Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brief Thoughts 20

A Treasury of Damon Runyon

I recently learned about Damon Runyon. He sounded interesting, being a popular writer of humorous in the 20s and 30s whose subject was gamblers, gangsters, and bootleggers. I decided this would be the best place to start with him.

The arrangement of this book is kind of off. You'd think that they'd put all the poems together. Instead there's a couple at the beginning and a couple at the end. I think the ones at the beginning were supposed to separate the stories that make up the basis for the Guys and Dolls musical from the other ones, but even then, it felt weird. There's also a separation of sections in the index but not the text itself. It made the thematic and stylistic changes towards the end jarring.

While I liked most of the stories towards the beginning, especially "Johnny One-Eye," toward the middle the stories started to blend together and feel dull. I honestly couldn't tell you what happened in the vast majority of these. Maybe because of how samey the Broadway stories are, they're better taken in one at a time rather than all at once. I couldn't get into most of the stories towards the end either. The Turp stories (about an older Brooklyn married couple) were cute, but I couldn't get into the stories based on Runyon's home town either. The longer, non-Broadway stories at the end felt like they came from an entirely different writer. I don't know if these were early works or what. They just felt stuck in there because they didn't fit anywhere else.

I thought the poems at the beginning were corny and lame but the poems towards the end were much more enjoyable.

Overall, I didn't really like this book much. I might give Runyon another chance, when I was able to get into the stories they were fun, but this one just didn't do it for me.

Buy A Treasury of Damon Runyon here. 

Road Dawgz by K'wan 

The previous books I'd read by K'wan, Black Lotus and Animal, were both fun, page-turner crime novels. I picked up this book which was an earlier effort, being only his second novel. 

Of the books I've read by K'wan, this one was shaping up to be the best. Not just a crime novel, but a portrait of how a its protagonist, K-Dawg, goes from an ambitious yet affable criminal to a true villain. 

The problem is, towards the end it became clear that K'wan was too attached to K-Dawg to allow him to do anything truly despicable. Even though it seems to be going in that direction, K-Dawg doesn't completely lose his moral center. The narrative ends up treating him completely like an anti-hero. As a result, we get an ending that feels like a complete cop-out. 

Despite that, it remains a fun read and I'll certainly be reading more of K'wan's work.

Buy Road Dawgz by K'wan here.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey Kids, You Like Free Books?

From today (03/21/2017) until Saturday (03/25/2017), the Kindle version of my chapbook, the sky is black and blue like a battered child, is free.

Get it here.

Let me know what you think by reviewing it on Amazon or on Goodreads. If you review it for your blog or a website, please send me the link. If you haven't read it yet, I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

New Flash Fiction Piece Published: "Cathy" at The Casper Review

Things have been quiet around here. I've been working on a novel and that's taken precedent over all other projects. Still, I've been sending out pieces for publication. One has been accepted and posted. The relatively new and excellent Casper Review has accepted my flash fiction piece for their site.

Read It Here.

Be sure to check out the rest of it. They have some great work up.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Brief Thoughts 19

Libra by Don Delillo

Delillo is an author who I've heard mixed things about. I've heard some regard him as embodying the worst of contemporary "high brow" literature while others have praised him. Since Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, adapted one of his books, I figured he was worth checking out.  My library didn't have Cosmopolis, so I decided to check this one out instead.

Libra is a historical novel about Lee Harvey Oswald. It speculates that Oswald was a patsy in a CIA scheme to shoot John F. Kennedy, however that the assassination was supposed to fail. Oswald is portrayed as something of a fuck up. Which seems to be somewhat accurate to how he was in real life. He was an outcast in school, he was a wannabe revolutionary that defected to the Soviet Union, only to come back when he couldn't fit in. Even here, he becomes a CIA patsy picked specifically because it seems like he's a terrible shot. However, he succeeds in killing Kennedy when he wasn't supposed to.

The books is pretty solidly structured, going between Oswald and the CIA conspirators plot to shoot Kennedy. It reads like a solid thriller and still manages to go through most of Oswald's life from childhood. It does a good job at showing how someone like Oswald could become the kind of person who would shoot a beloved president.  There's also an interesting aspect where a "Curator" tries to sort out all the facts of the Kennedy assassination, concluding that the full truth of the case will never be known. It gives it a nice postmodern touch that isn't too alienating or overbearing.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that there are several times where the dialogue is very stiff and unnatural. It feels like Delillo didn't know how to properly steer the conversations where he needed to and just forced them. Jack Ruby's story line (the man who killed Oswald) also felt very rushed and underdeveloped.

Even though I've been to the Kennedy museum in Dallas, I don't actually know that much about the case. This novel was helpful in teaching me things I didn't know about Oswald or many other figures surrounding the assassination. Obviously, since this is fiction I had to check to see what was true, but it's a helpful guide.

I enjoyed this book and I'll try some more of Delillo's in the near future. I'll also probably try find more non-fiction work about JFK's assassination since this got me just as interested in it as visiting the Kennedy museum.

Buy Libra by Don Delillo here. 

Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid

I've been fascinated by "Outsider Music" for a long time now. WMFU's website is a good resource for it, especially Irwin Chusid's effort to collect and archive fringe music. When I found he had written a book on the subject, I had to pick it up. Though it took me a while to actually read it, as I have a bad habit of doing.

As the title suggests, this book attempts to define "Outsider Music" as a genre and goes through the artists that fall within it. The genre includes music that's both outside of the mainstream and (usually unintentionally) ignores most conventions of making music. Often, the creators suffer from mental illness, or at the very least, exhibit unusual behavior. Of course, Chusid himself points out that this is a very slippery genre. He includes a chapter on Captain Beefheart who was both on a major label and made a lot of conventional music in addition to his weirder albums. Also, he wasn't mentally ill or errat ic, he was just a dick.

While his attempt to define the genre doesn't quite work, this is still a fascinating book. Chusid recounts figures who worked all over the map, from complete amateurs to trained composers, who all made odd music. I was familiar with some artists here like Jandek and Wild Man Fischer, but I learned a lot about some who'd I never or only only vaguely heard of like the Cherry Sisters and Robert Graettinger. Chusid writes with a mixture of insight and humor, delving into artists in an engaging way even with artists he clearly doesn't enjoy.

Some of his choices for who he writes about are a bit odd to me. Beefheart for the reasons I previously mentioned. It also seems odd that he gives two sentences to the Chipmunks but only mentions Anton LaVey at the end where he names some other artists that might fit in the genre. It seems like music by the founder of the Church of Satan would be worth more than a mere mention. I also noticed the complete absence of Y. Bhekhirst and JW Farquhar. Though I'll grant it would be impossible to name every artist who could possibly fall in the genre. The book is also somewhat dated. It was released in 2000 and some of the artists mentioned have died.

Despite that, this book is a great read and valuable as a reference. If I ever want to find some weird music, I can just pull this out and look up the artists listed. Highly recommended.

Buy Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid here. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2016

The year that everyone hated is over. So that means it's time to countdown my favorite reads of 2016. It was hard to narrow these down to just ten with eight honorable mentions, but I promised myself I would stick to that this time. Remember, these are books I read in 2016, not necessarily books released that year. 

10. Kanley Stubrick by Mike Kleine  

This novel was a departure for Kleine in that it's more narrative driven than his previous works. I'd say he succeeded well. He maintains his surreal style while telling an odd but compelling story about a man searching for his missing girlfriend.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

9. Mistah Kurtz! by James Reich

Reich explores one of the most mysterious characters in the English literary canon through this story. He sheds a whole light on Conrad's novel while creating an excellent one of his own.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

8. Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite  

Several authors I know list this as one of their favorite horror novels. It's easy to see why. This is a highly disturbing and emotional read. Among some of the best horror I've read myself.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

7. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

A mixture of absurdism, horror, and Southern Gothic by an author who writes all of them equally as well.

Buy it here

6. Three Plays by D. Harlan Wilson

Wilson's foray into plays is funny, entertaining, and thought provoking. It's just as good as any fiction he's written.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

5. The Columbine Pilgrim by Andy Nowicki

This novella ranks with Selby's The Room and Thompson's The Killer Inside Me as of the best examination of a disturbed psyche I've ever read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

4. Consensual by A.D. Hitchin 

Hitchin's exploration of perversity and misanthropy is a powerful read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

3. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

A disquieting and beautiful existential novel.

Buy it here.

2. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus 

A highly readable essay collection on the absurdity of every day life.

Full review here.
Buy it here.
1. The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner

This book is a wrecking ball through the foundations of every belief system. That's an entirely good thing It wouldn't be number one on this list if it wasn't

Full review here.
Buy it here.

Honorable Mentions

- Arafat Mountain and The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish by Mike Kleine
- Anarchism by George Woodcock
- Spiritual Instrument by M Kitchell
- In Their Arms by Thomas Moore
- Answers of Silence by Geoff Cooper
- Deathtotheworld: an interracial racist love story by HAarlem VEnison
- The Maimed by Hermann Ungar

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Brief Thoughts 18

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

The first books I had read from Brite weren't his horror work, but books in his Liquor series which followed two chiefs opening a restaurant in New Orleans. Most people who were fans of Brite's work recommended this as his best.

The story follows four characters. An English serial killer named Andrew, a New Orleans cannibal named Jay, a runaway boy named Tran, and a writer and pirate radio show host named Luke. Andrew manages to escape from prison in London and flees to the United States. There, he meets another killer named Jay and the two fall in love. They both become fixated on a runaway boy named Tran who they view as a perfect victim. Meanwhile, Luke, who was Tran's ex-boyfriend, desperately misses Tran and wants to get him back.

I could nitpick certain things in this book, like how Andrew's point of view is first person while the rest is third or some clumsy phrases in the book (marijuana has a "spicy" green taste? what weed has Brite smoked?), but frankly none of that detracted from the book for me. This is an incredibly decadent, colorfully disgusting book. It's full of intense descriptions of murder, sex, disease, and consumption. It has a straightforward story that propels at a good pace but the experience of reading this is more of a draw than the story.

This isn't a book for everyone, but if you enjoy the work of writers like William S. Burroughs and Dennis Cooper, this is a must read.

Buy Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite here. 

The Maimed by Hermann Ungar 

Franz Polzer is a bank clerk obsessed with order. Neurotically so. Due to having witnessed his father and aunt committing incest as a child and being molested by a neighbor's maid, Polzer hates and fears sex. So when his widowed landlady begins making advances to him, it throws his life into chaos. To make matters worse, his childhood friend Karl Fanta has lost both his legs to an unknown sickness and it seems to have made him lose his mind as well. Karl believes his wife is sleeping around and is planning to have him killed for his money.

This is quite a grotesque novel. It's best described as a psychological horror. Polzer, while he's the main character, is the eternal middle man. He's a low level bank clerk, he acts as an intermediary between Karl and his wife, and he absolutely hates being the center of attention. To him, nothing good can come from being paid attention to. He wants nothing more than for things to be left in order. He hordes his possessions and makes a catalog of them. He constantly worries that he'll be stolen from. He doesn't feel safe anywhere.

Sex and religion are probably the biggest themes in the book. Nearly every character here suffers from a disordered sexual drive. Polzer hates sex due to his childhood abuse, Fanta is frustrated due to his inability to have sex because of his illness, Polzer's landlady is extremely promiscuous, and an attendant hired to take care of Fanta is an extreme masochist who believes injuring himself is atonement for his sins.

Polzer is a Catholic who is not religious, but keeps a picture of a saint above his bed. He believes it protects him. Polzer's landlady is a Jewish woman who can't stand the picture. Fanta is also Jewish, but is completely indifferent to religion, this ends up clashing with his pious attendant.

Ungar is not a well remembered author. He was a contemporary of Kafka and is often compared to him. They were both Jewish writers from Prague who wrote dark fiction, but Ungar is quite distinct from Kafka. Ungar finds horror in the every day and in the repressed psyches of the people around him. While his body of work is not large, this book makes it clear that Ungar deserves to be more well-known than he is.

Buy The Maimed by Hermann Ungar here.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Update: A New Review of My Chapbook and Another Story

Recently, writer HAarlem VEnison of Acid Right. Did a video review of my chapbook, "the sky is black and blue like a battered child." You can watch it below.

I also have another story up at CLASH Media. Another creepy short story called "Please File Under Adult Contemporary." They had also published another short creepy story of mine called "The Soda" as well.

Don't forget that I'm also writing a lot at Cultured Vultures. Here are the last three articles published.

Book Review: Slasher Camp for Nerd Dorks by Christoph Paul 
13 Halloween Books You Should Read (If You Dare) 
How to Get Book Review Copies