Monday, December 17, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012, pt.15: Jeffrey Ford

Reading and Viewing in 2012
by Jeffrey Ford


Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks -- The book presents a lot of interesting cases of people with unusual medical conditions that cause them to see all manner of wild visions from little people to monsters. It also describes the hallucinations born of drugs. Ironically, the most interesting story in the book is the portrait you get of Sacks, himself, who was no lightweight when it came to the morphine, etc. The book is a wunderkammer of odd instances and weird afflictions and Sacks, who comes off as a little crazy, is an affable curator.

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon -- Being a big Emily Dickinson fan I found this a great read, but even if the "Nun of Amherst," which was what the locals called her after her father died, isn't your cup of tea, the book is also fantastic for showing what exactly people did before electronic media. What they did was throw themselves head first into the intrigue of their lives. A heady brew of friendships, not so secret affairs, suppressed passions, etc. There was a lot of high drama and gnashing of teeth, but nobody ever seemed bored without access to The Wheel of Fortune and Jersey Shore.

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar -- Samatar is a new writer for me. I was struck by the originality of her voice and story, which from the first page immediately drew me in. A picaresque through a strange world slowly made familiar. Reading it was like going on an adventure, one of the basic joys of reading fantasy, and one I rarely find this effectively elicited.

The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard -- This volume collects all of Shepard's Dragon Griaule stories "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule," "The Scale Hunter's Beautiful Daughter," "The Father of Stones," "Liar's House," "Taborin Scale." These previous stories all in one volume would be worth the price of admission, but the real treat here is a new novella, "The Skull," which I can only describe as "visionary."

Leopoldina's Dream by Silvina Ocampo -- I saw this book mentioned by the writer Livia Llewellyn in a fairly recent interview. I realized I'd only read maybe one or two stories by Ocampo, so I sent for a used copy off the internet. Ocampo has an odd and alluring style -- very understated in the face of weirdness. Stories that don't adhere to traditional structures. Hard to describe but a great collection all around.

The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer -- Full disclosure: I have a couple of stories in this anthology, but don't hold that against it. The Weird was the most remarkable book of the year for me. A chronological compendium of surreal and unsettling stories from the early 20th century to today. Some absolute gems here -- The Other Side of the Mountain by Michel Bernanos, "The Hell Screen" by Akutagawa, and a truckload more. Not to be missed.


Lake Mungo -- This is an independent film from Australia. Shades of Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave. Low key and smart with some truly chilling creeps in it and a plot that dishes up surprises at surprising junctures.

The Hunter -- Willem Dafoe plays a mercenary, working for a secret biotech company. He's been hired to track down and kill the last Tylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) still at large in the wilderness, even though it has been believed to be extinct since the 1930's. A quiet, brooding flick with great scenery. The scariest thing in the movie isn't the tiger, but Dafoe's face which resembles a mask of petrified wood.

The Cats of Mirikatani -- A documentary about an old Japanese man, living on the streets of New York, creating and selling his own art work. When winter comes, a woman takes him in and makes a film about his life -- how he came to America, the internment camp he and his family were put in, his art. I was surprised at how engaging I found it. A nice change of pace from the usual fare.

The Tree of Life -- I don't think I got a chance to see this until early in 2012, although it came out in 2011. This movie, directed by Terrence Malick was an immersive experience with great cinematography and a story structure that was like water flowing. A tale of simple lives connected to the cosmos. I know a lot of people don't get Mallick, but his recent films The Thin Red Line and The New World have been a couple of my favorites in recent years.

Jeffrey Ford, who has the won the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award (several times), and a few other awards as well, is the author of The Well Built City trilogy and numerous other novels, as well as several collections of short fiction. His most recent book is Crackpot Palace. He has recently moved to Ohio.

1 comment:

anna tambour said...

Oliver Sacks' Uncle Tungsten; Memories of a Chemical Boyhood is, I think, his best book. It not only tells about his life but much more importantly, the way a child was introduced to the truly wondrous, and left to his own devices. Child Services agents would today, seize any child exposed as he was, let alone allowed to experiment as he did.