Month: May 2016

Next Door Lived a Girl

First off, this is an extremely graphic book. There is sexual abuse and violence directed at children, and it is dark and extremely graphic. If you are sensitive to that kind of thing, you should probably take a pass on this book. Even if you are not, you will probably need to sit with your thoughts for a minute, or spend some time watching kitten videos on the internet, or whatever your personal response to distressing literary stimulus is.

Next Door Lived a Girl follows a few months in the life of Moritz, a pre-adolescent boy in a rural German town. The narrative is dominated by the intersection of sex and violence. Moritz is the target of sometimes humiliating sexual advances by older women, including his sister and his mother. His play with his fellow 6th-grade friends is often sexual, as is their rivalry with another gang of slightly older boys. And when the violence kicks up, it too is highly sexualized, either inherently or as an expression of sexual domination. The fact that these are all children at the center of the action, and the discovery of a feral and mentally disabled girl the boy’s age, make all this far more disturbing.

Stefan Kiesbye’s prose is recognizably German -terse and bleak descriptions that remind me of the sentences of Herta Muller, albeit far less figurative. The writing is brutally direct, brutally literal, giving the reader no comfort in the ambiguity of poetic expression. When something horrible is happening, there is no doubt as to the specificity of it. The sentences are short and expository, almost a linguistic revolt against the expansive compounding of the German language, and the close third-person narration provides free indirect characterization of Moritz that reminds you, again and again, that these are children doing these things, having these things done to them.

Recommendation: Read it, but, you, know. Trigger warning. This is very good, but this is some pretty dark shit.

Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher

Randy Mosher’s book Tasting Beer is a fantastic primer on good beer, craft and historical, and everything that goes into or tangentially relates to good beer. He covers everything in great detail, touching on the history of various styles, regional brewing, and the craft beer explosion in the US over the last thirty years, he goes into judging and tasting parameters, proper glassware, and food pairing. All of this information is presented exhaustively, but never in such a dreary way as to fatigue an enthusiast.

But that’s the caveat. If you aren’t a beer enthusiast, this book isn’t for you. It’s 256 pages (and it’s a large-format book) of details. These details are extremely exciting if you’re the kind of person who wants to tour Belgium with your taste buds, but will drag seriously for anybody who just likes a decent IPA or something, nothing special.

Like most specialty books, Tasting Beer is written with a specific audience in mind. I love craft beer and homebrewing, and I really enjoyed the read. Mosher is a great designer and an obsessive researcher -both great qualities for writers of this kind of informational non-fiction. And this is the kind of book I love to read alongside heavier things -it was a welcome break from Next Door Lived a Girl and Heart of Darkness. If this sort of thing is your bag and you’re either a homebrewer or interested in the idea, check out his excellent book Radical Brewing for more in that vein.

Recommendation: I think you’ve got this figured out by now -buy it if you’re a beer geek, OK? Also, it’s only two bucks for the Kindle version at pres time, so…

Heart of Darkness: Another Hike up the Literary Canon

Another piece of the canon that I’m just now getting to. Still not sure how I made it through my English undergrad without reading this. I guess professors are just sick of teaching it. Oh Well. Glad I’ve rectified my mistake.

I’m struck by how similar this reading experience was to my first reading of Moby-Dick in 2014. While there are some thematic similarities, (an oral storyteller waxing eloquent about his adventures on an aquatic vessel, seeking a legendary entity that takes on a mythological significance) they both resonated especially on the level of their respective influence. It’s impossible to read Heart of Darkness in a vacuum. So much of 20th/21st century art and storytelling has used either the ideas or the expression of Conrad’s work. As I read, I found myself remembering everything from contemporary literary fiction to Loony Toons. This novel has seeped so deeply into the collective unconsciousness that the entire narrative arc, the environmental foreboding, the prose stylings, and specific turns of phrase have become archetypal.

None of this diminishes the reading -it merely alters it. There is a reason this thing is a mainstay in academia. It’s perfectly paced, (what the hell happened to good pacing, anyhow?) memorable, and powerful in its language. There’s not much else to say. It clearly deserves its acclaim.

Recommendation: Read it if you haven’t. Read it again if it’s been awhile.

Book Fight Blurb

I got blurbed by Book Fight! And it’s a good one: (more info about Book Fight and their relationship with book blurbs here- https://bookfightpod.com/blurbs/)

“Sean VanSickel is like Roadhouse meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where Dalton is played by Channing Tatum and Dalton’s love interest is played by a pair of nun-chucks, and the blind bluesman is Pitbull, and all the bad guys are actual pit bulls, and there’s no bar and no town and really it’s just a story about the world’s most famous bouncer wandering through a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and fending off packs of pit bulls with grumbling stomachs and a taste for human flesh, and also Pitbull is there, and he sings some stuff, but his autotune machine is broken, and also it’s never entirely clear if he exists or if he’s just a figment of Channing Tatum’s imagination, so that’s sort of a subplot, but mostly the movie is just Channing Tatum fighting a bunch of badass pit bulls, and his catchphrase is ‘let’s find out if all dogs do go to heaven’.”

 

 

NonBinary Review 8: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War

All of the stories, poems and other literary works in Issue 8 of NonBinary Review are connected in some way to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The first section correspond directly with specific chapters, while the work in Part Two connects with the book as a whole. There are excellent stories in both sections: “The Pig”, “The State of the Art of War Against Entropy”, “Burning Pages in Gaza”, “The Cubism of War”, “Interview with Juan Weider”, and (full disclosure) my own story, “AlterMist”.

By using an existing work of literature as a touchstone, NBR curates a unified body of work, and the limitations of the form seem to bring divergent writing styles and expressions together without and kind of homogenization. Like I’ve found with most anthologies, journals, and lit mags, there were a few peices that weren’t for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed most of these pieces.

NonBinary Review is doing some great work. Support indie lit mags! Especially the good ones, and especially the good ones that are good to their contributors.

Recommendation: Buy it! read it! Tell me my words are pretty!

On the Edge (Edward St. Aubyn)

Edward St. Aubyn’s 1998 novel rather recently got its U.S. release. I bought this book in Powell’s last year and just now got around to it. I have not read his much more well-known Patrick Melrose novels, but after reading On the Edge, I intend to.

This book is a very British lampooning of the excesses of the American New Age, the ruthlessly capitalistic California world of gurus, the fetishization of Native American spirituality, and so forth. Not to say that St. Aubyn is picking on the rich-idiot hippies exclusively -everyone and everything that shows up in this book will have some kind of clever cutting pointed at it if it sticks around long enough. And there are so, so many characters -it takes most of the first half of the book just to introduce everyone… second generation seekers, erotically obsessed beta-male investment bankers, French linguistic philosophers having bad peyote trips, the idle rich and their attendant gurus.

While I would have been more than satisfied with the book without this particular virtue, I was seriously impressed by the way it walked the line of savage mockery and genuine compassion. These new-age seekers aren’t all bad, and the things they have been hurt by are real, and their pain is real. Even challenging characters are often presented to the reader in painfully objective truth, but in such a way as to explain their actions as a coming from their own unique damages. Their dysfunction isn’t excused, but it’s contextualized in such a way as to present them as more than a two dimensional cut-out asshole. This is the first book I’ve ever read that reconciles such hilariously dark and sardonic observations of it’s characters with such a degree of compassion and legitimate happiness. Had you described the workings of this novel to me, I would have been incredibly dubious, but St. Aubyn manages to avoid the saccharine and the banal while still conveying a sense of peace and happiness among broken people working within a bullshit ideology. Damn.

Recommendation: Read it! This is a fantastic book and I can recommend it unreservedly.