Thursday, March 22, 2012


I've been very busy preparing myself for a new adventure, law school!  I've gotten a full scholarship to school and am ecstatic about this, but I still need to raise money for my long haul move from Atlanta to Minnesota.

Please consider donating.  Every little bit helps. 

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green has to be one of the funnest books I've read in years. Take a modern day adventure tale and mix it with a kid who's most of us as we were at 12 or 13 and you get a painstakingly hilarious reminder of all the moments we've chosen to forget in adulthood. David Mitchell has created the character of Jason Taylor in his newest(2006) book. He's 13, he lives in a sleepy small town, and suffers from a ghost of a stutter. I'm not saying that it's a faint stutter. I like to think of it more as a goblin or spirit that seems to have a mind of its own. Let's just say that since so few of us were emotionally and physically perfect in those early teenage years, Jason Taylor will feel so familiar (whether you stuttered or not).

What Mitchell does in this novel is link 13 short stories together into a broad expanse of a year to cover every detail of his character's life. Here's the zinger. There are countless books about adolescence, but it's as if Mitchell sat down at that age and took notes. Detailed notes. Notes about what it felt like, what it sounded like, and what it looked like in 1982 before he grew up and forgot it all. It's what's missing in so many nostalgic novels; the feeling behind it.

I remember living as a kid in a section of town with tight housing. Any chance I got I was climbing houses and running over rooftops, spanning entire neighborhoods in a day. It's this type of trouble that occurs in Black Swan Green. It's outdoor trouble mostly, allowing the reader to journey with Jason Taylor unconfined by tight prose. Believe me, read this book and you'll smile in a way you haven't in say oh, however many years it was since you were 13.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is an engulfing, interesting, and disturbing novel. It tells the story of a young Princeton graduate, Chengez, seemingly on top of the world when the attacks on the World Trade Centers happen. He is forced to confront what his Middle-Eastern heritage means in a post-9/11 world. We also meet Erica, whose life is woven inextricably with Chengez's. While she is arguably the flattest character in the novel, we see what unreasonable loss can do and how it's possible never to recoup. While her character is recovering from an event that took place far earlier than 9/11, Hamid forces the loss in New York onto her psyche, showing us that sometimes we can't go back to ease or sanity in the face of large-scale grief. Like Chengez, the reader is eventually shut-out of her world as well.

The novel is sparse and rests on the conversation between two men. In the silences between their words the reader becomes truly engaged. One thing is for sure, The Reluctant Fundamentalist pulls you in and forces you to have an opinion. This is no neutral book, but it isn't quite as simple as taking sides. What stands out about Hamid's story is his ability to paint a complex character that can't be forced inside an argument of right vs. wrong. Aside from this one , I haven't read a novel that resonates so specifically in the Zeitgeist of the last ten years.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

I've been flying a little bit more than usual lately and on my way out the door on my way to Florida, I grabbed Vendela Vida's newest book, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. I've delayed writing about it because I thought I would be able to find a perfect way to describe it, but I keep landing on the word "crystalline." I don't mean it so much in that I feel this book is transparant. It's sharp and jagged and beautiful. Maybe that is the only way I can describe it. Being set mostly north of the Arctic Circle, the landscape lends itself to such terms, as snow does; we all become nostalgic and innocent when the snow is deep. Combine that with a sharp, focused prose and we receive an elegiac tightly-woven novel that is so linked to the landscape that it couldn't be any other way.

Like the main character (and I suspect us all), I feel it's hard to go home. The precious difference between Clarissa Iverton's trip north and my own trip south is that when I land, while it will always be a little bit strange and disconnected, it will always be warm.

I've been curious about Vida's work since I started reading The Believer. I'd glad I started here. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name is an addictive and necessary novel, one of those rare works that tells us what we already know in a completely new language.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Dear everyone on the planet,

I'd like to introduce you to one of the most original and bizarre books I've read in a long time. I've been blessed that my recent reading has led me down a path of nothing but great books, but this is wonderful on a whole 'nother level. The feeling I get when thinking about this book reminds me of when I first fell in love with Jeanette Winterson's writing so many years ago. The warm fuzzies, the long nights with my book light trying to sneak in just another page before my wife cries that she can't sleep; it's love.

How can I describe Oscar Wao? We have all known him in one form or another, maybe even in ourselves. He's sad, he's obsessed with Science Fiction (to him, those words are definitely capitalized), he's crazy for girls, and he's all of our nerdiness combined into one. I can finally relax and know that there is someone out there, fictional or not, who hands down makes me look smooth.

Combine the walking disaster that is Oscar Wao with the author's obvious devotion to Science Fiction, his meticulous research of the Dominican Republic, and his mere brilliance with spinning a great yarn. What you get is the perfect blend of exactly what turns me on as a reader. Not only me though. Diaz's first book, Drown, cemented him as a "landmark of contemporary literature." I read an interview with Diaz saying that he is the first critically-acclaimed author out of the Dominican Republic. I'm not sure if this is true, but if he is, others have a hard road to follow. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is marvelous and a joy to read. Allow yourselves to get lost in the footnotes, in the fuku, and in the family. While I thought about it, I'm going to resist the urge to give away the ending. It's my favorite part of the book and made me give Oscar a huge hi5 in the sky for becoming one of the bravest characters in contemporary literature.

Congratulations to Junot Diaz for patching together a pretty seamless novel of epic proportions.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

American Youth by Phil Lamarche

I've read two essential yet vastly different American novels lately, American Youth by Phil Lamarche and Wounded by Percival Everett. I pull Everett's novel into this piece solely because both books are stellar examples of what American fiction looks like today. Both are stark and brutal. One tangent in recent fiction advocates simplicity and this works especially well for fiction in this country because I believe we have a desire to pull back from it all and take a deep breath. American Youth goes there. Lamarche demonstrates a unique ability to talk about essentially every small town in America and one huge problem. He links the endemic gun control argument to the specific dynamics of a financially depressed small town. No matter where we are, what city we live in, gun violence affects us all, but there is a difference in how it affects rural populations. Lamarche captures this beautifully and unapologetically. After the shooting the main character, already unintentially flawed by his landscape, becomes desperate. What Lamarche does masterfully is mirror this desperation to the landscape and what arrives for the reader is a reminder of all the hidden places in this country and in our hearts.

For more on my take of Wounded, read the next blog post...

Wounded by Percival Everett

Wounded has to go down as one of my favorite novels this year. My previous post dealt with another newer novel, American Youth. Both stand out as quintessentially American novels and both are excellent examples of where the literary canon is heading in this country. Percival Everett's novel, however, emerges from all the others I've read recently in the way he incorporates landscape and humanity. Wounded is about a small ranching town where peace exists just below the surface until violence descends and starts to tear apart the fabric of the town. It seems to me that this novel is a direct descendant of what happened to Matthew Shephard in Wyoming and might not have existed without that, but what's amazing is that seeing those similarities only makes this novel more devastating. Here's what Everett does best. There are so many themes running through the book; race, homophobia, the human race vs. the natural landscape, violence, our relationships with animals, but it would be impossible to pigeonhole the novel any one way. And who would want to? To do so would be to ignore every other element that makes this book beautiful.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Like Son by Felicia Luna Lemus

I'm finally back! After a couple months of forgetting that I love to read, I'm back! All I can do is jump up and down with ecstatic truth. The first book in is Felicia Luna Lemus's second book, Like Son. I scored a copy of this book at the last AWP conference in Atlanta and have been meaning to read it ever since. Why did I wait this long? Wasn't that conference in something like February? First of all, the thing I love best about this is her incredible attention to detail. For instance, near the beginning of the novel, Lemus describes that palm-sized paper-thin red plastic fish you had when you were a kid. Here's the thing. I had completely forgotten about those fortune-telling fish until I got to page 15 of Like Son, but now I'm having ferocious flashbacks and I want a thousand little red fish to tell me everything that's going to happen in my life.

Lemus also has an acute awareness of grief. Unlike how I (and I suspect, most people) suppress grief and bury it under tons of earth and skin, her main character grieves in a way that is palpable and intense. The novel, in fact, is filled with sadness. I'd hunch that it's the emotion that is the driving force beginning to end. There are moments of beauty, of course, and the sections I described to my wife were the ones that screamed classic love story. However, what I connected with most was the melancholy that ran through the pages.

The other aspect worth mentioning, although I'm not sure I can formulate my thoughts well enough to describe it, is the immigrant experience. Part of the main character's connection to the world, his parents, and his past echoes mine. There's something that happens between a first-generation American and his or her family that you can't fully describe; you can only relate. Felicia Luna Lemus captures this incredibly well and even though you sometimes hate to admit that you feel some kind of deep connection to an imaginary character, such is fiction and it's the sole reason why we want more.

My only disappointment was the last page or two. I was so wrapped up in the novel, so consumed, that I expected more from Lemus. All day today, I've thought about whether or not my want is validated. Did i just want more of the novel? Was it that i just wanted to know what happened to Frank and Nathalie? I realized that it was more than that. Lemus's novel is so strong, tight, and substantial. The last chapter loses that. We're built up and then left hanging and the difference (luckily) between this and the Jason Bourne trilogy is that these characters aren't superheroes with an unlimited life span. All in all, her novel is beautiful and of all the things that could go wrong in a fiction adventure, this is pretty minor. The way I see it, if I can get through a book not wanting to put it down, I figure the author's done more than one thing right.

Read the book for all that it is, as well as for the small amount of what it lacks. Disagree with me about the ending. Don't ask me what the ending is though. If you have to, get yourself a red curling little fish and hope it tells you.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rant on Rant

I'm finishing the last of Chuck Palahniuk's new novel as another missile of a storm comes rolling through and I can't help but thinking that it's perfect. Not only do I love storms, but I loved his new book, Rant. Palahniuk for me is beach reading. This isn't to dismiss his books as light or frivolous, but rather they are candy. I usually fly through them quick enough to hand them off and grab myself a better edition for my collection.

Rant is a fun book. It's set up as an oral history set up in reverse. Many oral histories are told from a singular viewpoint. Rant, on the other hand, takes that singularity and makes it the subject of memory. I've found most oral histories confined to either the traditions of Southern literature or African-American/African studies. This book is neither, but you can see the influences of generations of living oral history in Palahniuk's new story.

What I found most appealing about is the fact that it's in this book that his skill as an author becomes most apparent. Many writers lose tightness in a structure that deviates from standard, but Palahniuk reigns it in. Rant ends up a strangely diary-like beauty that resonates with vision and darkness, but we can't forget that Palahniuk has once again laced that vision with humor. Expect typical urban settings and violence, but fans will agree that Rant delivers more than usual.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Irvine Welsh in town!

We're all recovering from a late night hosting Irvine Welsh at the Highland Inn. About a hundred folks showed up to celebrate the rare appearance of Welsh in Atlanta. Rare, as in the first. Hubcap City kicked off the night with some great music as well. A Cappella Books has some signed copies of his new book The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs (in both hardcover and paperback), as well as signed paperbacks of Trainspotting and his play, Babylon Heights. Visit A Cappella Books for more information on how to grab a copy.