Thursday, September 8, 2011

Things I Read and Liked This Summer

The end of summer is always disappointing because of all my plans that forgot to happen. The road trips and camping weekends that weren't. The writing that didn't, the unread books. My free-range monkey zoo that remains sadly unfounded. I have been reading Infinite Jest for what feels like an infinity and I am not proud of how much RuPaul's Drag Race I watched this summer.

However, I have read some amazing books and stories online in the past month or so. I don't write reviews, that's for the fancy people to do. But I can recommend.

* Lovely, Raspberry by Aaron Belz. This is a poetry collection. I don't read many poetry collections, especially start to finish. I read this one twice in a row. Belz's poems are so delightfully random, filled with non sequitors and puns and word play, but manage to balance the quirkiness with real spiritual questions and a bright sense of hope. For some reason, although I know it's stylistically and chronologically worlds away, I was reminded of the bighearted playfulness in John Donne's earlier poems.

* Strange Weather by Becky Hagenston. I first read Becky Hagenston's dark and lovely story "Midnight, Licorice, Shadow" in Crazyhorse's 50th Anniversary Issue. Hagenston's style has a subtle, accessible quality that reminded me of A.M. Homes or even Julie Orringer at times, but Hagenston dares to dip further into the surreal and the haunting than either Homes or Orringer. Hagenston also works with her settings to create a unique backdrop that colors each story differently. After enjoying all the stories in this collection, I'm excited to read more of her work.

* Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler. Butler's an undeniable rockstar of a writer. I really love his use of language, the surprises offered in his sentences and careful vocabulary, and I think his story endings are especially strong, often offering some sort of unpredictable dareisay twist without being at all gimmicky (I first noticed this in his story "Utah Snow Globe" published last year in Significant Objects). Scorch Atlas is, firstly, a beautiful book. The colors, the page patterns, the layout is just gorgeous. And thematically, the collection is tight. The stories coexist in the same postapocalyptic plane, a world where gravel and bugs rain from the sky, where TV has turned to static, where radiation has swollen the heads of offspring. While I like the uniformity of these pieces, it was a hard book to sit with and read straight through because of the dismal and similar nature of the stories. I took a lot of breaks while reading this brilliant book.

* Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting. This was one of my favorite collections I've read this year. Nutting's stories are fabulously bizarre: porn stars on the moon, cryogenically frozen psychotic mothers, sexually attractive garden gnomes -- but Nutting treats each bizarre premise with the care and breeziness of reality. The world she creates is one that feels surreal, but not necessarily impossible -- like the not-too-distant future, maybe. I love the premise of "jobs" that weave these stories and characters together and her sense of humor balanced with the dark and grotesque world her women live in.

* Stories V! by Scott McClanahan. I really enjoyed this collection, and what stood out to me was the anecdotal tone carrying readers through the stories. There is a compelling sense of intimacy in McClanahan's casual style, a recognizable voice, almost like you're sitting down and listening to a friend. Beneath the ease and readablility of his prose, however, these stories grapple with questions of morality, quiet desire and the possibility of human connection.

* Daddy's by Lindsay Hunter. I've been wanting to read this book for a while, and having read reviews and recommendations, I knew beforehand that I would probably like it. And I did. The publication itself, put out by featherproof books, is very aesthetically pleasing and -- bonus -- I somehow accidentally bought one that seems to have been signed by the author. Score! Hunter's dry prose, the lack of emotion, the slack delivery of gross situations and characters, the understated comedy of these pieces, make me look forward to reading more of her work.

* Ethel Rohan's Hard to Say. Rohan's stories mostly feature children, and most of these children are mired in hopeless, diseased domestic situations. Rohan's language is so sharp that certain sentences literally made me gasp. I really liked how the protagonists of these stories felt almost interchangeable at times, and yet the arrangement of the stories allows the protagonist(s) to age and mature a bit throughout, so that by the end of this very short collection, an insidious development and different perspective seems to have been achieved out of stories with similar characters and settings.

* Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. This book deserves all the good reviews I've read about it. It blew me away. So fucking inspiring. Yuknavitch bares herself and her unique look at life, suffering and art and braids her experiences together with the water metaphor. Side note: I love that when my book came the boob on the cover was covered with a modest scrap of paper. Just in case, you know, an artful picture of a tit offended me or something.

* This story "only in retrospect could the island become real" by Frank Hinton is possibly my favorite of hers.

* And this story "Slow Summer" by Jessica Hollander, has stuck with me since I read it.

* "My Life in Stories," an article about the process of becoming a short story writer.

There was so much more I was going to say, but I'm boring myself and I want to smoke.

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