Monday, December 31, 2012
1. Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension by Michael Heald (Perfect Day Publishing, 2012)
2. Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books, 2012)
--Picks by Vanessa Veselka, author of Zazen (Red Lemonade, 2011)
Friday, December 28, 2012
1. Ghosting by Kirby Gann (Ig Publishing, 2012)
2. Jonah Man by Chris Narozny (Ig Publishing, 2012)
3. Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz (Europa Editions, 2012)
--Picks by Andrew Cotto, author of Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery (Ig Publishing, 2012) and The Domino Effect (Brownstone Editions, 2011)
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
1. The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz (Koyama Press, 2012)
2. The Lovely Horrible Stuff by Eddie Campbell (Top Shelf, 2012)
3. The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized Books, 2012)
4. The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf, 2012)
5. Glitz-2-Go, Collected Comics by Diane Noomin (Fantagraphics, 2012)
--Picks from graphic novelist Jennifer Hayden, author of Underwire (Top Shelf, 2011) and the forthcoming Story of My Tits about surviving breast cancer (Top Shelf, 2014)
Find new work from Jennifer posted regularly here: http://thegoddessrushes.blogspot.com/
and here: http://welcometotripcity.com/2012/12/scrapbook/
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Matt Dojny, The Festival of Earthly Delights. Westland, Mich.: Dzanc Books, 2012. Fiction. 400 pages. Illustrated by the author. ISBN: 978-1-936873-692.
A Book Review of Matt Dojny’s The Festival of Earthly Delights:
Who Can Take Him Seriously?
I don’t really know how to do a book review, though I like very much to “review” books. And since it’s that time of year when the literati and pretenders like me make lists about the best books of the year, I promised to abandon my Christmas plans if Karen Lillis included my book review of Matt Dojny’s book on her site, which is—let’s be honest—nicer than my site.
I only need to figure out how to really review a book. Well, then: form. The Festival of Earthly Delights is, eh hem, an epistolary novel (look it up) written by the protagonist, one Boyd Darrow, to the enigmatic Hap, whose identity you’ll eventually figure out. Boyd and his girlfriend-who-is-pretending-to-be-his-wife, Ulla, are young American expats in the imaginary Asian country of Puchai, where they both hold jobs in education, just as good Americans abroad often do, though Ulla is on the professional side of things.
What I really hate about writing book reviews is plot summary, so I’m going to skip it. The novel is a comedic novel. Epistolary and comedic. You’d be right if you guessed that there’s going to be all kinds of trouble, ranging from whacky food-tasting rituals to toilet humor (in one episode, I almost thought to myself, Enough, Matt! But, then, with further consideration, I thought, Well done, Matt! Well done!), from language mishaps to your usual foreign escapades involving drugs and whorehouses. Drugs and whorehouses are common, right? Boyd Darrow is utterly likeable, and we go wherever he goes willingly. He’s not an idiot. He’s not annoying. He’s just a young American abroad. Who lives with a girl named Ulla. In my opinion, one should always beware of women with names like Ulla. Generally speaking, women with the following names should be avoided: Ulla, Pippa, and Joss. Use your own discretion with Zoey.
In the short time I’ve got here, I’m going to focus on two aspects of this book: its comedic status and its rendering of the American expat abroad (Lordy, I love talking about that one).
It’s a comedic novel! Which means, in brief, it’s funny! You know, we’ve got to be serious for a second, and think about what this means. The comedic thing can be problematic. A bit of a stigma. I can’t remember where it is exactly, but I know that somewhere my own Love Slave is labeled comedic.
I don’t know about Matt Dojny’s response, but my response involved some disgruntled balking. Somehow, my writerly credentials were called into question. My legitimacy was at stake. Yeah, yeah, I read Catch-22. Yeah, yeah: Catcher in the Rye. In one of my non-review reviews, I grappled with the issue. The book was Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and I asked—with all sincerity—“Am I a humorist?” (The review can be found here: That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore.) Because maybe being a humorist isn’t such a good thing.
(Someone, incidentally, publically responded to my review by writing, “In answer to your question, No, you are not. ” I’m still suffering from that one.)
I’ve come to terms with the comedic thing. Dojny probably already has. There’s smart funny (which is marked by smarmy, sexy, true moments that contain beauty and sorrow and wit) and there’s dumb funny (sitcom TV with titles like “My Four Dads’ Sisters and Their Gay Neighbor” or “My Gay Neighbor’s Dad and His Four Sisters”). Funny, when funny is good, is smart. And Dojny’s prose is smart. Humor may be the best way at getting at this human thing, the core of what it means to be human. It seems like it’s the funny people who often see things more clearly. It’s not that they take life less seriously or that their light-heartedness is superficiality; rather, funny people are—dare I say it?—pretty damn perceptive, able to see nuances in behavior and thinking that other people miss. Fools!
If you can’t laugh at a good joke about excrement, something might actually be wrong with you.
Yeah, this book is funny. I’m thinking that the trick to humor is honesty—about everything. This is one super simple example. Ulla wakes up and says to Boyd, “I was just having a horrible nightmare. I was in a super-dirty bathroom, and my bare butt accidentally touched the wall.” I’ve had this dream! But here’s the important thing: though you’ve probably had this dream too, you may not know what to do with it. Dojny turns it into a comic moment, an honest moment. The gifted writer takes the common (like the bare-butt-on-dirty-surfaces nightmare) and renders them uncommon (magical moments abroad). That’s a real festival of earthly delights. Djony, gifted writer, does orchestrate a festival.
Let’s move on. Americans abroad! First, they are so freakin’ funny! Second, my first book—which is not comedic so don’t expect to laugh—is about expats (Shameless Plug: it’s called The Freak Chronicles). Third, I thought Dojny’s rendering of the American abroad was great. There are too many fine passages to quote from; I’m just going to pick a few. Though it’s common to draw upon the strangeness of food, Dojny does so with just the right tone. He’s gentle, without arrogance. He writes about Ulla’s fondness for this one dessert that’s like a “hot-dog bun filled with soybean ice cream, then smothered in creamed corn.” Sounds gross, but you’d probably like it too. I know I ate worse in Africa. There are bowls that emit the smell of “a hot burp, with a hint of black licorice.”
He captures the fear, the trepidation, the goofy white-kid-among-non-white people thinking which is heightened in extreme [foreign] situations. When a bunch of teenage malchaks (the politically-oppressed group, because there always is one) do potentially dangerous teenage stuff when Boyd walks in their part of the imaginary exotic locale, Boyd’s thinking goes like this: “I tried to compose my features into an expression that said: I’m just a gareng [foreigner] on my way home, minding my own business. I don’t think what you’re doing is cool, but I’m not judging you, either. It’s not really a big deal. Just don’t get anybody killed. I’m a visitor from New York City, the ‘Big Apple,’ so, believe me, I’ve seen much worse. . . I don’t view you as ‘the other.’ I know that the same blood runs through all of our veins. You may not have realized this before, but I know that you realize it now, as you look into my eyes: I am not afraid.” Boyd tries hard to communicate all of this in one facial expression, and this sums up what Dojny does in his rendering of the gareng experience: he captures a vast and complex collection of wild, important experiences in a series of quick, often funny, moments.
Well, he’s funny, but can he write? I like this line: “I woke up this morning with a mouthful of rubies.” Isn’t that what a good comedic novel is like? A mouthful of rubies? Think about it, reader.
I wrote my own little list of the Best Books of 2012, which was really the best books I read in 2012. However, my first choice was actually written in 2011, and The Festival of Earthly Delights was my second favorite read of the year. But since it was, in fact, written in 2012, it’s fair to say it was my pick for the Best Book of 2012! Yikes, that felt a little like a mouthful of rubies too. Don’t try to read this final paragraph aloud.
Summary: this is a really good book.
Guest Review by Jennifer Spiegel
Author of Love Slave (September 2012, Unbridled Books)
and The Freak Chronicles (June 2012, Dzanc Books)
Saturday, December 22, 2012
1. The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneighem (Reissue on PM Press/Autonomedia, 2012)
2. On Bolus Head by Michael Carter with etchings by Brian Gormley (En Garde Books, 2012)
3. Tsunami of Love by Eddie Woods (Barncott Press, 2012)
4. The Banjo Clock by Karen Garthe (University of California Press, 2012)
5. Backwards the Drowned Go Dreaming by Carl Watson (Sensitive Skin Press, 2012)
6. To Cook A Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Change in Africa by Nnimmo Bassey (Pambazuka Press, 2012)
--Picks by bart plantenga, author of Yodel in Hi-Fi (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012) and the two urban-mirror, zen-street books Paris Scratch and NY Sin Phoney in Face Flat Minor (both on Barncott Press, 2012).
Please see a late addition to Ron Kolm's 2012 picks. As always, I hope you'll browse the numerous posts for the Best of The Small Press 2012.
Friday, December 21, 2012
1. Love Does Not Make me Gentle or Kind by Chavisa Woods (Unbearable Books/Autonomedia, 2012)
2. Backwards the Drowned Go Dreaming by Carl Watson (Sensitive Skin Press, 2012)
3. The Deceptive Smiles of Bredmeyer Deed by Susan Scutti (Ravenrock Publishing, 2012)
4. Trust Fund Babies by Steve Dalachinsky (Unlikely Books, 2012)
--Picks by Ron Kolm, author of The Plastic Factory (Autonomedia, 2010) and longtime bookseller and small press "pusher"
--Read an interview with Ron at Literary Kicks
Since December 7th, I've been blogging the small press picks of terrific writers and editors in the small press scene, and I'll go through the end of the year. Keep up with them at: Best of the Small Press 2012.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
1. Dog Unleashed by Jimmy Cvetic (Awesome Books/Lascaux Editions, 2012)
2. Other Kinds by Dylan Nice (Short Flight/Long Drive at Hobart Press, 2012)
3. Watch the Doors as They Close by Karen Lillis (Sputen Duyvil, 2012)
4. Secret Systems of Hideouts by Heather McNaugher (Main Street Rag, 2012)
5. The Trolleyman by Bob Pajich (Low Ghost Press)
--Picks by Lori Jakiela, author of SPOT THE TERRORIST, MISS NEW YORK HAS EVERYTHING, and more.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
TRAIN TO POKIPSE by Rami Shamir. Cover art by Adam Void.
1. Let One Hundred Flower Pots Bloom, anthology zine covering the recent controversy over the Chris Hedges essay, “The Cancer in Occupy." (AFFECT/New York Year Zero, 2012)
2. The Debt Resistor's Operations Manual by anonymous "well-qualified" contributors from a new Occupy Wall Street group, Strike Debt. (Strike Debt!, 2012)
3. Snowball's Chance by John Reed. (Melville House, 2012)
4. The Narrows by M. Craig. (Papercut Press, 2012)
5. Watch the Doors as They Close by Karen Lillis. (Spuyten Duyvil, 2012)
6. Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics by Kalle Lasn and Adbusters. (Seven Stories Press, 2012)
--Picks by Rami Shamir, author of TRAIN TO POKIPSE (Underground Editions, 2012)
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
"The Secret Life of Magazine Covers" is the latest installment of my Bookstore Memoir-in-progress. While reminiscing on a poetry reading from 2002, the essay includes some thoughts on the small press and hype:
"It reminded me that the small press seemed to exist in this funny place. You could get a small group of your friends together, start a magazine or a publishing house, and it could add up to the most basic version of that: a good time, a cordial salon, a fertile exchange of ideas, a record of a cluster of talent. Or, it could go national, global. A hot title, a cool look, a dynamite new writer, a necessary conversation, a new energy, a zeitgeist, a legacy. You never knew whether you’d be overlooked as More of the Same, or become the next One to Watch. Stakes were small and huge at the same time, consequences could be negligible or cosmic. Ever since HOWL in 1955 was the 18-minute poetry reading heard round the world, hype was a part of the equation, something to be embraced or ignored by poets and publishers, but always a choice to be made."
Read the full essay in Issue No. 10 of Composite Arts Magazine, a smart and gorgeously-produced digital quarterly.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
Pittsburgh writer Dave Newman shared two Best of 2012 lists:
Awesome Small Press Books
1. The Collected Works Vol. 1 by Scott McClanahan (Lazy Fascists Press, 2012)
2. Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen (Hobart, 2012)
3. Imagining Paradise: New and Selected Poems by Barry Gifford (Seven Stories Press, 2012)
4. Jimmy and Rita by Kim Addonizio (Stephen F. Austin University Press, re-issued 2012)
5. Code for Failure: A Gas Station Novel by Ryan W. Bradley (Black Coffee Press, 2012)
Awesome Small Press Books from Pittsburgh Writers
1. The Trolleyman by Bob Pajich (Low Ghost, 2012)
2. Watch the Doors as They Close by Karen Lillis (Spuyten Duyvil, 2012)
3. Dog Unleashed by Jimmy Cvetic (Awesome Books/Lascaux Editions, 2012)
--Picks by Dave Newman, author of Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children (Writers Tribe Books, 2012) and Please Don't Shoot Anyone Tonight (World Parade Books, 2012). http://www.davenewmanwritesbooks.com
I'm blogging Best of lists through the end of December, please browse them at Best of Small Press 2012.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
2. Good Grief by Stevie Edwards (Write Bloody Publishing, 2012)
3. System of Hideouts by Heather McNaugher (Main Street Rag, 2012)
4. Ophelia Unraveling by Carol Berg (dancing girl press, 2012)
5. Women Who Pawn Their Jewelry by Sheila Squillante (Finishing Line Press, 2012)
--picks by Laura E. Davis, author of Braiding the Storm (Finishing Line Press 2012) and founding editor of Weave Magazine.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
1. MUSIC FOR PORN by Rob Halpern (Nightboat Books, 2012)
2. SNOWFLAKE / DIFFERENT STREETS by Eileen Myles (Wave Books, 2012)
3. EVERYTHING published in 2012 by TROLL THREAD Press
(Free PDF’s of all books) see: http://trollthread.tumblr.com
4. BRINK by Shanna Compton (Bloof Books, 2012)
5. AS LONG AS TREES LAST by Hoa Nguyen (Wave Books, 2012)
6. THE EMILY DICKINSON READER by Paul Legault (McSweeney’s, 2012)
7. THE BOOK OF MONELLE by Marcel Schwob, translated by Kit Schluter (Wakefield Press, 2012)
8. THUNDERBIRD by Dorothea Lasky (Wave Books, 2012)
9. AUSTERITY MEASURES by Stacy Szymaszek (Fewer & Further Press, 2012)
-- Picks by CAConrad, author of A BEAUTIFUL MARSUPIAL AFTERNOON (Wave Books, 2012)
Click here for more of our Best of the Small Press 2012 from small press authors, editors, booksellers.
Click here for more of our Best of the Small Press 2012 from small press authors, editors, booksellers.
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
1. Darling Beastlettes by Gina Abelkop (Apostrophe Books, 2012)
2. Domestication Handbook by Kristen Stone (Rogue Factorial, 2012)
3. Heroines by Kate Zambreno (Semiotext(e), 2012)
4. My Life is a Movie by Carina Finn (Birds of Lace, 2012)
5. Kept Women by Kate Durbin (Insert Blanc Press, 2012)
--Picks by Kari Larsen, web editor of Anobium and author of Say you're a fiction (Dancing Girl Press, 2012), the Black Telephone (Unthinkable Creatures, 2012), and Come as Your Madness (Birds of Lace, forthcoming 2013).
I'm blogging Best of 2012 lists (from small press authors, editors, and booksellers) all month long. Click here for more: Best of the Small Press 2012
Monday, December 10, 2012
Read Lavinia's review: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/lludlow/2012/06/a-review-of-the-grievers-by-marc-schuster/
2. Wally by Don Peteroy (Burrow Press, 2012)
Read Lavinia's review: http://smallpressreviews.wordpress.com/2012/11/02/wally-review-by-lavinia-ludlow/
3. Variations of a Brother War by J.A. Tyler (Smalldoggies Press, 2012)
Read Lavinia's review: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/lludlow/2012/08/review-of-variations-of-a-brother-war-by-j-a-tyler/
--Picks by Lavinia Ludlow, author of the novel, alt.punk (Casperian Books, 2012)
Visit Lavinia at: http://ludlowlavinia.wordpress.com/
Sunday, December 9, 2012
1. Autumn's Only Blood, Willie James King (Tebot Bach, 2012)
2. Watch the Doors as They Close, Karen Lillis (Spuyten Duyvil, 2012)
3. Cannoli Gangster, Joey Nicoletti (WordTech Communications, 2012)
4. The Freak Chronicles, Jennifer Spiegel (Dzanc Books, 2012)
5. The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, Nathan Leslie (Atticus Books, 2012)
~~Picks by Charles Rammelkamp, author of Fusen Bakudan (Time Being Books, 2012)
Friday, December 7, 2012
It's that time again, when I ask small press authors and editors to contribute lists of their favorite small press books of the year. Without further ado:
1. Extravagant Traveler by Jeremy Baum (Self Published, 2012)
2. White Clay by Thomas Herpich (Adhouse Books, 2012)
3. Wizzywig by Ed Piskor (Top Shelf, 2012)
4. Afterschool Special by Dave Kiersh (Self Published, 2012)
5. Wild Child by M Young (Smoke Persian Press, 2012)
~~Small Press Picks by Nate McDonough, editor of GRIXLY comics anthology and author of graphic novel DON’T COME BACK (self published, 2012)
Please DO come back. There will be many more Best of Small Press 2012 lists now through Dec 31.