[Video shamelessly stolen from Shane Jones’s Facebook feed]
Of course sometimes the hippie with his feet up on the desk actually does have good taste — the example is too often used, but, well, Gordon Lish. (There must be others; good books do still get published.) Still, up until all that “Punker” and “tennis” business, right, right? And allied to this brand of toybox-tyrant naivety is a penchant for pushing lots of little piles into one or two rather large, rather capriciously chosen piles. I’m thinking especially of the whole Mark Z. Danielewski serialized-novel business. I liked House of Leaves fine, but I couldn’t help but think: why not buy 50 books with that $1 million? (And yes, I realize that Pantheon got 10 books for their Publishers Clearing House-sized check.) Now that the ink has dried, it doesn’t much matter whether the cigar-chomper in question has made a good bet or not — Pantheon will be throwing money at the book(s) regardless. Is it significant that so many of the “Biggest Box-Office Bombs” were produced after 2000? Are we getting worse at this? When Plan 9 from Outer Space bombed, J. Edward Reynolds despaired of losing $60,000, got out of the movie business. When Cutthroat Island bombed, Carolco lost almost $140 million, went bankrupt. Too big to fail? Not in art, I guess.
Scrambler Books is a righteous press (says the author whose first book was with them). Shane Jones’s A CAKE APPEARED, Kendra Grant Malone’s EVERYTHING IS QUIET, Matthew Savoca’s LONG LOVE POEM WITH DESCRIPTIVE TITLE, & now, available for pre-order, Neila Mezynski’s GLIMPSES. I’ve been reading quite a bit of Mezynski for awhile now, & I’m hooked. Check out the excerpts of this collection & I think you’ll find yourself pre-ordering.
In a recent blog post, “Human,” Shane Jones writes:
Anytime I read something positive about my book I get a very short (maybe like 30 second happy feeling) and then it’s gone and I don’t remember it really. When I read something negative, or get a negative email from someone, it lasts much longer, and I remember it. It stays with me. When I google myself I feel empty. But I do it. It’s part ego, being selfish, and placing importance in what others think – something authors can’t control. Now if I read a book for an hour, I feel good. I feel great. If I write 500 words, I feel great. I’m just talking this out now. When I’m on twitter and facebook and reading HTMLGIANT, I never feel good. But I’m still doing it. The need for someone to say “Light Boxes is a good book” is there, but the danger is that someone says “Light Boxes is a hack work by a dick” is also there, and one has a tiny pay-off and the other is extremely damaging.
This honesty is something I’ve always appreciated about Shane. Well, that’s not exactly true. The first thing I appreciated about Shane, the very first thing, was this little piece in the online journal Pindeldyboz: “The Tiny Sheriff.” Famous sculptors, sparrows, exile in the woods, metafiction, and a tiny sheriff whose “legs were bicycling through the air. He wore black boots with spurs and smoked a cigarette. He moved like a storm cloud. The tiny sheriff carved a wooden door into your stomach with his spurs.” This was my introduction to Shane Jones, and I was smitten.
Easter Rabbit, Joseph Young. This is an IMPORTANT book. Some reviewer predicted early in Richard Brautigan’s career that he was creating a new genre, that one day we’d read novels, poems, short stories, and “brautigans.” He was right, even if common parlance has yet to catch up. Enter the new mode of writing: ‘joe-youngs.’ These are not flash fictions. They use very few words and often have a narrative suggestion, but they are are not tightly wrought nuggets. These joe-youngs exist beyond the reader’s, and I suspect the writer’s, control. The words prod and explore the essence of a moment. Barthelme could suggest a world with a few words. Instead, Joseph Young explores a pinpoint in a page. (I keep this on my desk when I write; I’d suggest you do the same.)
Light Boxes, Shane Jones. This is a beautiful and fun and melancholy and classic ‘brautigan.’ Continue reading
I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
Here’s a quick run-through of the books that I read this year and came out this year. Pretty much the books that I gave four stars to on goodreads because my memory sucks. I would mention movies, but I don’t have a goodreads like thing for movies.
Light Boxes, by Shane Jones: Made me want to write bitter-sweet happy stuff. Have failed, except for prose poem-y things.
A Jello Horse, by Matthew Simmons: Publishing Genius put out this one along with Light Boxes. It has a similar tone. About a road trip to go to a funeral, but reading it made me feel happy to be alive. Written in second person, and it actually works.
Fugue State, by Brian Evenson: Might be my favorite collection by him. It felt more diverse than earlier ones.
Last Days, by Brian Evenson: A lot of fun. Love the lean prose. He’s always played with genre, but this feels like the first book where he’s totally embraced it.
because folks liked my last version of this, for your viewing pleasure, below are the books i read last week. it’s a pretty exciting list:
1. Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Dalkey Archive, 2005): The twentieth century boiled down to painstakingly concise and shocking truths. No one is left unscathed or uncriticized in this book. Ourednik’s dry humor pairs well with sentences that are dense in their simplicity, that makes sense. For instance: “Psychiatrists said that in many people the First World War provoked traumas that had been previously hidden in the unconscious, and in the 1920s and 1930s the people started to be neurotic because they were not adapted to their inner or outer state, and in Europe in the 1960s, 25% of women and 15% of men were neurotic, and journalists called it the disease of the century. And in the 1970s the number of people suffering from depression also started to rise, and at the end of the century every fifth citizen of Europe was depress” (65). Every sentence in Europeana reads this way: biting, revealing, absurd, contradictory, a slap across an entire century’s big sweaty face.
2. Urs Allemann’s Babyfucker (Les Figues, 2010 but available now!): This is a book to talk about. This is a book you want to carry around with you, just so people can ask you what it’s about. Last week, as I was sitting at a cafe in South Bend, this slender volume lying on top of my usual stack of library books. It’s cover is a lovely yellow, it’s spine an unobtrusive pink. But the title! The title is what interests people most. So someone asks me: What’s that you’re reading? And I say: Babyfucker. Just like that. And that person responds: Hmm. There’s no follow-up question. I have to force their discomfort. I say: It’s a book about a man who fucks babies, or not. It’s this little Beckettian book, this man obsessed with the sentence, ‘I fuck babies,’ constantly repeating, ‘I fuck babies. That’s my sentence.’ Whether or not he actually fucks the babies is irrelevant to the reader, but to that person standing by your chair at the cafe, that’s the only question that matters. Here’s the thing, I haven’t even started touching the substance or the incredible writing in this book, but it’s all solid. This is an inadequate review of a truly stunning book, but I’ve only managed to do exactly what I’ve criticized that person at the cafe of doing: getting lost in the spectacle. Continue reading