Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book Review: Rude Vile Pigs

Read 1/14/15 - 1/21/15
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who like non-traditional storytelling and eat up satire with a spoon
Pages: 280
Publisher: Self Published
Released: 2014


When reading Rude Vile Pigs, there is no pressure to like its characters. They are rude, they are vile, and they are, essentially, quite piggish. Leo X Robertson could not have chosen a better title for this dark satirical look at humanity at its most down-and-out.

In the town of... wait for it... Sadwhitepeopledrinking, we find ourselves in the midst of a middle-aged alcoholic divorcee's mental breakdown. Jim Joy still has the key to his old place - the new owners haven't changed the lock yet - and when the family is out and about, he sneaks into the attic, smokes weed, and sets himself to eavesdropping on (and slightly, innocently, interfering with) them. He's emotionally paralyzed, can't come to terms with his new bachelorhood, and shamelessly hides from reality by invisibly integrating himself into, and falling in love with, the lives of Kate, George, and Kayleigh. Until the day he takes his obsession with them too far and finds himself arrested.

Coming to terms with the fact that he has officially hit rock bottom, Jim decides to stay there awhile and develops a kind of devil-may-care attitude. Shortly after Kate dropped the charges against him, Jim visits her at her place of employment, completely disregarding her insistence of never seeing him again. George finds out and kicks the shit of him. Jim's lack of reaction and jerky continued attempts to contact them begins to rub off. This selfish outlook of his - take whatever you want, do whatever you want, say whatever you want - unexpectedly spawns a new religion, one of embracing your inner asshole. People begin to witness Jim getting what he wants and boy does it look good. Before he knows what's happening, townsfolk are attending his weekly "sermons" to learn how best to develop their newly found fuck-all attitude. He's built an asshole-inner-circle. And being selfish has become infectious.

So what happens to a town where people stop giving a shit about the rules that once guided them? Where everyone is out for themselves and no one's got anyone's back anymore? And what happens when the man who started it all suddenly becomes sick and tired of it?

Rude Vile Pigs is told from the alternating perspectives of Jim, Kate, George, Kayleigh, and Jim's ex-wife Julia. However, before we get to the actual story, Leo spends the first seventeen pages showing us "how we got there" with a mish-mosh of internal dialogue, presenting the events out-of-sequence. If you are patient with yourself, and keep flipping back to the list of characters Leo provides you with, you'll quickly piece together what is taking place. And then, once the pivotal moment has been outed, you'll find yourself relaxing comfortably into the more familiar delivery of sequential chapters.

If you're anything like me, at times you might find Leo's humor to be somewhat forced. Is that common with satirical fiction? I've no shame in admitting that I don't always "get" the point of satire. Maybe that's why I also found Rude Vile Pigs guilty of attempting to take itself a wee bit too seriously? Perhaps I'm just jaded, but the idea of an entire town of people all of a sudden letting go of all social norms and doing whatever the fuck they want just because one dude is doing it and getting away with it is just a bit too out there for me.

It's like the kid who gets caught smoking and is forced to consume an entire pack, one cigarette immediately after the other. He was forced with the assumption that too much of a good thing will quickly becomes a bad thing. Something he'll get sick of before it starts to really take root. But who's to say that wouldn't backfire, and by giving the kid more of what he wants, you've just proved his point, that smoking is cool as shit and he'll be a steady pack-a-day'er for the rest of his life. He may even be able to convince a friend or two that this new lifestyle is perfect for them too, but a whole town of non-smokers? Now imagine that town of non-smokers being forced to smoke cigarette after cigarette, all at the same time... pack them into a room until the smoke has filled it from floor to ceiling, till all they can smell and taste is that cigarette smoke... how long until most of the people break away and run for the doors screaming and choking from the badness of it all?

It's the same idea, really. I'm going to be a jerk to you. I'll step all over you and get what I want. Does that make you idolize me and want to become a jerk so you can do the same thing to someone else? I doubt it. Assholes tend to demonstrate undesirable behaviors. The only one who thinks being an asshole is fun is the asshole. I don't necessarily agree that being an asshole creates more assholes. But why don't you read Rude Vile Pigs and contemplate that for yourself?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ian Doescher Recommends Fog Island Mountains


 Writers Recommend is a series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like a LSA -Literary Service Announcement. Your welcome. 




Ian Doescher Recommends Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones




As I get older, more and more of my friends from high school, college and beyond are becoming authors.  This is always fun for me, and I love reading the books that come from the imaginations of people I've known in the past (in some cases as many as 25 years ago).  This year, it was a particular pleasure to read my friend Michelle Bailat-Jones' book Fog Island Mountains (Tantor Media, 2014).  The book tells the story of Alec Chester, a South African who emigrated to Japan decades ago and is married to Kanae.  The couple lives together in the fictional village of Komachi, in the nonfiction Kirishima mountain region of Japan known as the fog island mountains.  When Alec is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Kanae flees from him for reasons that... would give away some of the story, so I won't.  The book is beautifully written, capturing the delicate dance of Alec, Kanae, and their three children, and their reactions to Alec's illness.  The story is narrated by Azami, an old storyteller of Komachi who weaves Japanese mythological stories into the story of Alec and Kanae.  The result is a book you want to read slowly and savor, as emotionally rich as my own books are silly and fun.  Michelle's writing style is captivating -- she could rewrite the story of the three little pigs and it would become a work of art.

It's always a pleasure when you get to help promote a friend's book, but it's a privilege when the book is as well-written as Fog Island Mountains.  Do yourself a favor and buy the book, then curl up on a winter's evening with a blanket, your favorite hot drink, and indulge yourself in this lovely book.






Ian Doescher is the author of the William Shakespeare's Star Wars series.  His Shakespeare Star Wars prequel trilogy will be released in 2015.  Ian lives with his family in Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mick Carlon's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. 



Mick Carlon's
Would You Rather



Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?   
Hmm…I’d rather begin every sentence with “and.”  “But” can have other connotations/meanings!

Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak? 
Since I can tune out bad music—(I always have good music playing inside my little brain—right now it’s the Stones song “Factory Girl”)--I would choose the noisy coffee shop.  Plus, I can’t stand the zit-like noise that spiders make when you pop them.  Plus, I’m addicted to coffee.

Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
 I’d have to be able to think in a language I can understand.  Both choices, though, would present problems!

Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?
 Wow!  Incredible question.  I’d rather write the best book of my career in the hope that maybe—after my death—a relative could see it published (a la John Kennedy Toole).  (But I wouldn’t zap myself the way Kennedy did).

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
I do Facebook, but not Twitter—BUT everything I think is not fit for reading!  Got to have that filter working or I’d be in BIG TROUBLE.  So I’d like the voice in my head narrating my life—but it would have to be a cool Raymond Chandleresque “she had legs up to her eyebrows” type of narrator.

Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
Human skin brings up terrible connotations of the Holocaust, so I’d go with (clean) tissue paper.

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

I’d rather have no one show up—which, fortunately, has not happened yet.  Besides, I’m so impressive naked that I would make every dude in the audience feel terribly insecure for the rest of their lives.  I simply couldn’t have that on my conscience.

 Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?
 Hmm…could it be a peaceful riot filled with laughter and dancing?  If not, then the fireplace option.  At least I’d be keeping folks warm.

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
 Pens and paper.  I get a dopamine rush from receiving emails.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

I would never be tattooed—so the audio option.  When housewives in horrible stretch pants (at the mall) have tattoos, you know its era of being rebellious is over.  It’s now rebellious NOT to be tattooed.


Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
 I have no illusions about famous people, so I wouldn’t mind meeting the favorite jerkwad.  I will say, though, that I met John Updike in a movie line in Boston (circa 1988), spoke with him, and he was DELIGHTFUL.  I told him how I taught his short story “A&P” to my high school students and he couldn’t recall the story, so I refreshed his memory.  I told him that one student said, “This writer really understands teenagers,” and Mr. Updike responded, “Good God. I don’t understand them now.”   Up close, Mr. Updike possessed very impressive eyebrows.

Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
 Awesome title—we could always work on a better cover in a later printing.  I have to say, though, that Ann Weinstock creates AMAZINGLY WONDERFUL covers for Leapfrog Press.

 Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?
 Wow…the perfect story badly because I could always rewrite it.  Hey, I would have created the perfect plot—the polishing could always happen afterwards.

Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?
 Embarrassingly truthful essay—they’re the best.

Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?
 Mediocre criticism—“This book is trash,” wrote one Concord (Massachusetts) critic about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—but continue to sell well and be beloved after I take off into the wild blue yonder.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Mick Carlon’s jazz-themed novels—Riding on Duke’s Train and Travels With Louis (Leapfrog Press)—are being adopted into more and more American schools (as well as a school in Seville, Spain).  He has spoken to students in New York City, Minneapolis, Anaheim, Dallas, Plymouth (Massachusetts) and New Orleans.  Says Nat Hentoff:  “Mick Carlon’s novels are introducing a new generation to the glories of jazz and its soulful artists—and will continue to do so for many generations hence.”  Carlon’s latest novel, Girl Singer, will be published by Leapfrog Press in November 2015. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Kate Reviews: Salaryman Unbound

Salaryman Unbound by Ezra Kyrill Erker
4 stars - Strongly Recommended by Kate
Pages: 189
Publisher: 
Crime Wave Press
Released: March 2014



Guest review by Kate Vane



Salaryman Unbound is a stylish, darkly comic novel of psychological suspense.

It tells the story of Shiro, a Japanese IT manager with a midlife crisis. He has considered the conventional responses to his sense of ennui – an affair or an unsuitable hobby – but in the end settles on murder.

From this starting point, the novel follows Shiro’s attempts to implement his plan and its consequences. He turns out to be a fairly inept criminal. His ideas about detection are based on what he’s read in the papers and crime dramas on TV. He has an almost adolescent idea that he will become sort-of famous as the unidentified perpetrator of an ingenious unsolved crime.

He wants to commit the perfect murder by choosing a random victim but when these attempts fail he adapts his plan. He settles on an attractive but unhappy neighbour, Sayuri, as his victim.

There are some shocks in this novel for the reader but much of the pleasure comes from irony. Shiro, caught up in his conspiracy, is unable to see what we can. His murderous fantasy keeps brushing up against the constraints of the real world. His interactions with Sayuri and his wife Naomi are particularly well observed. They continually undercut him with their cleverness and practicality.

Shiro’s behaviour is both absurd and totally believable. It is also menacing. We are not quite sure what he is capable of, and who might get hurt.

The Japanese setting gives the book an additional dimension. The life that seems so banal to Shiro will be unfamiliar to many Western readers. We learn about the texture of the characters’ daily lives – what they eat, what music they listen to, where they go at the weekend.

More profoundly, we see how Shiro’s marriage is changed by Naomi’s return to her career and the irreverence of his children as they fail to show the respect he showed his parents. Shiro’s business trip to Thailand and his interactions with his Thai subordinates give an insight into the changing economy. The Japanese salaryman is being challenged on all sides.

There is a further irony. As Shiro’s plan progresses, he steps out of his normal world. He takes risks. But paradoxically, he misses opportunities to make bigger changes. There is a pleasing ambiguity in this – his obsession is both changing him and making him fail to see what he really needs to do.

The only thing that jarred for me slightly was that the book, while mostly written from Shiro’s point of view, sometimes makes abrupt shifts into another character’s voice. This breaks the spell as we are suddenly outside Shiro’s crazed vision. One of the strengths of Shiro’s narration is that we can see his effect on other characters even when he cannot.

However, this is a small point. This is an absorbing and atmospheric novel with a satisfying twist at the end.


Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Five Pet Peeves: Book Abuse



For those of you who were hanging around the blog yesterday, you may have met our newest review contributor, Lindsey. Lindsey runs the Straight Forward Poetry journal and will be reviewing... wait for it... poetry and chapbooks for us. Her format - Dog Eared Reviews - is an interesting and anxiety-inducing one:

She actually dog-ears her books as she reads them!

I'm suddenly finding it hard to breathe.

Hang on a sec...

...

Ok. It's ok. *pictures smooth, crisp, unfolded page corners, hundreds and hundreds of smooth, crisp, unfolded....* yeah, I'm fine. Phew!

So, needless to say, Lindsey's preferred way to mangle, I MEAN read, her books suddenly had me mentally ticking off pet peeves when it comes to how people abuse, I MEAN handle, their book as they read them.



My top five "Book Abuse" pet peeves:


5. Cover Stains - Books should never be used as a drink coaster. I know this, I am sure YOU know this, but man, how many times do you witness someone placing a cold, sweating can of coke or a hot, dripping mug of coffee on top of their current read, amirite?! You know who you are, you book abuser! That poor cover will forever bear the wrinkly water marks and brown coffee ring stains of your bad decisions. Or how bout using your book as a buffer between your hand and the kitchen table when you are painting your nails? Oh gosh how that stuff makes me cringe!


4. Food Crumbs - Eating and reading really don't go together. I don't know why people try it. You know you are going to need both hands to read with... one to hold the book, the other to turn the pages.... There is nothing worse than opening a book and discovering crusty old cookie crumbs way down deep in the pages. Or how about powered cheese finger stains, the ghostly remnants of a snack left behind as you turned the page...


3. Dog Ear - Believe it or not, this is a middle-of-the-road peeve of mine. More anxiety-inducing than the snacking and drinking. those poor folded page corners just look so painful to me. Sure, you can straighten them out and get the pages to lay somewhat flat again but the telltale triangular crease will never go away. And those once-perfect pages now have a weak spot, one that might entice its reader to unconsciously finger, or fold back and forth, until that abused little corner just gives up and detaches itself. Gasp!


2.  Marginalia - Marking up the interior of books sets my teeth grinding and my skin crawling. Pencil, pen, colored marker... I don't care what writing tool you use, I can't STAND when people write in their books. A good plenty of the 700+ unread books I own came from library and book sales. It amazes me just how many people out there make notes, underline, and highlight in their books. More times than I can count, I've had to make the tough choice to put a book I've been DYING to read back on the shelf and walk away because of how severe and distracting the marginalia was, I want to read the author's words, not your thoughts on their words. God, use sticky notes or index cards for the love of all things literary. Or, better yet, since you "loved" the book enough to mark it up to hell, why not just keep it forever? Why give it up at all?


1.  Cracked Spines - Oh how this makes my heart break. Those poor, prematurely aged books with the cracked and broken spines. Those evil, awful book abusers who actually ENJOY breaking a book in by grabbing a handful of pages from either side and CRAAAAACCCCKing that baby right down the middle. You know you who you are! Or how about those sadistic readers who fold their paperbacks over as they read them, so that the front and back covers are always touching? Which creates a million little hairline cracks down the spine... Ack! I've adopted my shared of cracked-spined books from used book stores and book sales. As I read them, I handle them with extra care, and love, and can't help but shed a tear for them as I turn the page and it partially separated from the inside of the spine because the damage was so intense. There should be a jail for readers who abuse their books so badly!



So what about you? What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to "book abuse"??

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lindsey Reviews: The End of the West

The End of the West by Michael Dickman
Pages: 89
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press 
Released: 2009




Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)




Michael Dickman’s debut collection of poems The End of the West from Copper Canyon (2009) reads like a physical move through grief and acceptance. The first poem, “Nervous System,” sets the path that the rest of the collection follows, with lines like “Make a list / of everything that’s / ever been // on fire—,” All of us running around / outside our /  deaths” and “I wish I could look down past the burning chandelier inside me.”

The early poems deal with several different deaths or separations, but the emotional turn begins to appear in the poem “Returning to Church,” saying  “I get the feeling / diamond after / diamond / is what’s really /  going to happen.”  Near the end of the collection the reader is offered not only relief, but also a rally cry that everything will be alright; “What I have / is finally invisible // Singing a little tune     They can’t take that away from me.

The early pages are dark, and may be emotionally difficult for some readers, however the path that Dickman paves is a beautiful one of strength and growth. Follow him and you won’t be sorry you did.

Like many readers I like to dog ear, highlight, and make notes in my books as I read them. Sometimes a single line stands out, other times it is an image, the spacing, or a feeling I had that will cause me to pause and take note. Here are the pages that I Dog Eared in The End of the West:


Pages 3, 8, 9, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 24, 32, 39, 41, 44, 45, 50, 51, 56, 58, 63



Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on The Nervous BreakdownThis Zine Will Change Your LifeThe Cossack Review, and Every Writer’s Resource: Everyday Poems.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Indie Ink Runs Deep: John Smelcer


Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....



Today's ink story comes from John Smelcer. One of the last students of the legendary John Gardner, widely considered the best creative writing teacher in America, John is the author of 50 books, including the award-winning novels The Trap, The Great Death, Lone Wolves, Edge of Nowhere, and Savage Mountain (forthcoming this summer). The American Library Association named Lone Wolves as one of the best feminist novels for young adults in 2014, along with I Am Malala. The Great Death was named the best novels about sisters in 2008.






Tit for Tat: A Writer Apologizes

What can I say about my tattoo, except for what kind of numbskull has the audacity to sport one of the most iconic images from pop culture on his shoulder? More importantly, what does it say about me? Even as I write this, I’m re-watching the first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), for the umpteenth time. Ursula Andress standing on the beach in a bikini with her dagger drawn never gets old.

James Bond burst onto the silver screen the year before I was born. Yet, I have the vivid memory of watching it at a theater when I was six. I was enthralled. Here was a dapper, self-assured man of action, who always got the bad guy and the girls (lots of girls). Growing up in the decade of Flower Power and Free Love, 007 epitomized the latter. I loved Bond. I wanted to be him.

James Bond: Role Model.

It’s an oxymoron akin to Shakespeare’s “O Loving Hate!”

But what kind of role model is James Bond for a boy and later a young man? He may have been a woman-lover, but he was also a misogynist who treated women disrespectfully, saying and doing anything to get them into bed. Did he even remember their names afterward? Did he remember them during? (Who could possibly forget Octopussy or Pussy Galore?) Or, in that instant of passion, did he simply call out his own name?

In retrospect, I realize that much of the trouble of my life was because of James Bond, because I adopted his shameful persona. I remember going to my eighth grade prom with one girl and, by the night’s end, I had clandestinely (like a secret agent) asked three different girls to go steady with me. They figured it out soon enough, and I didn’t get a date again until high school.

Bond made me do it!

In the mid-1970s, when I was a tweenager, my mom left for a couple weeks to be with her folks. While she was gone, my father gave me permission to put a hundred nudie posters on my bedroom walls. (It was he, after all, who took me to see Bond films.) Needless to say, my mother didn’t appreciate my artistic sensibilities.

Again, Bond made me do it!

Before I type another word, I feel a need to apologize to all the girls I wronged in my life. Mea culpa. I was clueless.

As an adult—only a year younger than the Bond film franchise—I drink Vodka martinis, even though I don’t enjoy them. I’ve owned sports cars. And like Bond, I like to dress sharp, especially in classic black, gray, and white to the point that I’m a bit of a clotheshorse. I’m an Anglophile who studied at Cambridge, Bond’s alma mater, and I sometimes speak in a fake English accent.

So why did I get a 007 tattoo on Valentine’s Day a decade ago while my wife sat in the adjacent parlor chair getting her own tat? What does my tat say about me? Is there any redeeming characteristic in Bond’s personality? Can I look at my shoulder in the mirror with any sense of self-respect? Maybe. Maybe the thing I carry in me nowadays, as a husband and father of two daughters, is simply a yearning for a bygone childhood during a confusing time in America. Maybe Bond resonated with a nation trying to figure itself out. Maybe I’m still trying to do the same thing. For those of you who enjoy poetry, I present the only poem I’ve ever written about James Bond.


007 GOES TO THE MOON

James Bond went to see a doctor;
he was having a little man trouble.

They took some blood and asked him
to list all his sexual partners on a form,
but there wasn’t enough room.

Besides, he couldn’t remember them all.

There was

Octopussy, Honey Ryder, Holly Goodhead,
Solitaire, Mary Goodnight, Triple X, Jinx,
Plenty O’Toole, Strawberry Fields, Mayday,
Domino, Christmas Jones, Tiffany Case,
Jenny Flex, Xenia Onatopp, and his all-time
personal favorite—Pussy Galore.

The test results finally came in.

Horrified, doctors discovered Bond had sexual
diseases they had never even heard of before.

So they put him in a yellow bio-hazard suit,
hung an “Out of Order” sign around his waist,


and quarantined him on the dark side of the moon.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Drew Reviews: WITTGENSTEIN JR

WITTGENSTEIN JR by Lars Iyer 
Pages: 226
Publisher: Melville House
Released: 2014



Guest review by Drew Broussard 





The Short Version: Cambridge University. A class of boys taking philosophy under the strange tutelage of a man they dub Wittgenstein. Over the course of the term, they will question so many things about philosophy and life. 
The Review: I am a fan of philosophy. A book-length novel that essentially just discourses on life, reason, philosophy... it's not for everyone, not for all times, but sometimes (for me), it's exactly what you need.  Enter Wittgenstein Jr..  Now, I didn't study any Wittgenstein in my few philosophy courses at school - his was a philosophy that worked in logic, in mathematics, in the very basis of philosophy itself.  My sister, who took a philosophy degree in England, would undoubtedly know more about the man's theories than I - I leave it to her to decide whether or not that makes for better enjoyment of the book, should she read it.  But I don't think one needs to know Wittgenstein, mostly because the character who is dubbed Wittgenstein in this novel (curiously, we never learn his real name) is possessed of his own philosophy, a philosophy that becomes the only Wittgenstein we need in this book. 
And there is a whole lot of him. Of it; his philosophy. There are numerous walks, even more numerous classes, still more numerous considerations of philosophy.  Not of any particular one, but of philosophy itself.  Of the reasons why we must wrangle with the nature of humanity, of the world, of the universe.  Sure, there are particulars that are brought up - but all in the pursuit of the larger questions.  My own existentialist leanings served me well when I began to engage with parts of the book: for example, Wittgenstein holds forth on the absurdity of suicide and how the act is the most violent of rebellions - and I thought of Camus, discussing how the only serious philosophical problem is suicide.  These thoughts are on my mind of late, after the untimely passing of a young man close to many in the New York theater community and, as all good philosophy should do, I was pausing in my reading to grapple with the thoughts on my own.  What an impressive achievement in any text, let alone a piece of fiction.
Still, it's not all philosophical mumbo and/or jumbo.  There's definitely a whole lot of that... but there's also some good clean collegiate fun. The boys drink, do drugs, shack up (with girls, boys, each other) - a recurring bit is that Guthrie recreates the life and death of famous philosophers as a sort of party trick.  These reenactments are well-received and just the sort of thing you'd expect to see at a party like this, along with the guy snorting coke next to you and the girl puking in the bushes.  There are armchair bits of philosophy, exactly the sort you'd expect from kids at 20, 21 - the questions of life, the universe, and everything because you just dont know.  Life awaits, you're told, but you have no idea what the hell that means. If anything, it probably means you're about to get screwed (Iyer gets in a good dig about this towards the end, in a chapter where Peters and Ede make fun of the career center brochures about opportunities after college).  But it felt organic, it felt real. I understood these boys because I once was one of them. Hell, I still am in some ways: any given night with friends at a pub, you can wager I'll get us started on something at least modestly weighty.  But philosophy is a life's work - you can't expect to learn it at school and then be done.
And this is where the novel begins to tip into some troublesome territory.  Wittgenstein as a character, we realize, is a bit ridiculous.  Not just ridiculous, he's a little... unreal. His frenzy, his paranoia, his peculiar method of teaching - it just rings a little... well, a little fictional, I suppose.  This would all be fine and dandy if the book ended at the end of section 3.  However, it does not: there is a section 4 and this is where things get weird.  I'm also, for those interested in reading the book, about to get into some SPOILER talk.
So Peters (our main character, the often-just-recording-it-all narrator) ends up falling in love with Wittgenstein. And vice versa. They briefly become lovers at the end of term, after everyone has gone home, and it is a fiery and torrid little affair. And, at this moment, the book dropped in my estimation in the same way a plane sometimes drops suddenly.  It is an unpleasant thing to experience. I find myself wondering why Iyer added this more-personal dash of development to these characters, to this story.  The boys (and Wittgenstein) were all fully formed enough to be definable, albeit with simple terms (this one wears the swear-word t-shirts, the twins are crazy jacked sports dudes, etc) but their characterization was not the point.  The point was, at least as far as I could tell, the philosophy.  The decision to engage, in short-novel length and form, with major questions of existence and being, seen through the eyes of both students and a wacky Cambridge prof. Suddenly the book became a little other than that, but this other undercut everything that had come before. Perhaps it is important to see Wittgenstein crumple, fail, flee - but I don't think so. Perhaps this was a lesson that Peters needed to learn - but I don't think so. Their romance feels so out of place that it almost could've been dropped in from a different novel, a novel taking place at Cambridge at the same time with the same characters even, just written by someone else and following a different plot.  As a result, the novel became a somewhat predictable disappointment at the end.

Rating: 4 out of 5. I am, perhaps, giving the book slightly higher marks than it deserves - but that is because I cannot help but like the idea of putting serious philosophical questions out there in such a way as makes the reader engage.  I engaged with these ideas in this book and enjoyed doing so.  And I enjoyed the depiction of these young men at such an august institution, one that is and forever will be bigger than any of them, still fighting to understand the ridiculous things about the world even as they are told that they probably won't. Or can't. Or shouldn't. But we ridiculous young men (and the commensurate young women) won't ever stop coming.  It's just a shame that Iyer's novel didn't stop a little short of where it does.  Philosophy should be pure, not sullied by unexpected romance or "plot" - but, then, this is a novel, not a philosophy text.  

Drew Broussard reads, a lot. When not doing that, he's writing stories or playing music or acting or producing or coming up with other ways to make trouble.  He also has a day job at The Public Theater in New York City.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Robin Antalek's Would You Rather

Bored with the same old fashioned author interviews you see all around the blogosphere? Well, TNBBC's newest series is a fun, new, literary spin on the ole Would You Rather game. Get to know the authors we love to read in ways no other interviewer has. I've asked them to pick sides against the same 20 odd bookish scenarios. 




Robin Antalek's 
Would You Rather





Would you rather write an entire book with your feet or with your tongue?
My feet.



Would you rather have one giant bestseller or a long string of moderate sellers?
I want to be here for the long term – so a string of moderate sellers sounds good to me. Having a bestseller isn’t a reason for me to write. For me it’s just telling a good story – and hoping it touches someone. 



Would you rather be a well known author now or be considered a literary genius after you’re dead?
Ha! I guess I’d go with the after-life accolades. Too much pressure when you’re alive!



Would you rather write a book without using conjunctions or have every sentence of your book begin with one? 
Without. It is a challenge.



Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?
Wow, that’s hard. Not into pain, so I guess audio. There’s always ear plugs, right?



Would you rather write a book you truly believe in and have no one read it or write a crappy book that comprises everything you believe in and have it become an overnight success? 
No question – a book I believe in.



Would you rather write a plot twist you hated or write a character you hated?
A character. A plot twist can change the entire story so I’d rather live with an unlikable character. 



Would you rather use your skin as paper or your blood as ink? 
OUCH. I’m going for blood here. Skin is too Silence of the Lambs for me to even think about.



Would you rather become a character in your novel or have your characters escape the page and reenact the novel in real life? 
I’m all for the reenactment.



Would you rather write without using punctuation and capitalization or without using words that contained the letter E? 
I’ll try the postmodern route without punctuation or capitalization. I think the letter E would be too hard to give up!



Would you rather have schools teach your book or ban your book? 
Well, I’ve had the pleasure of being taught in schools. So why not try the ban?



Would you rather be forced to listen to Ayn Rand bloviate for an hour or be hit on by an angry Dylan Thomas? 
An angry Dylan Thomas might be interesting, because Ayn Rand is always going to be Ayn Rand – at least with Thomas it might result in something to write about. 



Would you rather be reduced to speaking only in haiku or be capable of only writing in haiku? 
Speaking.



Would you rather be stuck on an island with only the 50 Shades Series or a series in a language you couldn’t read? 
I’m going to learn that new language if it’s the last thing I do/read!



Would you rather critics rip your book apart publicly or never talk about it at all?
Well, the Internet age has made everyone a critic. Even your grandmother. Talk away, people, talk away. The other good thing about the Internet age is that attention spans are short.  Today’s news is all gone by tomorrow.



Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move? 
I don’t have a Twitter feed. So I guess that voice that’s there all the time anyway would be “live narrating” my every move. Real time? Is that what they call living these days?



Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper? 
Computer.


Would you rather write an entire novel standing on your tippy-toes or laying down flat on your back? 
Laying down. I have weak ankles.



Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading? 
During my first book tour I had a store where no one showed up. It wasn’t that bad. I made friends with the booksellers. Naked is out of the question.




Would you rather read a book that is written poorly but has an excellent story, or read one with weak content but is written well?  
I’ve read enough of both in my lifetime so far – and I’ll always go for the good story. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

ROBIN ANTALEK is the author of The Summer We Fell Apart (HarperCollins 2010) chosen as a Target Breakout Book and the forthcoming The Grown Ups (William Morrow 2015). Her non-fiction work has been published at The Weeklings, The Nervous Breakdown and collected in the following anthologies, The Beautiful Anthology; Writing off Script: Writers on the Influence of Cinema; and The Weeklings: Revolution #1 Selected Essays 2012-1013.  Her short fiction has appeared in Salon, 52 Stories, Five Chapters, Sun Dog, The Southeast Review and Literary Mama among others. She has twice been a finalist in Glimmertrain Magazine, as well as a finalist for The Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction. She lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. You can visit her site @ ww.robinantalek.com , facebook.com/AuthorRobinAntalek


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape

Read 1/6/14 - 1/14/15
2 Stars - Recommended Lightly - Humorous caper with some annoying grammatical errors and odd moments of character-building for the sake of.... character-building?
Pages: 76
Publisher: Biting Dog Publications
Released: 2013


Uncovering unknowns can be both a super-power and a curse, where my love for the underdogs sometimes finds me falling headfirst down the rabbit hole of strange indie fiction. And though these trips through indie-internet-wonderland always hold the promise of ending in triumph, more often than not I usually crawl my way out of it worse for the wear.

I discovered a free download of Biting Dog Publication's The Great Texas Trailer Park Escape through one of those very same rabbit holes. Though I'll never be able to reproduce the chain of events that led me to this thing, once I found it, I knew I wanted it. The cover looked pretty sweet, the description - "an adventure novel set in East Texas, “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World” taking place in the trailer-laden world of the people of Walmart." - sounded pretty cool, it's a digital novella, and it was free, which always takes the gamble right out of it. I mean, if it sucks, what did I lose? A couple hours of my time?

So onward I trekked, into the scrappy East Texan trailer park where the missing $20 million dollar lottery ticket has just been found. Turns out this dude Skeeter bought it 6 months ago and forgot all about it, only just now realizing he's had it the entire time when the news reports that tomorrow is the last day for the winning ticket to be turned in. Skeeter figures he's got some time to celebrate before cashing it in, so he calls up his buddy Spider to tell him the news, then promptly wraps himself around a pole in a motorcycle crash. 

On his way to Skeeter's place to search for the ticket, Spider bumps into a nasty old drug dealer he owes some dough to and in an effort to save himself from an ass whopping, promises to split the money with him. While they're crashing Skeeter's trailer, the local sheriff Cheatwood gets a call to check it out and makes a dirty deal with the two of them to get in on the fun. Meanwhile Jack, Skeeter's neighbor, is eavesdropping the whole conversation from outside the trailer's window.

And here starts the most goofy, poorly coordinated, and hilariously comic "be the first to find the hidden winning lottery ticket and become a millionaire" caper that ever was. As you read it, you can't help but envision this as a black and white silent film, with that funny organ music playing in the background as you watch these four characters fumble and bumble around, side stepping and back stabbing one another in a million different combinations. Who will be the last man standing, with more money than he could ever dream of spending? Well, c'mon, you're going to have to read the book yourself if you want to find out. 

While I found the story itself to be entertaining and fun to read, the grammar and oddly timed moments of character-building kept getting in my way. 

Some sentences were awkwardly phrased. And the author had a bad habit of creating new paragraphs for each line of a character's speech and quote-end quoting them, which looked as though someone knew had started speaking, though that wasn't always the case, momentarily throwing you for a loop when it happened.

Kerr would also deviate from the main story at odd intervals to give you a little backstory on each of the characters. Information that could have been shared about them when we were first introduced, but for whatever reason was held onto and added into the mix later on. It almost always stalled the story, which was frustrating. And if I had to hear one more time about Jack's broken leg and how he couldn't run yet there he was running and how often he forgot about the broken leg until the broken leg began to bother him because of something he tried to do with a broken leg that no one with a broken leg would ever try to do because its a broken leg broken leg brokenleg brokenlegbrokenlegbrokenaaaaaAAHHHHHHHHH! So yeah, repetitive much? 

With some really honest feedback and a half decent editor, I have no doubt that this could become a much stronger book. So... my final verdict? Cool story, mediocre delivery. If you're more into what the story is than how it is told, and are a super forgiving person with grammar and syntax, you'd probably really dig this one. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Where Writers Write: Rebecca Foust

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!


 

Where Writers Write is a series that features authors as they showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 





This is Rebecca Foust.

Rebecca was the 2014 Dartmouth Poet in Residence and is the recipient of fellowships from the Frost Place and the MacDowell Colony. New poems are in the Hudson Review, Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, North American Review, Omniverse, and other journals, and an essay that won the 2014 Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Award is forthcoming in the Malahat Review. Foust’s most recent book, Paradise Drive, won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and can be pre-ordered at http://www.press53.com/Award_for_Poetry.html and for more information visit http://rebeccafoust.com/






Where Rebecca Foust Writes


Where I write is—everywhere—I never know when an idea is going to ping my awareness, and I try to be ready by carrying a small notebook and pencil stub anywhere I go, even on short walks and especially in the car; there is something about the mind-disconnect that happens while driving that seems to invite ideas in.

Before last year I’d never been on a writing retreat. Who needs it, I thought. Look, I have a desk. With the kids grown up, I have some free time in my day. Why leave home to write? But I decided to try it and last year attended three long writer’s residencies: Vermont Studio Center (January), the Frost Place (July and August) and the MacDowell Colony (October). What I learned was a more profound version of what I’d experienced walking or driving: motion and change-of-place wakes up the part of the brain that receives ideas. I also learned the value of a longer retreats for projects that otherwise can seem too big or sprawling to tackle at home.

At the Vermont Studio Center I joined a community of about 60 other writers and artists, meeting for meals and evening talks and otherwise working in solitude in a bright warm studio that was, (thankfully in that long span of days where below-zero temperatures bloomed ice feathers from river mist) only steps away from the dorm where I slept and the “Red Mill” where delicious healthy meals were served. While there I worked on a significant revision of Paradise Drive, the manuscript that recently won the 2015 Press 53 Award for poetry and will be released in April at AWP.  I’d been writing those sonnets since 2009 and had tried several book sequences, but it was at VSC that Paradise Drive really jelled into a narratively-linked sequence telling the story of a modern day pilgrim who makes a spiritual and geographic journey that begins in the mountains of rustbelt Pennsylvania and ends in the postcard-perfect hills of a tony suburb in Marin County, California. One of the wonderful things about pulling together a book is that the process generates new poems, and I came away from VSC with not only a stronger manuscript but also a sheaf of new poems. This was my view while I worked at my desk at VSC:


I enjoyed the after-dinner artist talks and especially Open Studio night where I saw a glass sculpture that brought the chinkle and glitter of the icy outside weather into the room:



The Vermont Studio Center takes applications year round for its artist’s residencies, see http://www.vermontstudiocenter.org/residencies/

While writing all the sonnets that eventually became Paradise Drive, I was continuing to free verse and in other forms, and my focus while in residence at The Frost Place was finding all those other poems, printing them out and trying to discover if I had another book. TFP’s Dartmouth Poet in Residence program is a wonderful, unique residency experience which gave me the chance to live and work by myself in Robert Frost’s farmhouse in Franconia, NH for two months. Here is a picture of what the house looked like when I arrived in July 2014:


I knew I wanted to work on a new book while at TFP and that to do that I needed to see all the poems at once. When she showed me through the house, Cleopatra Mathis told me about how she had taped her poems up all over the walls of Frost’s house during her own residency in 1982. I was very excited when I saw what became my main work space in that house—a screened in back porch with a long conference table looking out over a sunset yard bordered by the woods.
  

When the first table filled up with my poems, I set up a second one and it soon filled up too. One day I looked up and noticed two empty clotheslines and got the idea to do this:


 Again, kinetic energy proved a source of inspiration, and it was also good for my back to be able to walk back and forth “editing” the book by unpinning a poem from one spot and moving it to the next. As at VSC, I found myself writing new poems while in the process of revising and sequencing older ones. Having nearly two full months alone with no responsibilities—except to the writing was amazing—so much creative space opened up! I remember feeling buoyant and emptied in a good way of the pressures of normal life, suspended in that timelessness a child sometimes feels. The Frost Place offers three vibrant poetry conferences every summer, in the fall takes applications for the next summer’s Dartmouth-Poet-in-Residence program, http://frostplace.org/

The MacDowell Colony  was more like VSC than TFP in that it offered a community of writers and artists (this one, about 30 people) I could join or take refuge from, exactly as I pleased. Meals were communal, and it was not just the wonderful food that trained me not to miss one—I quickly realized that the company and conversation of other artists abuzz about their projects fed my own work. As at VSC, I absolutely loved having a separate place—in this case a 1930’s era stone cottage in the woods—for my work. Once I crossed the threshold, I was all in.


The walls of this cottage were bulletin boards, and I soon had poems tacked up everywhere as well as ranged in long columns on the rug laid before the fieldstone fireplace. That cottage offered the luxury of TWO desks, so I set up my laptop on one and used it for editing and on the other set up my notes and supplies for making notes by hand on a completely new project that I worked on in the late afternoons. When the light slanted in and touched that desk, I knew it was time to switch gears and work on the new project.


The MacDowell Colony takes applications for residencies that take place twelve months of each year, http://macdowellcolony.org/


I’m back home now in Northern CA writing at my desk overlooking a small garden vibrant with birds this time of year and with flowers and vegetables when the weather is warmer. Now that my husband and I are alone, a room as been dedicated as my office and for the first time in my writing life I have my books all around me on bookshelves and—this is the real key—a door that closes. It’s a great spot but I still find myself migrating back to places I used to write—the kitchen table, a local cafĂ©, even my car. When I get stuck, I take a walk go for a drive, do a few yoga stretches. And now that I know the value of a writing residency, I hope to go to one at least every other year.