Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fourteen Hills Kicks Off 2013

Last Friday, SFSU's Fourteen Hills Review kicked off another year of literary awesomeness with a local reading at Mission District's Press: Works On Paper. The incredible line-up resulted in a solid turnout and I happily accompanied my friend Donna to listen to some literary greatness.

This was my first experience of the well-known Peter Kline.

First impressions: You are very tall, sir, and your hair has magnificent body. More important impressions: This guy has some serious gusto and makes the incendiary sound delicious. I can't wait to get my hands on his book Deviants, which is forthcoming in the fall of this year.

Ivan Hobson: Machinist. Poet. Former SFSU MFA student. Rad.

Ivan prefaced a piece (my favorite that he read) describing a connection he feels with his grandfather (founder of his family's machine shop) in working with the antique tools. Made me think of the erasure project I did with my great-grandmother's letters. Insert thoughts about erasure as a more physical/tangible experience.

Toni Mirosevich had a pretty epic fan club present and took the stage to major hollering from her SFSU students.

She read a gorgeous short story (about grocery shopping) that made me want to read more of her short stories which I feel confident are equally as gorgeous.

Okay, so I admit that I mostly came to this reading because of Robert Gluck. Hearing Mr. G read his work changes everything.  He was hilariously introduced with a quote from Giancarlo DiTrapano of NY Tyrant Books.  (The quote and the article were originally posted on Vice and you can/should read it here.)

He read a poem about Waterworld. The movie. Written as a letter from himself to Kevin Costner. Oh sweet, sweet laughter.

Finally, a big announcement from Editor-In-Chief Chad Koch! You know that awesome annual fiction award held by Fourteen Hills? And you know their annual fiction anthology?

Fourteen Hills is in the process of creating a similar award and anthology for ... POETRY! Boom. These things will likely occur in the nether regions of 2013 and early 2014, but we've waited this long. More time to polish the sonnets won't hurt, right?

Thanks for (and congrats on) a great event, Fourteen Hills!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review: "The Uninvited Guests" by Sadie Jones

Title: The Uninvited Guests
Author: Sadie Jones
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date Published: January 8, 2013
Pages: 259 pages

How I Heard About It:  A review  copy of this newly-released paperback was provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher as part of Sadie Jones' official blog tour.

Two Sentence Summary: All the things we love about Jane Austen, about Victorian trysts, about eerie ramshackle mansions with none of the struggle to decipher syntax. Totally entertaining and engaging looks into the lives of the formerly-elite.

Things I Think: It is so good to take a step back from CAPITAL L LITERATURE to read some for-fun historical fiction.  My reading diet is not often bolstered by books like "The Uninvited Guests," but I am so glad this book crept into my TBR pile.

The story opens with a newly step-fathered family struggling to save their rambling estate; while this plot element is by no means unique to historical fiction, the vibrantly portrayed family makes this an addictive read from the beginning. Raven-haired siblings Emerald and Clovis, on the cusp of their twenties, are flawed (they hate their stepfather, their loss of affluence, the malaise of their days) but intriguingly mercurial and loveable in their humanity.  Charlotte, the mother of this interesting pair, is a bit of a wilting flower as she opines for the increasingly lost cause of saving the estate. And an eerie youngest sibling nicknamed Smudge provides a ghostly presence that fixates on the crumbling remains of the "old house" that adjoins their living quarters. 

Jones writes with a diction and syntax that is mimetic of the early 20th century, but it is never inaccessible, or difficult to relate to, in the way some readers find Austen to be.   She has imbued her characters and their circumstance with as much light-hearted humor as despair, keeping "The Uninvited Guests" from feeling overwhelmingly like a classic Russian novel.

I will definitely pass this one around amongst my friends and will be recommending this to my fellow humans in book clubs.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review and Giveaway: "Wanderers" by Edward Belfar

Title: Wanderers
Author: Edward Belfar
Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press
Date Published: June 5, 2012
Pages: 272
This would be a good time to not judge a book by its font.

How I Heard About It: A digital copy for review was provided by TLC Book Toursand the publisher as part of Wanderers' blog tour. Less important (and perhaps to be saved for another blog post), this was my first foray into e-reading on my new iPad Mini which, like the book, was quite a satisfying experience.

Two Sentence Summary: Belfar's first book is a collection of 15 short stories; at the core of each is the dissatisfaction, the ennui of the quotidian. While the settings are often exotic (Karen, Africa; Roman honeymoons; Long Island mansions), the characters are largely of the struggling status quo, negotiating failing relationships and financial worries in realistic terms.

Things I Think: These stories totally avoid the trap that makes me hate short stories: last-ditch plot twists to make something realistic into an epiphanic moment. Belfar's writing is straightforward, the prose is sharp and engaging but never florid. The style's lack of poetry is totally perfect for the content, which is entirely of "the everyday."

"The Volvo had seen better days. Its front grille had fallen off, and where the right headlight once had shone, only a black hole remained. The hood and the roof looked as though someone had turned a sandblaster on them; in some places, the white paint had peeled away down to the metal. Even routine stops caused the brakes to screech, and the exhaust pipe spewed out billows of blue-tinged smoke."

To turn everyman's trials into a series of anecdotes toys dangerously with a line of boredom, a line which the author never crosses for me. My only qualms were momentary, regarding certain descriptive quirks that the author uses perhaps too frequently (almost all of the wives in the stories have a tendency to nervously pull out their hair) but the distraction was not large enough to ruin my impression of Wanderers on the whole.

Giveaway of "Wanderers"

The publisher has provided me with an extra paperback copy to give away to a reader! Comment on this post for a chance to win. Follow on bloglovin', twitter, or google reader for extra entries. (Be sure to leave a comment for each extra entry so I can account for them.)

Winner will be announced one week from today: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: "Life After Death" by Damien Echols

 Title: Life After Death
Author: Damien Echols
Publisher: blue rider press
Date Published: September 18, 2012
Pages: 416

How I Heard About It: I'd spent my life, up to now, in ignorance of the "West Memphis Three" and Damien Echols' battle to fight the system, to escape Death Row.  My hair stylist, Cotton, shares my love for documentaries and mentioned Paradise Lost and West of Memphis, films which detail the events surrounding Echols' wrongful accusation and imprisonment.  Obsessively researching this horrific failure of "the system," I learned Echols had released a 2012 memoir and sought it out promptly.

Two Sentence Summary: I won't do this gorgeous memoir the disservice of rehashing a saga that is already well-documented via a variety of media. Echols speaks candidly, poetically, about what can only be called a journey through absolute hell.

I have now come to realize that the only names I need are the ones that have been in my book of destiny since the very beginning.  If I want to keep moving forward, then I have to keep looking back. I am rejuvenated by drinking from the oldest and deepest wells.
-p. 99

Things I Think: I have never walked away from a book so astonished with, so inspired by, the capabilities of human tenacity.  Along with two others, Echols spent eighteen years in maximum security prisons, falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned for murders he clearly did not commit.  He journaled from the confines of Death Row, from a cell in which he could only take two steps and was, in turn, being eaten alive by mosquitoes, tortured by prison guards, freezing.  Locked up at age 18, this man began studying Buddhism, practicing zazen and yoga on a regular basis.  His insights into meditation and spiritual fastidiousness would be extraordinary under any circumstances; the fact that these insights were born of a mistreated teenager kept entirely isolated, without cause, is what makes "Life After Death" (and its author) epic.  A story like this cannot just be told in beautiful prose.  It must be told in poetry, and Echols' steady hand has certainly accomplished this. 

I'm not content to settle for one experience when there is a whole lifetime of experiences to be had.  I am so hungry for knowledge that I live several lives to acquire it. A Catholic and a Buddhist, a reader and a writer, a sinner and a philosopher, a husband and a father, a Native American and a white man - I no longer have any desire to fit into one category.
-p. 265

Sunday, January 6, 2013

2013 "To Be Read" (or "And So It Begins")

My favorite holiday tradition? The annual family trip to Barnes & Noble.  As ever, Christmas means I'm now guaranteed to be stocked up on reading material for the rest of the year. :)

"The Vanishing Act" is massively praised by Erin Morgenstern, author of "The Night Circus." And she blurbed it. So this purchase was a no-brainer.

Self-educating on David Foster Wallace. #intense

Essay collections by my two favorite Jonathans: Lethem and Franzen.

What books have you picked up in the past couple weeks?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013: Intentions in Pics

Make.  Learn. Write. Celebrate. Read. Publish. Build. Fiddle. Watch. Mend. Listen. Correspond. Plunge.

Happy New Year ;)