Victoria Book

During my current research I came across a reference to a book on the history of Victoria, TX that came out in 1883 and was reprinted in 1961 (as History of Victoria County;: A republishing of the book known as V. Rose’s History of Victoria). I requested the book through inter-library loan. The title page said that the reprint was edited by JW Petty and published by The Book Mart, Victoria, TX 1961. At the end of the editor’s preface there’s an inscription from him, to the Texas Tech library (which isn’t where the book came from).

When I saw the title page, I remembered…  In his youth, my father frequented a used bookstore in Houston owned by a man named Joe Petty. They got to be friends. He still has many books from Petty’s store. Later on, Joe Petty moved the store to Victoria. Here’s a link to a story on him in the Victoria Advocate from 1956.

The book has been useful, with facts about Victoria, like the number of banks and various stores. Also the racial and social attitudes of the author, Victor Rose. Also, I like how my research/writing obsessions intersected with a bit of family history.


Another Take On Fiction For The Brain

Over at Book View Cafe, Nancy Jane Moore has an interesting post on Annie Murphy Paul’s article and other related research by Keith Oatley and Raymond Mar.

As a book designer, I would be curious to see a study that looks at good writing with a good page design vs. good writing with a poor design, and bad writing with a good design vs. bad writing with a poor design. Yes, good writing is subjective. I would have to be in charge of making that distinction.

Reading Fiction Is Good For The Brain (and what’s good for the brain is good for the rest of your body)

MRI of the head, from

It turns out that reading fiction is actually good for you. Not that I didn’t already believe that, but I’ve met plenty of people who don’t read fiction, because they say they only want to read real things. This piece by Annie Murphy Paul in the New York Times discusses some recent research into the imagery of fiction and its effect on the brain.

Paul quotes Dr. Keith Oatley, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto and a novelist (including The Case of Emily V, a mystery that involves Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes). According to Oatley, fiction “is a particularly useful simulation because negotiating the social world effectively is extremely tricky, requiring us to weigh up myriad interacting instances of cause and effect. Just as computer simulations can help us get to grips with complex problems such as flying a plane or forecasting the weather, so novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life.”

Paul mentions Oatley and other authors of various studies. When I looked up Oatley I discovered that he has a book from August 2011 on the same subject: Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction, which is described as exploring “how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.”

I find it odd that Paul’s piece failed to mention Oatley’s book. I don’t know what that omission means (most likely nothing), but it bugs me. It distracted me from the making of a simple blog post on an interesting subject, sending me off into myriad speculations, none of which are worth noting in this post.

Here’s a group blog that Oatley participates in: OnFiction: An Online Magazine on the Psychology of Fiction, which I will look at more thoroughly when I get a chance, and I’m curious to read his book.

I hope the findings of Oatley and other researchers will encourage more people to attempt the reading of fiction. It will help your brain.

Couple of Links

I liked this piece on Bookslut by Greer Mansfield about the fiction of Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James, and Robert Aickman. I haven’t read much Le Fanu or James. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I own a copy of Le Fanu’s collection, Madam Crowl’s Ghost and other stories. Which I obviously need to read soon.

Here’s something Mansfield said about Aickman, which I would have said in my Aickman post if I had thought of it:

Aickman never spells out his meaning. His stories end abruptly and inconclusively, and in fact the “meaning” is less important than the utter mysteriousness of what happens. Like a true poem or a vivid dream, Aickman’s stories hover on the edge of being understood, but never quite are. They are meant to be listened to and wondered at, and their mystery grows stronger the more one puzzles over them

And an interesting interview at The Center for Fiction with a writer I’m unfamiliar with named Steve Almond. I like his attitude toward big publishing and the need for doing it yourself sometimes but not all the time. Some good bits like this:

That’s the fundamental design flaw in the publishing industry: It pairs an artist with a corporation. Occasionally, this produces a great piece of art that makes all parties involved dough. More often, a literary book loses money—all but one of mine have—and the writer winds up feeling like a loser because his piece of art didn’t move more units. That’s a pretty crazy way to measure success.

Circus eBook

Circus of the Grand Design is now available as an ebook, brought to an ebook store near you by the lovely and talented Keith Brooke, of Infinity Plus.

Circus came out in hardback from Prime Books in 2004. Locus Magazine called it “a fascinating, deeply bizarre adventure.” Jane Andrews gave us permission to re-use her way cool painting “Moving On” for the cover.

The Infinity Plus page has links to the various ebook sellers so you can purchase one for yourself.

Robert Aickman

Recently, I strolled through Robert Aickman’s short story collection The Wine-Dark Sea. I had been wanting to read some of his stories and picked this one because it was available from the library.

The book is made up of stories pulled from other collections. Other than a story (“The Hospice”) that I had read in an anthology (Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, A Treasury of Spellbinding Tales Old & New, Selected by Marin Kaye), the collection was my first exposure to Aickman’s writing. It’s rare, at such an advanced and jaded age, to fall in love with a new-to-me writer.

Paul Charles Smith has a discussion of the title story here, which he posted, coincidentally, around the time I finished reading the story. He mentions how different the mood is compared to other Aickman stories. At the time I read Smith’s post, I hadn’t read enough Aickman to understand what Smith was talking about. Aickman stories show the strange in the everyday. They build at a pace that some might call slow. They bubble with unease and a feeling that uncanny or uncomfortable things exist just out of our sight. He used allusion (what some might call vagueness), grounding characters and setting while placing bits of strange, a grain here and there, grains that accumulate past the end. Grains that linger.

The Wine-Dark Sea is an excellent introduction to his work, and is available in paperback from Faber Finds, along with another reprint collection (The Unsettled Dust) and an original collection (Cold Hand In Mine). Tartarus Press has reprinted several of his collections, in attractive but expensive hardbacks (though less expensive than used copies of the original editions). I’m looking forward to reading them all.

New York, Emshwiller, Etc.

I’m back home after a short trip to New York for the Carol Emshwiller 90th birthday reading party event. Jim Freund, who runs the New York Review of Science Fiction reading series and hosts the Hour of the Wolf show on WBAI asked me to interview Carol as part of the event. Which sounded like a good idea at the time…

His plan was to start out the evening by reading a section from Ursula Le Guin’s introduction to the War side of Carol’s forthcoming PS collection, then have Carol read the beginning of a story, with Jim continuing it, and Carol reading the last section. Because of her eye problems, she didn’t think she could read all of it. At first, she didn’t think she could read anything. She was shaky at the start, but did great with the end.

After the reading, we went right into the interview. I’ve never done anything like that and I’m not sure I want to again. Part of the problem (aside from my inexperience) is that Carol and I spent about an hour and a half at her apartment talking about what we would talk about, and by interview time I felt like we had said everything. I wish we had recorded our conversation. So I asked a few questions, Carol talked, and long before I should have been finished, I had nothing else to say. Jim (the experienced radio host) took over, and audience members asked questions (which had been our plan, only not so soon). And it ended (as everything does). Unfortunately, it was videotaped, and recorded for radio. I don’t want to watch.

But still, it was a fun night. It was great to see all the support and admiration for Carol. For her life and writing—not just for making it to 90.