Tuesday, January 3, 2012

these things don’t happen by themselves

Merry new year, everyone! May 2012 be less of a disappointment than 2011. Hopefully we won't all be subject to bullshit Mayan calendar predictions that won't happen.

Chuck Wendig's 25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing was a good article to read at the start of the new year - even though four or five of the entries on his list are basically the same thing, it's all very inspiring. Since I have a manuscript to bang into shape this month, Wendig's list floated across my transom at a fortuitous time. And he's right - writers can get too caught up in outside perceptions of what we should be doing, so we lose focus on what we could be doing. There are many possibilities in this line of work.

And while I'm here, my list of the best books I read in 2011 is due! I didn't get to read as much as in 2010, which is a shame, but hopefully this year will make up for it. Now then, in no special order...



Help! A Bear Is Eating Me (Mykel Hansen) might have the best title ever, and it's a really funny chunk of ranting surrealism in which a high-level executive gets trapped under his SUV in the woods and, yes, gets partially eaten by a bear. The scope of the novel is limited by both its length and the POV of its narrator, and it does fall into certain critical-of-suburbia cliches, but it's a much trippier savaging of pampered middle America than most other books attempting the same thing.

Yellow Back Radio Broke Down (Ishmael Reed) is a jive western about a voodoo-practicing black cowboy named the Loop Garoo Kid, and features anachronistic cameos from Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark (as violent drunks and rapists, respectively). There are also closed-circuit televisions and spaceships, so it's safe to say that author Ishmael Reed plays with time. Too much, actually - his novel is pretty scattered and gets lost in the language sometimes, but it's really funny if you're willing to hang in there until it ultimately makes sense.

Girls and Women (Chella Courington) is a chapbook of prose poetry about the female body's interactions with religion, politics, family, and its immediate environment. Normally, collections like this are hectoring and humorless in tone, but Courington's voice is much more versatile than what I expected, and she's ultimately more interested in analysis than anger, seeking a deeper understanding of the body and why people (i.e. communities of Americans) react to it as they do.

Today and Tomorrow (Ofelia Hunt) was championed by The Lit Pub early on, and I totally understood why about halfway through - the narrator's unreliability is frustrating and funny and a hundred other things, but certainly engaging throughout. I think that comes from the narrator being as uncertain of/creeped out by her own perceptions as the reader is, and is trying to be understood rather than trying to obfuscate for the sake of it.

I Totally Meant to Do That (Jane Borden) is a non-fiction account of a woman transitioning between her cotillion-class Southern upbringing and her current hipsterish lifestyle in NYC. The book's arc is pretty typical of stories like this, but Jane is funny enough to pull them off without drawing attention to them, and it's interesting to watch her regress in sophistication upon moving to the Big City. Jane is also from the same part of North Carolina as me, so I'm connected to her book in kind of a special way.

The Book of Broken Hymns (Rafe Posey) is a collection of short stories by my friend/former classmate Rafe Posey. Rafe graduated from my program last year, and this book is his thesis, for lack of a better term. It's also damn good, and Rafe's gift for poetic language is a rare one. He's also good at weaving humor, baseball anecdotes, and Kafka-esque fawn transformations into stories about his own journey (Rafe is part of the trans community), which is the uniting theme of his collection.

The Disinformation Phase (Chris Toll) is a book of poetry full of addictive word games (lots of "who put the [word] in the [larger word]") and odd/charming images. Toll's work is very experimental, and god only knows what would happen if he brought any of it into a traditional workshop atmosphere, but it's also some of the least inhibited poetry I've ever read. Taken as a whole, this book is a very liberating experience.

alt.punk (Lavinia Ludlow) was my friend's first book, and I jokingly suggested retitling it Love In A Time of Barf and Semen due to the sometimes-graphic content. Lavinia's narrative voice is very charming, even at the most hectic moments of the book's punk rock pace, and her narrator has no shortage of personal agency. Anyone trying to make their protagonists more dynamic should read this.

Hush Up and Listen Stinky Poo Butt (Ken Sparling) is another great title, and Sparling knows how to build tension in small, subtle movements; the pressures of fatherhood, the main character's mounting frustration with having to be "on" all the time, his distant relationship with his wife, and his ranting private arguments with the author/himself assemble themselves into a surprisingly riveting narrative.

You Can Make Him Like You (Ben Tanzer) began my love affair with Tanzer's work. Holy crap. As I've said before and will say again, Tanzer makes character creation/maintenance look really easy, and his simple prose is graceful to the point of athletic. I'll be talking about Tanzer's new short story collection next month, so I'll cut off my fawning praise for the man here, but seriously. Buy this book.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to check out the "Book of Broken Hymns" and "Yellow Back Radio Broke Down" (anything about the flip side to Lewis & Clark is good)

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