In Which the Gecko Barks About Books

A Cub Scout Reading and Writing Merit Badge. I was never a scout -- or a Weblo *snigger* -- but if I was, I would have had this badge.A Life Less Ordinary? Check. But It’s Books and Writing That Float My Boat

I suppose I have lead a life less ordinary – not a fantastic life, or one worthy of particular note, no — not the stuff of books. But I’ve taken roads less traveled that have taken me far away from my MidWestern, suburban American roots. Such is the life of a journalist with a penchant for wanderlust, I suppose.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, when left to my own devices, two of the things I like to do are read books and write about books, which one can do anywhere. Perhaps I should have minored in journalism and majored in English back in college — fewer reporter’s notebooks and more books.

But then it’s journalism that set me on those Bobby Frost paths less traveled (a metaphor I’ve employed befor). I sometimes wonder if it was my experiences as a journalist that gave me wanderlust, or was it an inherently restless nature that was subsequently fed/exacerbated by writing gigs? I suspect the latter. Maybe it was a book that I read as an impressionable child.

*cough* Tolkien *cough*

In any event I do know – unless we assume the depressing idea of fate and predestination – that were it not for my travel experiences as a journalist — namely a month spent in China — I doubt I would have ever pursued a career in teaching ESL as a means of living abroad. Whether that continues to develop into some sort of second career, or not, remains to be seen. But if it does, it will always be an offshoot of my first career in a very direct way.

I need to find a faux pen and ink drawing of a keyboard; I think that would be a more apt symbol than ye olde feathered quill and ink. But I suppose it’s irrelevant at this point; I do what I do. And lately, in my free time, as the quadriceps tendon snafu settles down, that’s been reading and writing (but no arithmetic) — reading books and writing about books.

I don’t want to repeat myself too much though; let it suffice to say that Barking Book Reviews has gotten a lot of attention from me as of late; most recently it was to review the latest from one of my favorites: The Drowning Girl: A Memoir, by Caitlín R. Kiernan.

Consequently, Barking Book Reviews has been getting some interesting attention from without, which you can read about on my quote-unquote professional site.

As I note there, where will it lead, if anywhere? And to what end? I don’t know. But here’s to hoping it continues to be unexpected and a bit out of the ordinary.

Confessions of a Compulsive Bibliolater

A blurry pile of books: too much bibliolation and you'll go blind. Check it out. I don’t just sit around in front of the computer whining into the cold and uncaring electronic ether about my torn quadriceps tendon. I also sit in front of the computer and prattle on about books.

Other people amuse themselves with Angry Birds and Facebook; I amuse myself by writing book reviews and other whatnot about books. To each their own. Everyone needs a hobby, and this one keeps me off the streets, and is somewhat slightly more legitimate and socially redeeming than spending that time playing video games (another thing with which I’ve been known to fritter away my precious life’s days).

And gods know I’ve had plenty of time for reading, as of late. So if you have any interest in old-school science fiction, namely Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, or just want to see what floats my literary boat in general – science fiction being just one wave upon those waters – just one aspect of many within my bibliolatrous enthusiasm – check out Barking Book Reviews.

Which may soon be renamed Confessions of a Compulsive Bibliolater.

Because I’m a bibliolatin’ sumbitch. I can’t stop with the compulsive bibliolation. Day in, day out. Even now, at age 43, sometimes I do it two or three times a day. But I’m not a biblioklept; I duly pay for my habit.

Cross Posting Love: Barking Book Reviews

The Gecko's Bark presents: Barking Book Reviews -- pretty slick, huh? So I’ve pledged myself posting something here every day — well, at least five days as week. But between my new book review site, Barking Book Reviews, and my so-called professional site where I pontificate about WordPress (among other things), Jeff Chappell dot com, both of which I just got up and running recently, I’ve neglected the Gecko’s Bark.

It’s been an interesting few weeks for politics and cycling, to be sure; I’ve got some catching up to do. Tomorrow.

In the meantime, it’s time for some cross posting love — some blogasmic cross pollination. Here’s a sample from the latest on Barking Book Reviews, a review on Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City:

At it’s core, if we strip it of most of its fantastical elements, Zoo City is a arguably just a crime drama – a so-called hardboiled thriller. Or so some blurb writers might have us believe – as well as whoever wrote Lauren Beukes’ Wikipedia entry. But even without the element of mashavi manifested as animals that criminals must bear as they go about their daily lives – imagine Hester Prynne having a scarlet ibis flapping along behind her throughout Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter – Beukes’ second novel is more than just a well-written thriller set in the seedier side of present-day Johannesburg.

Beukes, a self-described recovering journalist, has obviously put her Fourth Estate skills to work and put together an entertaining and rich yet subtle commentary on prejudice, culture and society interwoven with a work of gritty or realistic urban fantasy. Indeed, Zoo City owes more to Gibson and Gaiman than Tolkien and Lewis, to be sure. It’s also a credit to Beukes as an author that a work that could have  easily been formulaic and derivative is actually original and eminently readable.

Argh, I just spied a needed copy-edit in that quote and needed to go fix it. Show me a writer who edits his own copy, and I’ll show you a someone who has a damned fool for an editor.

Anyway, good stuff, no? To read the entire Zoo City review, follow the link above or head on over to Barking Book Reviews. Barking … Gecko’s Bark … get it?

Farewell to Denis Dutton, Arts & Letters Daily Founder, Editor

author and Arts & Letters Daily founder and editor Denis DuttonI just learned today that the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, Denis Dutton, died December 28. I confess I didn’t know who he was until after I spied “Denis Dutton, founder of ‘Arts & Letters Daily,’ has died” on Boing Boing. But I have been a long-time reader of Arts & Letters Daily.

Until I moved abroad at the beginning of this year, I usually consumed A&L Daily just that, daily, along with my cubanos at my local coffee shop, after I had checked my email and the news headlines. I can’t remember how I discovered A&L at first, but was pleasantly surprised to find it: a website resembling a newspaper broadsheet from a couple centuries ago, with links to interesting, thought-provoking articles covering all aspects of art, culture and politics.

Something other than porn, Matt Drudge, Gawker, and Lolcats. No way!

I never really gave much thought to operated it. By the time I discovered it – apparently Dutton started it in 1998 – it was owned by the Chronicle of Higher Education; I always just assumed it was some eggheads there that operated A&L Daily. Dutton continued to run A&L Daily after the Chronicle purchased it in 2002, hand-picking all the linked content, and writing the headline links and blurbs that appeared on the site – apparently right on up to the moment he died of cancer a few days ago.

I was surprised to learn that A&L Daily – such an astute observer and aggregator of … well, arts and letters, of all things on the Internet, that I was surprised to learn that it was founded and run by a professor of philosophy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand who is, or rather was, 24 years my senior. How cool is that? As I naturally ponder age and death at this time of year, it is comforting to learn that age doesn’t have to equal irrelevancy.

But then, as I’m learning from the New Yorker and other sources, Denis Dutton was a pretty hip old guy. As I ponder the future and what I want to do in it, I’ll take his life as an inspiration.

Just last year he published a book that attempts to elucidate a Darwinian theory of art – an apt subject for a professor of philosophy and the curator of Arts & Letters Daily. I think The Art Instinct will be the next book to be added to my Kindle.

Wherever you now dwell, Mr. Dutton, you have my thanks, for entertaining me with A&L Daily, and now for the inspiration. Godspeed.

As for Arts and Letters Daily, his Dutton’s colleagues at the Chronicle of Higher Education have pledged to carry on. While I have faith, of course it won’t be quite the same, I’m sure, without Dutton behind the keyboard.

O. J. Simpson: If It Generates Bills, You Must Not Think Ill

O. J. Simpson's If I Did It details the "hypothetical" murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.If it makes us some bucks, who cares if you think it sucks?

That’s what Fox television network and book publisher HarperCollins have to be thinking, or something along those lines. This really makes one want to reconsider the double jeopardy standard in this country.

O.J. Simpson is coming out with a book titled If I Did It, which would detail how he would have killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, hypothetically speaking of course. The FOX television interview is slated for the end of this month; the book is apparently going on sale in mid December.

I’m sure this will generate a lot of media criticism, and rightfully so. But I would also point out – as the media’s toughest critic and its staunchest defender – the media only gives people what it wants. It’s a business, and it sells advertising based on whatever the most people are going to watch, listen to and/or read; it appeals to the lowest common denominator of society. Like it or not, people will eat this up; I’m guessing that television interview will set a ratings record and that the book will be on best-seller lists for weeks.

If its disgusting, we as a culture have no one to blame but ourselves; the media is nothing but a full-length mirror. Mirrors can distort the truth, but they don’t lie. Except for that one in Snow White.

Update: My favorite television critic Tim Goodman had this to say about O.J. and Fox:

Now, this isn’t about ethics which, in relation to both Simpson and television is a pointless exercise. But how many people were shocked — shocked! — to learn that O.J. was going to hype this book and this “theory” on the Fox network. In primetime.


What happens when two events in close succession should be — in a normal world — unbelievably stunning and yet turn out to be absolutely predictable? First, you silently shudder, then feel shame for the culture at hand and then throw up a little bit in your mouth.
Oh, and then you watch.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, so I didn’t.

Update 2: You can now by O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It on Amazon. Of course.