Tags: books

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new fiction

This week! At Strange Horizons! A new story, and it's a beaut:

"Tyrannia" by Alan DeNiro

The man crashes to the ground, and then lies still, and birds fly to the site of him. They land on him from head to toe. He doesn't move, and won't move again of his own volition. In his arteries, though, are the beginnings of a journey.

Also brand-new by Alan DeNiro this week is his debut novel, Total Oblivion, More or Less. It's been getting phenomenal rave reviews all over the place, and I can't wait to read it! Plus, with a fantastic cover like that, you know it'd make an uber-cool stocking stuffer.

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pants on fire

I was very young when I first read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and it shook me up.  I'd been turning the pages, soaking up spooky atmosphere and accepting the story at face value, when -- wait a minute... I started to wonder if things were not quite what they seemed.  I started to look more closely, and question what I was being told.  From between the lines emerged a whole other layer of mystery, and it was up to me to figure out the truth.  I hadn't even known this was possible, that you could do that with a story: my world rearranged itself in a massive tectonic shift and suddenly I was in new territory. 

It was unsettling and exciting all at once, the discovery that a novel could be read like a puzzle, like a treasure hunt, sifting through clues and layers of meaning to understand what might really be happening.  Later on, I had similar revelations reading Nabokov and others, but it was Shirley Jackson who opened that door, who first taught me how to read a narrative more searchingly, to engage with it and look below the surface, to take pleasure in the discovery.

The narrator of Justine Larbalestier's LIAR tells us up front that she is a compulsive liar, so naturally we can expect her to be unreliable.  But that barely scrapes the surface of what a compelling read her story makes, how beautifully it holds together, even while the ground shifts under us as we read.  Liar stays thrilling all the way through; at several points along the way, I had those "oh my god!" moments and had to go talk to someone about what was going on, to share my excitement.  I've liked everything Justine has written, but with her latest book, released this week, she takes it to a new level.  I want to put Liar into the hands of every young person I know.  I hope it can do that rare and delicious thing for them that Jackson's novel did for me, flexing new muscles, making them better readers.  But more to the point: it's an awesome, fun, eerie book that I bet they'll love.  I did.

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norse code

Back in the late December, my darling overseas in-laws gave me a big Amazon gift certificate.  Now, I try to use it for things other than books, because I'd rather give local shops my money -- in fact, I pre-ordered a copy of Greg Van Eekhout's NORSE CODE through A Room of One's Own bookstore.  But I must have been hedging my bets while in some manic fugue state, because although I have no memory of doing it, Amazon just notified me that they've shipped a copy of NORSE CODE to me, which I apparently pre-ordered back in February.  This turns out to be a real stroke of luck, because I won't be able to get to a bookstore for a while, but damn do I want to get my hands on that book!  Check it out:

I'm a huge fan of all mythology, though since marrying a Swede I've become particularly interested in Norse.  I also like me some apocalypses, and Ragnarok is an especially juicy apocalypse to play with, as this book does.  Here's more stuff I like, quoted from today's Big Idea column:

And that’s basically what Norse Code is about: Huge disasters, gods conspiring to speed things along, a minor god with an unknown future, and valkyries with biotech. There’s also a moon-eating wolf, and atomic tests in the South Pacific that wake up the Midgard Serpent, and talking ravens, and a resistance movement made up of Iowa farmers who resent being dead.

O swift postal system, deliver this book unto me like NOW.  Want.

Even beyond all of the above, the greatest element of which I am a fan is the author, Greg Van Eekhout.  He's written a bunch of terrific short stories (two of which are up at Strange Horizons -- "In the Late December" remains one of my all-time favorite things we've ever published).  Greg is the only friend I've got who fully shares and truly understands my Superman love, which is a powerful bond.  And he just generally has the kind of mind where, if he's going to write something, I'm going to read it.  NORSE CODE is his first novel, and it hits bookstores, as well as my mailbox, today.  I cannot wait to read it!  I know I'm going to eat it up like a wolf devouring a moon, and if you give it a try, I bet you will too.

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overqualified, by joey comeau

Of all the false ways we present ourselves in the world, job applications may be the pinnacle of fakery. The goal is to commodify the self into a bland, inoffensive package, in order to slot it into the corporate machine.  And of course, we hide or amputate any aspects of who we are that don't mesh with our socially-constructed ideas of how people are supposed to think, act, and feel.

Overqualified is a short novel in the form of a series of cover letters for jobs the author will never get.  Something has shattered his world -- a car accident, a tragedy -- that's disrupted his participation in the hollow process, left him unable to continue pretending his life fits into tidy, respectable categories.  He goes on writing job applications, but they warp into confessional outpourings, defiant assertions of individuality, furious searches for meaning and connection and humanity. 

The book is poetically written and wildly funny -- the kind of wicked humor that's all raw nerves and secret truths and naked heart.  Joey Comeau is one of the most honest and courageous writers I know, and his writing is always a wake-up call.  I highly recommend it.

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tiny dancer

My childhood experience of circuses was a modern one.  When the circus rolled in to town, it was a massive stadium event; we bought our snacks and crammed into our seats to peer at the antics on a stage far below. The show was entertaining, but smoothly corporate.  I mostly remember feeling bad for the animals, and kind of turned off by the cheesy fanfare and glitz of it all.  There was a sense that we were seeing a big-business version of something that had once been exciting.  It was a glossy, nostalgic riff on early 20th-century Americana.

I guess I'm susceptible to that nostalgia, because I am fascinated by the circuses of yore, in all their crazy, queer, dangerous, broken flamboyance. A couple months ago I went to a reading by Janet M. Davis, who edited and annotated a book called Circus Queen and Tinker Bell: The Memoir of Tiny Kline. Tiny Kline, born in 1891, immigrated to America and lived her whole life on the theatrical fringe as a vaudeville dancer, circus acrobat, daredevil. Here's a quick clip of her in 1932 (for context, the same year the movie Freaks came out), crossing Times Square on a wire, dangling by her teeth.

I asked Janet Davis about the policemen at the end of that clip; were they just part of a setup for more publicity?  With a crowd of thousands gathered below, surely they would have had time to stop Ms. Kline while she was setting up the act, instead of showing up afterward... and yet she does look genuinely upset by them.  Davis didn't know, but agreed it's hard to take them seriously because they sound just like movie cops from, say, 1932.  Did people ever really talk that way?  I like to think Tiny set it up; I like to think people would not respond to such a glorious feat of derring-do by promptly hassling her about rules.  But who knows.  She had transgressed, and she was not a "respectable" woman.

There's a nice overview of the book here if you want to get an idea of what it's about, and I agree that "Kline's book is not only a personal memoir but a vibrant portrait, almost a history, of American circus life" in its heyday.  It's a rare angle from which to view the early 20th century, and Davis does a great job of framing the narrative within questions of class, race, gender, and American identity.  Get your freak on and enjoy.

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the love we share without knowing

Cause for celebration: Christopher Barzak's second novel hits the bookstores today!

Publisher's Weekly raves: 

From the neon colors of Tokyo, with its game centers and karaoke bars, to the bamboo groves and hidden shrines of the countryside, these souls and others mingle, revealing a profound tale of connection—uncovering the love we share without knowing.

Exquisitely perceptive and deeply affecting, Barzak’s artful storytelling deftly illuminates the inner lives of those attempting to find—or lose—themselves in an often incomprehensible world.

Barzak’s accomplished novel-in-stories evinces the fragile and overwhelming desire for meaning and love.

This is the book Chris wrote while he was living in Japan, and he had me at the title.  Actually, he had me at the author's name above the title, because I know anything he writes is going to be beautiful.  

I get a little sad around the holidays, feeling disconnected from the world, far away from so many people I care about.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed, isolated from one another, alone.  Those mean reds creep in.  I'll be reading this book as an antidote.

Update: Hosted by Scalzi, Barzak talks about living in Japan and writing his book.
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ben parzybok made me buy a cookbook

Here's how:

I hope you’re well and that you’re busy depression-proofing yourself too.

If not? Buy a bottle of red wine, turn on the music loud and cook the New Brunswick Stew from this book.

Make sure to drink at least 5/8th of the bottle of wine while cooking.

That’s the best cure for the blues I know.

I mean depression-proofing in the emotional sense - but we do a lot of wealth building/depression-proofing here in the financial sense by making massive batches of soups and freezing them. Having stores of your own canned goods and frozen soups is one of the wealthiest feelings I think you can have. All that nourishment is stored away at your own home - not subject to bank runs or abstract financial instruments. It’s harvest time! Put away some of that summer for deep in the winter.

Doesn't that sound good?  It sounded so appealing to me that within hours of reading his blog post, I found myself in a bookstore picking up one of them Moosewood cookbooks, under the dazed misconception that I am the sort of person who will cook, and what's more, who will throw together a hearty stew with the type of jaunty, Bacchanalian flair Ben describes. I have never found even the word "stew" appealing until now, but thanks to Mr. Parzybok, suddenly stew has become the magic potion that will not only sustain my kith and kin through the cold mean months, but very possibly set my entire life firmly on the path of truth and beauty, and fix... well, probably everything?

Ben Parzybok also wrote Couch, an amazing debut novel about three roommates who get evicted and take their couch with them on a journey that becomes a epic quest that becomes one of the most truly weird and original books I've read in ages. I can't guarantee it will depression-proof you as surely as a magical stew, but it's a good bet to cure what ails you. Put out by -- who else? Small Beer Press, purveyors of fine nourishing literature.

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note to madisonians: author reading

On Sunday afternoon, David J. Schwartz will be reading from his new novel, Superpowers, at A Room Of One's Own bookstore.  This is cause for local excitement because Superpowers is set in Madison, and even apart from the many other rewards and pleasures of reading this fine book, it is thrilling to see our fair city finally get its own superhero team...

Here's a thoughtful review of the book, and here's a Bookslut interview with Dave.  Hope to see you all at the reading!

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recommending two books that aren't novels

I am recommending two books that aren't novels! 

* The first issue of Coilhouse Magazine is finally in print.  Mine arrived in the mail yesterday and I went into a fugue state just gazing at all the gorgeously strange photographs.  It's a pleasure to find articles with such strong emphasis on visual arts and music that are actually well written, with smarts, passion, and humor.  Coilhouse explores a rich and varied range of artistic interests: check out their blog for a sense of what they're about.  In their own words: "a collection of articles, interviews, rants, musings & imagery showcasing the planet's bravest explorers of Ye Olde Future."  It's all over the place in terms of genre/media, but with a strong aesthetic and philosophical sensibility running through it: everything you find in Coilhouse feels like it truly belongs there, even if it doesn't belong anywhere else.  I love the stuff they're into, so if you do too, I highly recommend the magazine. 

* The Non-Adventures of Wonderella are collected in a book, available for pre-order!  I've raved about this webcomic before and now I can rave about it in non-virtual format.  It is brilliant and funny as hell.  If you order The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Volume 1: Everybody Ever Forever directly from the Wonderella website, the author (Justin Pierce) will sign your book, and possibly even doodle in it for you.  The site says "Pre-order by September 1st to save"-- I'm not quite clear on what you'll save; perhaps the world?  Maybe not, but do you really want to take that chance?