The Maelstrom 2018-05-04T20:47:10+00:00

Welcome to The Maelstrom.

The MARTIAN EMBASSY MAELSTROM is a blogzine swirling its chaos towards you.

Less dramatically, this is my blog, which I call a blogzine because it often features other writers (as guests or in interviews) and has a core focus: on how you can experiment in your work and writing to develop your skills and artistry and stand out from everyone else in this maddening crowd.

The Maelstrom collects material from across this site, excluding your weekly Haiku Horoscopes and everything related to The Crow Murders. A number of posts are locked from the public, because they contain exclusive content available only to Patrons.

If you like The Maelstrom or anything else I do, online or offline, please consider becoming a patron to support my publishing activities.

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Tell Them It Was Mozart (Angeline Schellenberg)

Angeline Schellenberg's Tell Them It Was Mozart, her debut collection of poetry, concerns raising children on the autism spectrum. The Winnipeg author explores broad topics such as the conflicting and complex emotions of parenthood and how the responsibility of the situation, and its demands, intersect with the differing demands of other aspects in the modern world. Three core concerns surface and [...]

Finally Reach Your Final Draft in 4 Editing Steps

Editing seems endless, doesn't it? A common frustration of writers is when they are done editing. They may be excellent writers, but maybe never spent as much time learning editing. Or maybe they are good editors but never learned an efficient process for editing, so they feel like they are never done and there is always work to do. At worst, [...]

Son of a Trickster (Eden Robinson)

The first book of a trilogy, Eden Robinson's Son of a Trickster focuses on the tumultuous everyday life of Jared, a sixteen-year-old struggling to survive his family. His parents are separated and strung out, and his mom is downright dangerous (an odd mix of neglectful and overly protective). He keeps himself drunk or stoned just to maintain some level of [...]

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (Margaret Atwood)

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, from CanLit icon Margaret Atwood is a provocative but sometimes frustrating collection that gathers lectures, reviews, and other writings (including short stories and a novel excerpt, but mostly non-fiction) that relate, in some fashion, to the genre of "science fiction." "Science Fiction" in scare quotes because what the Toronto-based Atwood calls SF [...]

Harmonics (Jesse Patrick Ferguson)

Harmonics surprised me. I thought I knew Ferguson's work, from my time editing dandelion, where I published his visual poetry, some of which I used for one of the journal's more eye-catching covers. When a friend at Freehand said she had acquired his first book of poetry, I assumed too much. I assumed that the book would contain a sizeable [...]

The Gap of Time (Jeanette Winterson)

2016 marked the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and to celebrate his legacy the Hogarth Press commissioned novelists to reinvent Shakespeare's plays for the modern reader. Jeanette Winterson tackles The Winter's Tale, one of Shakespeare's stranger plays, in The Gap of Time. The original play revolves around a jealous king disowning his daughter (he believes she belongs to his childhood [...]

Metatropolis (editor John Scalzi)

The most common misconception about science fiction is that it sets out to predict the future, when, in fact, although its stories might be set in future worlds, the best examples of the genre use these settings to explore present-day concerns. Metatropolis collects five original stories by award-winning science fiction writers: John Scalzi, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, [...]

Dead Girls (Nancy Lee)

Dead Girls is a notch above the average first-book short-story collection in a number of ways. It is much darker than most character-focused collections: many of the stories concern women or young girls driven or lured into prostituting themselves, and in the background of each story unfolds a news report concerning serial killer Thomas Coombs, arrested for murdering prostitutes, reminiscent [...]

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman)

What if Jesus had a twin brother named Christ, and the Church was the idea of the latter, not the intention of the former? Pullman's short novel revels in this concept, mixing Christian mythology with speculative fiction. As shocking as this idea might seem, the true surprise is that Pullman, one of the literary world's most prominent, outspoken atheists, approaches [...]

Journey with No Maps (Sandra Djwa)

The cult of author and artist P.K. Page grows ever larger with the appearance of Sandra Djwa's biography. As the first and only Page biography, Djwa's is by default the best, but often frustrating. By the time of her 2010 death at age 93, many Canadian critics and authors viewed Page as one of the country's finest poets. Although well-regarded [...]

The Guardians (Andrew Pyper)

With The Guardians, Toronto's Andrew Pyper has produced a haunted house novel, a psychological thriller, and a coming-of-age story. With deft prose and pristine pacing, The Guardians is an intelligent and engrossing page-turner, despite some predictability. An abandoned house in the small town of Grimshaw serves as a lightning rod for tragedy. Four boys — Ben, Trevor, Randy, and Carl [...]

Night Moves (Richard Van Camp)

Night Moves is Richard Van Camp's fourth short story collection (he also authored a novel, graphic novels, and children's books). Like his earlier collections, the stories focus on the fictional Northwest Territories community of Fort Simmer, based vaguely on Van Camp's hometown of Fort Smith.  One of six books Van Camp released in 2015, Night Moves also offers the return [...]

Little Theatres (Erín Moure)

Erín Moure's Little Theatres takes its name from the work of Elisa Sampedrín, who is quoted heavily in the text — supposedly. In reality, Sampedrín is Moure's heteronym (a pseudonym with a fully developed personality and a distinctive style). Sampedrín's writing on "little theatres" thus provides a glimpse of sorts into the theoretical underpinnings of Moure's work. The quotes from [...]

Letters to a Young Writer (Colum McCann)

"The truth is that nobody can teach you how to write," writes Colum McCann near the end of Letters to a Young Writer. The next paragraph of this review will teach you how to write. Keep revising your language to make it more specific to the situation and character. If Sarah is nervous, your first draft reads, "Sarah was nervous." [...]

The Weather (Lisa Robertson)

In The Weather Lisa Robertson engages with the pastoral genre of poetry, in order to draw attention to its architecture. The pastoral in art refers to the romanticization of  rural life — particularly the lives of farmers, shepherds, and other rural labourers — which results in unrealistic depictions of this life as extraordinarily idyllic. Pastoral poetry commonly foregrounds capital-N Nature [...]

The Pretended Asian (Michael Keevak)

Michael Keevak's The Pretended Asian is one of only three book-length studies of George Psalmanazar that I am aware of, the other two being Frederic J. Foley's The Great Formosan Imposter (1968) and Richard M. Swiderski's The False Formosan: George Psalmanazar and the Eighteenth-Century Experiment of Identity (1991). Keevak builds upon and surpasses the work of these earlier scholars, placing [...]

Cities of Refuge (Michael Helm)

Michael Helm's Cities of Refuge is a novel of precise characterization, muscled metaphors, and intelligent complexity. After 28-year-old Kim Lystrander suffers a brutal assault in downtown Toronto, she remains haunted by the apparent senselessness of the event. To deal with the trauma, she begins to imagine her unknown attacker, reconstructing the night and crafting its history. While her life reknits, her [...]

Float (Anne Carson)

Anne Carson's Float consists of 22 chapbooks of varying lengths floating inside of a transparent slipcase. Little unites them, except perhaps the overall theme of a desire to refuse boundaries and "float" free from the constraints of convention. Loosely, the chapbooks could be grouped as poems, plays, and essays (of course, they blur between). The poems are of middling quality. [...]

Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon)

Reading a novel by Thomas Pynchon is like trying to piece together a giant puzzle, only you don't know what the picture is supposed to be, and dump trucks keep stopping by to pour out more pieces. It's great, if distressing, fun. In Against the Day, Pynchon's first novel in nine years, he forecasts the dawn of a sinister future [...]

Savage Love (Douglas Glover)

"What kind of story was this?" asks Lennart, one of Douglas Glover's many conflicted characters, concerning his overcomplicated life. Lennart has just learned from his frenemy Nedlinger, the celebrity forensic archaeologist, that the skeleton Nedlinger built a career upon was not prehistoric at all, but the abandoned fetus of Lennart's unknown brother. Lennart's tentative conclusion is that this tale of [...]

Downverse (Nikki Reimer)

The epigraph of Nikki Reimer's sophomore collection (a follow-up to her debut [sic]) reads as follows: I hated your poem. Your poem was so boring.         — inebriated audience member at a poetry reading It's easy to dismiss this quote as an ironic joke, in place of the usual weighty epigraph borrowing wisdom and glory from some [...]

You Can Read #95BOOKS This Year

The following is an excerpt from my free eBook YOU CAN READ #95BOOKS THIS YEAR — sign up for the full eBook and consider joining the #95books challenge in 2018!!! I've also created a new website, 95BOOKS.com, filled with book reviews/recommendations. Sign up for a FREE ebook of reading tips — "YOU CAN READ #95BOOKS THIS YEAR" — plus news [...]

Emergency Hallelujah (Jason Heroux)

For pseudo-surrealism at its elegant best, see Emergency Hallelujah. Jason Heroux's second collection is less raw and vivid than his first (Memoirs of an Alias, also published by Mansfield), but more accomplished and assured. Heroux does not always work in a pseudo- or quasi-surrealistic mode, but is best when he does, with a knack for gorgeous, moving, lush, and dark [...]

The Book Collector (Tim Bowling)

It happens now. As, the businessman in the café declares "It's a new world," blowing on his green tea to display his globalism, it begins,  another salmon run to the Fraser River.  ("It Happens Now" 7) These lines, the first lines of Tim Bowling's The Book Collector, display the book's overall project. Bowling attempts to rehabilitate conventional poetic images, such [...]

“Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun” (Sinclair Ross)

Many books of letters are scattershot, unfocused affairs, but the letters of Sinclair Ross (as selected, arranged, and annotated by Jordan and David Stouck) are compelling and laid out like a story. They build to a jarring and poignant climax, so that the collection reads like a novel. A tragic novel. The Saskatchewan-born Ross (who lived in Winnipeg for close [...]

Baldur's Song: A Saga (David Arnason)

David Arnason's third novel tells the story of Baldur, a young boy from Gimli who finds himself in Winnipeg during its boom-town days at the turn of the nineteenth century.  Baldur is something of a naïf, and relies on his honesty and integrity more than his wits. This demeanour serves him well. As his father says to him late in [...]

The Doll's Alphabet (Camilla Grudova)

The best touchstone for Camilla Grudova's debut collection of short stories is not the writing of her literary peers but the filmmaking of David Lynch, who is best known now for the television series Twin Peaks but first notorious for the cult film Eraserhead. Grudova's fictional worlds, like Lynch's filmed worlds, are closed, insular realms, with clear but surreal logic [...]

DOWNVERSE (Talonbooks, 2014) by Nikki Reimer

The epigraph of Nikki Reimer’s sophomore collection reads as follows: I hated your poem. Your poem was so boring. — inebriated audience member at a poetry reading It’s easy to dismiss this quote as an ironic joke, in place of the usual weighty epigraph borrowing wisdom and glory from some other poet, in part because it is funny and it [...]

Winnipeg Horror: The Shadow Over Portage and Main

At long last, Winnipeg’s place in weird fiction has been secured by the publication of The Shadow Over Portage and Main: Weird Fictions, a horror story anthology edited by Keith Cadieux and Dustin Geeraert. I wrote the introduction for the book, which is reproduced below. The anthology also includes a short story by Richard Crow, an exciting and obscure author [...]

Gary Barwin, “Shopping for Deer”

Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist, and the author of 20 books of poetry and fiction as well as books for kids. His most recent books are the short fiction collection, I, Dr Greenblatt, Orthodontist, 251-1457 (Anvil) and the poetry collections, Moon Baboon Canoe (Mansfield), and The Wild and Unfathomable Always (Xexoxial). Yiddish for Pirates, a novel, will [...]

“Serial Killers” by Kathryn Mockler

Kathryn Mockler is the author of the poetry books The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, "a stuart ross book," Spring 2015), The Saddest Place on Earth (DC Books, 2012), and Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Her writing has been published in The Butter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Found Press, Geist, and This Magazine. Currently, she is the Toronto editor of Joyland: a [...]

“for play” — a poem by Kayla Czaga

Kayla Czaga is the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), which won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Debut-litzer. Her chapbook, Enemy of the People, is published by Anstruther Press. You can follow her on twitter @kaylaczaga. Photo credit: Janet Kvammen for play 1 This [...]

The Exiles' Gallery (Elise Partridge)

Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery is her third and sadly final book, since Partridge passed away earlier this year. The collection sparkles with small treasures. The speaker of one poem thinks of the moon and sees “Armstrong / bounding across its crust, / boldly gone.” So much is packed in what might otherwise simply be a throwaway Star Trek allusion, from [...]

Automatic World by Struan Sinclair

On Sept. 21, I advocated for Struan Sinclair's novel Automatic WorldAutomatic World at the Winnipeg Writers Festival during the "Manitoba Reads" event. I see now that Struan ended up in last place! Sorry, Struan. If it's any consolation, here are my opening and closing speeches concerning the novel. OPENING REMARKS Before we begin, I have to confess something: that I [...]

125-128 (Catching up… and done!)

124. How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (Paul Silvia) This is the best, most fact-based, practical book I've ever seen on writing productively, whether academically and creatively. I re-read it two or three times a year as a kick in the ass. 125. Reality Hunger (David Shields) I would like to craft a longer [...]

123. The Guardians (Andrew Pyper)

Still catching up on posts from last year (got to 128) ... my review of Pyper's latest novel was published in the Winnipeg Free Press.

122. Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges (Fernando Sorrentino)

Though Borges strikes a compelling and articulate figure in these interviews, I found it difficult to get much out of them due to the emphasis on Argentine political and literary culture, both of which I know little about. At times the interviews read like a litany of Borges's opinions on people I've never heard of before. At other moments they [...]

121. Sum (David Eagleman)

Subtitled "Forty Tales from the Afterlife," Sum compiles 40 visions of the afterlife, making it structurally similar to Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams, and Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and *ahem* my own Clockfire. The premise contains an inherent danger -- that each "vision" of the afterlife will be more saccharin than the last -- but Eagleman (a neuroscientist) avoids bland religiosity [...]

120. Talking About Detective Fiction (P.D. James)

E.M. Forster once wrote: "The king died and the queen died" is a story. "The king died, and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. . . . "The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king." This is a plot with a mystery in [...]

119. Seven Nights (Jorge Luis Borges)

An excellent, slim volume collecting seven stunning lectures by Borges. Borges is an astute and complex reader, ranging widely within a single essay while staying on point. He defends Dante from Nietzsche's remark that "Dante is a hyena making verses among the tombs" by comparing his plight with Job's: If Dante had always agreed with the God he imagines, it [...]

118. Neighbour Procedure (Rachel Zolf)

Although in some way I prefer Human Resources, Zolf's newest book is a stunning examination of the language in and around the Israel/Palestine conflict. Notable not only for its depth and complexity, but also for its compositional process, as the book is crafted (I believe entirely) from found text.

117. Unleashed (Sina Queyras)

I'm a fan of Sina and her poetry, but I'm not sold on Unleashed, which collects blog entries from a previous incarnation of her site Lemon Hound. I'm not convinced that blog entries ever need to be collected into a book -- although I will admit that there is a certain way it's interesting to read this "blog" in print, [...]

116. Catching the Big Fish (David Lynch)

A series of short meditations on film and artmaking and, unfortunately, meditation itself. Lynch might very well be the greatest living filmmaker, but he's undoubtably lost his mind insofar as he's joined the cult of transcendental meditationists, and his unfortunate zeal for transcendental meditation mars an otherwise fine book. Lynch is plainspoken and direct, not at all like his films, [...]

115. Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview & Other Conversations

Whatever cash there might be to grab in the field of Bolano ephemera, this book attempts to grab that cash. After a strong introduction by Marcela Valdes, focused on Bolano's epic novel 2666, the disconnected interviews proceed to arouse mild interest. The hyped "last interview" (with Mexico's Playboy) consists of a bunch of nonsense questions and playful answers. At one [...]

114. The Certainty Dream (Kate Hall)

Surrealistic and lyrical, Hall's poems are dreamlike and startling at their best. Line after line, Hall crafts fresh, sparkling images. My predilection is for bird poems, and Hall doesn't disappoint: a crow-bird held another bird I dropped them both . . . between the release and the impact time sounds like a bird strung over an abyss I tucked my [...]

The Logogryph (Thomas Wharton)

[Previously published online in Prairie Fire Review of Books.] The Logogryph is Thomas Wharton’s third book, and establishes Wharton as one of Canada’s best and most imaginative prose writers. Something between a novel and a collection of short stories, The Logogryph is presented as a series of texts ranging from a brief survey of the literature of Atlantis to a [...]

The Pretended Asian (Michael Keevak)

[Previous publication: “The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax by Michael Keevak.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature (Jan. 2007): 133-35. Print.] Michael Keevak. The Pretended Asian: George Psalmanazar’s Eighteenth-Century Formosan Hoax. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2004. Pp. x, 182, and 17 illustrations. $29.95 cloth. Michael Keevak’s The Pretended Asian is one of only three book-length studies of [...]

113. Bigfoot (Pascal Girard)

A coming of age story about youthful love and relationships wound around the tale of a possible Sasquatch sighting, starring poor "Disco Jimmy" (reluctant/unfortunate YouTube star). Extremely well-developed characters, especially Uncle Pierre, who's obsessed with spreading the word about his Bigfoot sighting. Girard has a strong, understated style, though I admit to growing weary of understated tales with simple plots.

112. Wilson (Daniel Clowes)

Clowes paints Wilson in broad strokes, through a series of distinct strips (each page is a self-contained comic, with culminating "gag") that together tell a continuing story (Wilson's attempt to reconnect with his old lover and abandoned daughter). He's a despicable, pathetic character, but uncomfortably recognizeable. Clowes ironizes the complex ambiguity of his story through the constrained form of the [...]

111. Masque (Rachel Zolf)

Although the least interesting of Zolf's books, Masque remains an intriguing take on a tired genre -- the "autobiographical novel" -- as Zolf arranges fragmentary lines into a dramatic script for a family in crisis. Much of the text involves Zolf elliptically dramatizing her relationship with her father, famed journalist Larry Zolf, and examining the role of media in interpersonal [...]

110. Indexical Elegies (Jon Paul Fiorentino)

Although I like JPF's work, I've felt for a little while that he needs a change, needs to take more risks, needs to move away from his "loser" persona -- and this is exactly the kind of book he's needed to write, to add more dimension to his oeuvre. He takes the elegy and plays with its conventions without any [...]

109. Mindscan (Robert J. Sawyer)

Mindscan is one of the best Sawyer books I've read -- an intellectual courtroom drama that examines complex issues surrounding personhood, concerns which become material after Jacob Sullivan has his consciousness copied into a mechanical body (called a mindscan). Sawyer writes cleanly and explains difficult, heady concepts in a down-to-earth manner, like the best popular science writers -- but marries [...]

108. Torontology (Stephen Cain)

Compared to Cain's other work, I found this book a tough slog. I much prefer the later American Standard/Canada Dry. The density of the lines here is forbidding, and the poems can be frustratingly humourless, but flashes of Cain's brilliance and wit shine through on occasion: I especially loved the self-reflexivity of "Probability of reception minimal write anyway" (15). And [...]

107. Fieldnotes, a forensic (Kate Eichhorn)

Eichhorn's previous book, Fond, impressed me, but Fieldnotes moves far beyond it in both language and concept. Combining fragmentary, disjunctive phrases with a fractured narrative and parodies of television procedurals like Bones (that's right!), this is a truly imaginative, engrossing book.

106. R's Boat (Lisa Robertson)

Robertson may be the greatest Canadian poet working today. The incantatory rhythm of her sentences here, their patterns and repetitions, is intoxictating and hypnotic. Her more concrete, visual lines impress much more than her more abstract, essayistic moments, but in general she marries these well: "The sun glitters on the top of the sycamore while the lower branches deepen to [...]

105. Rag & Bone Shop (Earle Birney)

An uneven 1971 collection by Birney. Still, admirable in its range -- Birney's experiments with form and style intrigue, and on occasion inspire. I grow weary of collections like this, which seem dilettantish. But I can't help but admire the drive and curiousity that compels Birney, even if the poems here lack a certain polish.

104. BRICKBRICKBRICK (Mark Laliberte)

[I'm actually up to book 124 right now -- beating last year's 119. So my reviews will be short, because I'm pressed for time these days, but want to catch up on my posting.]In BRICKBRICKBRICK, Mark Laliberte reproduces bricks drawn in panel backgrounds by various comic artists: Schulz, McKean, Mignola, Gorey, etc. Each set of bricks is contained within an [...]

Hard Core Logo (Michael Turner)

I'm a fan of Michael Turner, but I can't say that I was terribly impressed by Hard Core Logo. As poetry it's not exciting, and the plot is rather bland. The characters are well-drawn but not compelling. Disappointing, especially given the hype and the calibre of Turner's other work. -- Jonathan Ball

Green Books Campaign: Too Bad (Robert Kroetsch)

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take [...]

Transmetropolition 5-7 (Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson)

This series really begins to pick up as Spider is directly threatened and actually has to engage in a continuing story, rather than sit on the sidelines and "report" on the world itself. Ellis gets a lot of mileage out of his future-world and its oddities but it's a relief to actually see him bring together a storyline, finally, that [...]

The Porcupinity of the Stars (Gary Barwin)

SHOPPING FOR DEER I went shopping for deer there were no deer the shopping cart became the deer I brought it home climbed inside and turned off the lights the seasons changed I lived on earth sometimes the bright sun shone I became old when I die, I will remember the deer I will remember its wheels and antlers I [...]

The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis (Aaron Peck)

A compressed novel, a prism refracting madness, mysterious, a bewilderment itself.

Wittgenstein's Mistress (David Markson)

A master-work that anticipates Markson's later fragmentary novels, Wittgenstein's Mistress is the story of a woman who believes she is the last living thing on the planet, and whose madness is apparent in every sentence of the novel -- although most of the novel's sentences concern trivia regarding artists Kate recalls. A brilliant novel and utterly devastating by the end. [...]

A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway)

Hemingway draws out the dark fascination that readers like myself have with authors, great authors, especially the mythic figures of the so-called Modern age. In a preface he writes that “this book may be regarded as fiction” and if one can set aside the fact that his “characters” are portraits of actual people, one might regard A Moveable Feast as [...]

Hump (Ariel Gordon)

A first poetry collection organized around the poet's pregnancy, Hump could move in a lot of lousy directions but Gordon reigns in the sentimentality as much as possible to produce a set of clever and curious poems. Although loving, the poems also give away her frustration and otherwise focus on the changes in her life that the child hath wrought. [...]

Home of Sudden Service / CURIO: Grotesques & Satires from the Electronic Age (Elizabeth Bachinsky)

It's strange to see a poet produce two very distinct, quite dissimilar books, especially in succession. And for them both to be quite strong and to stand out within their respective genres. Home of Sudden Service has a lot to recommend it as a book of somewhat conventional lyric work. As somebody who grew up in a small town, I [...]

Trout Fishing in America (Richard Brautigan)

Trout Fishing in America is a true masterpiece of American literature.

“Collecting Stamps Would Have Been More Fun”: Canadian Publishing and the Correspondence of Sinclair Ross, 1933 – 1986. (Eds. Jordan and David Stouck)

My review of this book is over at the Winnipeg Free Press site. One of the things I've forgotten about freelance writing is that editors alter your work. Normally it's not a big deal. But it does make me uneasy when I don't know their sources. For example, I don't know how my editor knows that these editors are a [...]

The Hawkline Monster (Richard Brautigan)

Brautigan is the Hawaii of American novelists, an anomolous island floating off the main body of the nation. Every one of his novels is utterly unique. Subtitled "A Gothic Western," this novel is a cross between the horror, western, and comedy genres. A typical passage: Gompville was the headquarters of the Morning County Sheepshooters Association that had a president, a [...]

Transmetropolitan 2 – 4 (Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson)

As this series progresses, it starts to come into its own and establish and develop the future world more intelligently and fully. I'm struck by how much television narrative seems to have borrowed from comics -- I don't read a lot of comics or watch a lot of television, but aside from not being bound to strict act structures (like [...]

Locke & Key 3: Crown of Shadows (Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez)

Joe Hill is producing a masterful comic series, one of the best I've seen, and it's just getting better and better as it goes. Hill's a master at pacing, something that I've been struggling with in my rewrites of the novel. Hill's remarkable as a literary/horror writer in many ways, especially since there are so few such writers doing excellent [...]

Baldur's Song: A Saga (David Arnason)

My review appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.

Curious Men (Frank Buckland)

Curious Men contains selected journalism by Frank Buckland, a Victorian writer who reported on various oddities -- waxworks, two-headed people, petrifications, and so on. Buckland is a lively and engaging reporter and this is a good selection of curious work. An excerpt: Mermaids seem to have gone out of fashion about the same time as the dried heads of New [...]

Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft / 80. Locke & Key: Head Games (Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez)

Although I was a bit disappointed by Joe Hill's first novel Heart-Shaped Box, after his excellent short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, this comic series Locke & Key seems like a perfect medium for Hill -- self-contained comic issues that combine into graphic novels (distinct story arcs) but are also structured like a continuing novel (Hill has a clear end [...]

Declining America (Rob Budde)

This book contains its own best review, in a line of poetry: "A cubist CT scan of the american body." The strongest book I've read by Budde, very KSW-influenced, capped with a particularly strong poem/essay titled "Indices" that finds Budde considering poetry's utter failure as a consumer product and what aesthetic and economic implications this might have. In its best [...]

My Angie Dickinson (Michael Magee)

Magee captures some of the energy and verve of Dickinson's best poetry, using Internet searches to more or less re-construct her work. Imagine Dickinson as a 21st-century flarfist. Here's Magee's poem "142": Baby has ripped -- up Her nightie!"A sustained -- Work -- Of Terror --Elegant, sensual, erotic, bloody!"You Have Reached This Site In Error It's fun, exciting, surprising stuff, [...]

Mainstream (Michael Magee)

This is a flarf book, and like most flarf it's very uneven. There are some excellent poems -- many of the "Fascist Fairytales" stand out and the long poem "The Story of In Sip" is a highlight -- but too many of the poems are clever on a first read but not of lasting interest. I wish more flarf-ists would [...]

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (Steven Pressfield)

When this book came across my desk, I looked at it skeptically, and then thought "Why not? It's short, and I've certainly been stumbling over blocks lately, trying to work on this novel." The book is broken into thirds. In the first third, Pressfield defines "Resistance," his catch-all term for the nebulous thing that keeps you from working and may [...]

Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box (Alex Epstein)

This is an excellent book on the topic, and possible textbook material. Epstein gives a broad overview of television writing as a business, along with a narrower focus on the actual craft of writing for the medium. The book oscillates between this generalized overview and very specific advice about the actual craft, striking a nice balance where most similar books [...]

M (Jon J Muth)

This is a graphic novel adaptation of the classic Fritz Lang film. The visuals are stunning, but the pacing of the story is off. It is a fairly straightforward adaptation, which begs the question: Why bother? There is nothing wrong with this book, and the visuals are stunning, but it really does not need to exist.

Meow, Baby! (Jason)

Jason is the most brilliant and entertaining figure in comics today. This book collects his shorter works, all of which feature classic monsters (vampires, mummies, zombies, etc.; also some cavemen and Elvis) in strange and silly and banal situations. A lot of the time they watch television. The genius of Jason is to take stupid characters and situations and make [...]

What Stirs (Margaret Christakos)

Although I felt that the early sections of this book were a bit underdeveloped, the last half is exceptional, especially the lengthy poem "(I Really Don't Think You're) Strong Enough." Christakos is particularly adept at the effective use of repetition (my favourite literary tactic is effective repetition, so this is high praise coming from me).

How to Write for Television (Madeline DiMaggio)

Another book I am considering for a possible textbook. This provides a good overview of how television writing works in the U.S. and all of the steps of the creative process and explains much of the practical realities of tv writing. The emphasis is on what you need to understand about the world on the inside in order to break [...]

Transmetropolitan 1: Back on the Street (Warren Ellis & Darick Robertson)

In Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis plops Spider Jerusalem, something of a Hunter S. Thompson with amped-up misanthropy, into the hyper-capitalist, corrupt future we all know from countless SF comics/novels/movies/etc. The premise and the world aren't that unique, but are well-realized. One of the brilliant moves Ellis makes is to have Spider re-introduce himself to the world after a five-year retreat in [...]

The Turn of the Screw (Henry James)

A question the writer of narrative must always ask is this: What does the reader want? You ask the question because your job is to identify what the reader wants and refuse to give it over. The reader does not want what she thinks she wants. The reader thinks she wants the two characters to kiss, but what the reader [...]

Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets (ed. Zachariah Wells)

There is always some complaint one could make against an anthology, due to the nature of the beast. Poets included that shouldn't be, poets excluded that shouldn't be, a lack of quality in patches, and so forth. The complaint I could quickly leverage against Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets is this: Why aren't more avant-garde/experimental poems included? Isn't their exclusion a [...]

Antwerp (Roberto Bolaño)

Antwerp is a difficult book to write about, because it so aggressively pushes out -- at times to triumph in its rejection of novelistic convention, at times to announce its own failure as fiction. The book is fragmentary in every sense, a series of 56 one-or-two-page "chapters" that each contain disconnected, fragmentary narration and dialogue. On occasion what little narrative [...]

Hypoderm (Weyman Chan)

Hypoderm is Chan's third collection of poetry, and while I preferred the poems in Noise from the Laundry, which I felt were crisper and tighter, the poems here are a little more playful, philosophical, and daring. You don't see many lyrical poems written "after Baudrillard." Chan writes fairly conventional free-form lyrics but bears some experimentalist influence (due no doubt to [...]

Successful Television Writing (Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin)

I will be teaching a course on television narrative and series design in the fall so I read this book as a possible future textbook. It provides a strong overview of the basics of the industry but it is very slight and has little in the way of a discussion of the actual craft. Where the book is valuable is [...]

A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry & Memory (Robert Finley et al)

A Ragged Pen collects work by Robert Finley, Patrick Friesen, Aislinn Hunter, Anne Simpson, and Jan Zwicky. The bulk of the book is taken up with essays on the lyrical poem and its relation to memory. From the obligatory essay on Orpheus (by Simpson) to Zwicky's epigrammatic meditations ("Lyric is indifferent to death") this is a fairly predictable look at [...]

Metatropolis (ed. John Scalzi)

My review of METATROPOLIS is available from the Winnipeg Free Press. -- Jonathan Ball

Thing Feigned or Imagined: The Craft in Fiction (Fred Stenson)

Aside from the title, which I loathe, this is exactly what I have been looking for: a practical how-to book on the craft of writing fiction that I can adopt as a required text in my creative writing classes. I have been looking for a plain-spoken, practical, down-to-earth, and intelligent book without any marketing-speak, and this is that book. Best [...]

Fatal Strategies (Jean Baudrillard)

My basic position regarding Jean Baudrillard is that he is best read not as a theorist but as a literary author -- and it is in this light that his ideas achieve great significance and we have been foolish to dismiss him. I submit, as my evidence and as/in lieu of my review, a passage from the book: Science fiction [...]

Notes from Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

The Underground Man is the original emo kid, a snivelling and hopelessly pathetic figure -- but there is something disturbing and off-putting about his character and presence in this novel. Dostoevsky prefaces the book with a note claiming that of course the figure is imaginary, but "nevertheless it is clear that such persons ... not only may, but positively must, [...]

Rewrite Right! (Jan Venolia)

This is another book I'm reading for teaching/research purposes -- wondering if I should adopt an editing text for my writing classes. If I do, it might be this book. It's brief, concise, and clear, with a lot of great examples and many useful lists. The problem is: will students read it? If I don't end up making this book [...]

The Gunslinger (Stephen King)

  Now that I’ve progressed far enough in the 95 Books challenge to feel confident I can read 95 books before the year is out, I decided to take on a sub-challenge: completing Stephen King’s lengthy multi-book epic The Dark Tower (the entire series is not too far shy of 4000 pages).Great minds think alike, and fellow 95-Book-er William Neil Scott [...]

Four Stories (Sheila Watson)

Sheila Watson is best known as the author of the Canadian classic The Double Hook -- one of the few "Canadian classics" that is not a chore to read. Watson only ever published two novels and five short stories ... these are four. I have a copy of the original Coach House publication (Coach House PRESS, for the geeks), a [...]

Ways of Seeing (John Berger)

Ways of Seeing is a modern critical classic in which Berger proceeds from ideas expressed in Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" to discuss the history of painting, oil painting, and publicity (advertising) as a extensions of one another and as bound up completely in object- and social-relations. The book is a compelling, quasi-Marxist [...]

Names of the Lion (trans. David Larsen) and Game Show Reversed (kevin mcpherson eckhoff)

I'm counting these two chapbooks as a single book (Names of the Lion is 46 pages and Game Show Reversed is about 20, so they're equivalent to a short book of poetry). Names of the Lion is David Larsen's translation of a list of names for lions compiled by the Muslim scholar al-Husayn ibn Ahmad ibn Khalawayh. It's prefaced by [...]

On Writing Horror (Ed. Mort Castle)

Natalee Caple keeps calling me a "slipstream" writer, so I've been trying to learn more about genre writing -- I like the idea of existing where Chabon situated himself in his book I read earlier this year, in the "borderlands" that lie between so-called mainstream/literary and genre work. I've been trying to get my book Ex Machina reviewed by science [...]

Cities of Refuge (Michael Helm)

I reviewed this book for the Winnipeg Free Press, and they didn't pay me to give it all away here, so click the link if you want to know what I thought.-- Jonathan Ball

Pocket Pantheon (Alain Badiou)

Since graduating from the Ph.D. programme, I haven't read many theory books -- when you work in academia you find yourself often reading sections of books, or single essays, much more often than you find yourself completing full books, a real shame. Pocket Pantheon is not a proper "theory book" but a series of philosophical snippets, funeral orations in which [...]

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract (Blythe Camenson & Marshall J. Cook)

I get a lot of books for free, because (1) I'm a writer with writer-friends, (2) I review books, and (3) I teach books and thus build course booklists. I got this book for free a while back and decided recently to read it, because (1) students often ask me questions about publishing stuff that I can usually answer but [...]

At the Gates of the Theme Park (Peter Norman)

I think Peter's an awesome guy, so I'm biased, but I loved this book, his first. The poems read in most instances like mini-narratives written from a character's perspective rather than the typical ego-based lyrics. My favourite poems have a certain "soft surrealism" to the imagery. Even more conventional images are conveyed in a certain dreamlike fashion -- as in [...]

Subtractions/22 Skiddo (Michael Boughn)

With this book, I am officially just over half past (0.5 books over) the midway point of the 95 Books Challenge. Since we haven't passed the midway point of the year, I feel on track and satisfied. I expected to like this book much more than I did. It's really two short books together as one (you flip the book [...]

Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer (Ed. Bret Anthony Johnston)

I read this book seeking exercises I could use in the Creative Writing course I teach. If you want exercises, it's an okay book. A few of them seem compelling enough to try. I'm not much for exercises, except when teaching, and I got the book for free, which is the best way to get it. To be honest, I [...]

Face (Melissa Buzzeo)

A compelling suite of prose-poetry with some similarity to the work of Nathalie Stephens (who provides an insertable, loose page) and Nicole Brossard (who provides a blurb). Well worth reading although I found myself wanting less abstraction and more concrete detail. When she offers more concrete images, Buzzeo's lines shine.

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing along the Borderlands (Michael Chabon)

In academia, you get used to reading certain kinds of essays and forget that enjoyable, articulate, and often more intelligent essays are produced by literary authors. (Hey, I’m a literary author! I should write more, better essays.) Chabon is at his best when he discusses books and worst when he discusses his life. The best work in this book focuses [...]

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Arthur Conan Doyle)

Michael Chabon, in the other book I'm reading now, notes that in the Sherlock Holmes stories, "the quality of the writing itself [is] so much higher than it ever needed to be." The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favourite of the Holmes stories, if only because the hound is so iconic. The Holmes stories, despite their flaws, remain as [...]

The Invisible Man (H. G. Wells)

Extremely uneven --- maybe it's a side effect of time, or maybe it's an experiment by Wells, but the first half of this book is a slapstick comedy, and the latter half is an SF thriller. If you would skip to the middle of the book, where the invisible man begins to tell his own backstory, and the SF thriller [...]

The Time Machine (H. G. Wells)

This book doesn't hold up as well as The War of the Worlds or The Island of Dr. Moreau, but there are some astonishing moments, as when the Time Traveller passes forward to observe the world near-death: The darkness grew apace; a cold wind began to blow in freshening gusts from the east, and the showering white flakes in the [...]

The Lamp at Noon and Other Stories (Sinclair Ross)

Sinclair Ross may be Canada's greatest realist writer. Although best known for As For Me and My House, a brilliant book, his short stories are also stunning. In addition to well-known stories like "The Lamp at Noon" and "The Painted Door," this book contains exceptional lesser-known stories like the stunning "One's a Heifer" -- which I claim for the horror [...]

Orwell (Raymond Williams)

This is a revised edition with an afterword, "Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1984." Williams does an excellent job of tracing Orwell's political development and how it connects to his literary development and makes a compelling case for Orwell's continuing relevance. Some of these ideas sound familiar, and I wonder if Christopher Hitchens had not picked up their threads in Why Orwell [...]

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (Arnold Bennett)

This may seem like an odd choice for me, but I'm trying to become more productive and I thought, "Why not look at some business books?" The reason became clear: because they are all nonsense, you can tell at a skim. So almost as a joke, I decided to read Bennett's 1910 book on time management, which is really a [...]

Social Acupuncture (Darren O'Donnell)

This book contains a lengthy essay on O'Donnell's vision of a politically and socially engaged theatrical experience, which for O'Donnell is best achieved through an audience-involved, non-narrative theatre. He makes an impassioned call for artists to blur the line between art production and social work and to engage directly with their audiences through relevant, meaningful, non-academic works. I disagree with [...]

Golden Fleece (Robert J. Sawyer)

I'm becoming quite the fan of SF author Robert J. Sawyer. Golden Fleece, his first book, is convincingly written from the perspective of an artificial consciousness, JASON, the ship computer aboard the Argo. Think 2001 written from the perspective of HAL. Not that JASON is insane--but then again, was even HAL truly insane? Sawyer himself, in an article elsewhere, gives [...]

Anthropy (Ray Hsu)

I'm impressed by the range of this book -- Hsu scatters his attentions without coming across as dilettantish and displays a wide variety of influences. More poetry needs to exist in this liminal space between the so-called "camps" of lyrical and experimental work in Canada. Hsu also avoids a pitfall of many writers who take literary figures as sources of [...]

Teethmarks (Sina Queyras)

More to my fancy than Slip -- this book pushes more, ranges wide, and is a solid precursor to Sina's later work. I especially enjoyed the very fractured series "Dizzy, or, My Mother's Life as Cindy Sherman." I think that Expressway and Lemon Hound blow this book out of the water, but it's an excellent book in its own right [...]

Ur (Stephen King)

This is a "novella" and I don't exactly know how long it is, because I read it on the iPhone's Kindle app. It took about as long to read as a short book so I am going to count it. The concept is that an English teacher buys a Kindle that allows him to purchase books from alternate realities. King [...]

Slip (Sina Queyras)

Queyras is an excellent writer, but this book didn't do much for me, because I'm just fundamentally disinterested in poems about love and/or lust. The poems are also relatively straightforward and lack the panache of her later work. They're good poems, and it's a strong book, but not really my thing.

Flashforward (Robert J. Sawyer)

This novel was the basis for the television series of the same name (back on the air now), but the differences between the two are numerous. The main similarity is the machine of the novel's concept: for the same few minutes, every person on earth has a vision of the future. Both the novel and the film recount not only [...]

House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

At 709 pages, this is the longest book I've read for the 95 Books Challenge. House of Leaves is a fascinating, flawed, and ambitious novel. Most of the novel concerns a mise en abyme story-within-a-story about a house that is larger on the inside than on the outside. It's a simple, gothic concept that Danielewski exploits to tremendous effect, and [...]

Man Ray / Surrealist Photography (Photofile)

I am counting these two books as one for no good reason. Photofile produces nice little photograph-reproduction books with short introductory essays that are not extensive but decent overviews of the subject. These are good, cheap collections of work. I am a great fan of surrealist photography and will eventually replace these with a proper volume on the subject, but [...]

stone poems (Stephen Scobie)

stone poems was written 1967-1969 and published in 1973 by Talonbooks as a small box containing loose square pages. The poems are bpNichol-esque, minimalist poems. The book reads very much like an imitation of Nichol and as such the poems are more successful than not. However, there is less playfulness here than in Nichol's work and often the poems are [...]

Five Chapbooks, by Therese Renaud, Michael Ondaatje, Mary Ruefle, Jim Goar, and Pablo Picasso

I'm going to count these five chapbooks as a single title although together they are probably equivalent to two books (of poetry). The Sands of Dream (Therese Renaud) This is a BookThug reissue of the classic Renaud text, translated from the French by Ray Ellenwood. This chapbook is considered by some to be the first significant Surrealist publication in Canada [...]

Man Ray (Aperture: Masters of Photography)

This is a bargain-bin book of Man Ray's photographs, and unsurprisingly it's not a great selection, and the introductory essay by Jed Perl is simplistic. In fact, the best part of the book is the cover image below.

Dream Baby Dream: Images from the Blank Generation (Stephanie Chernikowski)

Wistful for the days when musicians had stage names like Rat Scabies? Then take a trip down memory lane, even if (like myself) you're not old enough to remember, with Stephanie Chernikowski, who bills this books as a "documentary film in stills." The book consists of a selection of Chernikowski's photos of luminaries like Sid Vicious, Johnny Thunders, Devo, The [...]

Rhapsodomancy (kevin mcpherson eckhoff)

Rhapsodomancy is by my good friend and sometime co-conspirator kevin mcpherson eckhoff, and will be published by Coach House Books shortly (I read the book in manuscript years ago and re-read it today). It's the kind of book that makes you hate the writer for being better than you. Make sure you buy this book when it comes out. I'll [...]

Crow Planet (Lyanda Lynn Haupt)

I read this book because I thought it would be more about crows than about urban naturalism, and although I learned enough useful information (for my novel-in-progress, which concerns crows to strange degrees) to consider the reading worthwhile, I must admit that I am not partial to the Thoreau-esque naturalist jibber-jabber that takes up most of this book. If that [...]

Point Omega (Don DeLillo)

Point Omega is DeLillo's newest novel, a slim but powerful book. It's hard to pin down a book like this, which is deceptively simple at first blush but rather complex when one looks closely. DeLillo is a masterful stylist, but not in that overblown way us Canadians are used to seeing -- he writes exceedingly well but doesn't try to [...]

The Goodman Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ (Philip Pullman)

I reviewed Philip Pullman's new novel, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, for the Winnipeg Free Press: you can read the review here.

The Anger Scale (Katie Degentesh)

(Great minds think alike, Ryan, even outside of classes...)Degentesh has taken select questions from the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory), “a psychological test consisting of 566 true/false questions that has been the benchmark for determining people’s mental pathologies as well as their fitness for court trials and military service since the 1930s” (75), and “administered” this question to the general [...]

Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person (Eirin Moure)

If the reading habits of this blog represented the reading habits of the nation, Erin Moure would be one of the country's bestsellers and Margaret Atwood would be living in my basement, which doesn't exist. (Nothing against Atwood, I'm just saying....) Sheep's Vigil by a Fervent Person sees Erin Moure (writing as Eirin) translating the poetry of Fernando Pessoa (writing [...]

The Career Novelist (Donald Maass)

I read this book because I wanted to know more about the genre publishing industry, not that I intend to do anything with that knowledge but because I’m (re)writing a novel featuring a character who is a genre author. I selected this book because it appears to be well-respected amongst genre authors, is by a literary agent who specializes in [...]

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

A murder occurs for which everybody in the town is culpable, if only through inaction. An excellent book, compelling and dark, although not as rich and engrossing as I expected it would be.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

Wilde's genius persists, but The Picture of Dorian Gray has not aged well.

Rollback (Robert J. Sawyer)

So many people on this site are reading science fiction that I've been peer-pressured into it! Actually, I noticed last year that the blind spot in my reading was science fiction, so I've tried to redress this. Also, trying to revise my novel, I've decided I need to read idea-driven fiction that retains a strong narrative drive, and SF appears [...]

Half World (Hiromi Goto)

Half World is a young adult fantasy that in many respects can be considered a horror novel. In one of the novel's first scenes, a woman bites off the finger of her lover as a toll to pass out of Half World, a middle-realm between the world of flesh and the world of spirit. The scene is as gruesome and [...]

The Island of Doctor Moreau (H.G. Wells)

Wells wrote this book long before genetics was understood to any degree, and so the science of creating humanoid beast-men is predicated on vivisection and surgical manipulation, but of course the book is now read in light of genetic research and as a cautionary tale. However, the true brilliance of this novel is to not to caution but rather to [...]

The Case of Lena S. (David Bergen)

I don't read much realism. I don't enjoy it -- it tends to lack structure, to lack ideas, to lack style, to lack panache. It's predictable, formulaic, bland, and (to borrow a term from my former life as a lousy musician) overproduced. David Bergen writes as if he hates realism for all the same reasons I do, but is committed [...]

Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

Heart of Darkness is one of the more controversial classics, its politics hotly debated, particularly in the wake of Chinua Achebe's scathing condemnation. The book is a complicated beast and I'm not sure where I stand on the debate, insofar as the book's politics are concerned, since it is dangerous to search for Conrad's own opinions and intentions in narration [...]

Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman)

The shooting script for the film Adaptation contains a few interesting appendices -- an interview with Kaufman and Spike Jonze and short responses to the film by Susan Orlean (whose book The Orchid Thief is the basis for the film) and Robert McKee (the screenwriting guru that Kaufman lampoons in the film). Otherwise, it's just a shooting script, and as [...]

Haroun and the Sea of Stories (Salman Rushdie)

If you haven't read Rushdie, you're missing out -- his controversial The Satanic Verses remains one of my favourite books, and Haroun is something of a companion piece in a strange way. Written while Rushdie was in hiding, and separated from his son Zafar, Haroun is essentially a children's fantasy that is also an allegory for Rushdie's condemnation through fatwa [...]

The Age of Spiritual Machines (Ray Kurzweil)

Kurzweil's book is a fascinating, thought-provoking volume, although in general too optimistic for my blood. One of the basic flaws of Kurzweil's thinking, and a flaw of most "futurist" thinking, is the assumption that superior technology will always replace inferior technology. Kurzweil's "predictions" are almost laughable as a result, and it is easy to thus ignore the book's central, significant [...]

The Book of Tea (Kakuzo Okakura)

Okakura wrote this book to introduce the ways of tea-drinking, and Japanese thought in a general sense, to Westerners. I love tea but what I enjoy about this book is the way Okakura writes—his is a fiery, passionate style, a sharp contrast to the measured, restrained mood of the tea ceremony he describes. Here's a typical passage: Tell me, gentle [...]

Child of God (Cormac McCarthy)

Cormac McCarthy makes me joyous and angry, inspired and depressed at the same time. His throwaway lines are better than anything I've ever written. Even when nothing is happening, the prose engrosses. His style is ornate and sparse at once: Old woods and deep. At one time in the world there were woods that no one owned and these were [...]

On Love and Death (Patrick Süskind)

On Love and Death is a slim volume consisting of a single essay by Süskind, who is better known as the author of Perfume. The essay is a throwback to the kind of straightforward, reader-friendly criticism that relies on elegance and style more than ideas and argument. The first third of the book, where Süskind discusses love, is banal and [...]

This Way Out (Carmine Starnino)

My joke, when I'm asked why I don't write poetry about my feelings, is that as a straight, white male, aged 18-35, I feel my life is adequately represented in the culture. Starnino's one of the cats out there, writing about his (my?) feelings, and excusing me from doing so. I'm not a fan of Starnino's but he's a strong [...]

Gutted (Evie Christie)

One of my frequent complaints about poetry is that so much of it feels "bloodless" -- the poems may be beautiful, well-written, precise, and well-structured, but lack a certain life, a rawness to which I respond. Evie Christie can't be charged with any such thing -- these poems are visceral and kinetic, and even the poems I liked less had [...]

Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman)

I decided to start 2010 off easy, with a quick read (completed the entire book in one sitting). Odd and the Frost Giants is another of Neil Gaiman's novels for young adults, and it's an excellent little book, a fantasy set in Norse mythology about a boy named Odd who helps Odin, Thor, and Loki retake Asgard after they have [...]

George W. Bush reviews his own book

"I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened." --George W. Bush, on what he hopes to accomplish with his memoir, as reported by the Associated Press, Calgary, Canada, March 17, 2009

My Night Table Recommendations at McNally Robinson

My Night Table Recommendations are the first in a planned series at the McNally Robinson website. Thanks again to McNally Robinson and all the staff at the Grant Park location for hosting my Ex Machina launch!

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