A second batch of books for January


009) The End of the World by Don Hertzfeldt, finished January 31

I loved this book. Honestly, I bought it mostly to support an independent artist whose animation I love, but this book captures something along the lines of Edward Gorey in its disconnected sense of story captured in tiny enormous moments. (Think Gorey and you'll know what I mean.) Hertzfeldt however, instead of, say, a man stalking an opera singer, has chosen to address the end of the world. And with his stick figures and a few hundred pages, he addressed the end of the world. Frankly, this was as affective in its own way as The Road was in its way.

I'll be reading it again.

(Incidentally, something else I liked about this book was how it showed me a tradition I may be part of. Some of the art I do [such as "Faces" which how would you ever have heard of] behaves in a similar manner. Now that I can see what tradition I'm engaging, I'm interested in doing something more public with these projects.)

maybe fifteen hours


008) Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona, finished January 24

So I totally get why everyone was so enamored of this last year. It's not just that it's a geeky Pakistani teenage girl who's the hero---it's that the writing is smart and funny and so is the art. Every page has little jokes or bits of foreshadowing buried in the background.

And maybe it just comes from working at the high school I do, but I really feel like I know this girl. I don't know a lot about Wilson, but she's captured something very true both about being a teenager and about growing up Pakistani-American---and she's done it with serious verve.

not so long


007) Drop Shot by Harlan Coben, finished January 18

The boys, apparently at random, picked this book our for me from Barnes and Noble as a Christmas present. I quite liked it, even though all the female good guys are drop dead gorgeous and all the male good guys are drop dead gorgeous and even though the jokes pound and pound and pound until you die from the lack of blood. The mystery itself was nice and intricate. Although one aspect of the mystery was obvious to me long before it was obvious to the dick, I didn't see how it resulted in the mystery's solution until the very end. Tight stuff.

I would love to know Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho lead was influenced by a character from this series.

Oh: and one other thing. This is the latest bit of art (this was the first) that's sent me thinking about "WASP culture." I had always thought WASP was supposed to be generic white Anglo American, but I'm realizing it's something much more precise (and moneyed) than that. Which is interesting. I'm as descended from William Bradford as the next guy, but none of my close blood's ever attended Harvard or been fictionalized in a Wall Street greedfest film. So . . . I'm suddenly curious about those weirdos with the money and cultivated landscapes. They seem different.
about nine days


006) Cardboard by Doug TenNaple, finished January 15

Exciting and vibrant and fresh and loaded with dumb moments that, in the final analysis, don't damage the kid in you's enjoyment.

one evening

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Ploughshares 40.1
(Spring 2014)


So, yeah, I'm definitely not reading these in order. But I have finally figured out where to read them (some things get read walking to work, some in bed, some on the toilet---ends up Ploughshares is one of the latter) so I may get through all the ones hanging around. However, this issue is pretty much everything I hinted at not liking last time. The big problem with the fiction in this issue is stories that do not end. The first story, for instance, "The Rink Girl" by Mark Brazaitis. It's brilliantly written---beautiful stuff, really. The teenagers, their relationships, their inner and outer lives. The plot is understated but compelling and important---to the characters and thus to us, the readers. And then? At the end? Instead of completing the story, Brazaitis cops out. He's like, "Hhhhhh! This is taking forever! Here, hang on. [rustling in bag] Here. Have a symbol."

I'm going to skip most of the stories and stick with the ones like "Rink Girl" that have frittered merit.

Next up, "The Sky in the Glass-Topped Table" which uses as its title an unimportant image. Another well crafted teenage lead. This time her story ends with an awful violence perpetrated against her which instantly becomes a huh!-type learning experience. Author Elizabeth Evans seems to want to show off a Troma-esque disinterest in the consequences of evil. Well. Lovely.

The most successful story in the issue was "Go-Between" by Peter Rock. This one too, arguably, ends prematurely and this one too, arguably, underserves life's unpleasantness, but its dreamlike atmosphere and unclear connection to the real makes these issues immaterial. This one too is about teenagers. Which I find remarkable---the best works in the last issue I read were also about teenagers. I wonder what the explanation is.

Anyway, that pattern is broken by the fourth story in this issue with merits enough to mention, Donna Trump's "Seizure." This story's about a man whose life and body have fallen apart, and how he attempts to remain, at very least, an involved and loving father. It's quite moving. Parts of it were genuinely painful to imagine. You can read the guest editor's comments here (and get a sense as to why she doesn't let stories end properly). I think my dissatisfaction with this story might not be the story's fault. In this case, it might be my adoption of the protag's own dissatisfaction with himself.

Anyway, this is a grumpy post. And will probably get me some hate from the literati. I mean---don't I know that all these stories I claim to like and yet still bash have more beautiful sentences than almost everything published in the most recent issue of Pulp Literature, which I just praised? Sure I do. And a couple of the stories I praised in that post could have benefited from more beautiful sentences. (Though I rush to point out that I'm not saying those stories had bad sentences. Just that, see my own next sentence.) What I'm saying is that beautiful sentences are not enough. A story needs to be completely a story. I'm not satisfied by beautiful pieces alone. What am I? A serial killer?

Anyway. I still have more issues to catch up on. I hope to say more positive things in the future.


Pulp Literature 5


Although of a consistent aesthetic, this volume is strikingly different from its predecessor. Take "Stella Ryman and the Four Digit Puzzle (Mel Anastasiou) and, to a lesser extent, "The Pledge" (Stephen Case). These stories are utterly mundane, yet told through pulp conventions. The first takes place in a retirement home and the hero's big case is trying to learn the code to open the front door. Yet it's complete with hair-breadth escapes and tall drinks of water and arch enemies, etc etc. "The Pledge" stars a literal PI, but his case is as dull as possible---and investigation reveals it's just as dull as it seems---although misunderstanding on the edges of the case does result in violence and police action.

Although I wouldn't suggest the editors adopt a diet of pure mundane adventure, I really loved these stories. I love the application of pulp convention to the unheralded vagaries of everyday life.

In other news, I loved the mix of plainfaced violence with bildungsroman and everything-old-is-new-again lesbianism in the lead story, Eileen Kernaghan's "The Robber Maiden's Story"; and Margaret Kingsbury's "The Longing Is Green When the Branches Are Trees" delving into a single-item apocalypse (rather like Connie Willis's "The Last of the Winnebagos" mixed the fantastic with the sf in pleasurable ways.

Speaking of stories that seem to be engaging with sf classics, "Some Say the World will end in Fire" by R Daniel Lester reminds me of the Ray Bradbury stories where the characters of books (or dead authors, depending on the story) are stranded on, say, Mars, alive, until the last of their books have been destroyed. In this case, the living (but unfinished) characters wish to die, and at the hand of their creator. A very different sort of arrangement than the one Bradbury presented---and an open question as to "what it all means."

Anyway, another good issue. This has been a good investment. Plus, check out this awesome back cover!

So be excited for that.


Return of "The Avon Lady"


My story "The Avon Lady" appeared a few years ago, but is now out of print. And will remain out of print until the end of this month when Faed comes out.

Click to preorder on Kindle (other sellers will have it out soon).

If you can handle a monster story called "The Avon Lady."

The publishing group, A Murder of Storytellers, was great to work with. And I'm not just saying that because of how many lovely compliments they payed my work. The seem like genuinely on-top-of-it people.


First five books of 2015!


005) The Complete Peanuts: 1991-1992 by Charles M. Schulz, finished January 10

Schulz is experimenting more with his use of panels---full weeks of single-panel strips for instance---and the percentage of strips that whose majority payoff is sweet has gone up---though I laughed out loud---a lot---and I'm still filled with joy each time I begin---read---end a book.

I'll never grow tired of his lines or these characters.

17 days


004) City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus, finished January 9

three or four or more weeks


003) Harem Scarem in El Cerrito by Neva Calvert Carpenter, finished January 4

I loved this book. I found it constantly delightful. Why, when I didn't feel the same about the very similar if arguably better written Hooligan?

It comes down to one thing:

When I read Hooligan I tried to recreate the Provo of Thayer's boyhood in my mind and couldn't quite pull it off.

When I read Harem Scarem, that was no problem at all. Practically every event in the book takes place within a few blocks of my current house (within months of being the place I have lived the longest), and of the few that don't? I've driven past them in the last week. (Except for Arkansas.)

I read these childhood memoirs that try to recapture a specific place, it needs to be a place I'm familiar with so details like street names, and locations of stores and school are immediate in my mind. Provo doesn't do that for me. El Cerrito does.

It's local history and it makes me happy.

I hope your town has a book every bit as good.
about under a mouth


002) iPlates Volume II: Prophets, Priests, Rebels, and Kings by Stephen Carter and Jett Atwood, finished January 4

I would have done well to reread Volume I first, but I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Full review on AMV.
week plus


001) Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, finished January 3

Finally finished my summerly Vonnegut read! I didn't like this book when I read it c. 1995 and I still don't. I know it's a lot of people's favorite, but for me, this is the novel where Vonnegut finally pushed his technique too far and the novel broke. Sorry, Kurt. You know I love you.
six months

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


They Might Be Giants invented the modern world.


They Might Be Giants invented the modern world. Or it might more be accurate to say that they prefigured the modern world. They were They in the 80s and by by the 00s, the world was catching up to their genius for song distribution and audience engagement.

I wouldn't really put them on the cutting edge anymore, but that's not because they's less innovative but because they've the Rollings Stones of geek rock. They can overcharge and precharge and preovercharge [see comment's for tmbg's rebuttal] and so they do---it's hard to blame them. They took that too far about ten years ago, but with a course correction I think they've found a nice balance between being elder gods and the They Might Be Giants of yesteryear.

For instance, they've reinstituted Dial-A-Song for 2015. You can call 1-844-387-6962* and get the same over-the-wires lo-fi that a huge percentage of their fans are too young to have ever experienced before. But it wasn't only a connection to the band that Dial-A-Song provided:

Anyway, the new Dial-A-Song is online but for $30 you can get all fifty-two songs emailed to you a day early. Which is great for the classic TMBG audience who has that money and might still care about owning things. And then is available free online a day later. Which matches the classic TMBG ethos from that moment into eternity.

Here: watch the video of the first song. It's pretty fun:

Aside: Remember when Radiohead released In Rainbows and you could pay whatever you wanted? And they made a ton of money? For all the people predicting this would be the new model, may I remind you of what Eric Garland said at the time: "Step one: Be Radiohead."

Which is what I mean when I say TMBG isn't so cutting-edge anymore. They're no longer showing new bands the way inside the marketplace or the hearts of fans.

But it's also why I'm wrong. What they're doing is showing how their original model is best applied to established bands. So kids in garages, you can pick up some hints from TMBG, sure, but bands playing to dyed hair and boob jobs at county fairs? You should have paid attention thirty years ago and you should pay attention now.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Incidentally, regardless of what you personally think of TMBG's music, this is why I think it's a travesty they weren't a first-ballot Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. The influence they've had on the industry is much vaster than even their vaster-than-realized fanbase. Frankly, the kid albums should be a vote for and not against. And anyone who thinks that Green Day being bigger makes them more important is going to look back in fifty years and wonder what they were thinking.

some history via tal and sarah vowell


On Ploughshares 40.4
(Winter 2014-15)


I've been a subscriber to Ploughshares for a while now--two or three years I'ld guess. And this is the first time I've written about an issue, mostly because nothing that I've read has seemed important to write about. By far my favorite issue was the Spring 1984 poetry issue edited by Seamus Heaney sent as a free bonus for subscribing. I loved that one and keep it next to my document cam at school: in case we have a little extra time to talk about poetry, I open it to one of many dogeared pages and we read one. (Fun bonus: it featured a poet named Joyce James.)

This gets to one of my favorite things about Ploughshares: its use of guest editors who, presumably, keep the content from getting staid by bringing fresh perspectives. I admit I have not given a serious shake to every issue I've been sent yet (I'll get to them!) but it seems like the resulting variety appears only within a very narrow band. It's not like they're bringing in guest editors totally outside what they usually publish (literary work that is well crafted but only occasionally soulful).

Anyway, two stories in the latest issue really got me, and, happily, both are available free online. You should definitely read them.

The Case for Psychic Distance” by Jennifer Hanno
Both stories involve public education and teachers and students, which actually makes me more exact as a reader rather than more forgiving. The story is also in second person which, as you know, is usually a mistake no matter how well written. Hanno sidesteps the problem through a metameta conceit which, again, should't work but does. Something about writing-about-writing-that-ends-up-being-the-writing-written-about-writing tends to the painfully cute, but Hanno's managed to turn cute into the adverb while making painfully into a noun. The hero of her tale intends to use writing as an escape, but fails and fails until she turns it burns into a rage that acts as catalyst for grief.

I'm being vague. That's because, dang it, I gave you the link and I want you to read the thing yourself. Seriously. Go read it. Go read it. Go read it.

Rosalee Carrasco” by Tomiko M. Breland
I absolutely love the form Breland uncovered for this story. In brief, each character gets three sections---I is the character's past; II is the character during The Incident; III is the character after The Incident. (She does something simple and bold that makes me very very happy with one of her IIIs. You'll know which one instantly. You might even see it coming, but that won't change your delight.)

The Incident is a school shooting, though one very different from the sort that gives the 24hr news cycle two weeks of material. And the story is about how real people end up becoming what they become. How children become teenagers. How teenagers become adults. And as simple, flashlike, inandout character studies, the story is a great success. Largely because, like all great flashfiction, it's not simple at all. Read as a short-story-in-flashes, it's dense in lightness (if you will). But what's particularly remarkable about the story, however, is that, at the end it turns into an indictment on a certain aspect of modern American society. And not the indictment that had been casually hinted at throughout. In fact, indictment is the wrong word entirely. Found guilty does a better job.

Two things I like (and am unlikely to ever write about).
Here are two ongoing Ploughshares features I admire: Plan B is a writer writing about what else life offers (or could have offered); Look2 revisits and gives deserved attention to work not approved by the Church of What's Happening Now.

A note on the poetry.
The poetry is all over the place. Some I really like (eg, Beck's "Correcting My Mother's Essay") and others don't stick with me at all. But in honor of the recently completed #MormonPoetrySlam, here's a nice little number from Lance Larsen.