S.G. Browne

M is for Misery, Mirrors, and Mrs.

We’ve hit the halfway point in my list of Favorite Novels from A to Z, and I have to wax cliché when I say that the letter M doesn’t hold a candle to the books that topped the list for the letter L. But when your favorite and most influential books you’ve ever read take the stage, whatever comes next is going to be a bit of a letdown. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them.

Some of the books that didn’t make this week’s list include The Maltese Falcon (Hammett), Mr. X (Straub), Mr. Murder and Midnight (Koontz), and Maximum Bob (Leonard). I never read The Martian Chronicles (Bradbury), Mysteries of Pittsburgh (Chabon), or Mystic River (Lehane), though I enjoyed the film versions.

King of the mountain:
Misery, Stephen King
At less than 340 pages, this is one of King’s shortest reads, which helps to increase the tension as writer Paul Sheldon, injured in a car accident, is held prisoner in a remote cabin by his biggest fan. Annie Wilkes is one of King’s most memorable characters (probably due to Kathy Bates portrayal in the film). But in the movie, Annie just breaks his ankle with a sledge hammer. In the book, she cuts off his foot with an axe and cauterizes his severed ankle with a blow torch. Ouch.

Second fiddle:
Mirror Mirror, Gregory Maguire
An intriguing retelling of the Snow White story by the author of Wicked (which I personally feel was far superior to the Broadway musical adaptation, but I digress.) While not as clever or as memorable as his debut novel, Mirror Mirror does a great job of creating a dark world that existed 600 years ago with beautiful prose, twisting the Snow White legend around, and giving us a very different perspective of the seven dwarfs. Enchanting.

Third is the word:
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
One of my favorite books I read when I was a kid, right up there with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Phantom Tollbooth. The idea of rats with intelligence that enables them to read, write, and create their own society was enthralling to read as a child. A wonderful adventure that incorporates themes of friendship and cooperation. Read it again for the first time.

Classic Literature Razzie #3:
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
I know this is supposed to be the Great American Novel and that it’s another one of those books that serious writers are supposed to love and be influenced by and rave about, but I found it painful and laborious. Which I guess excludes me from the Serious Writers’ Club. Talk all you want about symbolism and metaphor and social commentary. What you’ve got is a boatload of seamen chasing after a giant sperm whale named Moby Dick. Not a lot of subtle nuance there.

Filed under: Movies and Books — Tags: , , , , , — S.G. Browne @ 5:23 pm

D is for Dirty and Dead

D is also for Delayed, as in this blog post. While I’ll do my best to get out a couple of these each week, occasionally I have something else I want to blog about. Or, more likely, since I’m spending 4-6 hours a day at my computer writing while trying to finish my next book, sometimes I need to unplug.

Plus, I have some books on my shelf I’ve been meaning to read and I’m hoping that somehow I’ll manage to read them before the appropriate letter so I’ll know whether or not to include them. One of those books actually makes this list as this week’s Bonus Entry.

On to the selections for the letter D:

First across the finish line:
A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore
This was my introduction to Moore and it immediately got me hooked. A clever premise, a likable Beta male protagonist, the Emperor of San Francisco, hell hounds, the Grim Reaper, a character named Minty Fresh, and humorous, engaging prose make this a fun read. If you haven’t discovered the world of Christopher Moore, then let this be your first foray into it.

Close but no cigar:
The Dead Zone, Stephen King
If you’ve read my bio or posts about my influences, then you know that Stephen King is the reason I wanted to become a writer. One of his earliest works, and among those I still consider his best, The Dead Zone tells the story of Johnny Smith who comes out of a five-year coma after a car accident and discovers that his head injury has caused him to develop psychic abilities. Good characters. Great storytelling. Vintage King.

At least you’re on the podium:
The Deportees and Other Stories, Roddy Doyle
While this isn’t technically a novel, I’m including it here because it was one of the most enjoyable short story collections I’ve read in years. Written by the author who penned The Commitments, The Snapper, and The Van (all of which were adapted into films), Deportees is a humorous and poignant collection of stories about modern day Ireland.

*Novel you think I would have read:
Dracula, Bram Stoker
This has been sitting on my shelf for I think a good ten years now. Never read it so couldn’t include it on the list. Someday, I’m sure to get around to giving it a look-see.

Filed under: Movies and Books — Tags: , , , — S.G. Browne @ 10:23 pm

The Things They Left Behind

I’m reading Stephen King’s Just After Sunset, his first collection of short stories since his Everything’s Eventual in 2002.  Maybe it’s just time talking, slowly removing pieces of my memory, or maybe it’s because I didn’t find any of them particularly memorable, but I can’t recall any of the stories from his last collection.  Yet I can still remember “The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” and “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” among others, from Skeleton Crew, so I’m guessing it’s more of the latter.

And as usual, I sit down to write something and end up straying off topic.  How I’ve manged to finish writing several novels, I have no idea.

I just finished reading one of King’s stories in Just After Sunset, this one titled “The Things They Left Behind.”  Like many of the stories I’ve read so far in this collection, it’s layered with a good depth of human emotion that affects you on a personal level rather than on one of fear.  It’s Stephen King at his storytelling best, managing to make you examine your own life and the things that matter.

KingThis particular story deals with a would-have-been victim of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and personal keepsakes of co-workers who weren’t as fortunate that keep showing up in his apartment.  The keepsakes, not the victims.  I won’t go into the details of the story, because they’re not what prompted me to write this.  At least not until the end, when the main character meets the widow of one of his co-workers and she relates the last thing she said to her husband before he went off to work:

“I wish I’d said something better than ‘Bring home a pint of half-and-half.’  But we’d been married a long time and it seemed like business as usual that day, and…we don’t know, do we?”

No, we don’t.  We don’t know what our last words to someone might be.  To a friend.  A parent.  A lover.  We never know what might happen when someone we cares about walks out the door or heads off to work or gets on a plane.

It’s easy to forget this, to get caught up in the comfortable rhythms of life, to expect everything to go as planned, to put your faith in the business as usual. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s what allows us to enjoy the present.

But I’d like to think I could make an effort to end the conversations with my friends and loved ones with something personal.  Something that matters.  Something that resonates with the understanding that these connections I have with the people who share my life are precious and I don’t want to take them for granted.

Something other than “Bring home a pint of half-and-half.”

Or, in my case, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

When you’re a writer, you get to go back and edit what you’ve done.  The words your characters have spoken.  The actions they’ve taken. You get the chance to go back and make the words count.

Unless you have a time machine, you don’t get to edit your life.  You’re stuck with your words and your actions.  Sometimes you can atone for them, make things right, but other times, life doesn’t give you that option.

So make the words count.

Filed under: Just Blogging — Tags: — S.G. Browne @ 8:52 pm