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Typefaces past

Saturday June 27, 2009 @ 12:33 AM (UTC)

Many of us, myself included, have only a consumer’s knowledge of book design. It’s like chocolate cake: I’ve eaten many and have some opinions and fond memories, but I’ve never made one. (No, box cakes don’t count!) I think it’s easy for those of us who aren’t in the publishing industry to forget how much effort goes into choosing typefaces, layout and style for a book.

Two things brought the topic to mind of late: Jay Lake tweeted a link to this Lit Slits quiz. Of course most of the clues to the books’ identity come from the actual words the ‘slit’ reveals. However, in at least one case, I knew the author and series immediately: whether or not you like Harry Potter, he’s got some lovingly designed, distinctive books. Even without the chapter headers in their zany serifs, the page brings the memory back to anyone who’s read those books.

That’s what amazes me: how evocative the shape of a few letters can be, even when I couldn’t recall them at will or describe them to you. It’s like a more subtle version of the way smell brings memory in its train. I open my own copy of a beloved book and each previous reading is present in my eye on the page, my fingertips on the paper.

I’m reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness right now. I picked up this copy at Ravenna Third Place Books. It’s used, hardback, and it’s been on some journeys – it bears a Portuguese stamp from a bookshop in Brazil. And best of all, it’s from a book club.

Oh, I know, that means it’s not collectible. It may mean the covers aren’t as durable, and all sorts of things. But this book is typeset exactly like the oldest of my dad’s book club books – books like Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. It feels the same, smells the same. This is 100% pure old-school science fiction, and it fills me with nostalgia, even though the story is new to me.

What books carry this extra meaning for you? Are there books whose beautiful design adds to your love for them?

June Pie

Saturday June 13, 2009 @ 12:10 AM (UTC)

Even for someone allergic to uncooked fruit, it seemed almost a travesty to bake these into a pie:

Apricots and blueberries

On the other hand, the finished product looks pretty good, too.

Catoctin Mountain Apricot-Blueberry Pie

I know, I know. Lately the blog is all pie and publication (mostly pie.) I’m working on a new Grey City installment however. Don’t despair!

Pie tracking enabled

Thursday June 11, 2009 @ 03:06 PM (UTC)

Yes, I will now be updating a list of all the pie types I’ve made, to be found here: Pies I Have Made.

Why am I doing this? Why do I assume you, gentle reader, care about pies? Well, firstly, it’s PIE, so why wouldn’t you? Secondly, as Spike would say, I hate to brag — who am I kidding, I love to brag! Alternatively, you can see this as a cry for help. I am obviously addicted to pie manufacture.

My memory may have failed me here and there — all the more reason to keep careful track from now on. This list is roughly chronological. Hopefully I will update it within the next few days with June’s Homemade Pie of the Month!

Some of you may be shocked, despite my tree nut allergies, to see that I’ve never made a pecan pie. I think. I remember having finished one my grandma started, but I’ve never soloed that pie flight. That will probably change this Thanksgiving.

In praise of spontaneity

Sunday May 24, 2009 @ 03:53 PM (UTC)

Recently, I have found myself being more impulsive. From small choices, like ordering wild mushroom ravioli instead of something more pedestrian, to things like agreeing to go on a writing retreat in Vermont with a friend, I’ve been making the less comfortable choice. It tends to turn out beautifully. The one time recently I chose the ‘safe’ item on the menu, it was downright bland. And when I decided to jump off my comfy chair and take a bus downtown in torrential rain to catch an author talk at little notice, I ended up getting to chat with Molly Gloss and Ursula Le Guin (not to mention being treated to fondue by my friend Camille Alexa afterward.) I think we have an instinct for when our reluctance is based in wise caution and when it’s based in inertia or self-consciousness and would better be ignored.

Which is all a long way of saying I spontaneously bummed a ride to Central Oregon with my mom, so I’m enjoying the high desert and producing little in the way of blog posts. If it’s any consolation, I’m missing my yard’s most spectacular blooms as well as shirking my communication duties.

Good things are in store

Friday May 15, 2009 @ 10:17 AM (UTC)

I’ve just had a second story, “Conditional Love”, accepted at Asimov’s Science Fiction! I’m so excited I keep floating off my chair.

Perhaps I should start giving such posts informative, cut-and-dried titles like “Story Sale to Asimov’s: Conditional Love” or something, but I couldn’t resist quoting the unearthly forces that knew all along.

Fortune cookie crop

I’ll let you know as soon as I know what issue it will appear in. Many thanks to everyone who read a draft of this one — I hope you will enjoy the finished product!

May Pie

Tuesday May 12, 2009 @ 12:51 PM (UTC)

Trying to avoid the last-minute shame of last month, I’ve made May’s pie, the unlikely All-Strawberry Pie. Yes, you heard me. No tougher plants to compensate for the squishiness of the strawberries. Just strawberries.

Oh, and this stuff:

Filling ingrediments
And the crust. “All-Strawberry” sounds more impressive, okay?

Anywho, it turned out well. Ryan claims he thinks it’s no mushier than apple, and while I wouldn’t go so far, its light balance of strawberries with mint, lemon and nutmeg is well worth it.

All-Strawberry Pie

As ever, May’s Homemade Pie of the Month is from a recipe in Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie. But with my grandma’s crust, since we like it best.

Genre War is Over

Friday May 08, 2009 @ 10:59 AM (UTC)

You know that genre war? You know, the one I’ve been fighting ever since the day a high school English teacher said the words “Science fiction isn’t literature” to me?

It’s over. Ursula LeGuin has encapsulated the entire thing in this little essay and won it at a stroke. She even uses the same examples that have occasioned many of my struggles over the years. It is not so much that the essay contains new arguments as that it is concise, clear and authoritative. It says everything one wants to say, and more cogently than this weary combatant, at least, can muster in the face of battle.

I’m sure the mopping-up action will persist, and perhaps I’ll still be having the same tiresome arguments for the rest of my life. But now I can send this link to people — heck, it’s reusable with attribution, so perhaps I should print it up and carry it around with me — the weight of it is lifted. Thank goodness for Ursula K. LeGuin.

April Pie

Friday May 01, 2009 @ 02:46 PM (UTC)

April’s pie got pushed to the end of the month by the successive absences of pie-er and pie-ee, as well as a miscalculation: my chosen pie called for nectarines, and nectarines aren’t yet available. I checked and double-checked! Curses!

So instead of your prescheduled No-Peel Nectarine-Lime Pie, I bring you:

April Pie

Joe’s Stone Crab Key Lime Pie from Ken Haedrich’s Pie: 300 Tried-And-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie, in my first-ever graham cracker crust (recipe also in book.) Well, I suppose I may have helped my mom make a graham cracker crust as a child, but that doesn’t count.

Buy Indie Day

Friday May 01, 2009 @ 10:20 AM (UTC)

So I hear that today is Buy Indie Day, a day you celebrate by buying a book at your local independent bookstore. You know this is more relevant to my interests than Beltane, so I thought I’d talk it up here.

There are as many reasons to shop at indie bookstores as there are stores. One of the important ones, though, even if you aren’t kneejerk anti-corporate like the average Portlander (seriously, I once met a raving anti-corporate hipster getting trained to work for Starbucks here), is that books are one of the most crucial forms of ‘speech’. An independent bookstore can provide a more diverse perspective than a big store may be interested in doing; many of them sell used books, making sure ideas are cheap and stay in circulation. Whether they have a specific focus — mystery books, feminism, local authors, poetry, et c. — or not, each store provides its own set of books and possibilities, not one mandated from further up or dictated purely by market forces.

To be honest, I have a hard time even formulating cogent arguments for why you should go to your local independent bookseller. It feels like arguing that you should try drinking water, or breathing air. I grew up piling in the car every other weekend for a family junket to Powell’s downtown. We didn’t usually have a specific book on our minds, or a particular birthday to buy for. We just liked going there, walking our little instinctive circuit — in my case and my dad’s, an in-depth look at the Paleontology/Dinosaurs shelves, then a quick search of Photography, followed by a cruise of sci-fi — seeing what we could see.

That’s one of the beauties of the indie bookstore, I think. You never know what you’re going to find. You venture into a little storefront in a strange town because that bookstore could hold anything from a treasure trove of old pulp paperbacks to an extensive collection of Civil War history and memoir, from a labyrinth of bursting shelves to a fabulous place to drink coffee and read. You could find bargains or forgotten childhood joys, or just a way to soak away an hour in the shelves and booksmells of a new place. Even a bookstore you know surprises you every time.

So hit the IndieBound Store Finder and buy a book near you today. Who knows what you’ll find?

Photos from Vermont

Friday April 24, 2009 @ 11:42 AM (UTC)

So I’m back from my little informal writing retreat with my friend Camille Alexa in Montpelier, Vermont, which is not only the capital of that state but also the capital of Picturesque.

This house is more Dickensian than Pickwick Papers

I wish I had taken more photos, actually — long streets full of Victorian Painted Ladies and pretty old brick buildings. Even their old jail (now offices) is quaint, and you should see the fire station. A lot of my strolls were in the evening, though — not the best time to get architectural snapshots.

Took a walk every day around the burg, toasted my feet in front of a wood stove, had some awesome meals and got a lot of writing and revising done. I’m back into a big project I’d set aside and I hope to maintain my forward momentum!

On the way back, my flight into Chicago was delayed so I missed my connection and had to stay overnight — so special thanks to EMeta for buyin’ me some Chicago deep-dish pizza. I believe the technical term is “NOM NOM NOM”.

P.S. A story from Camille’s upcoming collection went live at Fantasy Magazine right before I left for VT. Everyone loves “Shades of White and Road” so why wouldn’t you?

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