Take That, Death of the Book: My Best of the Best Picks for 2012

And-the-winner-is...Buried under all the usual chatter about the death of the book is this not-so-little secret: 2012 was an amazing year for literature. And no, I’m not talking about Fifty Shades of bla bla bla. I’m talking about living, breathing, squirming, shouting, bleeding, spasming, lacy and lovely and lovelorn and fleshy and true and great literature. The real deal. In the small press world, in the big press world, it was a great year for it. Good writers got great books published, awards were given to some of the right people for once, good presses got recognized, and Random House even took the jillions of dollars they made from Fifty Shades and gave their employees some very nice holiday bonuses. Yay for reading!

It was difficult, with such a glut of the good, to pick just a few. But I feel sort of obligated, you know, to pass on the recommendations of a year’s heavy reading. And this year I feel it especially necessary to do so, for karmic reasons alone. You see, I had a book published this year, and it’s been a modest success so far, and I think that would not have been possible without the vouching and word-of-mouthing and reviewing and recommending of it by people who really enjoyed it and felt it their duty to pass said enjoyment on to others. So in the spirit of glad gratefulness and sharing (appropriate given the holidays now upon us) just like I do every year here in this space, I present my (imperfect) list of the literary best of 2012:

Best Novels: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter; The Listeners by Leni Zumas; Threats by Amelia Gray, Big Ray by Michael Kimball; The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss; Nine Months by Paula Bomer; Shadow Man by Gabriel Blackwell; Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane; Another Governess/The Least Blacksmith by Joanna Ruocco

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All That Distance Between Us: A Review of Michael Kimball’s Big Ray

In Michael Kimball‘s books, writing is an act of quiet devastation. By treating emotionally charged subjects in a matter-of-fact, direct manner, Kimball lays bare the wounds on the body and in the mind, drawing us a picture of the blood and guts and yes, piss – without the excess of pathos that other writers might deliver up with it. This plain-spoken approach to the cruelest cuts is a brutal and truth-driven process; it forces the reader to look, really look, at the hurts that we inflict upon one another. Image

In his latest book, Big Ray, these hurts are, if anything, even more painful, because they are largely those of Kimball himself. In what he says is mostly an autobiographical novel, the narrator contrasts his father’s life story with his death story, using the familiar story-in-pictures frame in a way that feels appropriate and right for the book. The narrator has always felt distant from his father, and so seeing his father’s unfamiliar life unfold in photographs works well here, and enhances not only the distance between Ray and his son, but the idea that none of us can ever really have the whole person in our parents (or our children, for that matter.) Only a little part of our parents’ lives belong to us, and all of us are really strangers to each other in so many ways. There is so much distance between even and maybe especially families. Kimball writes:

I have a cracked photograph of my father as a newborn that is a kind of family portrait. My father’s parents are standing outside in front of their rented farmhouse surrounded by weeds. My father’s mother is holding him against her left hip, but she’s leaning her upper body away from him and looking at the camera in a challenging way. My father’s father is standing next to them, but he is leaning away…None of the people can get away from each other, but they have created as much distance between each other as they can. Continue reading

So Many Small Plants in the Sun: A Review of Tim Horvath’s UNDERSTORIES

I read a lot of books. Some – mostImage – I read for pleasure, and some for reviewing. Often the books I’m supposed to be reviewing will cross over into that pleasure category, but it’s not often that a book I’m reading for pleasure gets me so excited about literature and writing and the writer who made it that I’m motivated to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and tell the world what’s so wonderful about it.

Tim Horvath’s first short story collection, Understories, is a that kind of wonderful. It is a cat’s cradle of people and places and a mad scientist’s bubbling test tubes and levers, woven together and delivered by a writer possessed of an intense intellectual curiosity and playfulness. Here we have stories that perform not only as virtuoso pieces of writing, but as mirrors held up to humanity, filigreed with warmth and compassion for the poor souls mired in the chaos of this modern world. Here we have stories of Gauguin in the land of the the midnight sun, of Heidegger roaming the Black Forest, of single dads and burned-out mothers, broken-hearted projectionists and misunderstood umbrologists–all built within in a framework almost like an updated, tongue-in-cheek Invisible Cities. Continue reading

Let’s Buy Great Books and Save Mud Luscious Press!

ImageYou guys all know how amazing Mud Luscious Press is. I mean, holy jesus, their list of author they’ve published includes Matt Bell, Gregory Sherl, Matthias Svalina, Robert Kloss, Norman Lock, Michael Stewart, Ben Brooks, Molly Gaudry, Sasha Fletcher, Andrew Borgstrom, Darby Larson–just to name some names.

Here’s the thing. They’re in trouble. They might close their doors if we don’t pitch in and help. And it’s not like charity (though you can donate directly to them if you want to)–just be selfish, buy great lit, and help this wonderful press continue their groundbreaking, form-shattering work at the same time. Right? It’s a win-win for everyone. I mean, you probably wanted to pre-order Brandi Wells’s book anyway, right? So perfect time to do that now.

Folks are definitely pitching in and helping already, which is fantastic. From the mouth of MLP:

We recd. an enormous outpouring of support since yesterday, when we announced that Mud Luscious Press is in need of about $2K in order to publish the next two novel(la)s and next two Nephew titles for 2012. In fact, in the last 24 hrs. we made about 25% of that goal! Thanks so so much to everyone who ordered or donated, & if we can keep it up today and tomorrow, we stand a fantastic chance of making what we need! If you are game to support MLP, love what we do, and have a little cash to throw to the cause, consider pre-ordering Brandi Wells POISONHORSE (http://mudlusciouspress.com/nephew/), buying a bundle deal (http://mudlusciouspress.com/books/deals-and-bundles/), ordering a backlist title from SPD (http://www.spdbooks.org/Search/?publisherName=Mud+Luscious+Press), or even donating directly to us (via jatyler@mudlusciouspress.com). Again, thanks to everyone who has bought a book to keep us alive in the indie publishing scene – we are so grateful for the support!

Let’s do it! Let’s shake off our 5th of July hangovers and buy some books.

A Month of Revision with Matt Salesses at Necessary Fiction

Matt Salesses, a pretty terrific writer of smart, tight prose, is spending July at Necessary Fiction pulling back the curtain on that bewildering, complicated, sometimes joyful and sometimes hideously frustrating process: revision. With the help of some other writers (disclosure: I am one of them), he’ll be offering advice and help and discussion and tips and more on how to navigate the tricky, sometimes savage waters of the revision process. From Matt’s pen/keyboard (probably should have just cut that attempted cliche entirely):

I have decided to launch a war on first drafts and erect the memorial to edits. Revision is where we do our most important work as writers, or at least where we can. And yet, for as much as we love and hate it, for as much as we talk about it, we don’t really talk about it. (See: What We Talk About When We Talk About Revision, which I’ve revised right out of this introduction.) I want that to change. I want us to teach revision up front when we teach writing, to demystify it, to make it the first thought rather than all reaction. One downside of workshops—which I love, don’t get me wrong—is that we only address the issues that come up. I think we can offer tips and strategies and experience and frustration from the beginning. I think we can say, this is where we’re going, and this is how we can make sure we get there.

If the rest of the tips and advice are as sage and as specific as the first twenty Matt offers in this post, this is going to be a very good month for the writer’s craft indeed. Don’t miss them.

Are There Any Readers Left: “Les Goddesses” and Reading and Writing in Public Solitude

Moyra Davey’s “Darling”

There was an interesting piece on the New Yorker blog a few days ago about a new video performance piece by artist Moyra Davey, appearing in the Whitney Biennial. In the video, “Les Goddesses,”

she paces decisively around her home speaking into a microphone about subjects both scholastic and revealing—the life of Mary Wollstonecraft, her sister’s struggle with addiction—her tone even and remote.

I wish I could get to New York to see this before it’s gone. It sounds like a fascinating, if potentially flawed, meditation on reading and writing and influence, and the idea that we are all becoming memoirists with ever-shrinking audiences. This rings especially true for a writer, of course; it’s hard to shake the idea sometimes that we’re only reading to write. As the Jessica Weisberg, writes: Continue reading

While the World Was Sleeping: A Review of Blake Butler’s There Is No Year and Nothing

I started reading Blake Butler’s first foray into non-fiction, Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, when I couldn’t fall asleep one night. This is unsurprising. I have my own troubled history with sleep, and so I’d been keeping the book on my nightstand, waiting until one of the nights that I lay there and lay there and lay there, head buzzing and heavy on the pillow.

First impressions? This is a smart, painful, insightful book about insomnia, but also about the body, the family, technology, anxiety, art, and the clutter of the modern world. It’s a mirror into the deeply troubled mind of anyone who’s ever been abandoned by sleep. As anyone who suffers from insomnia knows, the brain does a dance that cycles through anxiousness, depression, guilt, and despair–and a black, cold sort of emptiness at the end of it all. Butler does an admirable job of describing this, in a way that makes an old problem nightmarish and newly familiar. Moreover, I was surprised, as i read, that more reviewers haven’t commented on how obviously this book informs and explains so much of Butler’s novel, There is No Year. But more on that later.

We spend the majority of Nothing in Butler’s head–a swamp of information, much of it useful, much of it the mire of modern technology, the “busy brain” that we suffer from in the noise and clutter of hive life today. The internet always at our fingertips and our information jets never turned off. Butler’s frequent cry throughout the book: How can you relax?, is not just a question for himself, but for every human who finds themselves in this carnival of the mind, filled with spinning, blinking lights and sounds that could be laughter or screams.

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Maybe We Just Need Better Stories

A Very Bad Story

At first when I read this in Tech Crunch, I was depressed:

The appeal of Instagram is, for lack of a better word, simple; the world is moving too damn fast and we don’t want the cognitive load of figuring out what we’re looking at — we just want to see simple pretty things. This simplicity is what makes services like Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest a joy versus other entertainment offerings.

The truth is that on any given day, I’d rather check in on Instagram than watch a movie.

I felt despondent. I love movies. When I say I love movies, you have no idea how much. Almost as much as books. Almost enough to make me wish I could have been young in 1939. Almost enough to make me wish for silent movie stardom. I mark the major events of my life with film. Time passes with each new movie. Eras become genre: the year of the spaghetti western, the year of the Godzilla movies (all of them), the years of Universal Horror classics. The fall I fell in love with Bergman. The spring I watched Vertigo ten times in a row. This is not, of course, novel. I’m guessing most writers feel the same way.

Do people no longer truly have the attention span for stories? Continue reading

xTx and Frank Hinton Chapbook Contest at Vouched

Did you get your hands on a copy of xTx’s or Frank Hinton’s chapbook from Safety Third Enterprises back when they came out? I did, and I was one of the very, very lucky ones. These things sold out like hotcakes.  (Do hotcakes sell out? Note to self: please be a more reflective writer. Stop using easy cliches. Thanks.)

But in any case, if you didn’t get one, TODAY IS YOUR LUCKY DAY! From Vouched:

To celebrate the second and final print of the two chapbooks, Vouched Books  and Safety Third Enterprises are inviting you to submit your own Single Sentence Reviews of Frank Hinton or xTx’s work (the author’s work overall, not just the chapbooks) to contest (at) VouchedBooks.com. We just ask that with your Single Sentence Review you include your name and specify which of the author’s work you are encapsulating. Continue reading

Tell it Slant: Vendler on Dickinson

I’ve said before in this space and I’ll say it again: the single most important element of literature to me is language. Plot is circular: everything that happens has happened will happen; there’s nothing new under the sun, etc. Invention only goes so far. Character has been somewhat set ever since Shakespeare invented it. (Cue wink and nod to Harold Bloom.) But LANGUAGE. What sets fire to my brain is a different way of saying. A different way of telling. The same story with the inventive spark of language laid over it, braided through it, making me think and rethink the old themes and tropes. I like the kind of story, novel, or poem where I have to eat the words slowly, salivate over them, chew, swallow hard. Digest slowly.

So of course Emily Dickinson is and has long been one of my favorite poets. As she herself says, “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant”. In that poem*, she explains that the truth is too dazzling for humans to confront head on, so it must be slanted, approached from the side, introduced gradually. A new way of saying. And her way of saying…oh, yes please. She is quite possibly, with the exception of Shakespeare, the most inventive and original poets to ever twist the English language round her pen. Her poems are brilliant little mysteries, smoky gems, and she is one of the handful of writers (Shakespeare, Nabokov, Stevens, Beckett) whose work I come back to again and again and again. There are always new angles, new puzzles to solve. New language to decode.

That’s why I’ve been loving Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries lately. Continue reading

So Shiny and Bright: My Picks for the Best Books of 2011

The last few years, I wrote and wrote. A lot. And read, too, but certainly not as much as I wanted to. This last year, though, was different. I was working on a novel, and I was also busier, more distracted in good and bad ways for all kinds of reasons. But maybe because I couldn’t write as much, there has been so much reading. Oh yes, there has been a good deal of reading. Reading for research, reading for pleasure, reading for catch-up, reading heavy stuff and lighter stuff and all the stuff in between. Poetry and prose and prose-poetry and lord-knows-what-this-is-but-I-love it. Devouring ink on a page (and e-ink on a Kindle) with firm and committed abandon.

This is why we all do this, no? Because somewhere along the way we fell deeply in love with other people’s words? So this year has been a return with zeal to the obsessive and greatest pleasure of my life. And it’s been particularly rewarding to focus primarily, though not exclusively of course, on the small press world and the long-anticipated works of many writers I know and respect. And here, then, are the fruits of my very subjective research on the subject of damn good literature.

Best Novels: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt; There is No Year by Blake Butler; How the Days of Love and Diptheria by Robert Kloss; Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell; Freight by Mel Bosworth; The Bee-Loud Glade by Steve Himmer

Best Short Story Collections: The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals by Rae Bryant; Normally Special by xTx; Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory; Ayiti by Roxane Gay; Stories V! by Scott McClanahan; Tongue Party by Sarah Rose Etter; The Great Frustration by Seth Fried; We Others: New and Selected Stories by Steven Millhauser; Volt by Alan Heathcock

Best Translation: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis

Best Writing about Translation: Lydia Davis on translation in The Paris Review

Best Poetry: If I Falter at the Gallows by Edward Mullany; Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith; The Trees the Trees by Heather Christle; Trees of the Twentieth Century by Steven Sturgeon; Negro League Baseball by Harmony Holiday; I Ain’t Asked Any Pardon for Anything I Done by Sasha Fletcher

Best Sad/Beautiful Love Story: Us by Michael Kimball; A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed by J.A. Tyler
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Buy my book! Buy Shut Up/Look Pretty while it’s on sale! Only two more days!

Yes, friends. I know this is self-promotion. I know. But. This is also other-awesome-people-promotion. So. Bear with me please and thank you.

Because I have a book out. It’s a book housed with four other amazing books in a bigger, fatter book. My book is called “A Great Dark Sleep: Stories for the Next World,” and it sits alongside books by the wonderful Lauren Becker, the fabulous Kirsty Logan, the brilliant Erin Fitzgerald, and the muy talented Michelle Reale. I mean, these ladies are killer writers. Our big book is called Shut Up/Look Pretty. AND this is a book put together and published by Roxane Gay at Tiny Hardcore Press. Um, yeah. And it’s on sale for TEN DOLLARS right now until the end of tomorrow. So you should really really really snap that up because what a great damn deal, right? How can you say no?

My little book is all about death and what happens after death. But it’s not all depressing. Well, most of it isn’t. Some of it’s even funny! Well, hopefully. This book also includes what I think is the best story I’ve ever written. It’s about ghosts, and also people, and what it means to be alive and what it means to be a person who lives with death. Here’s a bit of it:

Here is what happens: a living child is born. No one can say how it happens; in the long memories of the dead it has certainly never happened before. The news drifts through the land of the dead like fog until every single spirit is soaked through, shivering in their almost-bodies, afraid of what this birth might portend. The seriousness of the situation propels the dead into hushed, halting conversation. A vote of sorts is taken. The child, it is decided, will be cast out to dwell with the living, where she can be cared for. But her kin will not abandon her. She will be followed, will be watched over; all her life she will be divided, with her feet in the Styx and her head in the stars.

Buy our book, won’t you? You won’t regret it. And hey–it’s almost the holidays! Buy one for a gift, too!

Promotion-y-ness over…NOW. Over and out.

A Book With a Broken Heart: On Robert Kloss’s How the Days of Love and Diptheria

Let’s just get this out there: I think Robert Kloss is one of the most exciting writers to emerge from the indie world in the last few years, period. His language-heavy, seemingly-contradictory-but-it-works-perfectly-somehow-post-apocalyptic histories read like a tinted silent film: black and white with the faintest blush of something warmer, stranger. Read Kloss once and you’ll think him a pessimist; read him again and you’ll realize he’s a bit of a romantic, too. If not optimism, there is a certain bitter hope in most of his pieces, and there is almost always a mangled, broken, bloody, but very vivid kind of love.

How the Days of Love & Diptheria, just published by Mudluscious Press as part of their Nephew imprint, is Kloss’s first book, and love and hope are woven throughout its bleak nightmare-scape. Kloss paints a world ablaze, in which fires never really burn out. They just smolder on, reducing houses and families to ash. Our shifting protagonist, a boy and a kind of boy-golem are killed, rot, rise, travel, love, and mature in a way that almost seems to equate puberty with a kind of death and rebirth. This is a world in which the dead always return to trouble the living. Continue reading

The Sot-Weed Factor: A Duet, Part III

The third installment wherein our Hero & Heroine contemplate, to the Best of their Feeble Abilities, the NOVEL’S conclusion, its Far Reach, Revolutionary Folderol, & Altogether Righteous Fun. Or, a conversation between Amber Sparks & John Domini on One Kickass NOVEL.

AMBER: Now that I’ve finished this terrific book, I’m finding it hard to stop thinking about. It’s a stylized novel and yet Barth manages to pack so much in about the essence of what it is to be human. Capturing the human condition in a parody of an 18th century novel — that’s incredible. It’s really a towering achievement. I’ve surprised myself immensely with how much I ended up empathizing with and caring about the main characters by the end.

JOHN: Again, you’ve delivered one of the rewards I was hoping for, in our exchange.  As a newcomer to the text, you reconfirm the pleasure of the text — the original pleasure, something we repeat visitors can only reconstruct.  In the process, you brightly sketch the steep challenge Barth set for his storytelling.  On the one hand, he wanted a wild affair, with the humanity and hijinx of old favorites like The Thousand Nights & a Night.  On the other, he wanted a work of imagination that kept the fact of its dream nature squarely before us, so that every page pulls off the trick Ebeneezer and his sister Anna would play when they found themselves in a nightmare: “tis but a dream,” they’d tell themselves, in their dreaming, “and now I’ll wake.”

The dream that we call a “novel” first assumed its Anglo-American form about the same time as Sot-Weed is set (and the American Revolution began to brew.  So Barth, by going back to his form’s beginnings, both grants us the pleasures of the dream and calls attention to its insubstantiality.  Terrific, just as you say.

AMBER: One key themes I enjoyed was the exploration of the human sexual condition — something I would not have expected of this type of novel. Continue reading

A Sudden Huge Overpowering Nostalgia for Libraries

The other day, Matt Bell posted a nice status update about a childhood library experience, and it quickly become clear from the comments that followed how much libraries shaped our literary childhoods–well, at least for those of us of a certain age.  I remembered my elementary school librarian’s kindness, and that warm memory triggered the released of many more, all relating to libraries past.  Because remember how important libraries used to be? Before we had (and then didn’t) big box bookstores? Before we had the internet? If you were like me – and I suspect many of you were – then you spent vast swaths of your formative years searching for treasure on the shelves of your school library or your local library or your college library. You spent hours curled up in the big comfy chairs they used to have there, or sprawled on the floor for story time, or, later, using those study rooms for something very much other than studying. (You know you did. Don’t even pretend.)

You maybe fell in love for the first time at the library: with the shapes and sounds of words, the dusty whoosh of old book covers opening like a magic box, the hushed quiet that seemed to evoke a kind of prayerful reverence. If you’re like me, you fell in love with books at the library and books returned your love in gallons. Or rather, in volumes and quartos and encyclopedias and old maps and slick art books and soft, worn paperbacks.  You and I, we’re still in love with books thanks to libraries.

Those of you who read me here, or over at my own blog, probably know that I don’t tend to share a lot about my own life. I think it’s cool when other people do, but I’m a fairly private person so it’s just not for me. But because it’s fall, and Friday, and because I’m feeling very nostalgic today, I’d like to share a few memories of libraries. After the post, I’d love for you to share yours, too. It feels like that kind of day. Continue reading

Thoughtcast Features Helen Vendler on Emily Dickinson

For those of you participating in (or following the discussion on) the Big Other book club, we’re going to be reading and discussing Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries in November. So we thought you might be interested in a little sneak-peek, if you will: a really terrific podcast by Thoughtcast, featuring host Jenny Attiyeh’s recent conversation with Vendler about Dickinson.

In it, Vendler talks about her longtime relationship with Dickinson’s work, and gives a close reading of “I Cannot Live Without You.” I wasn’t familiar with Thoughtcast before now; it’s a great site featuring a bunch of interviews with fascinating artists and intellectuals. Good stuff. I plan to add some podcasts to my bus ride rotation.

Enjoy! And meet you back here in November for pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and Emily Dickinson.

Why Do So Many Writers Want to Teach Writing?

Disclaimer: this is not about MFA programs as a whole. I have never attended an MFA program, I cannot speak with any authority about MFA programs, and I have many, many friends who are fine writers and fine teachers who have attended MFA programs. Some of my friends are fabulous teachers, instructors, professors, the kind of teachers who inspire generations of students to greater and higher things. My mother is a teacher, so I know exactly what thankless hard work it is and how talented you have to be in many different arenas. This is not a blanket statement, a rant, or an attempt to start a flame war. It’s just an honest question and a curiosity about a program I’m not very familiar with and am constantly confused by.

Okay, so now to the meat of the question. M. Kitchell had a great post on HTMLGiant yesterday about writing outside MFA programs. His post made me think about something I’d been pondering a lot lately. I’ve been watching and listening to many of my friends as they graduate or prepare to graduate from MFA programs and stress about finding jobs. Or even people who are currently on the tenure track or are adjuncts or whatever and are stressing about changing jobs or getting tenure or more permanent employment.  And I have a question: why does it seem that for so many MFA graduates, the only job that they seek is the job of teaching writing? Continue reading

Seeing is Believing is a New Way of Looking

Monet's London, Houses of Parliament. The Sun Shining through the Fog

Some of the best art has emerged from of a failure of the senses. Think of Monet, his eyesight going, cataracts opaquing and softening his world–and the beauty he created out of that perpetual blur. I always think of that gorgeous poem by Lisel Mueller, “Monet Refuses the Operation:”

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Read the whole thing if you get a chance–it’s one of those wholly life-affirming poems, not to be corny or anything but really, it is. An examination of a new way of seeing.
Another example is Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day,the title of which came out of a mishearing.  I performed part of this play as part of a larger Holocaust theatre project years ago and I’ve always loved Kushner’s story of its genesis:
One day in December, nearing the end of this unhappy time, I was looking an an exhibition of De Mille memorabilia (Cecil B. and Agnes’s) at Lincoln Center. A videotape was on display, showing Agnes de Mille at work on a new dance she was choreographing, at a very advanced age, for the Joffrey Ballet. I was standing at the opposite end of the room, far from the tape, but I thought I heard the venerable Ms. de Mille tell her interviewer that the title of the new dance was “A Bright Room Called Day.” This sounded like fun and solace so I went over to watch the videotape, only to discover that the title of the piece was actually “A Bridegroom Called Death.” From a bright room called day to a bridegroom called death: The metamorphosis was emblematic of the times.
My mishearing stayed with me, and eventually it came to sound like the right/wrong title of a play I had decided to write, a play about Germans, refugee and otherwise, caught on the cusp of the historic catastrophe about to engulf them.
What about you? What are your favorite examples of the senses failing and the result being a new way of re-making the world through art?

Be Afraid; or Self-Preservation through Storytelling: A Review of Ben Loory’s Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

Ben Loory‘s Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is one of the nicest-looking, nicest-feeling books you will ever hold in your hands. But do not be fooled. The tales inside are not nice stories. Even the ones that sort of end up happily–they don’t behave and play by the rules at all. Loory’s stories are twisted parables for the faithless fallen, fairy tales wrapped in nightmares. They are mysterious, strange and often sad pieces–though sometimes, like Pandora’s box, they are left with just a little hope after all the creepers have escaped.

Like fairy tales, Loory’s tales often start in an innocuous way and create a strange new space for us to play in. Like fairy tales, they are simply and sparely told. But these stories don’t explain away the dark; they open the door to it and shove us inside to spend fifteen minutes in the closet with all of our unnamed fears. The simple way of telling, the fairy tale singsong, the “once upon a time” they sometimes start with–these serve as jarring reminders of the monsters under the bed. Only now there is no adult to tell us there are no monsters. There are, Loory seems to be saying with each of these tales, there are. Continue reading

My Personal Literary Aesthetic, Laid Out Nicely for Me By Harold Bloom

"You're welcome, Amber Sparks. Also, I am awesome."

When people ask me why I write what I do, or read the things I do, I tend to use the word ‘mystery’ a lot. Not as in ‘gumshoe’ or ‘whodunnit. I mean, I guess, the sort of mystery that you feel in the back of your head when you watch Kubrick, or listen to Dvorak, or read Shakespeare. The idea of something larger and grander pushing at you, prodding and poking and daring you to be something greater, or at least to understand a little.

My best friend in college and I used to call it “the Know,” a reference to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Writing is a big part of it. Art is a big part of it. Music, theatre, film–but also science, math, logic, games, beauty, elegance…all kinds of things contribute to it. But I’ve never been able to describe it very well, as you see, though I’ve tried with all my sad meaty little heart to do so. Then I was re-reading some Harold Bloom the other day–his intro to The Best Poems of the English Language, actually. I was moving my books around and picked it up and, like I always seem to do with Bloom, I couldn’t stop once I’d started. Go head, laugh at me describing Bloom as a page-turner. But really, it’s oddly compelling stuff. Anyway, I came upon this section and BOOM. That’s it. That’s my aesthetic. Laid out by someone brilliant and described in (almost) crystal clarity. Damn. Here it is and I’m about to go put this baby on wallet sized cards and carry it with me everywhere: Continue reading