Archive | Clay Waters RSS feed for this section

Top 5 Books! Because It’s….August!

26 Aug

What to call this entry? Well, it’s still summer, but the phrase “Summer Reading” calls up doleful memories of schoolwork intruding into free time. “Beach Reading” sounds great in theory, but the actual beach experience–heat, glare, sand, seawater–is not ideal for either e-books or books on paper (especially library books!).

I ruin my own reading experience quite fine by myself–getting up every few minutes from a book to Google an unfamiliar concept or bit of history I come across. That works fine for Trivia Night, but would leave any self-respecting storyteller grinding their teeth. So when The World’s Worst Reader™ actually finishes a book, it’s cause for celebration, no matter what you call it. So here are five books that TWWR™ has found truly worthwhile and would happily push upon any innocent bystander. (All items mentioned are available in the BCCLS system.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


A thoughtful apocalyptic dystopia with an emotional tug. It opens on stage, with an actor collapsing while playing King Lear. Soon the Georgia Flu has wiped out virtually all humanity. Some time later we catch up with a small band of players roaming a deserted America, entertaining pockets of survivors for shelter and food. There’s an intriguing use of an airport–that symbol of transit and ephemerality–re-purposed as a poignant museum of permanence, featuring a precious few things saved from the wreck of mankind. This early sentence, describing an impromptu tribute to the dead actor, hooked me and many other readers: “Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.”

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes


This is a first novel, but Hayes, a veteran screenwriter, clearly has nothing to learn about craft, plotting, pace, or characterization. A diabolical and terrifyingly plausible scheme to destroy the United States, carried out by a radical Islamic mastermind who nonetheless stands as a fully-formed character. And the only person who can stop it is Pilgrim, a single flawed but brave government agent pulled out of retirement for one last case. Yes, we’ve been here before, but never so inventively and with such care at building both character and suspense.

Hayes seems to consider it a sin to release narrative tension for a second, and the string remains taut as we venture from a tenement hotel in the East Village, to a beheading in Saudi Arabia, to a suspicious shooting in a lavish mansion in Turkey on the shore of the Aegean Sea. We follow in rapt fascination as the cat-and-mouse game draws the two men together, the terror scheme followed through with deadly patience, skill, and single-minded ruthlessness, with Pilgrim equally creative and inspired in pursuit. Each seemingly random occurrence is part of a complex, many-sided puzzle box, every piece sliding into place with a satisfying click by the end. A bravura performance, with not an inch of fat in its 600-plus pages.

The Wreck of the River of Stars by Michael Flynn


For want of a nail….We’re on board The River of Stars, a once majestic, now-obsolete space vessel, on its last sail when a catastrophic engine failure puts the trip in jeopardy. But no reason to fret: There is expertise and material aplenty on board, and time enough to solve the problem…if not for all the attendant perils flesh is heir to and which no technological advancement has eclipsed: Pride, stubbornness, lust for glory. The space-faring odyssey unfolds with Shakespearean inevitability–the end is right there in the title. But though the actual misfortune is telegraphed, the two-column roster of the survivors and the doomed is sorted with the scary randomness of real life. No heroes or villains are on board, just a human-sized story against a vast backdrop of space. Naysayers found it a trifle slow going and overly crammed with technological detail, but I found it powerful in its purposeful, doomed majesty.

John Dies at the End by David Wong


Speaking of giving away the ending. In this oft-hilarious monster rally of a horror novel, John and Dave are a Clerks-style buddy act getting by in a Midwest town whose name remains undisclosed for the readers’ protection–a town under the sway of Soy Sauce, a street drug that opens up doors of perception leading into a nightmarish alternate dimension oozing with hideous creatures and sickening gore. It’s pitch-black macabre comedy with a truly sincere feeling of doom. If you found clowns creepy before….

Y: The Last Man by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Pia Guerra


In this dystopian action saga, a comic series published 2002-2008, Vaughan imaginatively thinks out the ramifications–political, societal, and sexual–of a world where every single male mammal has mysteriously perished save one, underachieving escape artist Yorick Brown, now a wanted man in every sense.

The “Y” in the title is a nod both to the Y chromosome that makes Yorick a He, and to the story’s core question–why did all the others males die, and why did this one survive? Even more impressive than the world-spanning plot is Vaughan’s world-building, how deeply he’s thought about how different a world composed solely of women would be. Just one detail: Female Democratic members of Congress are confronted with an armed band of widows of former male Republican congressmen, demanding the seats of their deceased spouses in a battle to balance the institution left leaning to the left by the disappearance of men. (Editor’s note: This series was recommended last year by another staff member!)

Shameless Plug:


Death in the Eye, my self-published murder mystery in the cozy Agatha Christie tradition, is available as a Kindle book and a paperback, and through the Hoboken Public Library’s Technology Lending program.

-Written by Clay Waters, Library Assistant

Staff Picks – British Edition

24 Jun

Greetings! I’m Clay, a part-time library assistant in the Circulation Department of the Hoboken Public Library. I didn’t really intend this staff picks to be a celebration of British pop culture, it just turned out that way. (All items mentioned are available in the BCCLS system.)



BBC television series, 2010-continuing

The iconic character Sherlock Holmes is updated to modern-day London, in a world where there is no Arthur Conan Doyle character to emulate–this is an original Sherlock, insufferably arrogant and inarguably brilliant. Creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, who were also behind the successful re-launch of Dr. Who, have created a delightfully sinister London, crawling with evil geniuses a la Holmes’ nemesis Dr. Moriarty (who appears in altered form). The character interplay remains faithful to the original pairing of Holmes and Watson, with every episode making subtle allusion to the Conan Doyle canon without descending into straight homage.

Only nine episodes have appeared–three seasons of three episodes each since 2010–a pace grown all the more leisurely after the show made film stars out of Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock turned dragon) and Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson turned hobbit). Just repeat “quality over quantity” through a British stiff upper lip, while marveling at the mind-blowing end of Series 2 and trust that Gatiss and Moffat can escape from the intriguing corner they painted themselves into at the end of Series 3.

Life on Mars


BBC television series, 2006-2007

A modern-day cop crashes his car and is thrown back into the 1970s. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this BBC TV series spun off a U.S. version (with a different ending). But this is the superior model.

Chief Inspector Sam Tyler, played by John Simm, is rushing to save his girlfriend from a serial killer when he is hit by a car, as David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” trickles out from his car’s iPod. Coming to, Tyler finds himself sporting a leather jacket and rocking a collar the size of a New York slice–not on Mars but somewhere almost as foreign: the blighted smokestacks and shabby wasteland of industrial Manchester, 33 years in his past. Bowie is still playing, but on an 8-track player in a 1973 model car: He’s been literally knocked into the 1970s.

Stranded without a cell phone or web connection, Tyler must cope with dodgy tape decks and noisy rotary phones. The anachronisms aren’t used as cheap gags, as in the show’s inferior, Tyler-less sequel Ashes to Ashes, but are smoothly incorporated into the gritty action. Besides solving the essential mystery, Tyler must eventually make a wrenching decision–in which world do his true loyalties lie, and what makes for an authentic life, anyway?

It works on many levels: Besides being a conventional good cop-bad cop police procedural, it’s also an ambiguous, sometimes surreal science-fiction mystery and a humorous fish-out-of-water tale with strong, appealing characters. It tells its story in 16 tight episodes over two seasons, topped with perhaps the single most fitting final scene since the dawn of television.

Series 1
Series 2

Watership Down


1972 novel

The novel by British author Richard Adams is about a group of bunnies who leave their warren. From that benign description emerges a profound tale that contains everything you could ever want in an adventure story–action, suspense, horror, even a mythos relayed through tales passed generation to generation (and given these are rabbits, that’s a lot of generations), delivered at a thumping pace. Adams’ rabbits could have easily been silly or twee, but the characterizations feel right–like actual rabbits, not humans in fuzzy suits, with their own language and worldview, and a puzzled hatred for a humankind that seems to want to wipe them off the earth. The animated movie is quite impressive too, though definitely not for young children. Hrududu!

Hot Fuzz


2007 film

This British comedy throws a control-freak policeman–exiled from London for being too dedicated to his job–into a mercilessly quaint English village that harbors a secret, deadly conspiracy. It’s the middle entry of director Edgar Wright’s thematically connected “Cornetto Trilogy” (named after the cameos made in each of his movies by that British-based frozen treat) alongside Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End.

Your favorite may depend on your favorite genre: Shaun for zombie fans, Hot Fuzz for police procedural/cozy mysteries, The World’s End for a Big Chill type pub-crawl reunion that abruptly turns into….er, something else. They’re all involving, grisly, and hilarious, but while I found Shaun a little short and The World’s End a little long, Hot Fuzz was just right. The director commentaries are well worth the listen, as Wright and his pet actor Simon Pegg (who stars in all three) points out all the little loving, enriching details you took in only subconsciously the first time around.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.


2014 autobiography by Viv Albertine

Albertine was guitarist for The Slits, the influential (deep breath) British-reggae-feminist-punk-girl-band, back at a time and place–1970s England–when girls did not play guitars in bands. Albertine escaped an abusive childhood through music, and taught herself to play, albeit crudely. Enthusiasm and energy, not musical virtuosity, was all you needed in the punk era.

The Slits, led by singer Ari Up, still in her teens when the band formed, are a respected obscurity now, best known for their ground-breaking 1979 debut LP Cut. But while never quite making the punk pantheon, Albertine was present during the creation, dating Mick Jones of The Clash and being in a band with Sid Vicious before he joined the Sex Pistols.

Albertine names names in Clothes…Music…Boys, even telling off her (former) manager for insisting she employ a ghostwriter for this autobiography. We’re the beneficiaries: Clothes…Music…Boys is feisty and direct, peppered with earthy, scabrous wit and graphic, brutal self-effacement, and Albertine is blessed with either voluminous diaries or a photographic memory. Sometimes it’s even touching, as when she describes seeing her brutal father, thin and wizened in his coffin, with Albertine and her young daughter the only ones at the funeral: “How sad to be lying there, all dressed up in your Sunday best, and no one wants to come and see you, no one wants to say goodbye.”

Alice in Sunderland


2007 graphic novel by Brian Talbot

For fans of Lewis Carroll or hard-core Anglo-culture afficionados, this veddy British project makes the case–via an overwhelming collage of fact and opinion delivered by cartoon pastiche, whimsical homage, and historical scrapbook–that it was the industrial Northern town of Sunderland that inspired Carroll’s wondrously nonsensical Wonderland, not the academic atmosphere of Oxford, where he taught and the milieu with which he’s identified. It’s a dizzyingly erudite dose of scattershot history, and if you don’t mind having your brain feel full to bursting, it might be your cup of tea.

Shameless Plug (also British-based):

Death in the Eye, my self-published murder mystery in the cozy Agatha Christie tradition, is available as a Kindle book and a paperback, and through the Hoboken Public Library’s Technology Lending program.

Death in the Eye

From the back of the print edition:

The year is 1924. Gwendolyn Parks, the blind young heiress of Pibble, a grand house outside London, has miraculously regained her eyesight after a tumble down the stairs after a dinner party. But it’s no cause for celebration. For Gwen did not fall — she was pushed, by someone at the party. Yet she tells no one, relying upon the miracle of her reclaimed eyesight to solve the mystery herself.

-Written by Clay Waters, Library Assistant

%d bloggers like this: