Shelf Life for January 2020

Books Read
Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, M.D.

Books Bought/Found/Given to Me
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen
Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Dig. by A.S. King
The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen
Dialogue by Robert McKee
The Three “Only” Things by Robert Moss
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

As I prepared for this month’s edition of Shelf Life, I was shocked to discover that I’d only read two books over the course of January.

There are three reasons for this. 

First, I began reading four books that I didn’t get to finish before the end of the month. On top of that, I re-read Grant Morrison psychedelic comic book series, The Invisibles, in January. But I don’t write about comic books here since I have a separate series (Long Box of Memories) for that. (And yes, I’m aware I’ve barely written anything over there. All in good time.) Finally, January lasted for 75 days, and there’s really no excuse for not reading more books in that time.

The two books I finished reading in January had the common theme of going on bizarre journeys into unexpected places. DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, M.D. is a book I started reading on Dec. 1 while visiting my sister-in-law and her family during Thanksgiving break. I bought Strassman’s book a while ago to research some story ideas, and I thought I could knock it out in a couple week’s time. I was wrong.

DMT: The Spirit Molecule is a dense read, filled with a heady mixture of neuroscience, clinical analysis, and psychedelic insight. By the middle of December, I’d put the book down so I could shift my focus to the holiday season and not spend Christmas Day wondering if we were being watched by alien beings that exist on a higher spiritual/dimensional plane. I mean, I still did, but whatever.

With the arrival of 2020, I got back to reading DMT: The Spirit Molecule, but a couple more nights of this put me in the frame of mind to re-read The Invisibles, and I binged the collected editions of that for a while. I finished the last few chapters of Strassman’s book in tandem with the last three volumes of The Invisibles, which made for a few nights of interesting dreams, to say the least.

For my purposes, what I was looking for from DMT: The Spirit Molecule came early in the book, with explanations of the biochemistry of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and where it originates in the brain. The case studies and examinations of Strassman’s work made for compelling reading, though. The last couple chapters were a bit of a slog, largely because I’m not planning on putting together any research studies about psychedelics anytime soon. Nothing formal, anyway. 

The other book I read last month was the equally trippy (and additionally terrifying) Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. 

Basically, this is a haunted house story set in an IKEA-type store. The tale Hendrix tells is fantastic, and it doesn’t get distracted by its own high concept. The storytelling – a mixture of horror, comedy, and satire – is cinematic, and I can easily see Horrorstör being optioned by Hollywood if it hasn’t been already. (Edit: I just did a quick search and found that Horrorstör was optioned for a TV series back in 2015.) 

If you’re the sort to read books digitally, I highly recommend getting the print version of Horrorstör. It’s formatted to resemble a catalog, and it includes all sorts of great “branded” material for ORSK, the fictional store where the story is set. The whole package is a ton of fun.

Horrorstör is also on the list of books I added to my collection in January.

I did not plan to start the new year off with so many new books, but a couple of things happened. First, I got a rather plump gift certificate for my birthday on Dec. 30, so I got to start the year with some book shopping. Then, near the end of January, I received the editorial assessment for my first novel, and my editor had a few titles for recommended reading to help with my work. I won’t get into everything I got last month, but here are a few highlights.

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron was one of the books my editor recommended. It’s also one of the books I started reading in January. The premise of Cron’s work is looking at how brain science can be used to better connect readers to one’s stories. It pulls the plug on a lot of common writing tips, replacing them with concepts grounded in how people think. For example, the old saw says that writers should write what they know. Cron suggests that this isn’t quite right, saying that writers should write what they know emotionally. There’s a world of difference there. 

I’m not too far into Cron’s book yet, but I’m sold on her concept, and I’m excited to see what her input will do for my storytelling. 

The last book I bought in January was Dig. by A.S. King. One of the aspects of my novel that I’m struggling with is using the POV of certain characters to convey information without getting too deep in their heads, thus pushing them to the front of the story. My editor’s recommendation for this was King’s YA novel, which came out last year. She pointed to the grandparents in the story as the sort of POV I need to consider. I started reading Dig. last night, and it was a struggle to close it up and go to sleep. There’s a surreal atmosphere to the work that I didn’t expect, and I’m also starting to latch on to what I need to do with those characters of mine, POV-wise.

Really quick, I want to point out three books I got with my birthday gift certificate. How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories by Arthur Machen, and The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen are all titles I’ve had my eye on for a while now. I’m super-excited to crack the spines on these and absorb the words within. 

Looking ahead to the end of February, I’ll be doing my annual book collection purge, getting rid of titles I don’t want to keep over the long term. It’s always a difficult task, but it needs to be done. I’ll let you know how that goes in the next Shelf Life.

Anyway, that’s me and the books I surrounded myself with at the start of the new decade. What books did you buy, read, find, or have given to you last month. Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

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