Thursday, December 26, 2013

Books On Deck / Up Next

"Codex Seraphinianus" by Luigi Serafini

"An extraordinary and surreal art book, this edition has been redesigned by the author and includes new illustrations. Ever since the Codex Seraphinianus was first published in 1981, the book has been recognized as one of the strangest and most beautiful art books ever made. This visual encyclopedia of an unknown world written in an unknown language has fueled much debate over its meaning. Written for the information age and addressing the import of coding and decoding in genetics, literary criticism, and computer science, the Codex confused, fascinated, and enchanted a generation.

While its message may be unclear, its appeal is obvious: it is a most exquisite artifact. Blurring the distinction between art book and art object, this anniversary edition-redesigned by the author and featuring new illustrations-presents this unique work in a new, unparalleled light. With the advent of new media and forms of communication and continuous streams of information, the Codex is now more relevant and timely than ever. A special limited and numbered deluxe edition that includes a signed print is also available."

"Make Good Art" by Neil Gaiman

"In May 2012, bestselling author Neil Gaiman delivered the commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in which he shared his thoughts about creativity, bravery, and strength. He encouraged the fledgling painters, musicians, writers, and dreamers to break rules and think outside the box. Most of all, he encouraged them to make good art.

The book Make Good Art, designed by renowned graphic artist Chip Kidd, contains the full text of Gaiman’s inspiring speech."

"Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes" by Maria Konnikova

"No fictional character is more renowned for his powers of thought and observation than Sherlock Holmes. But is his extraordinary intellect merely a gift of fiction, or can we learn to cultivate these abilities ourselves, to improve our lives at work and at home?

We can, says psychologist and journalist Maria Konnikova, and in Mastermind she shows us how. Beginning with the “brain attic”—Holmes’s metaphor for how we store information and organize knowledge—Konnikova unpacks the mental strategies that lead to clearer thinking and deeper insights. Drawing on twenty-first-century neuroscience and psychology, Mastermind explores Holmes’s unique methods of ever-present mindfulness, astute observation, and logical deduction. In doing so, it shows how each of us, with some self-awareness and a little practice, can employ these same methods to sharpen our perceptions, solve difficult problems, and enhance our creative powers. For Holmes aficionados and casual readers alike, Konnikova reveals how the world’s most keen-eyed detective can serve as an unparalleled guide to upgrading the mind."

"The Hundred Headless Woman" by Max Ernst

"Max Ernst's early-twentieth-century collage-novel calls upon the reader to interpret captions and surrealistic illustrations—created from old picture books and journals—to create a story."

"Maidenhair" by Mikhail Shishkin

"Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timeless­ness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys."

"The Obscene Bird of Night" by Jose Donoso

"This haunting jungle of a novel has been hailed as "a masterpiece" by Luis Bunuel and "one of the great novels not only of Spanish America, but of our time" by Carlos Fuentes. The story of the last member of the aristocratic Azcoitia family, a monstrous mutation protected from the knowledge of his deformity by being surrounded with other freaks as companions, The Obscene Bird of Night is a triumph of imaginative, visionary writing. Its luxuriance, fecundity, horror, and energy will not soon fade from the reader's mind."

"S." by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

"One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

The book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V.M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.

The writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumors that swirl around him.

The readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don’t understand, and it is also Abrams and Dorst’s love letter to the written word."

"The Box Man" by Kobo Abe

"In this eerie and evocative masterpiece, the nameless protagonist gives up his identity and the trappings of a normal life to live in a large cardboard box he wears over his head. Wandering the streets of Tokyo and scribbling madly on the interior walls of his box, he describes the world outside as he sees or perhaps imagines it, a tenuous reality that seems to include a mysterious rifleman determined to shoot him, a seductive young nurse, and a doctor who wants to become a box man himself. The Box Man is a marvel of sheer originality and a bizarrely fascinating fable about the very nature of identity.

Translated from the Japanese by E. Dale Saunders."

"The Machine" by James Smythe

"Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century.

Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares.

Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece."

"The Suicide Shop" by Jean Teule

"With the twenty-first century just a distant memory and the world in environmental chaos, many people have lost the will to live.

Business is brisk at The Suicide Shop. Run by the Tuvache family, the shop offers a variety of ways to end it all, with something to fit every budget.

The Tuvaches go mournfully about their business until the youngest member of the family threatens to destroy their contented misery by confronting them with something they've never encountered before: a love of life."


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013 Reading List

If you keep up with this blog, then you know I post up the books I read all year long. This year felt particularly anemic until I see that I read the exact same number of books this year as last year. Apparently I've found my yearly average. It could definitely be better.

I took some big chances on authors this year, more so than previous years. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and hopefully find some new favorites, which happened with Matt Bell, Brian Evenson, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Amber Sparks. I returned to some classics from my childhood like "Ender's Game," "A Wrinkle in Time," and later loves like "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." I was not disappointed with my return to these works.

I opened up more to the world of non-fiction. Einstein, the life of Joy Division's bassist Peter Hook, the graphic novel of Bertrand Russel's descent (ascent?) into philosophical madness, the dissection (track by track) of Coltrane's classic album "A Love Supreme." All excellent, all compelling. So...without further ado, here's this year's list.

2013 Reading:


01.) Madeline L'Engle - "A Wrinkle in Time" (245pgs)
02.) Rick Moody - "Demonology" (306pgs)
03.) Blake Butler & Sean Kilpatrick - "Anatomy Courses" (126pgs)
04.) Diane Williams - "Vicky Swanky Is A Beauty" (118pgs)
05.) Brian Evenson - "Fugue State" (205pgs)
(1,000 pgs)


06.) Blake Butler - "Sky Saw" (248pgs)
07.) Blake Butler & Lily Hoang - "30 Under 30 Anthology" (289pgs)
08.) Witold Gombrowicz - "Cosmos" (166pgs)
09.) Witold Gombrowicz - "Pornografia" (191pgs)
10.) John Barth - "Lost in the Funhouse" (201pgs)
11.) Ricardo Piglia - "The Absent City" (147pgs)
(1,242 pgs)


12.) Donald Barthelme - "Come Back, Dr. Caligari" (183pgs)
13.) Walter Moers - "The City of Dreaming Books" (461pgs)
14.) (reread) Robert Pirsig - "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" (540pgs)
(1,184 pgs)


15.) Bernard M. Patten - "The Logic of Alice: Clear Thinking in Wonderland" (336pgs)
16.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Prince of Mist" (200pgs)
17.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Shadow of the Wind" (487pgs)

 (1,023 pgs)


18.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Angel's Game" (528pgs)
19.) Carlos Ruiz Zafon - "The Prisoner of Heaven" (278pgs)
20.) (reread) Jedidiah Berry - "The Manual of Detection" (278pgs)
21.) Matt Bell - "How They Were Found" (238pgs)
(1,322 pgs)


22.) Amber Sparks - "May We Shed These Human Bodies" (147pgs)
23.) Dennis Cooper - "The Marbled Swarm" (194pgs)
24.) David Markson - "Vanishing Point" (191pgs)
25.) Joshua Mohr - "Fight Song" (250pgs)
(782 pgs)


26.) Rajesh Parameswaran - "I Am An Executioner: Love Stories" (260pgs)
27.) Neil Gaiman - "American Gods" (588pgs)
28.) Nick Bantock - "Sabine's Notebook" (48pgs)
29.) Nick Bantock - "The Golden Mean" (46pgs)
30.) Nick Bantock - "The Gryphon" (58pgs)
31.) Nick Bantock - "Alexandria" (58pgs)
32.) Nick Bantock - "The Morning Star" (60pgs)
33.) Nick Bantock - "The Museum at Purgatory" (128pgs)
34.) Nick Bantock - "The Forgetting Room" (106pgs)
35.) Nick Bantock - "The Venetian's Wife" (132pgs)
36.) Nick Bantock - "The Egyptian Jukebox" (48pgs)
37.) Apostolos Doxiadis/Christos H. Papadimitriou - "Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth" (344pgs)
38.) Peter Hook - "Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division" (370pgs)
39.) (reread) Blake Butler - "There Is No Year" (401pgs)
40.) Ashley Kahn - "A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album" (224pgs)
(2,871 pgs)


41.) Cormac McCarthy - "Blood Meridian" (351pgs)
42.) Juan Carlos Ortiz - "Shorts" (143pgs)
43.) Brian Evenson - "Dark Property" (132pgs)
44.) Matt Bell - "In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods" (312pgs)

(938 pgs)




45.) Brian Evenson - "Altmann's Tongue: Stories & a Novella" (278pgs)
46.) Albert Einstein - "Ideas & Opinions" (377pgs)
(665 pgs)


47.) Orson Scott Card - "Ender's Game" (226pgs)

(226 pgs)


48.) Marisha Pessl - "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" (514pgs)
49.) Martin H. Greenberg - "The Further Adventures of the Joker" (462pgs)

(976 pgs)

12,229 pages for the year


Friday, December 6, 2013

8 Ways to Unblock the Creative Mind

* Share new work through voicemails with another writer friend, especially one that writes differently than you. Fiction vs. poetry, traditional vs. experimental, verbose vs. minimalist, etc. If nothing else, you’ll have new work to listen to at the end of a long day. My good friend Karen over at Conceptual Reception and I have done this a few times recently and my work has been inspiring hers the way her work has been inspiring mine. Plus, hearing the written word spoken aloud gives it a special kind of energy.

* Find two or more friends. All of you write a paragraph on a particular topic. Once everyone’s finished their paragraph, trade them around and add to the piece, giving it your own voice. Depending on how many people are involved, do this until everyone has added their own paragraph to every piece. Read the results out loud.

* Via email, give your writer friends a writing prompt (a story based on a single word, the inclusion of certain phrases, focus on a single color, etc.) and have everyone share them. Allow each person involved to create their own prompt for the next round, so on and so forth. Create word limits, page limits, formats, whatever. The sky's the limit here, but I've found that the more constraints there are, the harder I have to work at a piece, which makes the end result much more worth my time. And typically, the story ends up being fairly interesting.

* Take a day out of your normal routine. Visit a park with a bottle of wine and simply converse or air out creative grievances with other creatives whether they be artists or musicians. The creative mind gets blocked the same way, no matter the medium. Luckily, it can be unblocked just as easily given the right circumstances. Every creative needs an outlet that doesn't involve their primary focus. For instance, visiting a museum for a few hours tends to unblock me the best.

* Watch a movie by a more out of bounds/experimental filmmaker (Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky, Ingmar Bergman, etc.) and deconstruct it with each other after. Discuss what worked and what didn’t, what was confusing and what made perfect sense. Honest critiques of other work can lead to more honest critiques of our own while giving us ideas on how to improve stories. The goal here is to get out of your wheelhouse, submerse yourself in something with which you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

* Write in a group. This may sound weird, but I know that I’m almost shamed into writing if there are others around me writing as well. Not to mention, you’ll have a built-in critique session once everyone’s reached a good stopping point with their work. I found this incredibly vital during my first two years of grad school. 

* Cross-pollinate with other disciplines. Find a photographer or artist or musician whose work you admire, see if they’d like to collaborate; your words inform their art or vice versa. Superimpose both creative halves to create one supra-whole.

* Take classic passages from timeless books and rewrite them with different and iconic characters from other novels. How would Ender Wiggins act in the time of Huckleberry Finn? How would Gregor Samsa fare in the Hunger Games?

There are obviously thousands upon thousands of ideas that can be beneficial in breaking down creative blocks, but these are just a few that have worked for me. When I first started taking writing classes in college, I would shrug off the idea of brainstorming exercises or things that would elicit story ideas, firmly believing that I didn't need them. Now, 15 years later, I utilize them all the time. Maybe it's because I take this discipline more seriously than I did as a 19 year old sophomore, but I think it's because they've simply worked.