Reviews

Inspired by peeps like Zac and Crow and Miss U to write through my feelings with books. I can barely write myself. So these are uneducated takes. Just doing this for fun.

JANUARY 2023

The Sex Lives of Cannibals – J. Maarten Troost

Grabbed for a quarter from Library’s used shelf. Friend-recommended, which usually means I’ll hate it. 50 pages too long, and slow to start, but I ended up liking quite a bit. Troost’s a funny motherfucker. Punchlines land like a Sedaris or Woody Allen. Plus, you learn a little bit about a place and people you’ve probably never heard of.

Spore – Stuart Buck

Third book of Stu’s I’ve read. (Full disclosure, Stuart’s publishing my book, and his journal, Bear Creek Gazette, is kind to my writing.) A book whose chapters work like lined dominoes. It’s impossible to stop. Considered calling a bomb threat to work so I could get back to it. Dark, horny, and unfolds in intoxicating ways. Loved the characters. The setting. All of it. Without giving away the end, there’s a massive shift. For me, it upended the momentum. Whilst badass, left me wanting more. Not to say this is good or bad. An observation. Stuart leveled-up, I can’t fucking wait for more.

Mere Malarkey – Alan Good

Second by Alan and, oh yea, baby, I’ll read more. Dirty, sloppy collection, compared to most “collections,” which I enjoyed. Some polished essays, others read like journal entries or tweets, some straight up are tweets, along with book reviews shaken into the mix. Affect was a laid-back reading experience. But, subjects are anything but relaxed. As in all Alan’s work, humor and pathos are written into every opportunity. Love this dude’s shit, respect his self-publishing approach. He’s one of the Good ones. Pretty weird, though. He and I share a birthday. And, this cover has a picture of Alan very young on playground equipment and “SHIT” is carved into it, and, well, just look at the picture on my homepage…(Alan and I swapped books back in 2022. I’ve read two of his full-length collections since. But, he’s yet to finish my poetry book, even though it’d take half an hour. I know it’s because he’s exceptionally busy and doesn’t like poetry, but choose to believe, instead, it’s because he can’t read.)

Heck, Texas – Tex Gresham

Tex is a strange sumbitch. Liked the hell out of Heck. Gem of arrangement and glaring example of how free the form is. The words, “not a novel,” are on the front cover. And once your mind adjusts to Tex’s approach, you realize it might be one of the most novel novels you’ve ever read. Broods with anger inherent in Death Metal of the American Midwest. All the trappings of a cult classic without being annoying about it. Stoked to read more Gresham.

Until the Red Swallows It All – Mason Parker

Bought directly off Mason based on liking stories online. He also bought my book, which means a helluva lot. And we share Oklahoma as a birthplace and he lives in Missoula where I’ve lived before. Honestly didn’t even know what this book was. Novel? Short stories? Surprised to start reading and realize it was non-fiction. In the vein of outdoorsy, nature writing. Shit I read, personally, but rarely does it enter into my Twitter feed. After warbling a bit, was hooked and like, blown way. It was good. Seriously. Also mostly took place in Oklahoma. Pretty sure no nature writer in history has written about Oklahoma. Cool. Liked it so much I asked Mason to be the first guest on my podcast. One aspect I couldn’t get behind was the collection kept bringing up eco-issues, re climate change, fracking, etc. Still parsing out why I wasn’t into it? I *think* it’s because those topics are so inherently embedded in outdoor writing these days that to mention them is cringy. Highly recommend.

A Prayer for the Dying – Stewart O’nan

Found this for a buck at the thrift store and grabbed because I saw O’nan’s, Last Night at the Lobster, showing up in a lot of feeds, including folks like Aaron Burch. It’s about a pandemic in like the 1500’s or some shit. Nothing about the writing was interesting. Didn’t finish.

The Book of Rusty – Benjamin Drevlow

Got sent free from Benjamin cause he was looking for people willing to review or otherwise talk up the pub. Recently got my head blown off by a non-fiction piece of his, so I jumped. Couldn’t get into the flow, for some reason. A Sherman Alexie-esque approach, where the protagonist’s down on their luck and the world continually takes a big fucking shit on their head. Very realistic read. Like Alexie, presents the text as if filtered through a teenager. While Alexie’s execution generates intimacy in the way adopt-a-dying-pet commercials do, found myself turned off by attempts in The Book of Rusty. Would’ve definitely finished if it’d been a shorter read, but couldn’t muster it with nearly-400 pages. Will try again with Drevlow.

Our Blood in its Blind Circuit – J David Osborne

Second by Osborne. Another Okie. I loved the first book of his I read. Obviously, very giving of his time when it comes to literature and the community. So, saw this cheap-cheap on Kindle and went for it. Short story collection that’s all over the place. 40% part-crime fiction, part-fantasy/horror? Found myself drawn to the other 60%. Felt Osborne was dropping acid and wrote in one long weekend, or something. Sometimes would lean heavy into the fantasy aspects to get to the end of a story. Others, simply finished the story by writing down a couple possible outcomes and calling it a day. Three Theories on the Murder of John Wily, was one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Cash on the Side, was super fun and well-written. Killer lines in here, even in the less interesting stories. The outcome would’ve been better had he taken the crime-pieces and turned them into a novella and spent more time tidying the rest.  

Motel Chronicles – Sam Shepard

Cavin Gonzalez once told me I reminded him of Bram Riddlebarger. Bram told me I reminded him of Shepard. Wish Sam was alive so I could get him to tell me who I reminded him of. Holy shit, this book’s good. Wanna read everything by him. (I don’t think I’m even close to as talented as any of the people mentioned in this review.)

Goon Dog – Jon Berger

Read it.

Watershed – Tyler Dillow

Read if you need to remember why you love poetry. Dustbowl poems. About eating and heartache. Grandparent poems. People with impossibly deep wrinkles. Walking around in the black and white of old films. The words not rising off a page, but lifting from a continuous spiral groove of an aluminum disc covered in lacquer. Someone found in a room which never existed.

Earthlings – Sayaka Murata

Second by Murata. Like she had a knob labeled “WEIRD” and kept cranking it and cranking it the further you read. Totally nuts.

The Passenger – Cormac McCarthy

Some Cormac doesn’t land, and this was one of them. Read 50 pages and couldn’t find a groove.

The Anthropology of Turquoise – Ellen Meloy

Loved her book, Eating Stone. But, vacation to the Caribbean in the same baroque language she used to convey her love of sheep, just seemed masturbatory.

NOVEMBER 2022

Not Everyone Is Special — Josh Denslow

Wanted to read for a minute because I’m consistently impressed by Josh’s writing. Fanboy since finding him on Twitter. Not sure if he stole from someone, but making “soundtracks” to stories sold me. Once he tweeted about sharing playlists. Or, maybe I made that part up, but, inspired, decided to make one. We’ve been swapping music/generally getting to know each other through DMs/email ever since. He’s a stand-up dude. With a heart I’d trust a baby with. That aside, his book blew my mind. Stories with no discernable thread or “interconnectedness,” as they say. In fact, each story is so wildly different from the last as to seem penned by another author. Is Josh actually twenty writers like that bloke that wrote The Bible? Enjoyed when he combines elements of the supernatural with depression. Like you can trust him, but, like, know he won’t hurt you. It was almost like I was talking, telling Josh why he’s one of the best living writers, but it was his words I was reading: “I know they aren’t like real life…But the emotions are real. Their wants are real.”

House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest — Craig Childs

Snagged Childs’s Animal Dialogues working in Zion in 2017. Didn’t amaze me, but the chapter about an encounter with a mountain lion did. Think about it sometimes if I wanna shit my pants. He’s got a Golden Child of Public Lands thing going, cause—five years later I’m back in the Southwest and Department of Interior bookshelves are still bending under his words. Decided to give Finders Keepers a go. Not bad. Then, thought, Should I read another? What the hell, they’re free! This one’s a helluva page-turner. If you’re into advanced ancient civilizations or gritty adventure, House of Rain will kick your dick off.

Floating Notes — Babak Lakghomi

Wanted to check more Tyrant Books. Leafing, this was Kindle’s cheapest. Hits like for some unknown reason I imagine French foreign films—boring, but with beautiful scenes. A dreamy, disorienting style that made it impossible to pin traits to characters. I’d read and reread names, but had no idea who he was talking about. What was going on. The most visceral character was the policeman. Because, I could picture/remember him. Does have musical/poetic lines, but would not have finished had it not been for the length.

Hot Naked Kittens: Stories by Delicious Tacos — Delicious Tacos

Didn’t know anything about Delicious Tacos. But, skimming Amazon, enjoyed their book titles. Had real MAGA, grab-em-by-the-pussy energy. Find a crowd of New Jerseans in white sneakers and unironically popped collars. They might be reading Delicious Tacos. Less than 60 pages, but, on multiple occasions I nearly put it down. Good writing, but only two stories had anything resembling feelings. The last story compared a girl he hung out with before she died to a pocket pussy. It was great. But, others didn’t have such a great premise. Overall? Meh.

The Lesson — Jesse Ball

Enjoyed the hell outta The Way Through Doors earlier this year and was itching for more Ball. In this one a widow giving chess lessons to a 5-year-old convinces herself her dead husband’s inside the child/trying to communicate something through him. Something like that. First half, is his visits for lessons and other boring stuff. Then a tempo change. Like, Ball was as bored with his story as I was. And was like, Fuck it, BLAM! Got way more interesting but gave up trying to make the story head anywhere or make any sense. Which, come to think of it, were two things I loved about The Way Through Doors. With Ball, the less-conventional, the better.

Speedboat — Renata Adler

Guessing, if you’re reading my shit reviews, you know Mike Nagel loves this book/author. And I love Mike Nagel. So, I picked it up. Excited by the modern compression in this 50 year old book. Would picture an animated me, micro-dosing serotonin every time one of her off-kilter observations landed. But, ultimately had a crushing-boredom-with-life that books written by well-off people seem to have. People, who likely never had a job till college. People, who play board games with their family. Couldn’t finish.

Watertown — Dan Eastman

I lived in Watertown growing up. Cept, it was spelled A-D-A. Oh, and it was in Oklahoma. My point is, you grew up there too. We all do. Growing up there is having a rusty chain with a big weight at the end clamped to your ankle. If you stand still, your whole life, you’re fine. Can get a mundane job and fuck a relatively attractive guy or gal, if you want. Have a whole shitload of kids. Or, just a couple dogs. Whatever. If you ran though, even thought about running, becoming free, heading West or East or South, the ankle would swell. Get an oozing sore. Other dickholes from Watertown would say, “Why do you want to leave, I like it here.” Dan, in his book, Watertown, shows you sad and relatable stories about the weight. But, the real strength of the book—of Dan—is, he’s shielding the world with his hand, and he’s lookin right at you, winking. This is what the wink means: without that weight, I’d have ended up like them.

Canyons and Ice: The Wilderness Travels of Dick Griffith — Kaylene Johnson

Dick Griffith’s epic. Nothing special about Johnson’s writing. If anything, it’s understated, considering the topic. The interspersed journal entries made me wish Dick had written it. But, happy that this exists. Descriptions of Alaskan backcountry were almost too much. Had to stop reading a number of times so the nostalgia didn’t take me away.

Venice — T.J. Larkey

Think this is the sixth book by Back Patio Press I’ve read. Officially saying it, my favorite press. (Any other press reading is welcome to send free books if they feel like sparring.) Read chapters of Venice in various journals prior to its publication. But, was unprepared for the degree Larkey was going to dropkick my ass. A debut that’ll truly makes you depressed to be the shitty writer you are. With people out there like T.J., doing their thing, why try? Highly recommend.

OCTOBER 2022

The Warren — Brian Evenson

Evenson fucks. Stumbled on Contagion in an Anchorage Value Village in 2018. Wasn’t sure what I’d read, but knew I wasn’t the same as when I started. If you’re a fan, you know. His characters have names like Grondel or Yrr and you have no idea what’s going on, what’s about to go on, or who the “good guy” is. If someone’s saying/doing something, you’re not sure if they’re even alive, or just trying to convince you they are. No one’s trustworthy, or your friend. Even if nothing in the story is “scary,” you’re afraid. This is my fourth book by Evenson and I can comfortably say I fucking love this guy. An absolute great.

Stories V! — Scott McClanahan

Fourth by Scott I’ve read and up there with Crappalachia in its ability to approach like a bucktoothed redhead in plaid overalls—and leave like you’ve binge-watched Child’s Play and Stand by Me. He has a skeleton key to the human heart. And ability to redirect like no other writer I know. Wow.

The Night Cyclist — Stephen Graham Jones

Fun, tiny novella. Or long short story? SGJ is the Tyson of literature. Unapproachable. If you work/ed a commercial kitchen, enjoy biking, or Evil Dead 2 style violence, you’re gonna love it…

The Collected Works, Vol. 1 — Scott McClanahan

According to an afterword by Sam Pink, this is Stories I and Stories II, packed into a single spine. This one in particular about how suicide has the potential to infect anyone in its radius and create more suicide I’ll never forget. Very solid collection. 5-stars.

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell — Nathan Ballingrud

Picked up leaning into horror during October. Had heard of Ballingrud. It was super cheap on Kindle. Not sure this is representative of Ballingrud’s oeuvre or what that word means, but it reads like “scary” books written in 1800’s. Couldn’t finish.

The Loop — Jeremy Robert Johnson

Read for spooky October. Unbelievably impressed with JRJ. First couple chapters had me hooked in a way I can’t communicate without falling into hyperbole. Guy does violence/gore better than anyone. And makes you empathize with fucked up characters in a cool way. A more complex read than I was anticipating. Loved chapters where the camera seemed to be in the protagonist’s head, and wasn’t as into ones where it seemed to omnipotently float over the scene. Section where they’re trapped in the record store seemed only there to increases page-count and lost the spectacular momentum that had built to that time. Then, it picked back up and I was salivating on the pages. Can’t wait to read this author more.

Donald Goines: An Exciting Alternative to Other Novels — Calvin Westra

Like many of you, I know of Calvin through Twitter. Don’t remember what I first read, but I must’ve dug it, cause that’s the only reason I follow writers. Book’s finely polished. Lines like “I’m Honduran Emerald,” Honduran Emerald said, make me believe Calvin had a blast writing it and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Which meshes with his online persona. The dialogue was especially strong/realistic, which kind of hit weird since a lot of the narrative has a detached, surreal thing going. Sometimes I didn’t even really know what was going on, which usually I like in a book. But, I didn’t feel anything for these characters. And I think Calvin wants you to. I finished and enjoyed the book. And look forward to picking up Family Annihilator. Calvin succeeded in creating a singular and truly weird thingamajig in Donald Goines. Donald Goines.

SEPTEMBER 2022

Letting Out the Devils — Kelby Losack

Losack fans will find all the itches scratched. Signature, trim-the-fat style. Characters on the down and out. Purple drank the night through. In a tight, read-in-a-sitting package. Didn’t find myself invested as with Hurricane Season or Heathenish, but enjoyed the experience. This was the first book on Kindle I’ve read. I liked it. And, how cheap Losack’s titles are. Thanks, whoever’s responsible. Guessing/hoping the characters are African American, still felt weird to read the n-word. The couple sex scenes felt forced and took away from the otherwise compassionate stance I’d taken with the protagonist. Could’ve been my mood. Kelby’s not responsible for my reaction, so it’s not a jab on him as a writer. Good shit. Will read more Losack.

The Memory Police—Yoko Ogawa

3rd book I’ve read by her. She chills the fuck out when it comes to writing. Lots of my fave Japanese writers have this simple way of structuring. A lot of the book ends up being a protagonist doing mundane, daily-life shit—at the same time, there’s a tension-building technique I can’t put my finger on. Finished this, so, liked it. The premise is dope—on an unnamed island shit’s (birds, roses, boats, etc.) systematically “disappeared” and these Nazi-like Memory Police go around arresting people and searching homes and stuff, trying to oust people for holding on to objects from the “past.”  I was scared of these dudes. Fuck! So—the first half riffs, like, this is a dope premise, huh? You know it is. It focuses on the physicality. Then, blam, the end mobs out on the philosophic/cerebral. Like, whoaaa! I don’t wanna give away too many of the good aspects, but will say, the protagonist is a novelist and it does that thing where sometimes chapters are what she’s writing, and I found these bits corny and/or boring and hard to get through.  Will read more Ogawa. Oh, yea.

The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest—David Roberts

Liked the parts where Roberts describes his time in the backcountry of the Southwest. Unfortunately those parts comprised only 10% of the book. 30% he’s traveling around talking to Natives and Non-, attempting to decipher “what happened” in the years surrounding the Pueblo Revolt. Whining, and shit. These were, at times, frustrating. Oftentimes, cringeworthy. The other 60% is dry. Roberts doesn’t make the best historian. Might stick to his adventure books.

How High We Go in the Dark—Sequoia Nagamatsu

I’ve read Sequoia a handful of years and got connected to his writing though Twitter. Have to admit, was kind of like, Holy shit, when I started reading. Like, dude is good! Far-reachingly ambitious. With an almost otherworldly ability to invest you quickly in characters. Each chapter shifts frames to a new narrator. You get like 20 pages to be hooked into the new voice and what’s going on. Didn’t know someone could make me cry over a talking pig in 20 pages. But, I guess Sequoia has it in him. Reads like a collection of short stories more than a novel. The stories happen in a world in the throes of a pandemic. Written before Covid, released almost simultaneously as it was hitting the US. Bet that was crazy for Nagamatsu. I can’t imagine. As much as I loved the stories and writing, I ended up walking away about halfway through. Rare, I usually drop a book within the first 15 pages. Just lost interest. Have a feeling he brings everything together in that sweeping way in the last half and accomplishes The Novel, but it just didn’t get there fast enough.

2 thoughts on “Reviews

  1. Brought Speedboat because it sounded so cool, and I was convimced Llyod Cole (and the Commotions) named their song after it. You said did-not-finish, I found it could-not-start. Like bailed on page 3. Although I should really give it another go. Great title.
    ‘Julie said “We drink far too much coffee
    Wine and cigarettes and we never get no sleep”
    I first met them at a riverboat party
    Both of them were speeding I would say’

    Like

    1. Had my first temptation to bail around page 3. But, stuck it out through the first section, then for some reason felt better about leaving. Might one day return, as it’s common for tastes to evolve.

      Like

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