Every Cradle Is a Grave by Sarah Perry

Book:  Every Cradle Is a Grave:  Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide

Author:  Sarah Perry

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, philosophy

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Pretty self-explanatory.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books, you can get a copy here:

You can also order a copy directly from the publisher.

Comments:  Sarah Perry wrote this book from a place of philosophical intellectualism and factual integrity.  She exhaustively researched the hows and whys of suicide and procreation and makes a very compelling case for making suicide accessible for people who do not want to live and for considering whether or not it is ethical to continue to create new humans whose lives may be more a burden to them than a gift.  As she deftly picks apart the arguments against suicide and antinatalism, she bestows upon mankind a dignity and respect for self that anti-suicide and pro-birth crusaders deny us as we are asked to suffer and to mindlessly recreate ourselves because of tyrannies of tradition and religious mores.

I very much want to discuss this book in a bloodless manner because the subject matter is so fraught with emotional reaction, much of it knee-jerk, that makes the topic hard to discuss in an intelligent way.  When you speak to people whose loved ones killed themselves, you hear them speak of the cowardice and selfishness of suicide.  When you talk of people who did not have children, you all too often hear others dismiss ethical childlessness as selfish, or insist that if only one had a child, one would know, really know, what true love means.  To approach a counter to such topics with emotion is pissing in the wind because the very basis for avoiding suicide and encouraging procreation is steeped in emotion.

But given my personal history and recent events in my life, I can only approach these topics – especially suicide – from a place of emotion and personal anecdote.  I hope that as I write from my id I do this topic justice.  This book really is a paradigm changer, and you don’t have to adopt an antinatalist world view for that to happen.  It is a book that argues against some of the most deeply ingrained habits of human existence – to remain living at all costs and to spread one’s seed far and wide – and it makes the case that our reason and self-awareness are not entirely a great gift and that possession of them should permit us to control how we decide to die rather than be used as a manipulative tool to keep us living.

And there is no way to discuss the entirety of this book.  Know that I will be unable to discuss large amounts of this book and that you need to read it yourself.  All I can do is discuss what I experienced when reading this book and how it relates to my life. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: non-fiction, Philosophical Treatises, Philosophy | on June 21st, 2015 | 10 Comments »

Sharing the Love

I’ve had some serious insomnia lately, which means I’ve been up during the middle of the night, reading lunatic shit, mostly on Reddit. I’ve come across a couple of strange topics I wanted to share with you guys.

The first involves another lost German child. Not long ago I talked about the case of Tristan Bruebach, a German teenager killed brutally in a tunnel in Frankfurt in 1998. I had never heard of that particular MO before and the crime itself was utterly shocking. This time the child in question was literally lost. Dirk Schiller disappeared on a vacation with his family in the former East Germany in 1979. As in the family was walking to their car in a snow covered lot and the little boy disappeared without a trace.

His mother never gave up looking for him and there is a level of conspiracy attached to this case that gives even a skeptic like me pause. This site does a great job covering the case, explaining the Stasi connection, and a possible link to medical experimentation. This is a seriously twitchy case, and it’s made all the more twitchy given the release of the family’s Stasi files. I lost hours reading about this case.

The other strange tidbit I want to share is also from Reddit, and is amusing, bordering on hilarious, once you read enough to realize that your initial conclusion was incorrect and that the person in question is not into waterfowl bestiality. Readers, I give you /u/fuckswithducks. His comment history is a gold mine and I lost even more hours reading his deep love of rubber duckies, his encyclopedic knowledge of them as well as how he uses them in his sex life.

I shit you not, I read comment after comment to Mr Oddbooks until he pleaded with me to shut up. Here are some examples, all links as they were in the original comments.

Duck size is important:

Let’s talk about duck size. I’m really not interested in small ducks. On the other hand, big ducks are nice, but they’re just impractical. What the hell am I supposed to do with them?! My ideal duck size is 3-6 inches tall. Also, I don’t really like fat ducks. I’m just looking for nice, standard, medium-sized ducks like these.

It is possible to have a favorite rubber duck, and to know so much about that duck that people may think you are making shit up until they Google and realize you, in fact, know your shit, duck-wise:

I’m still searching for the manufacturer of my favorite rubber duck. Every few years the ducks show up in stores again (the last time I saw one was around 2008), but I’ve never been able to learn their origin. Here’s a bit of a back story about this duck (some info I’ve posted before, some is new):

In 1977, a toy company called Knickerbocker created a new toy called Ernie’s Rubber Duckie. Designed by famous toy inventor Henry Orenstein (patent USD260915), this toy would lay the foundation for one of the most iconic rubber ducks in history. In 1983, Knickerbocker was sold to Hasbro; which produced more of the ducks around 1985 through Playskool. Around that time, a Taiwanese factory got a hold of this toy and started creating generic knockoffs of it. By 1992, Playskool discontinued production of their rubber duck, but the Taiwanese factory continued on. Every few years, this anonymous factory produced replicas which would appear in toy stores across the United States.

Remember this stock photo? It appeared in everything from Photoshop tutorials to the default Windows user account profile picture. Some were even used in an experiment to test the pollution caused by different kinds of jet ski engines. Those particular ducks are now mounted on the desk of politician Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif. The last time I ever saw them was in a World Market around 2008 (video evidence from 2005).

If you have one of these, feel free to check the bottom and I guarantee you’ll find the “Made in Taiwan”. They seem to all come from one source, yet I have never been able to track them down. My dream is to some day discover where they’re made and start my own store for them.

Edit: I want to thank all the people who have tried looking for me! Unfortunately, the search goes on. Several people have found very similar ducks, the closest probably being the Bath and Body Works ducks or this knockoff of the knockoff which is from China and is significantly lower quality.

Duck porn is a thing not limited to /u/fuckswithducks:

Thanks for doing an AMA! I have a more general question about Brazzers. In Wet Dreams! with Dani Jensen (2012), I noticed that you included a rubber duck in the shoot. In Splash Time with Jenna Ross (2013), you used 3 of the same duck. Does Brazzers have its own permanent prop collection? If so, can we get a tour and see some of the interesting things you’ve collected to use in videos over the years? I’m curious because you reuse the same rubber duck and I have seen other studios reuse other rubber ducks as well (for example, Bangbros reused this one 12)

But just because some porn companies recognize the erotic use of rubber ducks does not mean they make it easy for the average duck perv:

The generic video titles (e.g. “[Pornstar] rides huge dick”, “young bedroom solo”) and descriptions which are clearly copy/paste jobs. They make it really difficult to find porn when you’re searching for specific things. Really the only way to find porn with rubber ducks is to search for “bath” and then scroll through all the thumbnails for one. Plenty of porn videos set entirely in the bathroom won’t even mention it in the title/description, though. It’s simple SEO, people!

A fetish collection of rubber duckies can have a practical use as well, like for when your girlfriend takes up too much space in bed:

Came here to say this. There are plenty of passive-aggressive ways to win your space back. Personally, I like to stack rubber ducks on my girlfriend until she moves.

And sexual appreciation doesn’t always have to be about the ducks:

Sexual preferences aside, I think everyone can appreciate a nice set of boobs.

Part of me thinks this is a dedicated dada-esque account.  But most of me hopes this is real.  I really love /u/fuckswithducks and need him to abide on Reddit as long as he can.  I should probably send him some gold to show my appreciation.

You read anything recently that is weird or strange or unsettling?  Tell me about it!

Published in: Nothing to do with odd books | on June 19th, 2015 | 3 Comments »

Gun Fag Manifesto, edited by Hollister Kopp

Book:  Gun Fag Manifesto

Author:  Edited by Hollister Kopp, foreword by Jim Goad

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, ‘zines

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it made me remember with fondness the old Loompanics Catalogue.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: So, I read this a long time ago and somehow forgot to discuss it, which is a shame because I found it to be a funny and at times uncomfortable blast from the past.  I never read this ‘zine in its original format so this was entirely new to me even as it reminded me of the more humorous excesses of the old Loompanics catalogue and a bit of Paladin Press’ more gunnish releases.  God, I really miss the old days sometimes, wherein if you wanted to obtain and read really fucked up books you had to peruse a paper list of books that got mailed to your house and really alarmed postal officials.  I mean, I don’t miss it over much because it’s nice to hear about a book and be able to buy it immediately but sometimes I realize half the people reading here have only ever ordered outre books online and don’t remember the heady thrill of renting a post office box at a mail drop and ordering books that Focus on the Family insisted were occult and Satanic and also evil.  (Remind me to tell you all my “James Dobson mistook me for someone else and touched my arm twitch” story some day.)

Back to the book.  1994.  What a time for all of us who were alive! I graduated from college and started dating Mr Oddbooks.  OJ Simpson captivated us all as he engaged in a low speed chase in that white Ford Bronco.  Nancy Kerrigan got hit in the knee.  And Hollister Kopp edited this ‘zine.  This is a messed up ‘zine – completely politically incorrect, verging into outright sociopathy, and, in its own bizarre way, it is glorious.

Don’t get me wrong.  You all know that I am so liberal I should probably go straight to jail for stealing all your tax money to give to lesbian welfare crack babies.  I don’t get into racist propaganda and racial epithets make me nervous because I’m not wholly sure what my own ethnic background contains and what I do know is Irish and that’s almost never a good sign amongst Americans.  But I am also a pro-2A liberal.  We are rare, like white tigers, but unlike unicorns we really do exist.  I’m not a gun fag, like the editor of the ‘zine. And I really don’t miss the days when Mr Oddbooks would drag me to gun shows and I would end up listening to John Birchers explain to me why it is that blacks and women should never have been permitted to vote and that things went straight to hell after we started putting fluoride in the water, but there is something refreshing reading something so utterly unimpressed by basically everything that makes me who I am.

As we all know, Internet killed the Xerox-zine star.  I know the world seems really nuts because we have access to so much insanity online, but back in the old days you had to seek it out and when you found it you were less inclined to complain about it.  Were these zines online, the comments would have to be disabled.  I think part of the refreshing element of reading this zine compilation was the realization that I would not be expected, culturally, to engage in an argument when I was finished.  That having been said, this is an extremely hyperbolic collection.  A lot of really offensive content got crammed into three editions, and if you can’t embrace the weird when it is offensive, you will want to give this book and the rest of my discussion a miss.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: 'zines, non-fiction | on June 18th, 2015 | 8 Comments »

Biblio-sentimentality

Mr Oddbooks and I had a moment at a recent book sale wherein we both agreed we needed to buy a specific book because of a letter he had found inside of it.  It was a coffee table book about sailing vessels (Mr Oddbooks is ex-Navy and longs for the coast like I long for the desert and here we both are in Austin) and was not particularly unique – he already had many books similar to this one.  But the letter inside pulled us to buy it.  The letter seemed as important as the book, if not more important, and as long as this book remains in our collection, that letter will remain inside the book, just as we found it.

I realized how often we both do this – purchase a book because something left in the book calls to us.  I’ve come to think of this tendency as “biblio-sentimentality.”  I have no idea how many books we have currently that we acquired due to our combined biblio-sentimentality, but I think I am going to record some of them here.  I have to think others are like this, buying books because they feel an emotional connection to them due to marks and items left in the book.  Perhaps others will enjoy seeing these books.  Perhaps this is just more of my extremely indulgent blogging style.  If so, no harm, but I can say that I would love to see any books you fine readers may have that you purchased due to biblio-sentimentality.  Feel free to include pictures in comments!

I divide biblio-sentimentality into three categories: inscriptions, marginalia, and ephemera.  Inscriptions, of course, are messages to a gift recipient or from the author, written generally on a title page, but could be included somewhere else in the book.  Marginalia refers to notes about the text written in the blank margins of books, but it can also include highlighting or underscoring text.  Ephemera refers to items found in the book that were not meant to be permanently left in the book, like letters, cards, bookmarks and similar.

In this entry I’m going to share some of our examples of biblio-sentimental ephemera, since this discussion was inspired by the sailing vessel book with the letter in it, and it seems fitting that I should begin with that book.

sailing 0Mr Oddbooks found this at a huge Half-Price Books warehouse sale. He really does have dozens of similar books but when the letter fell out of this book, he immediately read it and then put the book in our cart.
sailing 1A woman fighting for sobriety left this letter to herself in a coffee table book about sailing ships. Though it is unlikely anyone would be able to identify her through this letter, I redacted her name anyway. This was a rescue ephemera – this letter seems very important to me, a woman with my own addiction demons. It was unusual that this woman placed this letter in such a book – was she using the book as a make-shift lap desk? Did she think this large book was the best place to keep such a letter since huge books about sailing vessels aren’t usually the types of books most read in the average home?

It worries me that she forgot about the letter in this book, or that there is a worse reason that this letter was left behind in a book, like she lost her possessions in an eviction. Or maybe she worked the steps and is clean and has no need to remember this letter. Regardless, it seemed callous to both of us to leave this book with this letter behind. It needed to be saved and kept.  It seems very important to me even if I don’t know exactly why, outside of the shared experience of addiction. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: Biblio-sentimentality | on June 16th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Bleak Holiday by Hank Kirton

Book: Bleak Holiday

Author: Hank Kirton

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because one of the stories ends with the following line:

And that guy turned out to be an asshole.

Availability: Published by Apophenia in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Comments:  Hank Kirton may be the best odd short story writer you’ve never heard of, and that sucks because he is rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers.  This is a near-flawless collection of short stories.  Of course, since it is a small press release it could be better edited, but even with that caveat this is still an excellent book.  Kirton has a style that is immediately identifiable as being Hank-like, yet his stories cover a lot of intellectual and literary ground.  He handles magical realism in a manner that I generally don’t expect from male authors, and some of his stories reminded me a bit of the sort of work Amelia Gray puts out – a sort of amusing, fey and ultimately good-spirited weirdness.  Then at other times he manages the dark, nasty, post-modern flatness I associate with the mundane horror of A.M. Homes. His stories evoke some of the best work done by some of the best odd writers, infused with the uneasy strangeness and overall noir I’ve come to associate with Kirton’s work.  I fancy I can see the veins Kirton mines for inspiration – one story even reminded me so much of an old R. Crumb comic that I had to scour the Internet to make sure I was remembering it correctly – but who knows?  That’s the danger of writing – you never know what a demented Pflugervillian housewife will think of when she reads your stories.

Kirton’s voice remains very strong, even as he reminds me of other artists, and with one exception, every story in this collection soars because the eclectic nature of these stories definitely works in its favor.  And the one story I didn’t particularly care for was because of my own deep distaste for the old Nancy Drew books.  The story, “Janet Pepper, Girl Detective: The Mystery of the Kitchen Cabinet,” is a parody of those tiresome books with a very adult twist and I can see how it’s amusing and how others would find it very funny.  I just remember all those gormless books being foisted upon me in grade school and how awful I found them, how boring they were, like chewing microwaved oatmeal, so this parody wasn’t that subversive to me given how little I could tolerate the original source.

So with that criticism out of the way, let me discuss the stories that I liked best in this 21-story collection. Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Short Story Collections | on June 9th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

The Eccentropedia by Chris Mikul

Book:  The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived

Author:  Chris Mikul

Type of Book:  Non-fiction, compendium, encyclopedia

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is a book devoted wholly to weird people.

Availability:  Published by Headpress in 2013, you can get a copy here:

Comments: My love for all of Chris Mikul’s work is pretty well established by now so I won’t discuss in depth why I think he is and always will be an author worth reading aside from just stating that his love for the odd in this world makes his work very topical for me and for this site. I can’t imagine anyone will be surprised to learn that I think this is great book.  Anyone with a love for strange ideas or eccentrics will need to add this book to their collection.  The book discusses some usual suspects in the weirdo game, like Helena Blavatsky, Charles Fort, Aleister Crowley and Michael Jackson, but for every person whose name comes up all the time in compendiums devoted to eccentrics, there were ten more I had never heard of before.

Because this is quite literally an encyclopedia, the only way to discuss it is to outline a few of the more outlandish people featured in the book.  Not the most exciting way to discuss a book but hopefully the lunacy of the people I select will make up for it.  Here’s a short selection of some of the weird people I had not heard of prior to reading this book, and hopefully there will be a couple I discuss who will be new to you, too.

Baroness Eloise Wagner De Bosquet was a horse-faced woman with buck teeth whose force of charm made her very attractive to people, if only for a short period of time.  After four divorces, in the early 1930s she persuaded two of her lovers to accompany her to Floreana Island, part of the Galapagos Islands chain, to join in with the settlers on the island.  She wanted to create a hotel there, and while visitors to the island found her delightful, less so the two families who lived there permanently.  The lover triad became abusive for one of the men, and The Baroness and one of her lovers disappeared, never to be seen again.  In the wake of that disappearance, there were two more mysterious deaths associated with Floreana, no small feat for an island with fewer than a dozen permanent inhabitants.

I read Mikul’s entry about The Baroness and then immediately discovered a Netflix film called The Galapagos Affair.  The film is an historical piece that covers all of the Baroness’ antics and the scandals and murders on Floreana Island.  I recommend watching it because not only was it a pretty good movie, it also shows how The Baroness could possibly have had any sex appeal to the many men she attracted.  In photos and a silent movie, she is surprisingly attractive.  But still, if you are going to be a part of a cuckold-trio, it seems better to be in thrall to a really beautiful or rich woman. That way when your body is discovered on a desert island with no fresh water source, at least people will see your sorry end as the inevitable result of loving a very bad but extremely beautiful woman.

Next let’s discuss Percy Grainger, an Australian musician and composer.  I was drawn to his entry in The Eccentropedia because he just seems so unlikely.  Had he been a fictional character he would have seemed completely unbelievable. As a boy, his mother told him he was destined for greatness and encouraged him to practice piano for hours.  She whipped him if she felt he was not working hard enough and those whippings became a part of his creative impulse as an adult.  He eventually married a Swedish woman who both understood and did not mind that beating Grainger often was going to be an an important part of their marriage.  Grainger liked whipping others but his masochism took up a lot of room in his psyche, as well as sex in general.

The whippings as a child worked because he became a prodigy, and his marriage to a Swedish woman was more or less inevitable because after a trip to pre-war Germany, Grainger became convinced of the superiority of the Nordic people.  His admiration for the Nordic people leaned heavily into racism but he was also interested in and influenced by the Maori.  He was a fan of Duke Ellington and counted Jews in the number of his friends, but he also created a weird language he called “blue-eyed English” wherein he eliminated all words that did not have an Anglo-Saxon origin and replaced them with his own creations.  This was especially interesting for a composer to do, given all the Italian words used in music.  This site has a short list of the words that Grainger created and is itself a good look at Grainger’s many eccentricities.  Almost equally eccentric, I also discovered that Grainger had invaded unlikely realms online, notably Tumblr and Pinterest tags related to “hot dead guys.”  (On a related note, who knew how ridiculously handsome Anton Chekhov was? Well, evidently lots of people, but I certainly didn’t until I looked up Percy Grainger.)

I am unsure if I really consider Benjamin Lay to be a true eccentric as much as I consider him an excessively-devoted moralist, but the picture Mikul paints of his activities is pretty memorable.  Born in England, Lay first encountered slavery in 1730s Barbados, which made him become a staunch abolitionist.  He and his wife, both Quakers, later emigrated to Philadelphia, where he found that some of his fellow Quakers were slave-owners.  Lay was not one to be subtle in his advocacy.  When he got tossed out of a church for being disruptive, he stretched out in front of the entrance so that everyone who left had to step over him.  On other occasions, he engaged in some one-man theater that is both funny and dramatic:

He invaded another meeting wearing a military uniform with a sword, and carrying a hollowed out book (to represent the Bible) in which was concealed a bladder containing pokeberry juice.  Declaring that enslaving a man was no better than stabbing him through the heart, he drew the sword and plunged it into his ‘Bible’, spattering those nearest him with the red juice.  He once sat outside a meeting in the middle of the winter with one bare leg deep in the snow.  When passersby expressed concern, he said, ‘You pretend compassion for me, but you do not feel for the poor slaves in your fields who go all winter half clad.’  He was not afraid of taking direct action, and once went so far as to kidnap a slave owner’s three-year-old child, so he would know how it felt to lose a loved one.

It also bears mentioning that Lay was a hunchback, rendering him 4’6″ tall.  He died happy because on his death bed, just before he died, the Quaker church had voted to reject slavery.  I wonder how much his activism led them to adopt their moral stance.

My favorite entry was Eliza Donnithorne, the woman who was likely the inspiration for Dicken’s Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Eliza was born in India where her father was a judge.  Her mother and two sisters died during a cholera outbreak and her heartbroken father decided to relocate to Australia, moving there with the young Eliza in 1836.  When it came time for Eliza to entertain suitors, she rejected all of her father’s favorites, falling for a shipping clerk named George Cuthbertson.  When George proposed to Eliza, her father, known for having a very bad temper, informed George that if he ever caused Eliza any anguish after the marriage, he would be severely punished.

And we all sort of know what happened next.  George jilted Eliza on the day of their wedding.  Eliza believed he would eventually arrive and remained in her wedding dress the entire day.  She came unhinged when she saw wedding guests consuming food meant for the wedding banquet.  Concerned friends took her to her room, where she remained for a month, but honored her request that the wedding banquet be left alone and the dining room door locked.  Unfortunately Eliza was pregnant by George, and when she gave birth the baby was given to a servant to raise, to preserve Eliza’s reputation.  Perhaps that was why George ran away – the prospect of a baby born seven months after the wedding, given Mr. Donnithorne’s threats regarding bad behavior, probably gave him pause.

Eventually Eliza’s father died and she inherited his estate, but that did not encourage her to resume normal life. She had spent years waiting for George to return to her, and had descended completely into madness.

After his [her father’s] death, she had all the shutters on the windows of the house nailed up, and dismissed all but two of her servants… relying on them to conduct all her business with the outside world.  She continued to wear her wedding dress, and the dining room with its uneaten feast remained locked.

It was never wholly proven that she was Dicken’s inspiration, but it seems very likely that at some point he heard her story – the descriptions of the two women seem just too similar for coincidence.  Stranger things have happened though.

This is one of my shorter discussions but to discuss it too much would ruin the nature of the book.  Encyclopedias don’t lend themselves well to my typical in-depth discussions.  This encyclopedia especially doesn’t, given its substantial length (over 500 pages) and 266 entries that cover almost all forms of human perversity, insanity, determination and genius.  This book also has some excellent illustrations by Glenn Smith.  While I completed this book in two sittings, this is a book that can be read in fits and starts, a great book to read when you suspect you may face interruptions, like waiting in line at the DMV.  Mikul, while he can write fiction well, uses a style in this book that is a mix of journalism with clear affection for the subject matter, ensuring the book is readable and engrossing.  I loved this book and highly recommend it!

Published in: Encylopedia, non-fiction | on May 13th, 2015 | No Comments »

God speed, Ruth Rendell

Ruth Rendell died on May 2. She suffered a stroke back on January 7, and though she lasted for a while, she was unable to recover. That wasn’t entirely unexpected – she was 85-years-old.

I am an aspiring Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine complete-ist and hope to own first editions in all of her books. I only have a few at the moment but hopefully I have a few more decades to finish up.

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I had started a Ruth Rendell discussion for this site. She was not only one of the best mystery writers ever to grace the genre, but she understood mental illness in a way no other writer has mastered nearly as well. I am writing about some of the mentally-ill characters Rendell created, among them the woman with contamination OCD in Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, the main character with borderline personality disorder in The Bridesmaid, and a host of afflicted characters in her short stories. The illnesses play an important role in her intricate but quite believable plots and it almost seems at times like Rendell wrote about mental illness in a way that could poke at my own mental ticks.  The protagonist in “You Can’t Be Too Careful” suffered from some sort of personality disorder and was obsessed with safety, orderliness, cleanliness and self-assumed duty.  She was constantly ruminating over locks, doors on latches, dusting books, cot beds.  When I was a kid, I had a pretty serious case of echolalia that I more or less grew out of but always lurks.  This short story set it off.  It was the repetition of “k” and “t”, I think.  I find myself saying, under my breath, book lock cot latch book lock…

I wonder if anyone else has this experience when they read this story?

At any rate, I will at some point finish and post the article.  Ruth Rendell really was one of the finest writers of her generation and genre and I feel somewhat stricken to know she is gone forever and that there will be no more books.  God speed, Baroness Rendell.

Published in: Writers Should Not Be Mortal | on May 4th, 2015 | No Comments »

Down Where the Devil Don’t Go by Paul Bingham

Book:  Down Where the Devil Don’t Go

Author:  Paul Bingham

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because one of the stories is entitled, “Protocols of the Learned Elders of Hollywood”.

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2014, you can get a copy here:

Or you can order it directly from the publisher.

Comments: My love for short story collections has been firmly established by now, so, in spite of the picture of the deformed kitten on the cover, I was already inclined toward liking this book.  I was somewhat disappointed.   Bingham’s prose style is similar to my own when I write fiction – Bingham relishes ridiculous and horrible details yet writes about them in a spare, concise manner.  He eschews over-use of adjectives and adverbs, which gives his prose an immediacy, a sort of direct punch that doesn’t get dragged down by needless scene setting or excessive characterization.  This is not beautiful prose; rather, this is effective prose.  But even as the prose is effective, I still found it difficult to like this collection as much as the solid writing would ordinarily inspire in me.

The book consists of four stories and the first, “Population I” verges dangerously into cliched territory, yet is the best story in the collection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Short Story Collections | on May 1st, 2015 | 5 Comments »

NVSQVAM (nowhere) by Ann Sterzinger

Book:  NVSQVAM (nowhere)

Author:  Ann Sterzinger

Type of Book: Fiction, literary fiction

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Oh, this book…

Availability:  Published by Nine Banded Books in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Amazon currently has this book on sale for Kindle for $2.99.  That makes it almost impossible not to take a look.

Comments: There are two reasons to read this book.  The first reason is because Sterzinger nails a specific social dissatisfaction I tend to associate with the sorts of men who really love Jonathan Franzen, a sort of Lester Burnham-esque unhappiness that can only be cured by having sex with a much-younger woman and sneering at the daily grind and everyday domesticity.  She distills this generational malaise through a single character and refuses to show us the way out, because, most of the time there isn’t one.  The other reason to read it is because it is so very funny.  Seriously, Sterzinger has the sort of intelligent, acerbic wit that I imagined I had back when I was a drunk.

I think this is a book that will read differently to every person who picks it up.  Women of a certain age (hi!) will want to take the protagonist and swat him with a newspaper until he stops pissing and moaning about his life and either accepts it or changes it in a meaningful way, and I wanted to swat him all the more because Lester (yep, Lester) Reichartsen is himself a man of a certain age.  He embodies the Gen-X confusion-burnout that I see plaguing so many of my age-peers, coupled with a longing for an edgy past because their passivity and entitlement meant they ended up in a life they really never wanted but didn’t have the balls to reject along the way.

In the beginning, Lester is just one of those people.  You know, the ones to whom everything happens and they actually do very little.  They feel very put-upon.  Lester is more or less living a life he hates that he feels happened to him due to no actions or faults of his own.  He hates everyone around him – especially his only child and the religious mid-westerners who surround his college town – and the only things he really accomplishes, aside from a prolonged, drunken nervous breakdown, are taking long walks and engaging in an affair.

Though I find Lester largely irritating and unlikeable, he is not unique in his passive, seething uselessness.  Jesus, so many young people born to baby boomer parents ended up like this.  Almost all of us were latch-key kids, the post-Reagan economic state seemed hopeless, and we had Pearl Jam running across the stage in baggy shorts making millions of dollars moaning about their mothers, which was sort of understandable because so many of us were raised in divorced, single-parent, female-headed households. Some young men raised in such an environment felt buffeted by fate, as if everything they wanted would never happen and they entered a post-collegiate life with no idea what to do next.  Get married?  Yeah, that worked so well for our parents.  Get a good job?  But aren’t we supposed to find our bliss and honor our talents?  Didn’t our parents raise us to honor our deep individuality (while giving us little assistance in determining how to put that individuality to use)?  Get a factory job?  None are left.  The world changed so much in such a short period of time that all the lessons many Gen-xers were taught were obsolete the day after they became adults.

It’s tempting to write Lester off as a self-involved crap-fest of a human being, but even as I wanted to grab his nose between my index and middle finger and twist it violently, I felt a certain level of empathy for him.  He almost seems like an embodiment of the sentiment expressed in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club – we were all told we were going to be rock stars and when that didn’t happen it pissed off large segments of this generation. So many of us feel like we have failed our families, ourselves and especially our past, idealistic selves.  What do we do about that rage and real failure? To avoid that sense of failure, wounded egos become passive, taking paths of least resistance, so they can say that they aren’t responsible for anything in their lives – that’s how we end up with Lesters.  Lester Reichartsen is a self-absorbed, largely useless asshole but he’s our asshole, my generation’s asshole.  You can’t hobble large segments of a generation and then hold them completely responsible for limping.  Read the rest of this entry »

Published in: fiction, Literary Fiction | on April 20th, 2015 | 16 Comments »

Lousy Smarch Weather

Central Texas is not supposed to be this cold.  Seriously, I used to dream of moving to Maine and White Christmases and other ice-glazed fantasies, but I am rethinking that dream.

The Every Cradle is a Grave discussion will have to wait because I simply cannot get it together.  I am emotionally unable to pull out what it is I want to say.  My mother had a very bad death, one that did not have to happen in a society wherein we understand that it is unacceptable to ask an elderly woman with no higher brain function left due to a hemorrhage, a woman who was terminally ill and close to death before the hemorrhage happened, to starve to death in an irreversible coma because suicide is bad.  I’m a failed suicide.  There is a successful suicide in my family that haunts some of us, and haunted my mother especially in the months before her death.  So yeah, this is an issue carrying a lot of recent and distant emotional baggage for me.

We are having an ashes ceremony for my mother in two weeks and I hope having a ceremonial end to the medically-sanctioned torture that my family endured earlier this year will make it easier for me to complete that discussion.  Not in terms of writing – I’ve written a novel about this book.  My problem is that I want to say everything at once and I need to get some emotional clarity.  Look for it later this month, hopefully.

But before then I have other books I can discuss and will.  Actually, I have a shocking number of books to discuss.  2014 was really a lost year in many regards.

I’ve been falling down some true crime holes lately (insomnia was killing me last week and insomnia always means finding weird crap online as I restlessly surf on my phone praying for some REM) and I stumbled across this woman’s blog.  Her writing style amuses me and she discusses less-famous murder cases.  The case that landed me on her site, the intensely strange story of Albert Brust (a Nazi-loving, untermensch and middle-aged virgin who became a torture killer and incorporated a dead body into a bathroom remodel), is the weakest entry on the site yet is still very interesting, so if you dislike it, keep reading. If you like my verbose style and appreciate sarcasm set to eleven, you’ll like her blog.

So I plan to plow through some discussions as I wait for my brain to open up for Sarah Perry’s opus.  Let me know what you’ve been reading or any interesting blogs you’ve come across.  (Oh, yeah, I plan to update my favorite sites and writers sidebars soon.  I don’t think I’ve messed with it in four years and it is painfully out of date.)

ETA:  I made a correction above because it looked like I was damning with faint praise the true crime site I linked to.  Not the case, and thanks, reader known as ART, for e-mailing me questions because otherwise it would have gone unnoticed.  Bleah.

Published in: Uncategorized | on March 2nd, 2015 | 12 Comments »