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What Kind of Man Reads



Commentary by Rick Kleffel


February 18, 2002


I'm not desperate. Really.

I should be. I should be absolutely-out-of-my-goddamn-mind frantic with worry and woe. The economy's gone into the toilet. The toilet is plugged up. I've gone from comfy, conservative corporate coddling to hoping for extended unemployment benefits from the world's most ineffectual legislative body, the US Congress. Between me and that money there's a highway of red tape that could enable us to walk TO the damn moon, let alone on it, now that we can't afford to send our spaceships there any more. The absolute last thing I should be thinking about is fine hardcover first editions. I should feel myself lucky to have some greasy used paperbacks. I mean the kind of scurrilous books that give reading a bad name. The kind you look at and think, "I'd better hide that book lest my {girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, wife, significant other} see it."

So, just in theory, just in practice, just on a lark, because I can't possibly actually face a diminution in the influx of books over the transom, the loss of UPS packages from the UK, the lessening of banged-up boxes dropped on the porch by my ever-suffering mail people, I decided to go on a paper diet. Moreover, I am forced to admit, a free paper diet. I do get some books from Big Publishing, and I greatly appreciate them. In this case, thank you Penguin/Putnam. I hope that they aren't a Harbinger of My Future Reading Allowance, in that divorcing myself from the action of shelling out dollars I don't earn, pounds I don't have and credit card balances that have only an upward direction may cause a significant Reality Break. This of course presumes that this break has not already occurred, that I'm not already living in a Dream World. And in many ways, I do feel that I'm living in a dream world, since the paper diet has been chosen by me and not forced upon me by circumstances (rhymes with finances) beyond my control.

The contents of the three book paper diet from Penguin Putnam are illustrated both above and below. And the results of the paper diet were: shockingly good. I mean, I did attend a wonderful signing of Jasper Fforde in the midst of all this, thus dropping a bit of high-sugar, high fat, high protein, high quality litrachur in the midst of my McDonald's world. But that aside, I have to admit that it is more than possible to go into your grocery store, a Dreaded Deeply Evil Huge Chain Bookstore, or even, if you've got the yarbles, to order cheapie paperbacks from your quality local independent bookseller and come up with some wonderful stuff. And I'm not just talking about paperback reprints of your usual Rick Kleffel Approved (tm) authors. I'm talking about paperback originals by relatively unknown authors -- by first time authors, encased in covers that should make a sailor blush, with blurbs that should make the quoted authors blush.

David Garnett Bikini Planet
Alan F. Troop The Dragon Delasangre
Robert Holdstock Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn

I don't think we've seen enough of this cover, do you?

A nice a start for Alan F. Troop's first novel.

Quality where it counts -- the cover illustration, backing up that inside!

I started with the most challenging book first. Yes, I am the sort of man who reads 'Bikini Planet'. Now, as far blurbs go, I must admit that this book has some of the best blurbs by some of the best authors I've read in ages, and they're clearly a good feature of the book. And the cover has that lovely whiff of American Cheese® that has brought me vilification in my past efforts at Internet opinion-slinging. It's a first novel, but check out that vaguely familiar name, and you'll find out that David Garnett is the revered editor (revered by those whose work he accepted, certainly) of 'New Worlds'. But it's the Words Inside that count, eh? And in this case, the words inside measure up to a delightful, low-key, low-reader-expectation satire along the lines of Naked Gun in Space. I enjoyed this book, and if you think that you could answer the question "What kind of Man (or woman) reads 'Bikini Planet'?" with a "That's me!", then by all means do so and let your limited dollars do the talking. You've got $5.99 US dollars, plus tax, to lose. Better than Vegas odds.

Next up was 'The Dragon Delasangre', a first novel by Alan F. Troop. In a perfect world, every first novel would be given a decent hardcover printing and properly promoted to the audience that is most receptive and would enjoy it most. This being a less-than-perfect world (by a clear 5/4 majority), good books by the likes of Alan F. Troop are launched into an uncertain future with little fanfare. Let me do my best to correct this problem. This unassuming little paperback would probably be worth your book dollars were it to first have come out in hardcover. Troop gets a great rap going -- world-weary aristocrat and consumer of human flesh, Peter Delsangre is looking for a female of his own kind. His own kind happens to be "dragons" who can shape-shift into the humans and tend to prefer to live life as humans, the better to use them as cattle. For your $5.99 US dollars, you can score a novel that keeps you reading and does not look embarrassingly bad when your friends come over. In fact, you might end up telling those who like serial horror fiction about the book, as it looks like Troop is starting out in Laurell K. Hamilton territory. Given that Hamilton is dropping two well-publicized hardcovers to the world in less than a year, this is not a bad target to be aiming for. Troop hits that target, fair and square with the same ammo that Hamilton used: a strong narrative voice. A strong, inexpensive and easy-to-transport-in-your-pocket (and I did just that, thank you very much) voice. Affordable even to the likes of myself, well into a year of negative earnings.

Robert Holdstock's Mythago Series Starter

Finally, there's my current read, Robert Holdstock's 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'. I've been reading Holdstock for a long time, since I was intrigued by -- get this -- a good review of 'Mythago Wood', the very first novel in the series that lead to this book. I'll admit that I've dropped off my Holdstock consumption in recent years, but that only made me gladder to see that even Rick Kleffel Approved® authors can get a wide distribution paperback deal. This novel originally appeared in hardcover, and the cover here is such that you won't be quite as likely to cover it up as you might 'Bikini Planet'. That said, what's under the hood is thus far the typical high-quality work that one can expect from the erudite Holdstock. Packed with well-researched mythology and self-tormented characters, 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn' is clearly an upper crust paperback. There's no hesitation when this one comes round. It was clearly worth buying in hardcover, and if you don't yet have it, it's clearly worth buying in paperback. Moreover, though it is the latest in a series that I haven't read in many years, it stands up well to re-immersion of long lost readers.

So, alas, the paperback diet isn't that much of a diet or that much of a change. The scales are not tipping favorably when I stand myself upon them. I just knew that there was Bad News About the Paperback Book Diet. So why diet at all? I think I'll go have a cheeseburger. Or, er, another cheeseburger.

Jasper Fforde The Eyre Affair



Douglas Adams The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Now about that book signing. I've been out of the book signing circuit for ages, pretty much since I left LA, moved to Santa Cruz and decided that "over the hill" was the equivalent of "too far to drive". But circumstances took me right past a signing by Jasper Fforde, author of the 'The Eyre Affair' at M is for Mystery books in San Mateo. If you've read my past columns, you know I love this book, and why. Well, there's another reason. Fforde is a bang-up entertaining guy in person. He does some selected readings and most importantly, offers some selected insights into his creative process. That boils down to "very funny". And, if you're of the 'investing in books' personality group, I suspect that signed firsts of 'The Eyre Affair' could in time have the value as signed firsts of 'The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy'. But forget all that. Jasper Fforde is hilarious and will tell you things about this book and the others in the hopper that will make you laugh. He'll give you insights into his book you'd otherwise never get. He's a good guy who deserves all the support he can get.

But don't think that this is an undying endorsement of the signing and publicity tour. In Pat Holt's latest column, which will probably be online sometime later this week, she talks about the good and the evil that writers do on the publicity trail. Apparently, no less august a person than Anne Beattie decided to inform the world of the problems of publicity, especially as they apply to mega-authors such as herself. Ms. Holt gives us her usual uncensored -- and well-informed -- viewpoint. But neither writer is talking about the small fry, and at this point in time, alas, Mr. Fforde is not in the same publishing league as Ms. Beattie and Dave Barry. But give him a few years, and then we'll all be ready to complain how he's sold out and is touring with Bono and writing lyrics for Cher's next opera project. Well these kind of things might happen in his wonky world, though they seem less-than-likely in ours. Here's hoping for a merger of worlds!

THIS JUST IN: Cemetery Dance has just announced a limited edition of the forthcoming Stephen King novel, 'From a Buick 8'. You can call them at 410-569-2449 to order. If you leave them a message, you're going to get a callback. From the overwhelming response, I'd suggest that you call ASAP.



Rick Kleffel