Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giveaway: Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz audiobook + My Top 5 Books for 2014

Hello, my darlings! How about a holiday giveaway? Seems like every other blog is doing one right now, so why not Glorified Love Letters? Today, I'm giving away the Audible.com version of one of my favorite books I read this year: Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz. I reviewed it back in July at Persephone Magazine.


To Enter:
  • Leave a comment telling me your favorite food to eat for whatever holiday you may be celebrating this month.
  • Either give me your email address in the comment (so I have some way to contact you, if you win) -OR- email me at sarahabein [at] gmail dot com (if you'd rather not leave your email in the comments).
  • Giveaway ends Dec. 20th, 10PM (MST), winner determined by random number generator.
Now what about my other favorite books from 2014? Click on through to my latest post at P-Mag: Reading List: Top 5 Books - 2014.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

33 1/3: Definitely Maybe by Alex Niven

33 1/3 Definitely Maybe by Oasis - Alex Niven

Oasis' Definitely Maybe (33 1/3)
by Alex Niven

Let's establish one thing from the outset: In no way will this review be unbiased. As someone who has spent the past eighteen years studying the career trajectory of Oasis and the post-breakup albums of the band members, and as someone who is hopelessly indulgent when it comes to the arrogance of Noel Gallagher, it is through these filters that I read Alex Niven's contribution to the 33 1/3 book series, his examination of Oasis' 1994 debut, Definitely Maybe.

Though I love talking about music, sometimes I find it difficult to read about it. I like my praise unreserved, and I like my criticism without snobbery — not standard qualities found in the Pitchfork-age of decimal point ratings systems combined with the decades-old stance of preferring “their earlier stuff.” So while Alex Niven's insights into Definitely Maybe were often thorough and interesting, they are bound in the idea that one should behave a certain way when successful. Because he lost interest in Oasis after the '90s — as a lot of people unfortunately did — his commentary that compares the band's first album to their later output is frequently off the mark.

To put it more plainly: While reading, I was torn between thinking, I am totally with you, followed by, And now we're in a fight.

Oasis is a divisive band, I know. They were arrogant, unafraid of success, would say things just to get a rise out of people, and for awhile, the drugs amplified everything. In just a few years, they went from playing tiny clubs to the 300,000-person audience at Knebworth. Much has been written about their early history — some of it exaggerated for legend, some of it corrected over time — and even while they were one of the biggest bands in the world, people still criticized. They were “ripping off the Beatles” or The Who. Or The La's. Or the Stone Roses.

And the band said, So?

In a 1996 Guitar World interview (that I distinctly remember reading instead of paying attention in English class), Noel Gallagher famously said, “Usually, I'm saying, 'These are the greatest songwriters in the world. And I'm gonna put them all in this song"'

The band's directness and influences are not in question, and neither is their massive success. One could write a whole other post on it, but I kept wondering why Alex Niven spends so much time bemoaning their enjoyment of that success, especially when he opens 33 1/3 saying:

In what follows, I have tried to treat the early Oasis narrative with the seriousness it deserves. With one or two exceptions, previous writing about the band has tended to be salacious or plain dismissive, so there was a need for a study that looked Oasis through a critical lens, and with at least an attempt at objectivity and balance.

Just a few pages later, it become more clear that Niven is one of those disappointed, “they never did anything good after 1996” fans:

Where are the forgotten details in our recent history that might help us escape from a cynical present in which populism has disappeared from pop music and in which we don't seem to have made any real artistic and social progress since the 1990s? The argument of the following book is that one way of answering this question is to look at the most apparently banal, ordinary, hackneyed phenomenon of the last 20 years. In order to move forward positively again, it seems reasonable to suggest, we should look at the most central, the most visible, the most obvious presences in pop culture and try to work how they went so badly wrong. We should look at the events that filled people with belief and made them feel part of a team, at the melodies that buried themselves in our collective consciousness but became so cliched and commonplace that we began to resent them, at the people who were co-opted and stereotyped in a world of money and selfishness until they became a crass parody of their former selves. One way we should do this, the following book argues, is by looking seriously and at length at the rock band Oasis.
[…]
Even if most of what they did from 1997 onwards was a travesty of popular art, we ignore the scope and significance of the initial Oasis narrative at our peril.
 
But how did it happen, and where did it all go wrong? What stray details about Oasis should we try to recover at all costs?

All right, settle down there, man. We can talk about the cultural significance of Oasis without throwing their later albums under the tour bus. How is it objective to talk about how great Definitely Maybe is, while also implying that Oasis are now tragic figures? You do know that on their last tour they filled stadiums, right? That every single studio album sold over two million by British chart-counts alone? Yes, yes, just because people buy something doesn't necessarily indicate quality, but even with a more muted presence in pop culture, to write as though they are some sort of wayward genius-types that haven't been written about in an in-depth way is ludicrous.

Their rise to success is practically a musical folktale at this point — blagging their way onto the fateful King's Tut gig and how they were the biggest seller for Creation Records before the label's implosion. However, Niven does have a point in that study of the songs themselves, paired with the social-economic environment from which they were written, is a relatively new thing. Noel Gallagher has done some of his own retrospective analysis, but it's more difficult to see something's impact when you're still a part of the thing itself. Every time we arrive at a decade-based anniversary (like the 20th anniversary of the first album), the more journalists and obsessives like myself reflect upon the culture that informed Oasis.

I am with Niven when he talks about Oasis as a populist band, but where we disagree is that, while their perspective changed, I believe that they never stopped being one. Even now, Noel Gallagher and Oasis fans are still — to borrow that '90s phrase — madferit, singing along to every song (yes, even the new ones). In a somewhat critical Telegraph review of Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn's 2013 Teenage Cancer Trust gig, Neil McCormick writes:

The mast to which he has pinned his own musical colours remains stoically unchanged since the nineties. His headline set was the usual mass singalong event. It’s as if he can’t write a tune that doesn’t have the kind of melody drunken men like to bellow in bars and at football matches, simple and soaring, anthemic and cheery, with words so vague they mean whatever the singer wants them to. […] The most vociferous singing is done by men with unfashionable pudding-bowl haircuts and shirts hanging outside their jeans. The correct posture is arms spread, pint in one hand, like a football hooligan goading the opposition. For Wonderwall, one arm may be hooked over the shoulder of a girlfriend or wife, if available. For more rambunctious Oasis numbers, both arms should be thrown around a male friend. Plastic pint glass, preferably empty, may now be thrown into the air. 
It really is extraordinary. These songs don’t really mean anything yet they mean everything to this audience. It is the church of Noel, a lung-busting collective celebration of lost youth.

Pair that with Niven's analysis in this book's introduction:

In an era in which destructive cynicism was threatening the very existence of counterculture and the mainstream left, Oasis offered an anomalous vision of radical positivity. And the fact that this was indisputably a working-class lived experience — one founded in the solidarity and fraternity of working class lived experience — was crucial. As the band's biographer [Paolo Hewitt] once put it, Oasis were the sound of 'a council estate singing its heart out.'

Comparing this twenty-year old sentiment with the decades that followed is not all that difficult. Consider the disillusionment with Tony Blair's “special relationship” with George W. Bush, the 2008 Economic Crisis, and the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan — The early 2000s were also not easy times to lean left. Pair that with humanity's nostalgic predilections, and suddenly, having a bit of rock n roll church seems like a great relief.

“Oasis songs proliferate with calls for breakout and departure,” Niven writes, “but with an accompanying sense that doing so will result in betrayal and the loss of some precious aspect of a core identity.”

Are we not all culpable, to varying degrees, for how our lives changed over the past twenty years? And aren't we, despite our successes, sometimes trying to find that place where we feel at peace?

Oasis initially may not have been convinced they would succeed, but the songs suggest that, if they did, some sort of downfall was inevitable. The press would turn. Listeners would punish them for their success and hubris. One core identity — that of working-class kids from Manchester — would feel both innate and farther away. This progression changes a band, yes, but it does not wholly discredit them.



Still, as tempting as it is to write a dissertation on the value of post-1996 Oasis songs, we should talk about the 33 1/3 book itself. Niven divides the book into elements — Earth, Water, Fire and Air — which ends up working quite well. The punk rock magic of “Bring It On Down” fits well into the Fire Section, while the melancholy and desire for escape earn “Slide Away” its Air designation.

Analyzing both Definitely Maybe and its B-sides is necessary, since many of Oasis' stadium-rousing epics never appeared on the studio album. Though the myth of Noel joining the band with a bagful of songs has been widely amended, he still had a fairly sizable output. It is within these B-sides that we hear Noel himself pleading, as Niven says, “to escape from the world, to live a secluded life by the sea where he can be alone and enjoy the little things in life.”



Do you know who is able to do that? People with money. People who have the privilege of controlling their own schedule. “My favorite pastime is staring out the window. When I go on tour, I can spend hours and hours just staring out the window, thinking about nothing. I love all that,” he once said.  But no, let's be disappointed that he can accomplish his goals when he pleases. Let's try and set some arbitrary rules about how famous people are supposed to spend money they earned from two near-perfect albums. And all the subsequent albums.

I digress once more.

Niven talks about Noel's mixture of hope and despair throughout the book, the “profound unease,” and he's more or less on point. It matches up well with Noel's Dig Out Your Soul-era quote, “No one's fucking harder on this band than I am.”

Talking about Definitely Maybe as a reaction against Thatcherism and England's changing political climate is also spot on, with “Up in the Sky” perhaps being the band's most directly political song.



As Noel Gallagher once commented: 'we were on the dole at the time under Conservative rule … ['Up in the Sky' is] about establishment figures who really didn't have a clue how people were living in England at that time, and what people had done to the country. It's quite an angry song...' 
Like 'Rock n Roll Star,' 'Up in the Sky' is a song borne out of a feeling of lowliness and claustrophobia, a feeling of being trapped and desperately wanting to burst out into the open.

So while I go back and forth on agreeing with Niven's analysis (for instance, calling later Oasis lineups “session musicians,” while also enthusing over the band Ride as though Andy Bell is not a member of both? Irksome), I still respect the amount of research beyond the band itself that had to go into writing this book. Knowing the climate in which Oasis was created is as necessary as the songs when one wants to talk about the importance of the band. On that, I am with him. The lyrics themselves, like many have noted before, are populist in that they can apply to so many situations. We can sing through our sadness, our triumphs, and everything between — and change will happen whether we want it to or not.

This is my first 33 1/3 book I've read, and while I'm aware that they vary in style, I wonder if I would have such conflicting feelings about the way the series covers other albums. Perhaps I take it all too personally, as though I should be treated as some sort of indulgent Oasis expert. Perhaps I wouldn't know any better than to believe analysis of other musicians, and I'm inevitably going to be more critical of this book. It gave me a lot to think about, and the discussion and study of Oasis is one of my favorite subjects. While it's near-impossible to mute my bias when it comes to Noel Gallagher, I can instead be up front. Other readers are also not without bias, and such is the reason we all passionately defend our favorites. In essence, your mileage may vary with Definitely Maybe, but don't treat the “downfall” narrative as gospel.


Full Disclosure: Bloomsbury sent me this book for review purposes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Internal News as of 11-29-14

Greetings, patient readers. Wow, I've been awful about updating 'round these parts, and it seems like I've said that a lot this year. Perhaps that will be my resolution for 2015: Get back in the regular writing game. It's been hit and miss all year, apart from the regular P-Mag stuff. I took September off from writing things elsewhere, for the most part, so that I could get back on editing my book (which is coming along). That said, let's get to some updates:

At Persephone Magazine:

Bob Marley and The Wailers - Babylon By Bus (cover)
Record Machine:

Flesh: Poems and Photos by Tyson Habein (cover)
Book Reviews:
Miscellaneous:
Women in Clothes (cover)
At Word Riot: Notes From Elsewhere:

Besides that, I'm still working away at reading and trying to get my writing life in order. Thanks for bearing with me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Comics! Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 and The Eleventh Doctor #2


Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)
Talking about individual comics issues is somewhat difficult, for one does not want to spoil the story. However, let me continue to encourage you to look into the two new Doctor Who comics runs for both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors with this brief look.

(For a basic background, do check out my thoughts on the first issues for both Doctors here.)

The Tenth Doctor and Gabriela are still fighting a strange creature in New York that has the ability to take on the warped appearance of familiar people, and Gabriela continues to be a capable woman. The Doctor features consistently in the story now, whereas in Issue #1, he didn't appear until halfway through. Nick Abadzis explores themes of fear and expectations without hitting one over the head with a moral, and Elena Casagrande's artwork continues to be very good: 

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)
Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)


Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor has whisked Alice away on an adventure, hoping to help her feel better, but since TARDIS usually has other plans, they land on a planet taken over by a theme park. All of the workers are strangely happy, and none of the patrons are complaining. Rokhandi is supposed to be full of natural splendor, and instead the Doctor is being offered free Rokhandi floss. 

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)


Al Ewing does a wonderful job writing Alice as a smart woman who is able to remind the Doctor of his gaps in human understanding. She doesn't put up with him patronizing her conclusions, and it's interesting to see the story talk about the unpleasant emotions we all have, playing off the happy-time Rokhandi World with Alice's previously mentioned depression.

After the beauty of Alice X Zhang's covers for both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors' first two issues, I'm still somewhat let down by the artwork within the Eleventh's Doctor's story. I know that the comics are not entirely beholden to getting his face exactly right, but when you have such an iconic figure — especially compared with the job done in the Tenth Doctor's comics — I guess I just expected better. Alice and some of the scenery are drawn well, but I don't know that I have the proper comic-art vocabulary to say what specifically I'm looking for. That said, the artwork could evolve over the story arc, and it's not overly distracting in the meantime.

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #2 (Titan Comics, 2014)



I think this might be the first time I've ever read a comics run starting with the first issue, as they were released, and I find myself impatient for more. How do the rest of you regular comics readers do it?

Full Disclosure: Titan Comics provided me with advanced review copies of these comics. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Internal News as of 8-23-14


 Hello friends! Time for another massive update collecting the things I've written that have not appeared here.

First up, if you're not following me on tumblr, here's where I'm at. Prepare yourself for lots of Peter Capaldi because I don't have problems, you have problems.

ALSO! I've been named Blog Editor at Word Riot, so expect to see more over there that isn't just my Notes From Elsewhere. (There have been a few updates over there since I last did one of these roundups, so do check it out. Lots of good stuff, including the Twitter-published David Mitchell story.)

And with that, here's the Stuff I've Written at Persephone Magazine:

Record Machine



Book Reviews



ALSO! Since today is the day that we finally, finally get a new season of Doctor Who, starring my favorite Scottish boyfriend, it's only right that I wrote a post at P-Mag called "5 Fantastic Moments Since 'The Time of The Doctor.'"

(One of those 5 things is a very mild spoiler, be warned.)

I'm not going to round up every single news post I've made since the last Internal News update, but my most recent has lots of news sources for what's going on in Ferguson, MO, and also stuff on sharks, the ice bucket challenge, and my favorite Simpsons episode. Do click though.

Is that it? I think that's it, unless Quirk Books finally published that Book Arts post I sent them ages ago.... I should look into that. I am taking off September from P-Mag so I can work on both fiction and getting the WR blog looking shiny, but I do have a few book reviews I will be throwing here.

Also, with any luck, this week I'll be writing up some Record Machines that will post throughout September, so fingers crossed that I get myself ahead of the game.

Until next time, friends.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comics! Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1 and The Eleventh Doctor #1

Lately I've been dipping into the world of Doctor Who comics with both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, but today I've read the brand new releases from Titan Comics: Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1 and Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1, which are such outstanding first issues that I am already itching for the collected volume.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor #1
The Tenth Doctor's first issue takes place some time after he has left Donna, but before Waters of Mars. Interestingly, he does not appear on a significant number of pages. Nick Abadzis' story focuses on Gabriella, a college-aged New Yorker who works at her family's laundromat and Mexican restaurant, and she takes business accounting classes — all of this at her father's behest. One day, something strange happens at the laundromat, and as this is indeed Doctor Who, life becomes increasingly more strange and chaotic. When the Doctor does appear, he is armed with one of his cobbled together gadgets, and in a nice nod to his lines (and at this stage, his future) in the 50th Anniversary special, he says, “I should have made this go 'ding.' I love it when they ding.”

Elena Casagrande's artwork is leaps and bounds better than some of the other DW comics I've seen, and Gabriella, although confused, is ready to find out what exactly is going on, which is what the Doctor likes. The curious, intellectual sort are his favorites. The issue ends on an excellent cliffhanger, and I'm interested to see how it plays out.

The Eleventh Doctor, meanwhile, has recently left the Ponds to their newlywed life and is having some adventuring time to himself. First though, we meet Alice Obifune, who is having a hard time navigating through life after the death of her mother. On top of that, she's being evicted so her building can be converted into luxury flats, and cuts at work mean she's laid off.

Alice started to wonder if the grayness would ever end. If she would ever feel anything but numb and empty again. Maybe she needed to see someone.

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #1
And out of nowhere, a giant, rainbow-colored dog appears in the middle of the road with the Doctor chasing after it. The dog looks like a cross between a Chinese dragon parade costume and Falcor, the “luck dragon”/flying dog thing from The Neverending Story. As companions often are, she's sucked into the madness right away, and for the first time in a long time, she can forget how sad she is. I definitely want to see how her story progresses.

Al Ewing and Robert Williams capture the odd bleakness and surreality of depression, and although I didn't like Simon Fraser's art as much as Elena Casagrande's — for one thing, his Eleventh Doctor face doesn't look quite right sometimes — the rainbow dog looks great.

What's also great about both of these comics is that they featured women of color without congratulating themselves for doing so, something Russell T. Davies would do during his run on the show. Though I'm not a fierce Steven Moffat hater like some people are, I do find it somewhat irritating that when he has, for example, not-straight characters, they are presented in a way that's like, “Oh look, we made a joke because this is just sooooo unexpected. May we have a cookie now?”

I digress.

Both of these first issues offer an interesting, complex backstory that I hope continues to flourish. We need more of these kind of characters in comics in general, and also on Doctor Who, the show proper. Let us hope that with this new comics series and a new Doctor, a little cross-pollination is in order. We could be in for some fantastic results.



Full Disclosure: Titan Comics provided me with advanced review copies of these comics. I thank them for the gesture and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest Post: The Best(?) Songs Sung By Robots by Mason Johnson

Glorified Love Letters always approves of making playlists, so let's have us a guest post, then:



Despite having written Sad Robot Stories, I am not an expert on robots (or anything else, for that matter). Still, I'm fairly confident I could come up with a decent Side One to a robot-themed mix tape. Not the kind you give to a guy or gal in the hopes they'll sleep with you. This is more of an "I better sit in my room alone and listen to it mix tape."

It will not include the song "Mr. Roboto."


The Best(?) Songs Sung By Robots


Imogen Heap - "Hide And Seek"



To her credit, Heap is a more talented robot than most.

Her voice wasn't changed solely through the work of a computer, it was going through her keyboard which was turned into a vocoder. So at least she has to make sure to kind of hit the same notes as she both sings and plays.

I'm glad the "Hide and Seek" meme, first started by the O.C., has returned thanks to Game of Thrones.

I'm sad that my friends refused my requests to keep this song on repeat as we drove around the summer of '06. Haters gonna hate.

Lastly, it was difficult not to make every song on this list "Hide and Seek," examining it from a different angle several times, as some sort of cruel joke.

The Postal Service - "Against All Odds"



Phil Collins once wrote an amazing song called "Against All Odds" for an amazing film by the same name. It starred a young, bearded Jeff Bridges. He was so hot in it.

So hot.

Years later, a government sponsored robot made to woo 20-somethings with electro-light indie songs that can make hit movie trailers out of awful movies was unleashed by the United States Postal Service. It created an entire album, but it's worst crime was to cover "Against All Odds."

Thanks, Obama.

Kanye West - "Coldest Winter"




For 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye abandoned his signature sampling style for a drum machine and autotune. While I'm sure T-Pain would like to take the credit for this style, it's the popularity of Kanye that created an autotune apocalypse.

Anyway, the use of a drum machine in 808s makes the album sound like a cacophony of robots. Not so much in the tribal "Love Lockdown," but it's definitely apparent in (surprise surprise) "RoboCop."

Then there's "Coldest Winter," the drum machines sounding like a mix of "Love Lockdown" and "RoboCop." There's the almost TV-like static sound interspersed between a driven drum beat. At times, the song sounds like grinding gears and kids beating buckets in the subway station simultaneously. The autotune on "Coldest Winter" finds a similar balance. Clearly Kanye is singing (or trying, at least) with a tinge of pain in his voice, but the autotune is still clearly present (though not as heavy as some of the other songs). Kanye's a lot of things, but he's no singer -- and he knows this. Autotune wasn't only an attempt to hide this fact (if it ever was at all), but is a tool that sets the mood/tone of the album. It offers a needed detachment to a series of heartbreak songs from the point of view of a guy who's not exactly into sharing his feelings.

If there were a "Coldest Winter" in Sad Robot Stories, it was probably when Robot dragged himself to the middle of Lake Michigan. It wasn't technically winter (if seasons still exist, post-apocalypse), but Kanye isn't talking about literal seasons when he raps about the coldest winter or a cruel summer.

Jonathan Coulton - Portal's "Still Alive"



Still lol.

If you're one of the few who haven't played Portal, you're missing out on some of the best dark humor in the past ten years.


Weakerthans - "Virtue The Cat Explains Her Departure"





I have 69 Weakerthans songs on my computer. Coincidence?

Those of you who've read my damn book (sorry) will understand the connection between the book and this sad cat story, however tangential.

Though this song was in no way an inspiration for any part of the book, it's the only song about a cat to ever bring me to tears. For a long time I spaced out during this song on the Reunion Tour album. At some point the words hit me, I obsessed over them and the stupid cat's journey in them, and after that would always be overcome with an immense pain of loneliness. Not like I was out of breath, but like something was physically in my chest holding the breath down against its will in the pit of my stomach, refusing to let it escape.

Seems sorta embarrassing. 

Anyway, I didn't listen to the song for a long time. It was too sad. Eventually I started listening to it again, especially when I was writing something sad and needed to call up some genuine sad feelings (that weren't too sad).

I'm certain I did this while writing Sad Robot Stories. Though, again, it has no real bearing on the plot.



My mother always said that you should never end on a sad note. I disagree.


Mason Johnson is a writer from Chicago who currently works full time writing and editing articles for CBS. You can find his fiction at themasonjohnson.com. His novel, Sad Robot Stories, was published by CClaP in August 2013. Also, he pets all the cats.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Massive Internal News Update: Book Tour, Reviews, P-Mag + More

Mea culpa. What an embarrassment to go this long without updating! DECEMBER is the last time I did an Internal News roundup, and that's inexcusable! Especially since I've had a few book reviews published since the last time I did one of these "Writing That Has Appeared Elsewhere" updates. Y'all aren't really interested in excuses, I know, but I've been busy with Electric City Creative events. Also, I was one of the organizers for Great Falls Festival of the Book, and I gave a talk on independent publishing and writing online. (It went okay. I think people left with greater knowledge, which is all one can ask for.)

Also! We went on a book tour for Saif Alsaegh's poetry collection, Iraqi Headaches, which was fun AND productive. We've sold through our first print run of the book, and maybe half the special editions (I don't have the numbers in front of me). The book is now for sale at all our tour stops, and also through our local Hastings, Powell's, Amazon, and of course Nouveau Nostalgia. Saif's on his summer break from the University of Great Falls, so he's traveling around (with books, of course), and he will be part of some sort of theatre-based events in Minneapolis, in August, I think. I don't have the details yet.

{We've also still got around 20 copies of Infinite Disposable by yours truly (and with Tyson Habein's photos) hanging about, and the cover is somewhat different now. Remember, these have hand-painted covers and once the 125 we printed are gone, that's it. This like purchasing both a book and a limited edition art print.}

Alsox2, I got myself a temporary job sorting a stash of old vinyl discovered in the local community college basement. It's mostly 45s from the '50s and '60s, and 10" shellac singles from the late 1920s onto the 1950s, I think. The newest stuff in any of the boxes appears to be from the early '70s. The college library is having me assess the approximate value of each record so they can decide what to do with them. It's my kind of tedious work, especially because I can work on it whenever I want, I can wear whatever I want, and they're paying me more than fairly for my trouble. It's pretty awesome, but I'm still working on finishing up the job.

OKAY! Now then, what have I been writing lately. Let's get into it:

At Persephone Magazine:

Record Machine

Food/Booze!

Friday News Bites

BOOKS!

In February, The Rumpus published my review of Jessica Baran's poetry collection, Equivalents.
I'm also not going to link to 6 months' worth of Notes From Elsewhere posts at Word Riot, but here's the link to all of them, so you can peruse.

I don't think I'm forgetting anything, but please remind me to never let myself go this long without an update again.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 4, 2014

After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman

After I'm Gone
by Laura Lippman

The holes in our lives require energy. Everything after must be arranged around that absence, and that effort often continues the devastation. In After I'm Gone, Laura Lippman takes the disappearance of one shady businessman, Felix Brewer, and follows the repercussions on his wife, daughters, and mistress.

Facing a decade of jail time, Felix had his mistress, Julie Saxony, sneak him out of town on July 4, 1976. Ten years later, almost to the day, Julie disappears and later turns up dead. Felix's wife, Bambi, is periodically questioned for both cases, but decades later, both are unsolved. His three daughters — Linda, Rachel, and Michelle — have dealt with losing their father in varying ways, but only Linda and Rachel remember what it was like to have Felix around.

[E]ven as Linda was abandoning herself in the moment, she was also giving in to the pragmatic person she was meant to be. She would have to take care of both of them, she thought, circling her legs around his waist. She had to take care of everyone. That was okay; she was used to it. She remembered walking up the front walk, after the fireworks at the club. Her mother knew before they crossed the threshold How had she known? […] “Will we ever see him again?” Rachel had asked. Linda knew they would not.

We are also introduced to Sandy Sanchez, a Cuban-American former police officer now doing cold case consulting for the department. His own life is built up around absences, and after being reminded of the Felix Brewer and Julie Saxony cases, he feels compelled to work on them again. It's 2012, and memories are fuzzy — sometimes willfully — but he senses that something is the file that will finally solve these disappearances.

The books jumps around time periods and points-of-view, with large sections titled after lyrics to “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” Felix and Bambi also meet at a dance where The Orioles play, a real life R&B group based out of Baltimore, where After I'm Gone is set. In 1952, they had a hit called “Baby Please Don't Go.”

I'm not well-versed in modern crime fiction, but the book is different enough from that “one last case before retirement” trope to keep it interesting. However, I'm still not sure After I'm Gone was the book for me.

It's a bit of a slow-burn, this novel. Not until the last third of the book did it pick up the pace and have me trying to anticipate the ending. Prior to that, it's not as though I didn't care, but I wasn't very invested either. Some of this, I suspect, was having to juggle the different characters and time settings. Because of some health issues, I have trouble with that type of writing sometimes, and while this comprehension problem annoys me to no end, I want to emphasize that this will not likely be the case with most readers. My concentration-fogging issues are irritating for me, in no small part because they alter my perspective so.

And isn't that its own kind of absence? I remember what it was like to read in-depth and to read challenging work without much strain — and to recall details easily! And while I use review writing to exercise that part of my brain, I don't yet know if I'll feel any closure on the matter. For now, I must work around the brain fog, and maybe one day, I'll accept it.

Of course, having trouble with certain novels is not the same as mysteriously losing a father or a partner. After I'm Gone does well with sifting through all that simmering anger, jealousy, sadness and other damages. Every person is fighting to live well and never quite gets there. Perhaps the length of the book and its initially slow pace speak to that struggle. After decades, resolution seems like it might never come.

The more honest you were with yourself, the less you had to worry about the world's opinion. […] Tell the truth whenever possible, and start with yourself.

So while this wasn't one of my favorites that I've read lately, After I'm Gone is still enjoyable. Take stock in what you need in a story, and perhaps you will feel differently. The sum of our experiences influences all.


Full Disclosure: William Morrow provided an advanced review copy, so my pull quotes may differ slightly from the finished edition. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair with my reviews.

This review is part of Cannonball Read (now in its 6th year!), a challenge in which participants read and review books in the name of raising money for cancer charities. Do click through for more information.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Giveaway! Win the new paperback version of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma very nearly made it into my Top 5 Books from 2013, but its Honorable Mention status makes it no less significant. To celebrate the book's paperback release today (and that lovely new cover), Penguin Books has very kindly offered me 1 copy of the book for a giveaway.

If you didn't catch my review the first time, here's an excerpt:

"The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards exists within the lies we tell ourselves and the lies others choose to believe. In this stunning first novel, Kristopher Jansma has accomplished a narrative feat by making the reader embrace bewilderment and questions of identity.

To properly summarize Leopards is to run the risk of spoiling its magic, but our young male narrator has yearned for notoriety ever since his flight attendant mother would leave him waiting in the concourse while she worked, depending upon other airport employees to watch him. The boy would write and write, desiring great words that would impress those around him. By impressing them, he wishes to earn their love.

We think we know his name, and then we are not sure. The process continues, and the boy ages — "growing up" is not entirely the correct term, for he still has not quite figured out who he is, or if the love he feels for a special woman is a love for her or just love for love's sake."

Read the rest here.

If you would like to be entered to win The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, leave a comment telling me: What's one "grown-up" thing you have yet to master? Make sure I have some way to contact you (email, Twitter), too.

Mine is definitely cleaning the bathroom. The mister does it because I think it's icky and I don't wanna. So there. Etc.

One entry per person. Winner will be chosen via random number generator on the evening of February 27th.