Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Infinite Disposable: Words by Sara Habein, Photos by Tyson Habein

Happy Leap Year Day!

Yes, today is the day that Tyson's and my book, Infinite Disposable is officially available for order.

Infinite Disposable is a collection of my flash fiction paired with surreal black and white film photography from Tyson Habein. Its otherworldly stories shift through loss, loneliness, and the passage of time. Each cover is handmade, and the print run is limited to 125 books. If you’re on Goodreads, be sure to add Infinite Disposable to your online shelves.

If you are a Great Falls, Montana resident, do try to join us tonight at Machinery Row for our release party. (More details can be found here.)

But for everyone else, head on over to Nouveau Nostalgia to order the book. The book costs $9, but shipping costs vary depending on your home country.

In other news: I interviewed writer/ghostwriter Sari Botton over at Persephone Magazine last week. Do check it out.

Thanks again for all your support.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Internal News as of 2-28-12 / Infinite Disposable Release Party

First things first, if you live in the Great Falls area, please come to the Infinite Disposable book release party. The mister, Tyson Habein, and I will sign your book and love you - dare I say, infinitely? *cough*

This image is not the cover, but an image taken from the book. An image of the handmade cover will be up later this week. For those of you not in Great Falls, you will be able to order the book online through Nouveau Nostalgia. $9 + shipping. A steal! It's also now on Goodreads, so if you use that site, feel free to add it to your to-read list.

In Other News:

Over at Persephone Magazine, I've posted the following things:

-My review of Indie Publishing, which also appeared here. SAY, you'd think that'd be professionally relevant to me or something.

-Get in My Belly: Serbian Ground Beef and Potatoes. This is one of my favorite things to make. It's also a good excuse to open a bottle of red wine. Not that you need an excuse.

-Ladyblogs You Should Be Reading: Roxane Gay. Roxane and I talk about movies, including the fine art of face acting. My favorite face actor is John Barrowman, by the way.

-My review of Simon Van Booy's Everything Beautiful Began After, which also appeared here last year, and I have been insisting that you read it ever since. Have you read it yet?

What else? I have more stuff coming up in a few different places in the coming weeks, so I will keep you in the loop. There's a whole bunch more of you reading lately, so thanks! It's nice to know I'm not talking into the ether.

I have a stack of books that I've read that I still need to review, plus another issue of Electric City Creative to put out. Until next time...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov by Paul Russell

The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov
by Paul Russell


I keep saying that I am woefully under-read when it comes to classic literature, but little by little, I close the gaps. 2 years ago, I finally inched into Russian-authored lit and read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I enjoyed it – as much as one can enjoy a novel with that subject matter – but I have yet to read any of his others, nor do I know a lot about the man, apart from how he was hopelessly enamored with his wife, Vera. So when I read the description of this book, I was intrigued – how does the younger, gay brother of a literary icon conduct his life? How dark is that shadow? The minutiae, the great secrets, and of course, loves of a person's life are endlessly interesting to me, so I hoped that The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov would scratch that itch. Because only limited details of Sergey's life are documented, Paul Russell chose to write a novel instead of a straight up biography. The result is a beautiful, lonely story about a man who has a lifelong struggle with happiness.

Bouncing back and forth between 1943 Berlin and the start of Sergey's life and onwards, Sergey talks to the reader knowing his days are numbered. He has just spoken approvingly of England while inside a Third Reich office, and he knows that men have been killed for far lesser infractions. His comment – “England is the most civilized country in the world.” – came without thinking it through, based on his own past there, and now, “The civilized lads of the RAF will not have devastated this city so fully that the Gestapo cannot find their way to me.”

So he begins to write, starting with his birth in St. Petersburg, Russia, March 12, 1900. He was only eleven months younger than his brother Vladimir.

As for my undoting parents, they were disappointed, as I was later told by my needlessly honest grandmother Nabokova, to find their second offspring such a pallid reprise of their first. I was an uncommonly listless child: nearsighted, clumsy, inveterately left-handed despite attempts to “cure” me, and cursed with a stutter that only grew worse as I matured.

His father was widely known and respected as a criminal lawyer, newspaper editor and political activist. His mother came from money, and the family lived on a great estate, but as the Russian revolution intensified, their lives became more unstable. Though the children tried to carry on with school, eventually, it was no longer safe for them to stay in St. Petersburg. Their father, staying behind to work, sent the family to Crimea. From there, they left for Greece, and then London, as the situation grew increasingly grim. Both Sergey and Vladimir attended Cambridge and tried, each in their own way, to adjust.

The brothers were never close. Vladimir remained confident, a romantic when it came to both art and women, yet always more serious about his writing than whoever he dated. He was embarrassed by his brother's more effeminate qualities, as well as his stutter, and though Sergey admired his brother, they drifted apart. Though he knew from a young age that he was attracted to men, he struggled with how to live with it, as non-straight orientations were commonly still thought of as a mental disease. Left-handedness was not the only thing people thought could be “cured” (an idea that regrettably still exists within a certain modern minority, but I digress).

Eventually, Sergey finds himself living in Paris. He exists on the fringe of the Ballet Russes, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas' famous salon, and among the rotating cast of true characters involved with Jean Cocteau. He and Cocteau develop a fast friendship, partially fueled by opium addiction. Cocteau has some of the best lines in the book:

“What people don't understand is this: art's only half intoxication; the rest is paperwork. Only a fine line separates the artist from the accountant – but as in drawing, the placement of that line is everything.”

Paul Russell is a lovely, immersive writer, and while the story was such that made me carry on reading at an anticipatory clip, occasionally I would stop and marvel at the skill of his sentences. Now, I don't know enough about Vladimir Nabokov's writing to know if Russell's style pays homage at all, but he is subtle about the way he presents everything. The over-the-top characters like Cocteau or the ballet enthusiasts feel natural – By that, I mean that at no point does the writing sound like, “Look at me! Look at me writing these characters oh-so-dramatically!” And given the unassuming, shy nature of Sergey, it makes sense that his narration would be that way as well. He reports what happens and how he felt, but he is not about to call any extra attention upon himself. To be paid attention means scrutiny, and scrutiny leads to judgment, and the times he has been judged, the results are rarely in his favor. Still, Sergey has an incredible mind attuned to beauty, and Russell's fictionalized version of him makes me wonder what writing this “other” Nabokov could have accomplished, had he lived longer and been encouraged to explore it.

I walk the night, momentarily free from fear, ravished by this ruined city's ghastly beauty as snow settles everywhere, softening the blackened debris, obscuring the mortal wounds, and suddenly I am remembering, helplessly, a late spring afternoon high in the mountains, somewhere along the flanks of the Grossvenediger, where Hermann Thieme and I are surprised in our sunny ramble by a glittering snow squall blown in from nowhere, and Hermann in a transport of sheer joy lifts his arms into the air to welcome this whim of Nature, and as he does so his shirt rides up, exposing to view an expanse of smooth stomach, and impulsively, gratefully, in pure tribute I kneel before him and kiss him there on his taut belly, grazing my lips along smooth skin, savoring that narrow furry trail that leads southward from his elegant little navel, and there has never, I think, been a more perfect moment in the history of the world.

What a sentence! “An expanse of smooth stomach,” “savoring that narrow furry trail” – I love those phrases. All of it is great, and a feat of writing to make a sentence that long not feel too heavy. Sergey has a particular way of describing other people that I really enjoyed. Talking about one of the dancers he meets, he says, “There was a bored patience in his gaze that reminded me of a sleek racehorse that submits patiently to being petted.” Now, I know that I'm partial to the humor I find in the word “petted,” but I know just the expression this man must have had. It's a great way of putting it.

There's a lot of great stuff in this book, and it certainly made me want to know more about the man, the time in which he lived, and more about his famous brother's books. The way creativity runs in families is interesting, the same way less common traits like left-handedness or not-straightness might manifest. Or the ability to curl one's tongue, or some other quirk. Given the time in which Sergey dies, genetics and the uncontrollable hold extra poignancy. I keep running into WWII-era books lately, and I wonder if we've all got the dangers of power on the brain. What happens when the powerless are ignored? How have we grown? Personal is political, after all, and I hope that, in a roundabout way, books like this remind us not only of sacrifice, but of the unsung, quiet intermediaries passing through life. Progress only happens when we pay attention.


Full Disclosure: Cleis Press sent me this book. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews. It was also an advanced reader copy, so the quoted excerpts could have changed slightly in the final edition.

#7/26+

This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Indie Publishing: How To Design and Produce Your Own Book edited by Ellen Lupton

Indie Publishing: How To Design and Produce Your Own Book
edited by Ellen Lupton


I'm one of those people who enjoy office supply stores, the sort who saves little scraps of paper and cards with interesting drawings/photos, and also the type to wish I had more crafty skillz than I actually do. I have a weakness for oddball notebooks, journals, and excellent pens. I write a lot — fiction, memoir, reviews like you see here — and I think it's helpful to know of different ways that one can get their work out there, preferably presented in fantastic way. Because the mister and I have our own micro-micropress (as in, tiny), Nouveau Nostalgia, where we produce arty, limited edition books with handmade elements, I bought Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book for inspiration. It provides a lot of construction basics, as well as specific tips for layout and promotion.

My first introduction into bookmaking was in fifth grade, when our teacher had us writing a fairy tale. The basic outline of the story was already provided, but we filled in everything else, drew illustrations, and at the end, we bound our stories into our own handmade hardcover books. I still have mine in a storage box somewhere. It involved a lot of Elmer's Glue mess and everyone had the same white material for a cover, but I remember it being a lot of fun. In high school, I learned more about page layout and copy editing from participating in yearbook — Yes, we were one of those mostly-crazy staffs that traveled, won awards, and generally took ourselves so seriously, all while ripping off designs from Entertainment Weekly. But it, too, was so much fun, and it provided a great foundation for the writing and layout work I do today.
Be warned: publishing a book, like starting a band or building a blog, is an unlikely way to get rich quick or get famous fast. Publishing is a painstaking, labor intensive craft. Do it because you care about what you have to say, because you have people you want to say it to, and because you take pleasure in making things happen.
Word. If you get into art for the money, you're not only in it for the wrong reasons, you're bound to end up disappointed. The main reason why we started Nouveau Nostalgia was to have an outlet for our smaller projects, while also providing a place where, in the future, others could come to us with their own little books they wanted to nudge into the world. We liked the idea of stretching our brains to include the physical object, not just an onscreen page layout, a photograph, or a simple document.

What I liked about Indie Publishing is that it provides tips on both the smaller, handmade books, as well as larger ventures that are complete with ISBN numbers and distribution plans. It doesn't make any judgments about what is the "right" way to go about publishing, since every project has different needs. They outline what one needs to put on a copyright page, give sources for more information, and also provide examples of press releases and ways to promote online sales. If you're going to release something, after all, people need to know how to get it.

For the most part, the book concentrates on design — everything from page margins, to fonts, covers, end papers, white space and binding options — with ideas for fiction, poetry, zines, exhibition catalogs, picture books and more. I loved seeing both handwritten+xeroxed examples mixed with letterpress and expert graphic design. Indie Publishing itself is designed well, in a way that will make you want to seek out the work they highlight.

There's even an InDesign crash course, which is helpful if you've still been clunking along with Pagemaker for far longer than is sane. If a person is 100% completely brand new to design programs, this book might not help as much as you'd like, but it will probably make the program seem less daunting. Really, there are a lot of buttons and doodads (total tech term, by the way), but once you get the hang of the basics, inspiration and tenacity will carry you the rest of the way. Then again, I get some sort of odd joy out of tinkering with design. Your results may vary.

Another reason I enjoy this book is that I hope it helps increase the desire for books as pleasurable objects — the same way we covet other art, fashion, or whatever our physical "thing" is. Perhaps you've heard friends say, "Oh, I'm a sucker for good packaging," when, for example, they buy the shampoo with the interesting bottle. For me, while I do not begrudge the existence of ebooks, I like the printed version so much better. They seem so much more permanent than something that can be lost in the networked cloud. Indie Publishing gets into the basics of using both printer services, as well as instructions for handmade options.
Handmade books are great for small editions designed for limited distribution. A handcrafted book makes a terrific portfolio for an artist or designer, showing off production skills while creating an elegant showcase for the work inside. Artists' books and short-run editions of poetry can be beautifully and efficiently made by hand. Writers often collaborate with printers, designers, and book artists to make elegant literary editions.

The final 20 pages of the book are dedicated to "Indie Inspiration" where they show specific independently printed publications and the stories behind them. I almost wished there were more. Well, I wished there was more of everything in the book, really. At 175 pages, you're only going to get a basic start, but it's a good start. I've also been following  Fuck Yeah, Book Arts! for more ideas, as well as sites like grain edit and Unconsumption, which occasionally feature book design. I'm sure Pinterest is useful, though I have yet to dive into that rabbit hole. Publisher and book store blogs are decent sources as well. Inspiration is everywhere, after all. We just have to pay attention.

What have you handmade lately?

#6/26+

This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012. This review originally appeared on Persephone Magazine.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Raylan by Elmore Leonard

Raylan
by Elmore Leonard


I've never seen the show Justified, nor have I read any of Elmore Leonard's books, but given the collective lusting over the TV show, I decided to take a look when offered a review copy of Leonard's Raylan. This being the third book featuring US Marshall Raylan Givens, they even put Timothy Olyphant's pretty, pretty face on the cover. No, crime novels aren't my usual bag, but why not take a chance? Surely, there is some reason for all this fuss.

-Sigh-

People, is it Olyphant? Are the TV writers better? I genuinely want to know because Raylan was … not good. Really, extremely not good. As in, I found it a chore to give it the first third of the book to win me over (in this case, about 95 pages). The entire time, I kept unconsciously making faces that had my husband laughing and saying things like, "Well, now I almost want to read it because you're hating it so much."

I think it's only fair to give books a chance, since some are slow-burners that don't seem like anything special until about, yes, one-third of the way through, and then, bam — you're in it. Very, very rarely do I not make it to that "honest try" cut-off. And to be honest, I don't often abandon books. (I made it through this one, didn't I?) This will only be the second time in over a year that I've put a book down without finishing. Most of the time, I'm at least curious to see how it all shakes out, even if it's not that great of a book.

The basic premise of Raylan is that someone is stealing people's kidney's and selling them back to the person for a high price. The surgery appears professionally done, and Raylan Givens decides to investigate. Along the way, he talks to a lot of backwoods Kentucky assholes and drug dealers, and the dialogue is just … Well, it's stupid. It thinks it's clever, but it's this:

"Who you think he's talking to?"

"The brothers," Rachel said "I don't mean the brothers, I mean Coover and Dickie."

They sat in the car waiting. Finally Cuba got out of the Cadillac and came toward them, taking his time.

"Got the stroll down," Rachel said.

"Can feel he's a dude." Raylan said.

"I might go for some of that," Rachel said, "he didn't boost cars."

Can feel he's a dude? Really? And oh sure, because he's black, we gotta make a 'brothers' joke. Gee, when we just came off the lovely phrase "Sorta Rican," just pages before. And the term "Taco Mafia." Aren't you all such a clever bunch? Christ.

I may have said aloud more than once while reading, "Oh shut the fuck up!" There are all sorts of non-sequiturs and asides that seem to have no purpose, and if the characters aren't idiots, then they're boring. Yes, in those 95 pages, Raylan Givens is boring. I did not give a shit how many times he's killed a man, or why he thinks it's okay to offer semi-creepy advice to 14 year-old girls, or where he thinks the best ribs in Memphis are.

And the plot? Come on. We know Raylan's headed for an icy bath of his own because the book jacket says so. I know that crime novels are supposed to be puzzles that we want to work out, but again, if I'm not made to care, why stick around? From the other reviews I've seen, apparently this book is a three-act with two other stories being involved later, separate from the kidneys, but nothing made me want to find out what they were. Where I left off, our villains — whom we've known the entire time — have just drugged Raylan and are about to get him into the tub.

And of course everything will turn out all right in the end because there's a TV show that isn't canceled yet. The show has to be an improvement. It has to be. Smart people watch the show that I cannot picture enjoying this book. If anything, this book screams, Phone it in and cash the check.

What I want to know is — Who are these blurb writers? Who honestly believes this is work from "the best suspense writer in America" and that his work is "pure pleasure?" Who are these people and are they referring to other books? Are they respectfully indulgent because they've enjoyed his previous work? The man's written 40 books — some of them must be decent, right? I'm trying to be fair here, without just groaning, "It suuuuuuuucks," then leaving it at that.

The only way I could possibly recommend this book is if you have some masochistic desire to compare it to Justified. All I can say is that, with a to-read stack of over 25 books, the hour and a half I wasted on this book was entirely too much time. Onward!


Full Disclosure: William Morrow (HarperCollins) sent me this book, and I thank them for the gesture, and I really, honestly tried to be fair with this review.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins

Echolocation
by Myfanwy Collins


In matters of personal damage, we all react in different ways. Some choose to run away and ignore their shortcomings, some simply make do, others wallow in them, and others make the decision to live within these new parameters and find ways to excel. We are all capable of bouncing around these different reactions like we do in the throes of grief, for personal crisis is a kind of grief, never quite knowing where we might land. Myfanwy Collins' Echolocation explores this process within the women of one family, and the result is thought-provoking, at times disturbing, and completely wonderful.

Right away, we are tossed into the chaos of these women's lives as Geneva loses an arm, cutting down trees to sell as firewood. Her husband is unemployed again and they need the money.

But she felt off that morning, a blue shakiness she couldn't otherwise explain. It didn't have anything to do with the fact that Clint hadn't come home the night before or that their electric bill was overdue. It was something else, something blurry around the edges. When she looked back on this day later, all she would think was, "I should have known."

Before long, Geneva is running her Auntie Marie's store in upstate New York, nestled near the US-Canadian border, grieving the incoming cancer-death of the woman who stood in for her mother. Marie never had children of her own, but took in Geneva as a foster child, then later adopted her. Marie practically raised her own sister, Renee, who later gave birth to Cheri. After Cheri was no longer a baby, Renee took off with her latest boyfriend, believing her child would better off. Cheri and Geneva grew up as sisters, albeit sisters with complications.

It had been almost four years since Cheri was last home. Four years since Geneva married Clint, and since Cheri said, "He's a pig." Those were the words she'd used and after that there was not much else to say, especially since Geneva would hear none of it. Geneva's disregard proved fortuitous, though, for it gave Cheri the nudge she needed, and in some ways had always hoped for. Once she was done standing up on the altar next to Geneva and Clint as they said their vows, she'd left town, eighteen years old then and on her own. She didn't even flinch when Auntie Marie first called and told her of her illness. Not until Geneva herself called and said, "Come home now. It's time," did she flinch.

[…]
But what tugged at her was that, maybe a visit to the safety and simplicity of home would erase some of the crap that was her life and bring her back to an understanding of the person she was and what she wanted.

Though primarily focused on Geneva and Cheri, Collins hops through all the characters' heads, including Cheri's mother, Renee. Renee has settled in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she waitresses at a popular biker bar and lives with her supposedly-recovering addict boyfriend, Rick. She likes feeling needed and physically appreciated — the type who says things like, "He hardly ever beats me." She's sweet, though not particularly bright. One afternoon at the bar, Rick turns up with a surprise — one I won't spoil here — that causes Renee to leave Florida and head back to New England. She doesn't yet know that her Auntie Marie is dead.

I will admit that the first fifty or so pages of the book were tough for me to read, not because of their quality, but because of the depressing subject matter. Lost limbs, neglectful mothers, discussions on whether or not they should shoot the feral cats living out back — all of it is heavy, especially when I read it at a time of my own dubious mental clarity. However, that should not dissuade anyone, as those are my problems and not the book's. I wanted to keep reading; I cared about these women despite the urge to look away from the reminder that people like this do exist in the world. Everything in this slim book serves a purpose, even the scene regarding the cats, and that purpose sneaks up at the end in such a way that I have to admire Collins' skills. The details are at once circular, woven, and carved like puzzle-pieces, everything straddling the line between inevitability and choice.

The writing has a very serene quality to it, even when terrible things are happening. The chilly, Northern scenery is nearly its own character, with the pine scent in the air to the absence of power on stormy nights. I can see it — though it is perhaps colored with my Montana-version of Canadian border wilderness. Inside the store and Marie's home have other personal-yet-personally-familiar details, with memories of past holidays and the proper way to cut a sandwich. These women may feel incredibly screwed up most of the time, but they have their own way of forging on.

Echolocation is a perfect little book about reality hitting hard. It's about necessary roughness and begrudging tenderness, and it swallows one up while reading. I certainly look forward to experiencing more of Myfanwy Collins' work.


Full disclosure: This was an uncorrected proof sent to me by Engine Books prior to the publication of the book, so the direct quotes may have changed slightly in the final edition. I thank them for gesture and will continue to be fair with my reviews.

#5/26+

This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read IV, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year. Though I'm taking things easier this year, I expect to surpass the 'Half Cannonball' distinction by the end of 2012.

Internal News: Other Places to Find Me

You may have noticed that I've been doing some writing for Persephone Magazine, and I will continue to have things there, likely on a weekly basis. Sometimes it will be book reviews, sometimes it will be other things, but here's what's popped up over there so far:

- My review of The Moment edited by Larry Smith

- "Get in My Belly: Curried Vegetable and Chickpea Stew" -- Seriously, this stuff is delicious.

- My review of How To Be Sick by Toni Bernhard, and my story of chronic fatigue syndrome. Some good discussion in the comments there.

There's a lot of good stuff over at that site, so do check it out, and I'll post roundups of my own content as they happen. Thanks for reading.