husband/Average Guy Mike

Reader interviews are where everyday readers share their likes and dislies and reading preferences...

Mike's Bio: "I am a 50-year-old house-husband/father who enjoys reading and occasionally dabbles ineffectually at writing. I have a BA and an MA in English literature and an MS in English Language Arts. I read fantasy fiction mostly, and when I get tired of that I go back to the English canon or read contemporary literature. I listen to audiobooks of non-fiction occasionally, and I also read books about writing. I live in Vermont currently. I have worked in business management (I also have an MBA, like most people do), web design program coordination, specialty beer retail (fun!), and music retail in a corporate capacity. I read every day, write occasionally, and love the New England Patriots. I am also a beer nerd/snob/enthusiast."

How often do you read? How fast do you read?

I read at least every night for an hour or so before bed. I also try to get some reading done during the day, and I frequently listen to audiobooks in the car.

I read fiction at about average speed, approximately 300 words per minute. I read non-fiction slightly faster if it is not technical. I took Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics as a teenager, so I am capable of reading faster, but I like to subvocalize fiction to enjoy the narrative voice and the dialogue. It’s all about the enjoyment, entertainment, and wow factor for me.

Favorite authors?

My all-time favorite by a mile is Gene Wolfe. His Solar Cycle just blows my frigging mind. I have read it several times, twelve books from beginning to end. Specifically, the first subseries, The Book of the New Sun is my favorite book/series. Wolfe’s writing is nonpareil and his imagination is astounding. But it is his feel for complex human emotions and deep introspection that really pulled me in, that and his writing and use of language, which makes it so personal and yet so profoundly universal. Anyhow, I think he’s the greatest, as you can tell.

I have some other fantasy favorites these days, including Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, and Jeff Vandermeer (his Shriek: An Afterword is an incredible literary work). Some other books I loved recently whose authors I hope will become favorites are Vicious by V.E. Schwab, A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar, The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan (I also loved her The Red Tree), Low Town by Daniel Polansky, and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu. Some other older faves include Jack Vance, Barry Hughart, Douglas Adams, David Gemmell, Jeffrey Ford (The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque is absolute frigging genius as is Physiognomy and most of The Fantasy Writers Assistant), and Brian Francis Slattery.

I also have some favorite classic literature writers like Hemingway, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Saul Bellow, Cormac McCarthy, and some favorite books, including White Noise by Don DeLillo, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Molloy by Samuel Beckett, Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe, We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen, and, well, I could go on and on. Like most people on goodreads, I really really like a good story well told.

What are your preferred genres to read for fun? What genres will you NOT read, or dislike reading?

I like fantasy the best. I am an escapist at heart. But I don’t usually pick the post-Tolkien-elves-and-dwarves stuff or the seventeen volume never-ending doorstoppers with two hundred point of view characters. And it has to be well written, which to me means purposeful language without purple prose. Secondarily, I like what is loosely called literature or literary fiction. And I also read some sci-fi. I will read anything that has literary quality like Cormac McCarthy westerns, James P. Blaylock steampunk, and Thomas Ligotti horror. I haven’t read much mystery or suspense thriller, mostly because I am afraid they will not provide the escapism that I am usually subconsciously looking for, but I am not against them.

What influences your choice of book to read for fun?

For fun I read novels almost exclusively, though I have read some short story collections. For a long time I read almost exclusively first-person because I like that intimacy. Then I moved on a little to intimate single voice third-person. (Did I mention I really like Henry James?) Now, reading Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, I see that good writing can bring intimacy and variety to multiple third-person POVs. So I hope to reopen myself to everything. I am also a fan of parallel narrations and metafiction.

I read a lot of reviews on amazon and goodreads, and I am especially interested in editorial reviews from publications I trust like Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, Washington Post (actually covers genre fiction occasionally), Library Journal, etc.

What's the best book you've ever read?

Like I said before, Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. Some people have the Bible. I have The Book of the New Sun. It is that important to me.
“Perhaps I have contrived for someone The Book of Gold.” – Severian the Torturer, from Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, Volume 4: The Citadel of the Autarch

What's the worst book you've ever read?

Hmm…ever is a long time. And I absolutely won’t finish a book if I don’t like it. I will put it aside even if I am two-thirds of the way through it. One that I recently gave up on was The Name of the Wind. (Go ahead, hate me!) It probably wasn’t the worst book ever, but I am strongly averse to that fantasy novel structure that throws the main character into the most intense conflict of his life in the first chapter and then proceeds to backtrack and use the next forty-two chapters to tell us everything that happened to the character since the day his mother died and he became an orphan and every frigging thing he has had for breakfast for the next twenty years. Get on with the story! Keep the backstory in the backstory! Abercrombie does this perfectly. Some of his characters are archetypal fantasy characters – the bastard king, the grizzled old warrior, etc – but their backstories are neatly folded into the actual main plot/story/conflict. Don’t give me one chapter of story and forty-two of backstory before finally getting back to the main plot three-fourths of the way through the book! Backstory is boring! And the backstory in The Name of the Wind is especially bad because it is in first-person, so it is like the main character is boasting through dozens of chapters: I outwitted this bad guy here when I was six; I beat up this bad guy here when I was nine; I was smarter than my teachers when I was eleven, etc, etc, etc! Okay, end of rant.

What elements make a good story?

High stakes conflict that cannot be avoided, complex characters, emotional intensity, vivid (and strange) setting, good pacing, purposeful language that suits the narrator and the story. I never make it through stories that seem like they have been extensively plotted beforehand. If I feel the characters are just pieces being moved on a plot diagram, I’m outta here.

What makes you roll your eyes or groan in a story?

Well, see my rant about fantasy structure and backstory for number one. Also, purple prose, sentences that I have to reread because they are so awkwardly written, too many points of view, stories in which everyone is beautiful, extremely intricate “magic systems” that seem to have been contrived to write a story around, zombies (most of the time), a child’s point of view, children in general except when they are like Crummock I-Phail’s kids in the First Law, invincible heroes, “Mother Teresa” heroes (like Vaelin Al Sorna in Blood Song, which I am trying to slog through – see also, fantasy structure and backstory -- having already paid my $7.95 to, and probably some other stuff.

Ever watch movies based on books, or read a book because it's already been made into a movie?

Not particularly, except for the Lord of the Rings movies of course, which I thought were pretty much excellent. I don’t see movies much, but if they made more movies from great books (Elric, First Law, Bridge of Birds), I would definitely see them. I hope they don’t make a movie of The Book of the New Sun. Some things are too sacred. (Sorry, Mr. Wolfe.) I saw The Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, which is based on one of my favorite books, and we all know how bad Disney fucked that up.

Where do you like to read the most?

Mostly I read in bed with my dog snoring next to me. I have particularly uncomfortable furniture in my house, not exactly sure why. Probably because I move a lot and don't like lugging stuff, so I never actually buy any furniture.

If you'd like to share your reading preferences, email Troglodad AT Gmail DOT COM for a set of questions or make your own based on what you see above.

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