Books

Monday, 23 January 2017 00:00

Review: Painless by Jamie Mayer

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In competing narrative voices (mostly first with a dash of third), author Mayer ably explores the turbulent headspace of Quinn, a teenager with a condition known as congenital analgesia—he can't feel pain.

Imagine Marvel’s Doctor Strange, with all of its trippy imagery, cool psychic battles, and supernatural-bordering-on-super-science worldbuilding. Now imagine that story written by a master novelist with protean-powerful command of first person, and you’d have David Mitchell’s Slade House.

Needless to say, SPOILERS LIE AHEAD!

One of the myriad pleasures of the classic TV series Twin Peaks is sensing the artistic tug-of-war between showrunners David Lynch and Mark Frost. By now it’s received wisdom that Frost—an alum of more traditional story-driven shows like Hill Street Blues—was a necessary correction for Lynch, the dreamy abstractionist.

John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a southern-gothic masterpiece that borders ever so slightly on gonzo journalism—though it falls short of passing into that bizarro realm. Reading it spurred me to contemplate the border between the two major realms of nonfiction writing; the DMZ between the ordered lands of subject-first traditional journalism and the wild “bat country” of writer-first gonzo. It wasn’t a very long contemplation, of course, as Midnight in the Garden falls into the same tradition of literary journalism as Capote, Junger, or Bowden, though the author’s prominent role nudges it closer to “Thompson” territory than Junger’s or Bowden’s.

If you’re looking for a good scary story to celebrate Halloween, Big Ross has nothing but praise for this oldy but goody from the master of horror.

N. is a novella written by American author and horror maestro Stephen King. It was published as part of the collection Just After Sunset in 2008. I discovered an audiobook version of it, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, on YouTube. I don’t understand how copyright law applies to YouTube, or if King got any money from my or the other almost 56,000 times someone listened to it. I hope so. Because it is good. It is very good. I’ve listened to it two additional times, and it has quickly become one of my favorite King stories ever. Read on for some in-depth analysis, but maybe first go read it (or IMHO, even better, listen to the audiobook version of it). SPOILERS FOLLOW!

Sidewalk Stories by Jeremy Ritch available through Autumn + Colour 

 

Andrea here, your music editor, write a poetry collection review. (For those of you who didn’t know, I may or may not have 1 or 3 degrees in poetry.) Anyway, I was super excited to read a press release from Autumn + Colour Records that was for a poetry collection that they are releasing. (I have long been an advocate for the similarities between these two communities - which may or may not be what I wrote my thesis on.) Anyway, super excited to be reviewing a poetry book released by a record company.

 

Sidewalk Stories by Jeremy Ritch is a collection of poems that shed light on and bring depth to the parts of America that society tries its damnedest to turn away from. It thrusts the reader face to face with gritty realities of violence, poverty, and drugs - while hoping, no screaming, for change and assistance. With the voice of a skate punk street kid who can’t turn away from the injustices, Ritch treats his subject matter with the respect and understanding that one someone who lived through those events, in those communities, befriended those characters could. He takes us into the streets, the bus stations, and even into a free Mumia rally with a Black Panther contingent, all with sensitivity, awareness, and a bit of humor.

 

Sidewalk Story #1 (Urban Chaos) sets the stage for the reader, and contains my favorite line in the whole collection, “Children play where bodies fall”. The simplicity and nonchalance of that line, illuminates everything that Ritch is trying to say in these pages. From the “florescent insomnia” in Bus Station to the man “Dancing in stolen sneakers and a charity parka” in Sidewalk Story #7 (Paxton St) to “Street kids in search of meaning” with “40s full of angst” in Sidewalk Story #10 (Ratboy) we are transported into the lives of these characters. The Invisible Man is a poem full of quiet cries for help, they build and they resonate, they catalogue the injustices and the hopes of an over looked people, with the lines “The is an invisible man who looks…/For a job that not only pays, but restores dignity.” That line is a blow to the chest, that line extends off the page and into the air all around you. Sidewalk Story #3 (Harold) is one of the poems in this collection that stuck with me, it is true, honest, bare bones, character sketch with no fancy tricks or summation ending.

 

There were a few varied poem structures within the collection - the free verse poems dominated, but the ones that employed one rhyme scheme or another were clearly mean to be performed, with the hard rhyme sounding a bit heavy handed on the page, but I am sure kill it on a stage. My favorite poems though, were the prose poems. These seemed to be the poems that read in the most natural way to me. Yes, they are polished in the ways that all poems need to be, but there seemed to be no heavy trimming happening in order to make them fit into a structure or rhyme scheme. Mistaken on the Lake is a gritty jaded love poem for a hometown, Marching With The Panthers takes us immediately into the narrators experience with the new Black Panthers, and City O City (Ode To New York) is the strongest poem in the traditional sense of poetry.

 

Unfortunately, I need to say, the spelling errors, mechanics, and grammar of the collection held me back a bit and the inconsistencies in punctuation stuck out as only it can in poetry. There were a few instances when I was wondering if there was intent or just a typo, which are not the elements that you want your reader focusing on. There were also a few poems where I feel like the endings were false, maybe false is not the correct term, but poems where the ending was rushed to a tidy conclusion that didn’t match the power, intent, or voice of the preceding lines. I often felt frustrated, because I was able to see where the tiniest bit of editing would have allowed this collection to soar.

 

I honestly felt bad write these few critiques of this collection, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these aren’t necessarily critiques of the collection, but critiques of the publishing industry. Sidewalk Stories is a great collection poems, with interesting content, a voice that needs to be heard, but that has not had the opportunity of a quality line edit. And with the state of publishing and poetry in 2014, I understand how expensive that would have been.

 

So seriously, props to Autumn + Colour for taking a chance and publishing a poetry collection, props to Jeremy Ritch, for displaying his world to us. And let’s hope that this will inspire a new generation of poets and poetry readers, so much so that publishers again start paying fair wages and supporting authors as they deserve.

I have to tell you, I’ve been avoiding emotional books lately.  After two months of dealing with my own life tragedies, the idea of reading about other people’s—even fictional ones—has felt like torture to me.  So I’m not quite sure what possessed me to pick up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  I’m not sure that I can say I’m glad I did.  What I can say is that Me Before You is a beautiful book, and that sometimes it’s the harder-to-read books that are the ones that stick with you the longest.

I’ve written before about publishers and e-books, specifically, their difficulty in adapting the new medium to benefit them—not just profitability, but also in the ways e-books can be used to introduce new authors/books to the market.  The fact is, e-book reader and tablet owners buy a lot of books.  I’m no exception to that rule; when I think about the sheer number of e-books I buy, and the percentage of my budget eaten up by my Kindle purchases…well, quite frankly, I realize that I really need to get a life that involves other people.

Monday, 30 December 2013 01:00

Best Books of 2013

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This has been a challenging year for me personally, which has resulted in more weeks away from my CC2K post than I would like.  Still, the one thing that has kept me going through the good and the bad has been reading, and I’ve done a lot of it this year.

So here, without further ado, are my top 10 books for 2013:

CC2K Music Editor Andrea Janov subs in for Books Editor Beth Woodward this week with this review of Victor Giannini's speculative novella.