Meaty: 2013 Book #38

I use Grammarly to check grammar online because grammar is the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.

Meaty Samantha Irby5 of 5 stars
I enjoyed this collection of non-fiction essays quite a bit – I’m not familiar with Samantha Irby’s blog, but all these pieces read like they could be ripped out of the manuscript and find a home on a site filled with snark and biting wit. Perhaps they originated there – either way, the voice translates well to a printed, consume in one sitting format. Each essay is a snackable insight into her life as a single black Chicagoan who’s being real about the trials of adulthood.

What struck me most about the essays is that Irby is just being honest. All of us like to pretend we’ve got our shit together as adults, but she takes an unflinching, deprecating look at the airs we all put on to make it look like we’re not insecure, uncertain or just plain immature when it comes to our responsibilities. Even though going in I would have told you that I have very little in common with a single black woman living paycheck to paycheck with Crohn’s disease, there’s a LOT of material that strikes close to home here.

It takes a lot for a book to make me chuckle out loud, but she has plenty of little stingers and punchlines that come out of nowhere. This book is getting a lot of attention in Chicago and nationally, and for good reason. First thing I did after finishing the book was head over to her blog and add it to my daily firehose of content to consume.

Midwestern Gothic: Fall 2013 – Issue 11: 2013 Book #37

Midwestern Gothic, Fall 2013, Issue 11The Fall Issue of Midwestern Gothic is a special one – for the first time we’re focusing exclusively on Creative Nonfiction. Over the course of publishing over ten issues we’d always get a few request here and there about whether we accepted essays. This go round, we thought it’d be interesting to deviate from our format a little bit and explore the Midwest in a new way.

Even though folks don’t think of us as a Creative Nonfiction publication – we still received a lot of fantastic work from around the Midwest. There was plenty we loved that we had to turn down. A lot of the essays we received explored similar themes and it became an unenviable task to put together an issue that covered the spectrum of the Midwestern experience without becoming a one-note issue. As always, I was extremely happy with the result – if only because we published a handful of humorous pieces in this one. We say we want the “good, bad and ugly,” and we get a lot of bad and ugly. It was refreshing to read pieces that made me laugh out loud for once. (Take note, send happy stories in the future, guys!)

My favorite in this issue was “Beating Up Chuck Klosterman by Scott Winter. Right from the beginning scene, in which he pays off the title right away, you can’t help but chuckle at Winter’s self depreciating and unecessarily vindictive writing. The whole piece is about how the author has lived and dealt with a perceived rivalry and Klosterman’s meteoric rise in the world of not just literature, but pop culture. Here’s a short excerpt:

The fantasy is visceral and consequential and really pretty easy. We step out into the alley behind the Zoo Bar, the three of us, and Pete and I light up our straight Marlboros, not the Lights we’ve been smoking with the idea of tapering off to healthier lungs and longer lives. But who needs to prolong lives like these, anyway?

We talk to him about the Oscars, about the upcoming Transformers movie, about Family Guy or the BCS system or Oprah’s Book Club—any sort of low-level cultural phenomenon that seems to fascinate him, as shown in his books, in his radio commentary, in his sports blogging. In mid-sentence, I bull-rush him into the dumpster. More than my 190 pounds, what pins him there is his shock. I deliver body blows until his ego drops somewhere beneath his bruised kidneys. I’m all adrenaline and I knock his teeth into his throat, then I’m spent. Above his bloody face and broken horn-rims, I light up another smoke, and Pete and I head inside to finish our beers, drinking in the taste of the hops, the adrenaline of physical accomplishment and literary purification.

From this point forward, our lives would be better.

They would have to be.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic Issue 11 and for the rest of the story and many more essays inspired by the Midwest.

Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy September/October 2013: 2013 Book #36

cov1309lg-2502 of 5 stars

If I had to sum up this magazine in one word, it would be “dated.” Granted, I have a preconceived notion going in as I’ve looked at this magazine as a writer, and they are one of the last few holdouts who still only accept submissions by mail only. However, some of the stories felt a few years too late, and even some of the little touches on their banners and marketing copy feel a little bit off, like a mom who wants to get technology, but doesn’t quite have the terminology right.

Two perfect examples was the story “MyPhone20”, and film commentary “Beam Me Up, J.J.” The story was clearly written by someone who’d held out and just got a smartphone, and was struck by the possibilities of how it might potentially impact how we interact with each other. This story would have been far more interesting five years ago. The film commentary was an odd essay on Abrams treatment of the Star Trek universe when placed against the Shatner- and Stewart-era shows/movies – but the publishing cycle must have been way too long, because Into Darkness came out almost a half year ago. This type of essay would have been much better suited on a blog and timed to come out with the movie.

All that said, I did enjoy a few of the stories. Particularly “The Queen of Eyes,” It felt like Gaiman’s “American Gods,” but done better and an appropriate length. “Hhasalin” was also a nice sci-fi tale set in an alternate world. It was one of those stories where the science fiction doesn’t get in the way of the story even though the world it takes place in is vastly different from our own.

One other feature that dragged this magazine down for me was the “Books to Watch” section. I’d think this would be a list of upcoming books the author enjoyed and wants to share with their readership, but he spent over half the review discussing flaws in the book – then ending by saying “You should definitely read this.” I’ll not mimic his technique here – I might give MF&SF another chance, but overall I was felt underwhelmed.

The Dark Knight Returns: 2013 Book #35

The Dark Knight Returns

3 of 5 stars

This trade fell in the same camp as “Old Man Logan,” with less enjoyable art and a better storyline. Before you crucify me for not liking Miller’s art over McNiven’s, I did like Sin City and 300’s visuals – most of my problem with The Dark Knight Returns was in the panel choices – at times it seemed like over half of the panels were of news anchors and talking heads describing the story. It would have been find in dribs and drabs, but used as much as it was, it didn’t work for me.

I also found the Batman vs. the mutants and Batman vs. the Joker story arcs to be far more satisfying than Batman vs. Superman – I never got the sense that there was a true conflict between the two of them, more of a begrudging inevitable confrontation that felt more like Bruce Wayne finding a way to make his retirement far more permanent. But the mutant and joker storylines juxtaposed together handled Batman’s “one rule” about not killing people expertly. Layer on an aging, tired Batman, attempting to reconcile what he knows he could do in the past with the limits of his body today, bring him to the realization that he can’t do this forever.

An enjoyable read, and I can see why this particular part of the Batman/Superman canon is so beloved. If the art had worked for me I would have easily been able to rate this much higher.

The Way of Kings: 2013 Book #34

The Way of Kings
3 of 5 stars

This book was like an underdog playoff team that ends up winning it all – it peaked at the right time, the end. Honestly, it probably could have been a few hundred pages shorter (like most epic fantasy series), but for some reason I didn’t enjoy Sanderson’s world building in this effort as much as in his Mistborn series. Both that and Stormlight are heavily magical, but for some reason the Mistborn system felt tight, intriguing and new. This system of stormlight, gemstones and Soulcasters felt gimmicky to me for some reason.

However, Sanderson’s strength is clearly in character building, and it shows in this book. All of the main characters, Kaladin, Dalinar and Shallan are multi-layered, intriguing and their plots all carried me along as I read. Shallan and Jasnah’s arc felt like it could have been better served in their own book, as their storyline never truly crossed with Dalinar and Kaladin, who I’m considering the main characters of the book. Even though in the beginning I found myself disliking the world building, as Sanderson shed the trappings of setting up a world and focused in on character, I came around. And in the end, there was a clear bridge to the rest of the series that was intriguing and will likely make me pick up the second book, even though this book tied up most threads in a satisfying way.

Even with the strong ending and a desire to read the next book, I’m still giving this three stars because it took so long to get there. And if the next book doesn’t carry through with these characters and is essentially another stand-alone set of tales in the same world, I might not give it a chance. But if this set of characters shows up, I’m in.

Mid-American Review XXXIII, Number 2: 2013 Book #32


3 of 5 stars

My favorite story in this edition of MAR was “On Brian’s Dreams of Submarines” by Robert Long Foreman, also an honorable mention for their Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award. The narrator’s discovery of a troubling journal of recorded dreams by an old co-worker holds a lot of subtext, and allows for the reader’s imagination to run wild, leaving them to conclude Brian’s motivations behind keeping the journal, why he was having such disturbing dreams and what ultimately led to his departure from work and abandonment of the journal.

All the other stories and poems in this edition were solid and enjoyable to read, but also somewhat forgettable. At the time I was sitting down with the book, I definitely enjoyed myself – but even at the end of the book the earlier stories had already begun to fade.

Booth #5: 2013 Book #31

Booth #5

5 of 5 stars

Booth is everything a literary journal should be, and I found myself loving most of the stories in this particular collection – which is often a rarity when an editor attempts to bring together multiple short-format pieces, let alone pieces that span short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, lists, interviews, craft essays and a smattering of artwork thrown in. Booth makes this feat look effortless.

A few of my highlights included Scott Williams Woods’ “New York Times Bestsellers” a fictional list of the titular publication in which James Patterson has incorporated Alex Cross into every title and force fit him into every genre. In a landscape where it’s becoming harder and harder for new voices to gain traction against established properties – a future list like this isn’t hard to imagine. I laughed out loud multiple times at several of the descriptions.

“‘Manchild’ Morrison, the Best that Almost Was” hits the opposite end of the spectrum, a tale of high school legends and the decline that seems to always befall them outside the walls of their youth. We look in on the local legend after he’s lost nearly everything, and follow him about town as Porter Shreve builds up to the old team’s reunion at homecoming.

For folks who aren’t sure about lit. journals, Booth is the perfect intro. It does a lot of different things extremely well and can help you find other publications with a more singular focus based on what you enjoyed most.

Beautiful Ruins: 2013 Book #30


4 of 5 stars

This book has quite a bit more meat to it than the cover implies – in fact, if I hadn’t seen a few friends post glowing reviews about the book I probably would have passed it over. My wife bought this in the Anchorage airport to read on the way home, so I was able to borrow it when she was done with it. Usually, I don’t like the decade spanning, multiple character literary tales, but this one hangs together very nicely. For the first half of the book, I did feel like I was only getting tiny slices of a wide cast of characters, but during the 2nd half something seemed to click and I was totally engrossed, finishing the last 150+ pages in a couple days of reading before bed.

The book does feature some pretty prominent names (Richard Burton, Liz Taylor) and gives them some on-page time. This didn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother other reviewers – I’m not sure why personalities like this are off-limits, especially when they take a minor role as they do in Beautiful Ruins.

As a main character, I thought Walter did an exceptionally bang up job with Pasquale, blending the lovable but impotent protagonist in with a rich cast of supporting characters in fresh ways that felt effortless. The tension between different cultures, languages, moral codes and setting all added up to a sum that was greater than its parts. And even though much of the book centers around a “crack in the cliffs,” it’s still Italy – exotic, European and steeped with much more culture than the vapid Los Angeles that other portions of the book take place in.

Red Moon: 2013 Book #29

1 of 5 stars

There’s not a whole lot to write home about in this book. After reading it, I didn’t have a bad taste in my mouth, and I was going to give it two stars, but then I tried to find a redeeming quality or something I liked about the book.

The characters were either pure evil or a half hearted, scattershot attempt at giving them depth. However, my main issue with this book was character motivation. The reasons behind anyone doing anything just don’t hang together – it’s as if the author had loads of ideas for “cool” scenes or themes he wanted to incorporate and then shoved them in. That led to a halting plot with bad pacing, and inconsistent themes and messages. I wasn’t sure if Percy was trying to say something about the current state of extremism and the war on terror and fell short, or if he was just trying to write a badass werewolf book and hobbled it with half-baked commentary. Either way, it didn’t work for me.

The concept was OK, I guess, but poorly executed. Again, I didn’t dislike it after reading it, but after thinking about what I did like I couldn’t come up on anything. Almost as if the book transformed while I wasn’t looking.

The Wise Man’s Fear: 2013 Book #28

3 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book as much as The Name of the Wind, the first book in the Kingkiller chronicle. While this one avoided the awkward beginning of the first in the series, I’m not sure how I feel about the structure of these books. Rothfuss seems to favor stringing together a series of vignettes and stories for hundreds of pages, never really building to a larger conclusion or conflict. Rather, each hundred pages or so feels like its own miniature tale with an arc – and when he moves onto the next, there’s little from the prior arc that carries through. Kvothe’s beef with the Chandrian seems to be the string that ties everything together, but he hasn’t found out anything about them after two books and he feels no closer now than he did before.

The result of this structure is that by book’s end, it feels as if it’s stuttering and limping to a conclusion. Much of the last hundred pages reads like an epilogue – even though it happens to be the last vignette. I truly feel like he could end the book anywhere and it wouldn’t change the tale significantly.

That said, I do enjoy the vignette’s quite a bit. Rothfuss’ dry wit and humor aren’t lost on me, there were several moments where I chuckled aloud, even though I thought the language bordered on too modern in these parts. Even though Kvothe’s adventures are all over the board – training with the Adem, hunting bandits, seducing one of the Fae, Rothfuss manages to create a unique mythology around each character and situation with fantastic depth – it all hangs together very nicely.