New American Stories, a collection edited by Ben Marcus (Book acquired, 8.04.2015)


New American Stories is an anthology out now in enormous paperback from Vintage. The collection was collected by collector Ben Marcus. An excerpt from his introduction:

Language is a drug, but a short story cannot be smoked. You can’t inject it. Stories don’t come bottled as a cream. You cannot have a story massaged into you by a bearish old man. You have to stare down a story until it wobbles, yields, then catapults into your face. And yet, as squirrely as they are to capture, stories are the ideal deranger. If they are well made, and you submit to them, they go in clean. Stories deliver their chemical disruption without the ashy hangover, the blacking out, the poison. They trigger pleasure, fear, fascination, love, confusion, desire, repulsion. Drugs get flushed from our systems, but not the best stories. Once they take hold, you couldn’t scrape them out with a knife. While working on this book, I started to think of a it as a medicine chest, filled with beguiling, volatile material, designed by the most gifted technicians. The potent story writers, to me, are the ones who deploy language as a kind of contraband, pumping it into us until we collapse on the floor, writhing, overwhelmed with feeling.

You actually can smoke a short story, but to do so is inadvisable.

I’ll be riffing on the book over the next few weeks with our Correspondent in Colorado, Mr. Ryan Chang.

Here’s the tracklist:

Said Sayrafiezadeh, Paranoia

Rebecca Lee,  Slatland

Jesse Ball, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp, and Carr

Deborah Eisenberg, Some Other, Better Otto

Anthony Doerr, The Deep

Yiyun Li, A Man Like Him

George Saunders, Home

NoViolet Bulawayo, Shhh

Maureen McHugh, Special Economics

Sam Lipsyte, This Appointment Occurs in the Past

Lydia Davis, Men

Donald Antrim, Another Manhattan

Zadie Smith*, Meet the President!

Denis Johnson, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden

Joy Williams, The Country

Christine Schutt, A Happy Rural Seat of Various View Lucinda’s Garden

Don DeLillo, Hammer and Sickle

Mathias Svalina, Play

Lucy Corin, Madmen

Mary Gaitskill, The Arms and Legs of the Lake

Wells Tower, Raw Water

Rachel Glaser, Pee on Water

Tao Lin, Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists

Rebecca Curtis, The Toast

Robert Coover, Going for a Beer

Charles Yu, Standard Loneliness Package

Deb Olin Unferth, Wait Till You See Me Dance

Kyle Coma-Thompson, The Lucky Body

Rivka Galchen, The Lost Order

Donald Ray Pollack, Fish Sticks

Kelly Link, Valley of the Girls

Claire Vaye Watkins, The Diggings

*Isn’t she English? I guess it’s the stories that are American.

Nabokov/Hardwick/Lispector (Books acquired, 7.21.2015)

I picked up Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire on a weird whim. I mean, I quite literally passed by it in the bookshop I frequent; it was misshelved, or unshelved, really. Someone had left it in sci-fi, near the “Bs” (B-for-Ballard, if you must know). Pale Fire, eh? I thought. Can’t remember this one. Because I had never read it, somehow. An amazing novel, one I dove into after sampling a bit of Clarice Lispector’s Selected Cronicas (still sampling—this is one of those books that’s lovely to dip gently into between selections) and after failing to get through the first essay in Elizabeth Hardwick’s Seduction and Betrayal. Not sure if I can (should?) muster a “review” of Pale Fire, but it’s one of the better prepostmodern-postmodernist novels I’ve ever read—very very funny and a beautiful mindfuck.

The Girl Who Slept with God (Book acquired, 7.24.2015)


Val Brelinski’s novel The Girl Who Slept with God is new in hardback this week from Penguin Random House. Their blurb:

Set in Arco, Idaho, in 1970, Val Brelinski’s powerfully affecting first novel tells the story of three sisters: young Frances, gregarious and strong-willed Jory, and moral-minded Grace. Their father, Oren, is a respected member of the community and science professor at the local college. Yet their mother’s depression and Grace’s religious fervor threaten the seemingly perfect family, whose world is upended when Grace returns from a missionary trip to Mexico and discovers she’s pregnant with—she believes—the child of God.

Distraught, Oren sends Jory and Grace to an isolated home at the edge of the town. There, they prepare for the much-awaited arrival of the baby while building a makeshift family that includes an elderly eccentric neighbor and a tattooed social outcast who drives an ice cream truck.

Penguin Classics’ reissue of Jean Lartéguy’s The Centurions (Book acquired, 7.27.2015)


Although I’ve been having to turn down review copies left and right lately, Penguin Classics’ reissue of Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel The Centurions looked to promising to pass up. Lartéguy was a soldier and a journalist—and the English translator, Xan Fielding, was a Special Operations Executive agent in WW2 (among other things).

Penguin’s blurb:

The military cult classic with resonance to the wars in Iraq and Vietnam—now back in print

When The Centurions was first published in 1960, readers were riveted by the thrilling account of soldiers fighting for survival in hostile environments. They were equally transfixed by the chilling moral question the novel posed: how to fight when the “age of heroics is over.” As relevant today as it was half a century ago, The Centurions is a gripping military adventure, an extended symposium on waging war in a new global order, and an essential investigation of the ethics of counterinsurgency. Featuring a foreword by renowned military expert Robert D. Kaplan, this important wartime novel will again spark debate about controversial tactics in hot spots around the world.

Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace (Book acquired 7.21.2015)


Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace is new from Columbia University Press. Their blurb:

The book Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, presented David Foster Wallace’s challenge to Richard Taylor’s argument for fatalism. In this anthology, notable philosophers engage directly with that work and assess Wallace’s reply to Taylor as well as other aspects of Wallace’s thought.

With an introduction by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, this collection includes essays by William Hasker (Huntington University), Gila Sher (University of California, San Diego), Marcello Oreste Fiocco (University of California, Irvine), Daniel R. Kelly (Purdue University), Nathan Ballantyne (Fordham University), Justin Tosi (University of Arizona), and Maureen Eckert. These thinkers explore Wallace’s philosophical and literary work, illustrating remarkable ways in which his philosophical views influenced and were influenced by themes developed in his other writings, both fictional and nonfictional. Together with Fate, Time, and Language, this critical set unlocks key components of Wallace’s work and its traces in modern literature and thought.

Charmed Particles (Book acquired a few weeks back)


Chrissy Kolaya’s novel Charmed Particles is forthcoming this fall from Dzanc. Their blurb:

Rural Nicolet, Illinois, is a city anchored between two opposing forces, a living history museum and a laboratory for experiments in high-energy particle physics. When the proposal to build a Superconducting Super Collider under the town sparks debate between the scientists and the locals, two families find themselves on opposite sides of the controversy that fractures the community, exposing deep cultural rifts between longtime friends.

Abhijat, a theoretical physicist from India now working at the National Accelerator Research Laboratory, has a sole obsession: the charm quark, a revolutionary particle and his springboard to international recognition. The search for answers to abstract questions blinds him to the burgeoning distance between him and his wife and daughter. Across town, Rose Winchester strives to raise her precocious daughter Lily, stitching together an unconventional marriage from the brief visits and astounding letters of her husband Randolph, the last great gentleman explorer.

Charmed Particles traces the collision of past and progress, science and tradition, and the unimagined elements that may arise in the aftermath.

Inside the Machine (Book acquired 6.25.2015)


My crappy iPhone pics aren’t doing justice to these images from Megan Prelinger’s Inside the Machine (glossy pages are hard to photograph). Book is out in August from W.W. Norton—their blurb:

A visual history of the electronic age captures the collision of technology and art—and our collective visions of the future.

A hidden history of the twentieth century’s brilliant innovations—as seen through art and images of electronics that fed the dreams of millions.

A rich historical account of electronic technology in the twentieth century, Inside the Machine journeys from the very origins of electronics, vacuum tubes, through the invention of cathode-ray tubes and transistors to the bold frontier of digital computing in the 1960s.

But, as cultural historian Megan Prelinger explores here, the history of electronics in the twentieth century is not only a history of scientific discoveries carried out in laboratories across America. It is also a story shaped by a generation of artists, designers, and creative thinkers who gave imaginative form to the most elusive matter of all: electrons and their revolutionary powers.

As inventors learned to channel the flow of electrons, starting revolutions in automation, bionics, and cybernetics, generations of commercial artists moved through the traditions of Futurism, Bauhaus, modernism, and conceptual art, finding ways to link art and technology as never before.

A visual tour of this dynamic era, Inside the Machine traces advances and practical revolutions in automation, bionics, computer language, and even cybernetics. Nestled alongside are surprising glimpses into the inner workings of corporations that shaped the modern world: AT&T, General Electric, Lockheed Martin.

While electronics may have indelibly changed our age, Inside the Machinereveals a little-known explosion of creativity in the history of electronics and the minds behind it.


Continue reading “Inside the Machine (Book acquired 6.25.2015)”

Ishmael Reed/Nell Zink (Books acquired, 6.24.2015)


Went to my favorite bookstore today to get a copy of The Borrowers for my daughter and to replace a copy of Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, which I bought last month, read, and then gave away to a friend. I still aim to write something about it on the blog (hence replacing it), but short term: The book is extraordinary—metatextual, intratextual, very, very funny, filled with erudite citations and scathing humor. I can’t believe I hadn’t read it until now.

So, as I went to replace the copy I’d bought in May with the same edition, I spied this mass market paperback edition, which kinda sorta matches the copy of Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down—which hey look at that cover, how could I not pick it up?


I also found a copy of Nell Zink’s novel The Wallcreeper, which I’ve heard good things about from smart people.

The Spectators (Beautiful book acquried 6.11.2015)


Victor Hussenot’s The Spectators is a gorgeous new graphic novel from Nobrow. I’ve read it twice now (“read” as a verb seems inadequate but—), and will get to a proper review later this week. Excellent stuff. Nobrow’s blurb:

What if we are merely shadows, our characters defined by a simple inflection of light? The realm of possibilities opens up, because in our world we are nothing but spectators.

The Spectators unfolds as a poetic and philosophical introspection on the nature of man. Victor Hussenot‘s palette is awash with subtle colour, gently carrying the narrative and allowing the reader to envelop themselves in the lyricism of the work. Reminiscent of French New Wave cinema with its clipped dialogue, gentle pacing and departure from a classic narrative structure, The Spectators is an exciting new graphic novel.

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Gaha: Babes of the Abyss (Book acquired and read sometime in May 2015)


Jon Frankel’s Gaha: Babes of the Abyss is simultaneously familiar and estranging, a bizarre California crime-noir-dystopian shot through a druggy haze. It’s funny and weird, part caper, part adventure story, where everything’s just a little off (and more than a little sleazy). The easy comparison to Philip K. Dick is not unwarranted: Frankel’s satire is a dark mind-bender and a propulsive page-turner. Civil War, a genetically-altered ruling class, sex, violence, drugs, and real estate. The title is new from new indie imprint Whiskey Tit (Ms. Miette’s the honcho there, so you know it’s good stuff). Their blurb:

She was seventeen and all leg, banging the hell out of a pinball machine. I watched her play, my back to the bar. There was a cigarette going in her left hand with a cone of ash hanging off the end. The muscles in her bare thighs tensed up every time she bumped her pelvis into the coin box. As the ball shot toward her flippers she turned her feet in and banged with the right and then the left hand, knocking the ash to the floor. The red light on top of the machine started to turn and a police siren went off. It barked, “Pull off to the side of the road!” and she slapped the flipper, sending the ball up into a thousand-point hole. While the lights flashed and sirens sang she took a long drag off the cigarette.

I should have known better.

So begins Jon Frankel’s unflinching saga of Bob Martin, real estate pimp of Los Angeles in the year 2540, and his hapless, hopeless efforts to stay out of trouble in the company of 17-year-old Irmela von Dorderer and her big sister Elma.  He should have known better, indeed.

True False (Book acquired, 6.11.2015)


Miles Klee’s collection True False is new from indie O/R. You can read some excerpts at their site.


“Miles Klee demonstrates a delightfully prehensile grasp of the more oblique peculiarities of sentience. Very highly recommended.” —William Gibson

“Miles Klee is a fresh genius of the American literary sentence, and his every paragraph is aburst with nervous, agitative exactitudes. So much gets itself zanily and definitively rendered in the crackle of his ultravivid prose that True False is not just a joltingly original collection but the essential record of the inner terrors of our hyperurban era.” —Gary Lutz

A collection of stories that range from the very short to the merely short, these forty-four tales evoke extraordinary scenes in an understated manner that’s marked Klee one of today’s most intriguing writers. From the apocalyptic to the utopic, from a haunted office building to a suburban pool that may be alive, a day in the mind of a demi-god Pythagoras to a secret race to develop artificial love, True False captures a fractured reality more real than our own.