A couple weeks ago, I got home to find a little, nondescript package at my door — a cardboard fold-up marked only with my and the return addresses. Which made me wonder: Who is Fat Possum Records and why did they send me mail and could it be anthrax? Of course, I immediately opened the package — and out came a copy of The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan. That was all that was in there. There wasn’t even a packing slip! Who sent me the mysterious book? It took me a while, but I remembered that I’d signed up for The TNB Book Club a week or so earlier. TNB stands for The Nervous Breakdown (so yes, the book club is The The Nervous Breakdown Book Club), a literary website that publishes fiction, book reviews, and funny self-interviews where authors ask themselves questions then answer them too. I joined the book club on a whim, partly because I’m a fan of TNB founder Brad Listi’s literary podcast, Otherppl, and partly because I’m a fan of book subscription boxes in general. That said, to call The TNB Book Club a book subscription box is a bit of a stretch. First […]
The very last print issue of The Los Angeles Review came in the mail a few weeks ago — and in the back pages is a book review of Nadine Darling’s She Came From Beyond! written by yours truly — I’m so glad that The Los Angeles Review has now gone all digital (there’ll still be a best-of print annual), because that means the reviews get published in a more timely manner. Seriously — I turned in this review for LAR back in April 2016! More than a year later, it’s finally made its way into print — along with some other great reviews plus fiction and poetry. My favorite piece in this issue was a short fiction piece called “Stories About Men” by Rhian Sasseen: I shouldn’t have strayed–but then again, what is literature beyond the stories of cheating wives? When that man standing beside me at the birthday party shrugged and confided, “I don’t really understand what women see in men,” I had to show him. You can buy the last print issue of The Los Angeles Review online — and read and submit your work for future issues online.
The first time saw Dana Johnson was on a panel at Skylight Books. I can’t remember what the panel was actually about, but I remember clearly what Dana said about her MFA experience — that she didn’t go right out of college, she waited a while until she was really hungry, ready. Then during her years at Indiana University, she wrote the stories in her first collection, Break Any Woman Down, winner of the prestigious Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what I did, which was go to grad school at USC straight out of college and use the time as a sort of prolonged adolescence — the totally unproductive kind with lots of flailing around and remarkably little writing. If only I’d waited to go to USC until Dana started teaching there! Then I’d have been the recipient of her sage advice — though whether or not I would have done anything with it at that point, who knows. That said, everything’s turned out fine — But back to Dana. Break Any Woman Down is a complex and provocative collection of short stories, often starring characters in the margins of society. A black stripper tries to […]
Brief reviews of books by contemporary authors I read this month — along with photos of what I ate while reading. The list is ordered by the level my enjoyment: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (FSG, 1949) “They want attention and praise and sometimes they’ll do almost anything.” * Fuck I love Shirley Jackson. I love the creepy ways she reveals the cruel violent minds of children especially — a boy excited by the thought of strangling then chopping up his little sister to bits, two sibling filled with glee at the prospect of killing the family dog with a collar of nails. There’s also a story about a woman who goes on vacation to NYC — and slowly starts freaking out at the random violence of the city until she’s immobilized by anxious panic attacks. Obviously, this was the perfect read before flying to NYC on book tour! Breaking and Entering by Joy Williams (Vintage, 1988) “Years pass as moments do. And the moments of the past are stones behind her, over which she stumbles forward.” * I love Joy William’s writing: spare, exact, disturbing. Liberty and Willie are drifters, breaking into strangers’ vacation homes and […]
It’s already summer — or at least it feels like it — and the summer reading lists are coming out! I’m overjoyed that Cake Time is on Newport Mercury’s list — Fictional encounters: 12 books to take you away this summer: Wendy Fontaine writes that “Ju’s writing is witty, blunt and entirely unsentimental, which makes this book a lot of fun to read.” Thanks Wendy! I’m honored to be in such great company — with Edan Lepucki (who blurbed Cake Time!), Elizabeth Strout, and George Saunders! If you add Cake Time to your own summer reading list, I’d love it if you reviewed it on Goodreads, Amazon, or on your own blog, like my friend Zandria did. Thanks Zandria! What else are you reading this summer?
Brief reviews of books by contemporary authors I read this month — along with photos of what I ate while reading. The list is ordered by the level my enjoyment: The Rules of Inheritance: A Memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith (Hudson Street, 2012) “Even in the moments when you don’t think you are moving forward, you really are.” * The Rules of Inheritance is about the deaths of both Claire’s parents from cancer — and the painful aftermath of twenty-something Claire’s coming to terms with her loss while finding her own place in the world. There’s a toxic relationship, copious drinking, and a lot of flailing around — but the story ends on a hopeful, happier note. Claire’s one of the three women behind the L.A.-based Story and Soul — and has a new self help coming out next year. How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017) “Human beings are not at the mercy of mythical emotion circuits buried deep within animalistic parts of our highly evolved brain: we are architects of our own experience.” * How Emotions Are Made argues that feelings don’t just happen to us — […]