Friday, November 24, 2023

brief book reviews

lost my job and am struggling with a sense of guilt about writing book reviews instead of looking for jobs (have applied to ~150 jobs) but have still been spending time reading. here are some book reviews:

varamo by cesar aira: a small silly book about a hapless, neurotic bureaucrat stumbling through a bunch of satirical situations about south american history/politics. some of the gags were funny but overall it felt kinda whatever by the end, all the separate little scenes merging/connecting into the greater narrative in a sort of clever way i don't vibe with much. lots of emphasis on a sort of absurd idea taken to a logical extreme as a source of humor, e.g. lots of discussion of a car racing thing that involves trying to drive 35mph as consistently as possible the whole distance, but some of the stupider jokes were appealing, e.g. the extended scene of the guy trying to taxidermy a fish to make it play an instrument but realizing too late that fish don't have arms. would also probably be better (in terms of the satire/humor) if i cared/knew more about south american history. wouldn't recommend relative to his other books that i've read but overall seems fine.

the driftless area by tom drury: pretty solid drury (my 4th book by him) but with an unexpected supernatural/ghost story bent that i felt was, initially, distracting, but then later kind of fine. i think he shines when he writes about small town bullshit, weird little stories that contribute to a town's "lore," which is present and consistent here, but it feels like he or someone else felt that wasn't sufficient anymore so he needed to add a ghost or whatever. enjoyed the awkwardness of him making teenagers in 2005 talk about the decemberists. felt like the short 'action sequence' toward the end was confusingly written and executed, which distracted from the importance/flow of the scene, and which made me feel like it's probably really hard, or possibly pointless, to write action sequences like that. overall pretty short, felt mixed about the relatively simple ending. would enjoy reading a ~3,000 page my struggle-style series by him with no real plot.

fuccboi by sean thor conroe (little, brown): a relatively engaging autofictional novel recounting ~two years in the life of a guy trying to become a writer. enjoyed the emphasis on him engaging with literature (including a cute conversation with his mom about haruki murakami) and the overall theme of him learning (to be a better person) from selfless others - family, girlfriends, strangers, writers, etc. there's also the subplot about his confusing and stupid romantic relationships, which is frustrating in that while full of surface-level self-critique, never really gets examined clearly, in that he remains relatively coy and obfuscatory about what happens between him and these women in a guarded way; i specifically disliked the way he'd describe having sex as "being let in," which felt gross and weird and inauthentic. there's also the subplot about his crazy skin condition, which i thought was compelling and interesting and lead to the most exciting descriptions in the book - the scenes of his skin wetly sloughing off his plastic bag-taped-up feet, etc, have stayed with me. but also lead to some inconsistencies in the text which i think come from his self-described extensive editorial process, wherein he'll spend a long time talking about being more or less bedridden due to his skin problem, but then randomly he'll start aggressively playing basketball - i would wonder why his fucked up foot skin was no longer a problem during this section, for example. as such it could have been edited better, especially by the end, where some of the sequences are more like nonsequiturs and were unexpectedly presented out of temporal sequence. also disliked the sequencing/editing in that some passages required lengthy recapitulations or flashback-type scenes to communicate the point of what happens during the scenes, which added to my overall bored confusion about what happened when and with whom. also didn't like the refusal to use any names, especially for women, which resulted in any scene with 2+ people to be chaotically written with stuff like [i'm making this up] "ex-roomie bae's sister stepped up to ex-roomie bae and ex-roomie D. to talk about ex-roomie bae's hairdresser's ex-bae" kinda bullshit, which harmed the flow of the writing, which is ironic and frustrating in that a) the book is supposed to be about the good flow and b) the book is about how the book will have good flow. felt like the 'lowkey redpilled' angle that motivates the character in various scenes was underdeveloped and (i hate using this cliche) 'told and not shown', sort of hamfistedly inserted, i felt, to create tension in some scenes but otherwise rarely revisited. overall the book felt like sort of a frankenstein's monster of aimless indie lit-style musings/work life narrative (which i liked, and considered immersive and interesting) and big press-style politically/culturally-motivated action narrative (which felt overly self-satisfied and 'clever' relative to the rest of the narrative). this leads to a strange artificiality - for example, he's supposed to be a dumb meathead (he doesn't really know what a clitoris is, at one point, somehow), yet won't just straight up refer to sex as sex, hiding it behind weird euphemisms. it's like his story and character were forced through a committee to create a caricature of an entirely invented person, this coy oaf who loves joe rogan but hates colonialism, who wants to get into fights with men but just wants to snuggle and kiss with ladies. this aside, overall, i liked it. i imagine the giancarlo version, or even the pre-giancarlo version, would have been a more engaging book, or more aligned with my preferences. i also feel obligated to mention that i don't consider it a rip off of sam pink - i've read (and enjoyed) a lot of sam pink ripoffs and this is far from the most egregious example of one. and i felt like the weird invented singular slang wasn't too distracting, and resulted in some good funny moments, e.g. the off-cited 'railing a banana' and stuff like that, which unlike some of his affectations feels like something people say ironically but with good-natured intentions, e.g. today i asked my wife if she wanted "a hit of this gouda" which feels like normal millennial irony, or something. imagined now digressing deeply into a 6k word essay about ben folds.

the wolves of eternity by karl ove knausgaard: the 2nd book in a seemingly 5-part series about a biblical-style event occurring which results in people no longer dying and the boundaries between life and the afterlife dissipating. however, this book is mostly set prior to the events of the first book and focuses on a much smaller cast of characters, primarily just two, and is anchored by long, my struggle-style narratives based on daily minutiae. very much enjoyed the first major section, following a sort of aimless, unemployed 19 year old guy in 1986 who does a lot of cooking, playing soccer, and trying to hang out with his little brother/people in town. i like the meandering emphasis on scenery, food (e.g. getting mashed potatoes and a hot dog from the local chippie and looking at the mountains), place/culture. it's very un-plot-driven but also snappy, not ploddingly paced, which feels unique and like i'm being 'respected' as a reader. i liked but was overall less interested in the similarly-lengthed section following the russian woman character, which is more cerebral/philosophical in topic and style, focusing on her experiences in grad school and ruminations on biology, evolution, etc., but really enjoyed the extended passage about her time on a small island near finland. the book and story overall, like classic knausgaard, revolves languidly around the concept of death, but in i felt interesting and grounded ways. also found the underlying emphasis on interpersonal perception, subconscious/active judgement, boredom, and minor details of daily public interactions interesting, enlightening, and challenging. every character feels very real, normal, and unique, and i enjoyed what felt like difficult-to-execute moments of, for example, a sort of dumb character musing on some complex idea vs. a sort of smart character doing the same, with their distinct approaches and thought patterns. hard to articulate and probably obvious to other people, but i enjoyed inhabiting these characters more than most of the previous book's characters. felt mixed about the extended in-text essay in the middle, but enjoyed not knowing whether it was about a real person/topic or one invented for the book, and enjoyed the discussion giving some kind of alternative context to the larger narrative arc of the series. overall enjoyed the book in spite of some of the imbalance in structure (two very long passages and maybe 6 much shorter, relatively disconnected passages, some of which could have been left out with more or less no consequence), but also would have enjoyed just all 780 pages being about the 19 year old guy fucking around and not doing much.

heaven by mieko kawakami (europa editions): read and mostly enjoyed breasts and eggs by her this year. a relatively stylistically plain novel about two young teenagers in japan who were cruelly bullied but develop a friendship via passing notes. the overall story is a little slow and there were some passages i considered remarkably bad writing, surprisingly. grew to dislike it as i noticed it conforming to the same structure and pacing as her other book(s), with conversations consisting of people monologuing to one another, a character doing something weird/unexpected during the emotional denouement, and the constant references to the sky/scenery to augment/break up emotional/dramatic passages. enjoyed some small and narratively unexpected passages, including the character arc of the mother and a scene where the protagonist randomly jerks off and cums so much it won't fit in his hand. felt frustrated by some scene-level logical inconsistencies, such as a character describing how things look even though he can't see them, usually paired with cliches. enjoyed the first half more than the second. unsure i would recommend.

will we all still see each other afterward by tyler dempsey (anxiety press): traded some back patio books for this, having enjoyed an excerpt we published on back patio press this year. the story is brief and details the aftermath of a breakup and a short-lived fling. large sections of the book consist of (flirty) text message dialogue, including QR codes to spotify playlists. the style, format, and emphasis on accurate facial/body movement and spoken accents feels very sam pink influenced, replete with triple-spaced one-line paragraphs and refrains, e.g. "good for bidness". the scope (relationship drama, work drudgery, and medical problems) reminded me of fuccboi, and the inclusion of long text messages, graphic sex scenes, and coworker relationships reminded me of something gross. also includes what feels like another alt lit callback of including nonsequitor tweet-like lines, e.g. (i'm making this up) "an app that does everything for you while you lie in bed", which reminds me of guillaume morissette's new tab. would have enjoyed the book more if it were longer, with more development of the setting, park ranger/daycare jobs, secondary characters, and the dental surgery subplot, because i found all of these things relatively unique and interesting, but were used more as light set dressing for a couple key dramatic moments; overall found the book compelling but a little rushed-seeming. unrelated to the text, i felt frustrated by the size and formatting of the book - very small font with very wide outside margins and smallish inside margins - which made it kind of unpleasant to read. also features dempsey's consistent use of commas instead of dashes or ellipses to mark pauses in dialogue, which can take some getting used to, but when you're used to it, it reflects well on his ability to recreate natural speech.

the enigma of arrival by v. s. naipul: friend recommended me this because karl ove wrote about it in one of the struggles and he liked it. read maybe the first third-half then put it down. ok enough daily minutia stuff but felt like the beginning especially was poorly edited with repetitive phrasing/sequences, like maybe he had poorly stitched together separately-published-but-pverlapping passages. also slightly turned off by the pretentiousness (comparing himself to shakespeare, kind of, a few times) and emphasis on judging people over examining them uncritically. i liked the setting and time period, where the countryside quickly transforms from a more wild/historic area to a developed and fenced-off area. didn't finish. 

dog symphony by sam munson (new directions): picked up randomly at the library because it's on new directions, but weirdly not in translation (didn't realize they did any original english works). read the first ~20 pages but became disinterested. the measured, continental style felt needlessly artificial and the exciting mean/shittalky moments were too few to really save it. felt overall like fan fiction by someone who likes new direction works in translation. harsh but true! briefly googled this book/author to help justify being mean and discovered that this book has more goodreads ratings, but fewer reviews, than my story collection. didn't finish.


six-legged spider by coleman bomar (gob pile press): short collection of haiku, generally about the cultural/masculine friction of being gay in the south. felt most excited by the more blunt pieces (like one line just being "dead dead dead dead dead") and less excited about the more 'poetic' pieces, but overall enjoyed it and would recommend. felt cool and different without being pretentious.

parade by hiromi kawakami (soft skull): checked this out from the library alongside another book by mieko kawakami, because the two were next to each other on the shelf and i briefly thought they were the same author. i remember this coming out but not knowing at the time that it's really small, like 6"x4" (postcard sized) and maybe 80 pages, with very little text per page - the text is maybe 3k words total and features a lot of cute little (unrelated?) full-page drawings. a short story within shorter story, wherein the narrator describes a time at school when most kids had creatures from japanese folklore follow them around, maybe as a sort of allegory for puberty, or something. the story is in the context of the narrator and a sensei of some kind having lunch and dozing - enjoyed the strange, kind of rude dynamic between the two. the afterword notes it's sort of like a deleted scene or bonus riff on the characters from a novel of hers i haven't read, so i imagine its short length and lack of narrative arc is due to this. strange to frame it as a standalone novel. glad i checked it out from the library instead of buying it new; snarkily classifying it as a chapbook here on my blog.

14 poems by tao lin: purchased from someone in the UK via instagram. focused on reverie/references to specific moments without context and 'big ideas' from reading and idle thought. feel like every poem contains at least 3 relatively profound and interesting observations/statements, found myself quoting various lines out loud to my wife. i like this era of tao lin poems and would enjoy reading a lot more.

minor league all american dance club by ben saff (toho publishing): tweeted about wanting to trade books with people and ben replied, sending me this. consists of short poems with varied topics and styles. was hoping there would be more of a throughline about alligators living in the human world and doing cool stuff, based on the cover and the first poem - there are maybe only 4 of these poems but they are my favorite, including one about alligators playing baseball with a human skull. would enjoy a book or chapbook exploring just this kind of imagery more. felt less compelled by the other poems with a more florid tone, but enjoyed some of the imagery, e.g. a guy in a suit made of suction cups.

i can't see it now by alex youngman (alien buddha): tweeted about wanting to trade books with people and alex replied, sending me this and the second sex in exchange for some back patio books. i read and enjoyed alex's previous chapbook about bugs; this is a more serious/less irreverent collection of what i would call earnest, transcendental poetry. emphasis on quiet reveries and moments in/about nature - trees, rivers, birds, etc. enjoyed both the emphasis on nature writing as well as, stylistically, the brief moments of casual, informal phrasing, e.g. "that bird was so loud", in contrast to the more intentional, formal descriptions and phrasing. tex's blurb mentions thoreau, which i felt was fitting

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

death egg

in early september, i published Death Egg by nathaniel duggan via back patio press. this was the first back patio book since sad sad boy, which i published in March 2022.

background and editing

i had maintained a loose email correspondence with nathaniel starting sometime in 2020, i think based on him sending me a poem for the quaranzine. we talked about our lives and poetry and indie lit drama for a while after this. i had given him editorial feedback on various poems during this time and encouraged him, i think, to make a collection.

looking at my email, on february 3rd, i gave him editorial feedback including "these are just great. great poems", a suggestion to change the name to death egg, and general praise such as "i really really find the thematic preoccupations and imagery compelling. the deployment of sci-fi intergalactic, video game, deep see, apocalypse imagery all mesh well, different hues of a perfect purplish blue. i think it's perfectly executed - the video games are not reddity wining or pop culture genuflection but are used as something to comment, i feel, on the larger cultural fuckedness, the integration of escapism into the despair pondering that feels subtle, effective, and non-clichely contemporary -- video games as the 'television of today,' etc. i can't say praise right, ever, i sound insane saying nice things, but i hope this makes sense[...]thank you for letting me read it. whoever publishes it won't do it justice." he did not pay me for these edits; i have also edited various versions of his short story collection manuscript, which i think a bigger publisher should put out, because it's very good.

after back patio fell apart in 2021/2022, and after i published some books unrelated to back patio, i felt more confidence in restarting the press mostly without cavin, and asked nathaniel to publish his book. before this i had suggested another limited-run book like orz, but then felt like trying something new/normal. cavin gave me his blessing to reopen the press in may. i reached out to duggan in june, i think, over twitter DM, to confirm my interest in publishing it as a back patio book.

once he agreed, i edited the book some more over maybe 3 rounds of edits, and then later 2+ minor edit rounds to clean up formatting and stuff. most of my edits were about sequencing, minor punctuation changes, a couple additional lines (partly through talking over DM and misremembering things from the poems, which he thought were good changes/ideas). some edits include "what about an exclamation point at the end of the first line?" and "recommend replacing last period with ‘, etc.’"

i only later learned that death egg is also the name of a spaceship or something from sonic the hedgehog. i do not know if this was intentional when he wrote the poem/lines about a death egg. i think it's a good, evocative, hard-to-say title that made the book feel unique. the sonic connection is mostly funny, and resulted in some good riffing online.


i did the inside layout and cover design. i used ms word and ms powerpoint. we iterated on the cover, manically, for like two weeks, before settling on the general cover we ended up with. stylistic themes to drive this work included bear parade/classic alt lit minimalism and anime. for a while there was a cracked egg on the cover, but this was eventually scrapped.

he wanted it to be yellow because he liked gg rolland's book on clash, which is mostly yellow. some versions accidentally used the same pink and yellow and font as my band's cassette three trucks, which was funny, but unacceptable to me, but, frustratingly for nathaniel, one of his favorite versions.

early on he had shared with me an image of an anime title card that he liked the look of. this is what influenced the final typography on the cover - the mix of japanese and the severe all caps serif font. another source of inspiration was the dvd cover for FLCL, with its bold yellow and black. i did not have the budget or interest to get a custom-drawn manga-style cover. i remember struggling with recreating manga-style 'beam attacks' using a free picture of a satellite with powerpoint for a while, then giving up.

the drawing on the final cover is from the public domain, i think from some lost in space comic, or something. i used similar pictures for interstitial art in the quaranzines. i get most of my free graphics from

the japanese on the cover is mostly from google translate, but some of it is the direct translation used from sonic the hedgehog for 'death egg.' i don't know much about japanese. an early ARC version we sent out had a 'pretend bad translation' synopsis that was embarassing, and which i thought i didn't include in the ARCs i had printed. the arcs were, additionally, very poor quality paper-wise and had a lot of formatting errors, and made me laugh a lot.

we decided on sans serif fonts on the inside to evoke classic alt lit aesthetics, because of the lineage of the poems/style and our shared appreciation for early alt lit. these aren't alt lit poems in any classic sense but have many shared reference points. i imagine someone more engaging than me could write up a better analysis.

i think the final product looks good and am proud of how it turned out.

promotion - ARCS/blurbs

i asked duggan for a list of potential blurbers and reached out to folks on his behalf. everyone had kind things to say, even if they didn't end up blurbing in time for the final printing. i enjoyed corresponding with people that i think/assume dislike me to this end. maggie nelson responded, unexpectedly, and gave me an address to send a book to, but clarified she didn't really do any blurbs anymore.

i also sent ARCs/final copies to people who do podcasts/reviews, but so far we never heard from anyone about these, although one person posted a picture of the book on twitter. i included a small press release, which i confided to josh sherman as "embarassing to write," not because of the book, but because of the vapid futility of writing press releases for small press books. i sent an ARC to the heavy feather review, but it was returned to me because the editors moved/changed. i also sent a free copy of the book to ~3 authors who i just thought would enjoy it, without expectation of promotion.

Promotion - local media

i reached out to several local maine venues for promotion, including duggan's alma mater university creative writing program to organize a reading. i was ignored by all of these leads except one daily maine-based blog, who requested a physical copy. one of the venues, a local tv channel, automatically blocked my email address.

Promotion - piss

the back patio twitter account reached out to several internet sex workers asking to send them books to pee on, as a promotional video effort, but this corresponded to the same week, or possibly day, that twitter made DMing people a bluecheck option only by default, so it's possible no one ever got the messages. this also includes dasha, a podcaster i don't know anything about. but we didn't ask her to pee on any books; we just asked if she'd like a copy, because she had posted about the same anime that inspired the cover design.

we also tweeted asking for folks to pee on the book if we sent an extra copy. i had forgotten who replied to this/was unsure how serious anyone was and only sent out one extra book, to coleman bomar, who peed on it and posted a video. later someone else from tennessee ordered a book and asked for some of coleman's pee, which i do not have access to. i am unsure why pee was a central theme for the book promotion, but it worked out well, i think, and made me laugh a lot.

Promotion - preorder bundles

we also offered a bundle of a shirt, magnet, and book. the shirt making has been a shitty, still unresolved saga, wherein i tried to have them made locally to support local businesses and save money on shipping. but i ended up working with perhaps the shittiest shirt printer in the state, who would ignore my emails, ghost me, forget to email me, argue with me, etc. currently the shirts are in a store location i cannot access until friday, and they will likely not be open on friday. i regret not going through the florida-based printer we used for the liver mush shirts, who were professional and easy to work with. i opted to send the books/magnets separately from the shirts, losing ~$70 on redundant shipping costs. i ordered only 40 shirts after announcing 50 bundles, based on the total sales (~14), and will keep one for myself and send one to nathaniel. the shirts will ultimately, i feel, be a net loss, and i will probably eventually offer them for sale at cost just to not have them in my closet anymore.

Promotion - misc.

i posted links to a few excerpts from other magazines from the book via the back patio account. none of these resulted in the original publisher promoting the book or, seemingly, liking the posts. we later made tweets tagging magazines that hadn't published the poems, saying they published them, in an attempt to trick the publication into promoting the book for free and/or make people laugh. only one publication liked their corresponding tweet, but didn't retweet it.

i made a new website for back patio to collate the press/reviews materials and book descriptions. i then reached out to kevin at powell's who asked for just such a list, so i secured a small order of back patio books, including five copies of death egg, resulting in a small section of shelf space dedicated to back patio books. the tweet about this got high engagement. i should reach out to more cool stores.

i placed a quarter-page ad for the press, including a highlight for death egg, in maggot brain magazine, a print magazine published by third man records and edited by the guy who wrote the 33 1/3 book about loveless, which should be out around now. this cost me $187. i would be surprised if it ends up paying off, but it seemed like a fun thing to do, and i like the magazine a lot (i also get a free copy of this issue, apparently). some of the other ads are for punk/diy record labels based on bandcamp, which is cool, in my opinion.

josh sherman invited me and nathaniel, and other people, to read at his chapbook release reading as part of misery loves company, which we hijacked, to comedic effect, i think, to promote death egg. nathaniel did a good job reading and i posted the order page a few times when people were talking about josh's book, which made me laugh. we got ~3 book sales during the reading. we've also scheduled a back patio mlc reading for 9/29, which will include, nathaniel, cav, dan, graham, kurt, tj, and troy.

i regret not reaching out to more internet and irl places early on for reviews/interviews. however, this time period corresponded to a family crisis which resulted in me taking time off of work and not doing anything much aside from acting in 'crisis mode' for my family for over a month. i spent ~1-2 hours/week during this time working on death egg. to this end i feel guilt about not being able to do more for the book/nathaniel.

finally, we opened the magazine for web subs just prior to announcing the book. this was a partly cynical/manipulative move to drive up engagement for the press and potentially sell more books. however, i am unsure this resulted in any sales we wouldn't have otherwise gotten. but overall it was good for everyone. we all enjoyed reading and editing the pieces we got and we have published, and will continue to publish, some really cool writing. i'm glad we reopened and we will probably do it again in january. i owe kurt a lot for taking on a lot of this effort when my life fell apart in august.

sales - preorders

we announced preorders sometime in august and i shipped the preorder books around september 7th. there were 62 preorders at the time, 12 of which were for tshirt + book bundles. we have since sold a few more of each.

the free promotional stickers for orders included random mixes of black and white stickers ("i love shitty poetry", "alternative literature", "death egg cover", and "back patio press logo"), glitter stickers ("back patio in barbie font on a gun"), holographic stickers (misc. "cyberwriter" series, featuring sebastian, derek, bram, and nathaniel), and a bold yellow (but small) "ask me about the death egg" sticker. i used sticker guy for the black and white stickers and sticker mule for the fancier ones. sticker guy is very cheap but slow, and their website is difficult to navigate. sticker mule can be expensive, but offers interesting products and has frequent sales.

only 3 of the death egg orders included other books/items: one person bought my book bundle, one person bought liver mush, and one person bought good at drugs.

i sent free back patio books to ~10 random orders, and gave free art or bonus stickers to people i know/like from online. as far as i can tell this resulted in ~3 promotional twitter pictures and one goodreads review for non-death egg books.

around september 7th i sent nathaniel $301 in royalties.

sales - amazon

around when i started shipping books, i sent nathaniel all the raw book files and manically worked with him to set up the book on amazon kdp as a print and ebook. amazon kdp/ebook setup is a pain in the ass and required several different types of files and arbitrary changes. for the ebook, i had to manually add page breaks (instead of using the keyboard shortcut, for some reason) to get them to register. we set up the amazon book using his own account such that he'd by default receive all the amazon royalty payments. this approach was modeled after sebastian castillo's book SALMON and inspired by the fact that it's a huge pain in the as to do amazon royalties (especially after taking over for cavin - setting up a new bank account, etc etc). in exchange nathaniel gets a smaller royalty split on the books that i sell. since being put on amazon, we've sold 2 copies of the book through flat dog distro but seemingly many on amazon. i hope nathaniel considers the money aspect equitable.

the book peaked at #53 in the contemporary fiction (books) category on amazon, spurred on by duggan's manic promotional tweeting and "post weird twitter" networking. he had also purchased twitter blue in anticipation of the promotion cycle, which he claims de creased his post engagement, ironically.

nathaniel says he's sold 45 copies on amazon since we uploaded it, which is impressive, i feel.

sales - conclusion

so far we've sold a little over 100 books during the first few weeks and gave away ~10, which is, in my opinion. very good numbers for indie poetry that doesn't take institutional promotion tactics very seriously. incidentally, unrelated, i saw that clash had sold over 12,000 copies of some stupid looking horror novel during this time. i hope that people who may or may not be seething about the death egg hype cycle, its participants, and its aura of success consider this disparity when subtweeting/shittalking those involved.

i anticipate the book selling more copies over time, especially if we see continued press interest from local or online avenues, and natural interest in the book as people talk or post about it. it currently has 3 amazon reviews and 8 goodreads reviews.

thank you to everyone who has purchased the book.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

brief book reviews

have been living through the worst period of my life and have been physically and mentally exhausted every day, but was able to finish reading some books:

everything like before by kjell askildsen (archipelago press): looked up books that had one the same norwegian literary prize that uncle kok's first book won and found this guy. unsure if this is the book that won, however. short story collection about sad norwegian people in complicated relationships. interested in its emphasis on older/elderly people. noticed a trend in sort of revealing that a given character was involved in killing someone toward the end of a story, but liked it as a conceit - exploring things like how people would, realistically, handle learning that someone they're starting to get to know is actually a convicted murderer. also enjoyed the 'classic lit fic' stories about couples in doomed/bad relationships, being passive-aggressive with one another, feeling sorry for themselves, etc., but with less self-importance or pity, maybe. also like the norwegian-style emphasis on stilted/awkward conversation, people saying things strangely/self-consciously, etc. noticed that several of the stories are more or less riffs on the same exact idea, e.g. 3+ stories about different couples going on vacation in greece and suffering infidelity problems. enjoyed most the stories where people sort of accidentally do/say really shitty things and struggle to communicate. would recommend, interested in reading more by him.

hunts in dreams by tom drury: read after enjoying the black brook. this one is much shorter and takes place over a long weekend, basically, through four alternative POVs but within each POV extends to follow some other people in their orbit. enjoyed more than the black brook. enjoyed the general vibe, flow, setting, and characters. nothing really terrible or dramatic happens. everyone seems more or less normal and relatable in spite of their unique neuroses. enjoyed the early 2000s, rural midwest setting, sort of like the end of the small town world. people wander into each other, take their time doing stuff, go out into nature, watch tv. enjoyed its joy williamsian quirkiness without the joy williamsian drama. found myself looking forward to reading it and inhabiting its world when i wasn't reading it.

the end of vandalism by tom drury: turns out this is his debut and technically involves most of the characters from hunts in dreams, but is readable out of sequence. less concise and polished than his later books but i still liked it a lot, especially the meandering slowness of the various character arcs and random scenes, the extended nature/home writing passages, and the various little jokes such as introducing the high school health teacher as someone who infamously confused a whole class of 9th graders by describing the penis, during intercourse, as "hard and crusty." cried briefly on the train during the unexpected stillbirth scene. would highly recommend tom drury, based on having read and enjoyed three of his books; lent it to my mother because it's set in iowa, and she later returned it to me while grimacing, noting she had only read a little bit of it and hated it.

nightwood by djunba barnes: bought at a used book sale because of it being described as a contemporary/modern feeling lesbian love story from the 30s. not a big fan of the style, but laughed a lot at the absurdity of the first several chapters focusing entirely on "the jewish moral character" and some loser dude, with no women or lesbian sex anywhere. skipped around and still didn't like the prose, gave up.

replacement by tor ulven (dalkey archive): had this on the shelf for a while. it's currently the only ulven novel translated into english, and comes with a big afterword by stig saeterbakken, who is an author i like a lot. it's a sort of fragmentary narrative that unceremoniously moves between different, sometimes vaguely overlapping, characters/perspectives, and shifts from third to second person early on, then back again at the end. the style emphasizes mundane lists and prolonged meditations on physical descriptions of scenes or objects, such as how the light shines through a curtained window for ~3 pages at a time, but which never feels boring or uninteresting. as such there isn't really an overarching plot, but threads between sections are alluded to, and the individual narratives are almost all separately very compelling -- enjoyed thinking of how the various sections could have been shuffled in any order and probably result in a just as compelling book, which i typically would consider kind of lame, but i think the strength of the writing here sets it apart. especially enjoyed the confidence to move perspectives without having to have some kind of third act reveal or clever framework to define/explain it. enjoyed the details and specifics of most individual character arcs, the varying levels of standard norwegian litfic personal bleakness, and the times when an image or idea is referenced across different arcs. would recommend. hoping more of his work is translated sometime soon.

sunflower by tex gresham (spaceboy books): a large book, physically, that evokes david foster wallace in both its physical largeness and writing. stylewise, it leverages chapter-by-chapter shifts in perspective/character to disorientingly describe a conspiracy involving film, aliens, murder, and nutritional supplements set in the near future. includes a lot of things i associate with david foster wallace and other postmodernists like pynchon: it is vaguely sci-fi adjacent (set in the near future to allow for fantastical/satirical cultural changes, as a form of social and pop cultural commentary), long dialogues between people with arcane passions, silly names, people with quirky/irreal character habits/traits (a guy with two ears on the side of his head, a woman who wears long read gloves to cover horrific scars, a fucked up dwarf kinda guy, a guy without a tongue, etc), and people starting sentences with variations of "and but so." in spite of this (or because of it) i generally enjoyed it, felt curious about how the plot would resolve, and considered the settings and scenes both interesting and vividly described. i felt like the jokes/ideas based on its near-future setting were a mixed bag -- there's mention of Chairman Musk and SpaceX, 'the obama assassination,' an earthquake having physically split apart california, some sort of concentration campification of fat camps, ad drones, and lots of vaping. there's also -- because it's tex -- a lot of references to film, which i mostly didn't get or care about, but never felt like were pivotal to generally enjoying the book. unlike wallace i felt like the tangents into things outside tex's purview were under-researched and less immersive when they touch on things a reader may be more familiar with -- in my case it was the bullshit jargon used to talk about programing and machine learning, so i assume this may be the case for other things. my understanding is that wallace was able to (afford to, may be key here, by way of major press advances) fully research the complex scientific/mathematical/fiduciary/literary/philosophical concepts that made the arcane digressions/obsessions in his books famous and compelling, whereas tex instead usually brushes over this with some wonky jargon and allusions to move the plot forward. also unlike wallace (or specifically infinite jest), the chapters are shorter, so the changes in perspective feel more frequent and jarring, vs. the way that infinite jest will spend a good deal of page count immersing you in the new perspective/setting/character before making oblique references to the rest of the work to connect things. here it is more condensed -- while it's a long book, i felt like it probably could/should have been longer and really explore the space and setting of everything, especially since the writing itself is good, an effective blend of moving plot and description, engaging action, interesting characters, etc.; I basically didn't think that the emphasis on quickly alluding to the overarching conspiracy plot and action sequences was required to keep me interested chapter by chapter. but maybe this is also due to shifts in literary norms, or editorial advice to sell more copies, or a meta-commentary on pop culture, or tex's love of schlocky film, or something. anyway, i'm feeling like it's unfair to knock the book by contrasting it with books by david foster wallace, but it also feels inevitable -- writing a book so deeply in conversation with another work like this will invariably force it to be scrutinized in terms of where it innovates or distinguishes itself (or doesn't). but i think it's a good book and scratches similar itches without trying to hard to seem clever, which to me is a positive. made it halfway through then lost interest, possibly due to not having read it fast enough to retain the plot/characters in my head. would recommend/have recommended to others.

memoirs of a polar bear by yoko tawada: have enjoyed other books by tawada. this one is about a polar bear who can talk and write and who writes a memoir. not a big fan of the whimsical style or constant necessity of emphasizing that the narrator is a polar bear interacting with the world, which is sort of the entire conceit. not super compelling plot or stylewise. probably won't finish.

popul vuh: bought based on a tweet i saw saying it's crazy and cool, and it is. unsure if it's the effect of the translation but i found a lot of interesting effects in the way it's told, with the frequent deployment of "just" and "only" and "right there," this sort of mix of immediacy and flippancy, combined with the strange pacing and various other details, such as the names (trash master, pus master, etc) and seemingly nonsensical things presented without comment, such as a "spherical knife" and the way in which various people are "defeated." enjoyed the odd logic in things like a guy's random ability to to transform into an eagle, a jaguar, and "a pool of blood, just a pool of blood on the ground" being framed as proof of his "genius." liked the first half, about the creation myths and the tricksters, more than the second half, which emphasizes lineages and important people. would recommend, enjoyed reading passages out loud to close friends.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

brief book reviews

found myself starting several books and putting them down for extended periods of time ~50% of the way through. tried to power through them to finish these reviews. feeling like this is a sufficient number to publish for now.

hunger by knut hamsun: bought secondhand locally based on having heard it's good but otherwise not knowing anything about it or the author. first person narrative about a really broke guy just trying to not starve to death while wandering around the city of christiana, norway (now known as oslo). enjoyed the stream-of-consciousness approach and emphasis on examining/marveling at his constantly shifting moods, which is, apparently, based on reading about it briefly online, more or less why it's famous/influential. i assume its influence on modern writing is why it felt very contemporary in spite of its late 1800s setting. enjoyed the experience as a reader of wanting to figure out ways the protagonist could logically improve his material conditions/survive vs. the increasing emphasis on his delirium/insanity/pride/religious guilt. felt it was funny how the book emphasizes the daily minutia of not being able to get any money for food or a place to live framed by each section more or less starting with him inexplicably having secured a new place to live/squat and a little bit of food and money. enjoyed various scenes and interactions of him being an asshole/liar for no reason and other intentionally comical moments. but i read this book during a period of extreme personal anxiety, which seemed dangerous/bad, as the book is very stressful; i think i will associate this book and a couple depeche mode albums with a panicky pit in my stomach for the rest of my life. would recommend.

the hare by cesar aira: very similar in tone, theme, and execution to ema, the captive. an englishman goes on a strange, epic quest around patagonia, interacting with various native american tribes. contains lots of beautiful nature writing and interesting/invented scientific and lingustic fabulism, and is extremely problematic re: native americans. but if you put that aside it sort of reads like a fantasy adventure -- described it to the bj boys as a "kids adventure book for adults". some scenes made me laugh. some made me think. the plot reveals got increasingly convoluted in an eventually comedic way. i get the sense that he just sort of wrote whatever popped into his head and ran with every first idea he had without second guessing himself. would generally recommend. very engaging writing.

dinner by cesar aira: a very short novel that simply asks the question: "what if cesar aira wrote a zombie apocalypse book?" the answer is what you would expect: a boring/predictable zombie apocalypse narrative written in an engaging, detail-heavy way. enjoyed the first ~1/5th being a prolonged dinner scene with a bunch of backstory, substories, strange vignettes and details, then pivoting randomly to a zombie thing. funny in conceit. but a strange experience in execution. i like his writing a lot. enjoyed for the minor details, setting, and characters throughout more than any aspect of the plot. fun little scenes/digressions and compelling moments, like the bride wandering down the church aisle toward a gruesome crucifix scene which turns out to be a zombie. vaguely enjoyed it as 'proof' that he is a good writer, how he can turn a stupid story into something naturally engaging and interesting. the ending felt needlessly convoluted/clever, but overall i liked its emphasis on shitty/mean/disagreeable characters saying stuff. still would enjoy reading more aira.

the book of camp-lore and woodcraft by d. c. beard: i liked his shelters shacks and shanties book as dumb escapist reading. this has similarly fun discussion of cooking, making campfires, etc. some parts made me laugh out loud. some parts i mostly skipped.

pure color by sheila heti: bought used based on all the publicity hype when it came out (and the good cover). written in multiple sections. big fan of the first section, which was a relatively straight forward narrative about a depressed person going to college for literary criticism and working at a lamp store. second section feels like a discrete 'linked cnf collection' ruminating on her father's death, with lots of repeated ideas/images presented in a sort of melodramatic way; i liked it, but not as much as the first section. third section is the two of them in a leaf together having vaguely uninteresting discussions about existence/purpose/science; i liked the conceit of this one but got annoyed by the extended pontification on philosophy/science, which felt predictable and sort of reddity. the remaining sections were more interesting but  in general i felt like the second half of the book dragged, despite various good moments. overall i enjoyed her intentionally provocative (i assume) deployment of sexual language for father-daughter emotional connection, which the press focused on, but which to me is mostly funny in a sort of punk way, like she knew the reviews would get hung up on it. enjoyed the ending, mostly. felt mixed on the language/style - some of it was a little too precious, but sometimes the bluntness was powerful. think i would recommend various passages but less the book overall.

doppler by erland loe:  a short, satirical, 'funny' novel about contemporary norway. the protagonist decides to go live in the woods and makes a lot of baldly satirical pokes at things like skim milk, constitution day, conservatism, childrens' television, the lord of the rings, etc. generally enjoyed it but felt like the characterization was often inconsistent in order to set up these jokes, e.g. the protagonist is ardently anti-norway/technology but goes on a long monologue about the wonders of skimmed milk via centrifuge. was also wary of the prolonged suspension of disbelief to facilitate the plot - moose meat never going bad, living in the wilderness being pleasant/easy, people not caring about random things they would typically really care about. enjoyed the sort of nonsequitur ending. the emphasis on summarizing pop culture things in order to satirize them felt overbearing at times. but several scenes/plot points were very compelling and exciting, felt impressed by the large range of emotional depth crammed randomly into a sort of silly story. overall very uneven. unsure i would recommend.

breasts and eggs by mieko kawakama (europa editions): two part literary fiction -  the first part is a rewritten novella and is maybe only 1/5 of the book length, yet it is the most interesting, exciting part. enjoyed the unexpected characterization choices/scenes, the general conceit of the family dynamic/silent teenager/journal entries. felt like i would give this portion of the book to my children at a certain age in a sort of embarrassing attempt at helping address issues in adolescence. enjoyed the unique neuroses and the moments of someone sort of diving into reverie/telling a story. enjoyed the sense of time and place. the rest is fine but slow, focused on prolonged dialogues with random characters all on the theme of parenthood/childhood, felt like a sort of linear video game in this sense, the protagonist having cheap excuses to go to some location/meet with some person just to initiate a long dialogue tree. the connection to the first part felt arbitrary - little from the first part played a role in the second. sort of felt like two fully separate books that just happened to reuse some characters. didn't like the second part's focus on being a writer/publishing and the neat little bow at the end - felt too 'clean' and predictable, based on the preceding text. enjoyed one passage where a potential sperm donor slowly begins behaving unhinged and horny.

snow country by yasunari kawabata: this is my 3rd YK book, i think. this one is kinda short, about a stilted, doomed relationship between a geisha in the snow country and a guy who comes to see her like every 9 months. across all three books of his i've read, i feel interested in the emphasis on how bleak/shitty things were for the women characters, mostly due to societal/cultural norms. lots of precarity and dependence on men for being able to just live -- the systems of debts and contracts, the roles of geisha and mistresses, the elevated importance of love in this context, how maintaining relationships is really the only way to survive for a lot of women in these stories. also enjoyed the scenery, nature writing, emphasis on colors in the various descriptions. often felt impressed by how vivid the descriptions can be, including of facial expressions and movement. made me want to take a train to the japanese snow country in the 1940s. liked the ending, in general, i think. unexpected and a bit dramatic, but is an interesting, elevated, bleak turn.

my weil by lars iyer (melville house): was sent an ARC of this because i had interviewed lars before. i enjoy his writing. this is the third in a trilogy of sorts, wherein each book relates a cast of characters to a mysterious newcomer who looks/acts like/seems obsessed with a different philosopher. this one is about depressed phd students meeting a woman named simone weil, who's obsessed with simone weil. unlike the previous books in this set, simone actually really infrequently shows up. the majority of the book is the usual greek chorusy effect of the phd students complaining, shittalking, and exaggeratingly talking about things like the fate of fate and the apocalypse. they also complain about their dissertations while doing everything but write, including remaking tarkovsky films in the woods and playing badminton. felt seen/understood by it at various times as a former depressed phd student, gripped by minor events at times, made anxious at other times, bored by repetition/lack of plot other times. huge focus on referencing famous music from manchester (joy division, happy mondays, new order) and arty films like stalker. lacked some of the sublime diversions into actually playing/performing music from nietzche and the burbs, but had moments like it with the badminton in 2-3 scenes -- would have liked to see, maybe ironically, more about the characters actually doing grad student things, which happens 2-3x, instead of complaining about them, but also that's sort of the whole conceit of the book. felt like the love story/interest in/character of simone is underdeveloped. felt like the ending tries to make a potentially-already-dated cultural commentary, but i enjoyed how he lets the story sort of go into the unreal in the last few chapters. feels like it is modeled after a tarkovsky film, which makes sense, and is kind of fun. overall liked it a lot at various moments but felt like it was too long and had a few too many characters.

earplugs by bram riddlebarger (university of west alabama press): bram sent me this and some other books during a trade, i think, a long time ago.  this is basically a cynical place study of a dying appalachian town written with a mix of resigned seriousness and light, if mostly mean spirited, humor. noticed a really huge number of similes, sometimes a single thing being described with 3+ different similes in a single paragraph, and often similes with complex/mixed imagery, e.g. (making this up) "the house looked like a moon lander floating in a ghost's dirty bath water." a surprising amount of the book is dedicated to saying that old women smell bad. bram has seemingly started shittalking me on twitter -- feeling uninterested in finishing and writing any real contentful review because of this, uninterested in making him more angry with me because of a middling or bad review.

meloncholy by jon fosse (dalkey archive): bought this a couple years ago, started it, stopped it, picked it up again following my recentish jon fosse reads. this is about an insane norwegian painter in germany, for art school, who is in love with his landlord's niece and shittalks the other painters in his program. this one is much more repetitive than the other books, noticeably so, line by line, which makes for a slow, frustrating reading experience. enjoyed the shittalk and insanity-based humor, things like "she stares at me with her breasts" and repeatedly saying "you can't paint" to his classmate, and enjoyed the unexpected hallucinations about black sheets, but felt like finding each fun line was an exercise in digging in the dirt. didn't feel compelled to finish.

chapbooks and errata:

love at the end of the world by lindy m biller (masters review): purchased because someone i know was friends with her in highschool, and saw lindy post about it on facebook. this is a short collection of interconnected stories with a lot of melancholy, flowery prose and themes which are common in certain kinds of online short fiction-based magazines, in which lindy has published before. she made a tweet about feeling anxious about her religious family reading the book because it "contains a blasphemous retelling of the Noah's Ark story, sex outside of marriage, a haunted queer love story, climate change anxieties, and the word fuck." i felt like this was an accurate summary of the book. seemed overall good for what it aims to accomplish, but not really the kind of writing i gravitate toward. would probably be more engaging (and successful) as a full-length novel that tracks multiple protagonists.

books i've recently blurbed or read prior to publication:

since there are few indie lit books in the above list, i thought i'd mention some in this more roundabout way:

cheap therapist says you're insane by parker young (future tense): parker requested a blurb and i sent back several blurb ideas including this "Vaguely review-like rambling": In Cheap Therapist Says You're Insane, Parker Young slyly presents us with simple paradoxes, and he calmly, realistically, evilly details their effects on his poor protagonists. Each story is like a multidimensional array of dominoes, the throughlines incomprehensible yet reasonable, once you see how everything cascades out. His characters are both unknowable yet deeply relatable, and their muted, internal chaos mirrors that of the upside down world he puts them in. Their desires and actions ping off of each other and skitter in strange yet predictable arcs, beholden to the laws of an unfamiliar universe. These brief and impressionistic stories capture the strange, inchoate logic of dreams better than any collection I've read. They are ripe with a vague foreboding, confident yet dissociative leaps in time and place, inarticulate obsessions, quiet and bizarre quandaries. A fresh spin on continental neuroticism. They are a litany of intrusive thoughts for those of us who suffer different, more predictable intrusive thoughts. you should buy this book.

SALMON by sebastian castillo (shabby dollhouse): sebastian sent me this asking to read through it. i provided some minor copyedits and some thoughts on it as a whole, including "i liked it. made me laugh a few times" and "i think it's fun and well-written, consistent in execution, following a clear thesis...i haven't studied much formal absurdism, especially plays" and "many of the gags feel divorced from the particular character -- often someone will say something silly, but it could have been any character who said it to the same effect...the exception, to me, is Sebastian, who is consistently unique and well-characterized" and "my sense is that it's nearly finished, and so i don't think i have much value to add to it". this comes across as much more negative than i actually felt. but you gotta ask for a blurb if you want only praise. you should buy this book.

echo chamber by claire hopple (trident press): claire had asked me for a blurb but i missed the deadline to provide one. she is a sentence writer, with a lot of interesting figures of speech and word choice. there are lots of wacky conceits/characters. you should buy this book. 

consumption and other vices by tyler dempsey (death of print): i offered to typeset this for tyler and alan after bear creek fell apart. in typesetting it, i also provided a number of mostly comma-based edits and ended up reading the whole thing 2x. after sending the final version, tyler then requested a blurb, which i, probably meanly, ignored. i don't feel comfortable blurbing it because it is basically a noir crime thriller and i don't know anything about this type of book, what makes one better or more interesting than the other. i remember liking his emphasis on speech/affect, feels like he put a lot of work into making the dialogue feel realistic and engaging. you should buy this book.

!!! by mike andrelzcyk (ghost city press): mike and i blurb each other pretty consistently. he asked me for a blurb for this one, of which i had read various earlier versions across manuscript ideas. i sent him twelve potential blurbs to use. you should buy this book:

Mike Andrelczyk is the best living American poet.

Mike Andrelczyk is the best living American poet. Hands down. Now hands up. This is a robbery. 

!!! is a bunch of really funny and weird poems. I highly recommend it.

!!! is a psychedelic daydream at the DMV in a Czech movie from the 90s mixed with a little bit of strawberry soda while a toddler shoots a bazooka.

!!! made me laugh and think and want to write poems myself in spite of knowing they wouldn't end up half as good as Mike's

!!! is funny in the same way that death is funny (I think death is funny)

I'm continually inspired and amazed by the jubilant and insane things Mike comes up with in these poems.

!!! is required reading for anyone who has ever enjoyed a poem.
I enjoyed reading !!! and never knowing what was about to happen in a given poem but knowing regardless that I'd enjoy whatever was about to happen

!!! is full of poems both profoundly stupid and stupidly profound and sometimes both at the same time and, also, you'd be a jerk not to read this book

Effortlessly cool. Timelessly strange.

made myself laugh imagining forgetting about someone else who i blurbed recently. if this is you, i'm sorry.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

brief book reviews

spent ~2min trying to determine if blogger would allow me to upload an mp3, because of good memories i have of downloading mp3s from livejournal blogs in 2010. but it doesn't seem possible without leveraging a file sharing service. here is a cool unicode symbol i found instead: ▨ . and now here are some book reviews.

collected poems 2009-2022 by wallace barker (maximus): have chatted with wallace with varying levels of indepthness and frequency on twitter. enjoyed and reviewed his last poetry book with gob pile. most of these collected poems are written in a sort of punctuationless, run-on, ideas-crashing-into-one-another style like with arbitrary-seeming line and stanza breaks and a frequent 'final single-line stanza conveying a larger idea'. i understand this tag ending kind of thing conceptually but don't like it as a particularly dramatic affectation, i think. the common themes though are appealing to me and include maturing into adulthood, work drudgery, quiet despair, simple pleasures, guilt about one's place in the world, and simple acknowledgements of love, e.g. for his wife (i assume). deeply enjoyed many, seemingly skimmed others without fully processing. enjoyed having as a book to pick up randomly to read 2-4 poems from, which is served by its length/nature as a 'collected poems' book. would be good as a clothbound hardcover with gilt stamped cover.

literally show me a healthy person by darcie wilder (tyrant books): first time reading this. reads like a loose autofictional narrative via collection of tweet drafts -- i think some of the lines are tweets, or at least tweet drafts, often referencing twitter itself -- and longer paragraphs, maybe sort of like a liveblog situation. enjoyed the way the book is loosely based on  her mother's death and its impact on her family/relationship with her father, and the unpredictable way the format frames out/conveys the 'plot points' throughout. but the interstitial of nonsequitor tweets within the narrative kind of bugged me and also reminded me of new tab by guillaume morissette, which i think though is the worse offender (his inclusion of tweet-like lines felt more pretentious and useless within the more straightforward narrative). although i do like how the short lines create a sort of topical 'burst' effect, where the individual thoughts tend to accrete around a new idea/point, e.g. problems with body image, eating peoples' cum, etc., but sometimes the sequencing feels deflating/'safe'. feeling conflicted overall on the reading experience but thought it was mostly good. the embedded tweet/short line thing seems like a pretty dated alt lit affectation looking back on it, today, but i can see how/why it was considered interesting/genre defining/etc at the time; scott macclanahan's blurb calls it the future of writing, or something to that effect. based on listening to various music critic podcasts, it seems common for something that at the time is described as 'the future of x' to sound very dated very quickly. feeling curious what the editing process was like.

the black book by tom drury: josh hebburn sent me this, unexpectedly, based on email correspondence around books from the 90s and kmart realism. definitely reads similar to something like freddy barth, but with a lesser emphasis on scene setting/transitions -- felt often like scenes just kind of run into each other within a chapter -- and less humor, or, maybe, a different kind of humor that didn't resonate with me as much. relatedly, felt interested in the meandering plot, things just sort of happening and time passing, the protagonist almost randomly moving onto new locations and meeting new characters throughout. large stretches of scenes where nothing 'interesting' happens, e.g. a brief tour of some stupid tourist attraction, listening to the docent's monologue, descriptions of the items in the museum, people going golfing, buying a car, etc. felt like the emphasis on random people being 'quite a character' made it sort of unreal and emphasizes this vague type of 80s-90s humor. but overall i found it interesting as an example of 'non-classic literary fiction from the 90s,' where people occupy this interesting space between the non-computer world of the 80s and the fully-online world of the 2010s and beyond -- people do stuff in person, talk on the phone, interact with strangers in restaurants, work in a physical newspaper office -- but also talk about being software engineers or having data entry jobs. kind of a dumb thing to write about in a review but it stood out to me as something interesting about the book. the book overall felt sort of unfocused, to me, maybe, severely long for its very thin 'plot'. the sort of wandering nature of it made me frequently put it down and not feel compelled to pick up for days at a time, but i enjoyed any given scene while reading, the emphasis on nature and architectural descriptions and random details. i think its length and meandering nature ended up being its strength, by the end, and the 'organized crime' plot seemingly needless.

boathouse by jon fosse (dalkey archive): i've read and enjoyed his book trilogy, and this book is similar in style, with long dense blocks of repetitive prose intercut with brief, naturalistic dialogue. this is a brief novel about a sort of loser guy who stayed back in his childhood home with his mother, in their small/shitty norwegian village on a fjord, and he reminisces about his old best friend from childhood, who he just saw for the first time in 10 years, and who is married with kids. the plot details strange, emotionally taxing scenes about interacting with the friend's wife intercut with childhood/teenage memories. each chapter is bookended by more or less identical, repetitive, choppy blocks of setting the scene/context of the book (i assume to indicate strong, obsessive anxiety/trauma response), which i got kind of tired of, but when the actual plot of each chapter started, i felt very gripped and mesmerized. impressed by how he's able to make a long scene about two kids playing in a boathouse, where nothing really happens for ten pages, so fascinating and compelling. also enjoyed the penultimate chapter where it's told in the first person but speculating in third person, like, the narrator writing from Knut's perspective, about the narrator, the interaction of third person narrative and 'I' felt unique and exciting.

aliss at the fire by jon fosse (dalkey archive): enjoyed the (ironically, in retrospect) escapism facilitated by the quiet, bleak, norwegian village life and scenery of boathouse so quickly picked this one up. a seemingly shorter, but denser, novel about, basically, intergenerational trauma written in a repetitive, run-on, fragmentary way. its content is presented in a series of hazy, hallucinatory, overlapping, ghostly death-related scenes, usually involving people named after each other, and specifically relating to death-by-drowning-in-the-fjord. enjoyed the various images, not really knowing what was going on sometimes (both for cultural and stylistic reasons), and the imagery and scenery of various specific scenes. enjoyed the effect of starting the book in first person but then not using the first person again until the very end -- felt surprising and clever, and worked well with the theme and execution of the embedded/overlapping scenes. took me a while to read, felt like the rambling, repetitive, run-on style was distracting at times. enjoyed the fossian effect of having every line of dialogue start a new line, regardless of who's speaking. wouldn't rank as high as boathouse or trilogy.

birds aren't real by d.t. robbins (maudlin house): have had random, brief conversations with dt on twitter and have submitted small things to rejection letters during his drunk pop up submission windows. he also asked to use a song i had recorded for his book trailer for this book; i enjoyed the trailer and other trailers he made for the book, but hadn't read anything from it prior to getting it. this book consists of short-to-mid-length stories that revolve around a few recurrent ideas/themes, such as people dying due to someone summoning satan/demons, drinking beer, listening to music, being/falling in love, allegorical and grotesque/cartoonish violence contrasting with boring white collar 2020s suburbia, and hating your job. overall felt surprised by how many stories center the same idea of a satanic summoning with people dying in slapstick ways, something like 4+ stories do this. most other stories feature some kind of fantastical, sci-fi, or arcane body horror/violence scenes -- melting skin, ripped up muscles, bones snapping, decapitation, etc; this recurrent, grotesque, psychedelic violence/murder reminded me of the adult swim cartoon superjail. but the book in this way also assumes death as more or less irreal, with people surviving this kind of mutilation, or enjoying it, stuff like that, reducing the imagery almost always to metaphor for catharsis, i think, e.g. in the first story, which is basically just a gripe about boring email job zoom meetings that ends with everyone being killed by a chainsaw demon thing. the stories all share a similar jocular, sarcastically excited tone, with lots of onomatopoeia, exclamation points, and phrases like "yippie!" and "hell yeah!" and "LOL!", which i felt was unique and effective at defining the tone of the collection. but i felt mixed on the books' wackiness -- some stories read like a high teenager recapping/pitching a plot from an episode of rick and morty, especially the one about time travel, with various different-dimensional versions of a character all teaming up to kick someone's ass, but i enjoyed the story that builds up an expectation for a reveal/explanation that never comes, which felt like a fun experiment in story telling from a craft perspective. overall though most of the stories devolve into, i felt, needless sincerity or melodrama by the end; accidentally boo'd out loud when one story's whole ghost story conceit ended up being a set up for the idea of looking in the mirror and seeing yourself look like your parent. felt like the book would have been more fun with more confidently stupid endings; it feels subversive, but not entirely so, like, safely subversive, or weird but still trying to be conversant with the more vanilla sad-twist-ending-flash-fiction scene. have struggled with trying to articulate my vaguely negative feelings about it because i find myself wanting to say things about it that other people have said about my own book of stories, which is funny and humbling. i am, interestingly, referenced in a story in this book (alongside bud smith), which made me laugh. i am excited about becoming a recurring character in the indie lit multiverse. i like that the stories feel unique relative to other stuff out there, overall.

salad days by laura theobald (maudlin house): short poems with a lot of similes; some poems consist of almost nothing but seemingly unrelated similes, as if pursuing this sense of poetry's purpose being to come up with novel, individual lines as much as possible, distilling a given poem down to just several interesting, free-standing lines or couplets. most of the poems throughout feel and look very similar, consisting of 2-3 similes and a few lines that feel very carefully crafted and clever, usually in playing with a mundane expression or figure of speech but changing the tense or something, e.g. (i'm making these up) "i am going to be a lot" or  "i want to be going out tonight." enjoyed various individual lines throughout, especially one that says something like "the butthole of my chest". noticed a lot of references to generically poemy things, like moonlight and ripe fruit, and an emphasis on relationship-based insecurities. overall enjoyed it the book because of its dry, bored affectation and moments of provocative silliness. interested in reading more by her. would recommend.

if you dont love the moon your an asshole by steve roggenbuck (boost house): this is a very awkwardly physically small book of "poems and selfies". felt like various individual lines were interesting and funny but as a whole never felt myself getting excited seeing a block of text on the page, wherein he follows a template of intrusive-thought style, lol so random one-liners butting up against one-off attempts at poetic observation, usually about the moon or birds. very time-locked in that post-crunkcore period where it was broadly considered humorous for a small white man to ironically talk about "swag". enjoyed most of the very short poems, one of which includes the line "i masturbate here and there." the selfies and use of the word "frick" are all concertedly very bad. enjoyed the anti-blurbs on the back. i have inchoate thoughts on his inability to fully commit to either fully sappy romantic poetry or vulgar, misanthropic antipoetry, and how this does a disservice to both of his seemingly incompatible aims.

duplex by mike nagel (autofocus lit): a short, 'linked essay collection,' that sort of just reads like a novella-lengthed essay or autofiction, about mike and his wife moving into and moving out of a duplex in texas during the covid-19 pandemic. the humorous tone and emphasis on clever/self-deprecating dialogue and silly antics reminded me of Jonathan Goldstein from the Heavyweight podcast/older NPR shows, but a bit darker/self-destructive (e.g. emphasis on alcoholism), and less funny, or less funny via subverting expectations, or something, maybe. the aimlessness paired with a humor defined by the first person narrator relating his own clever/funny actions and quips feels vaguely offputting to me; for transparency, i had written a whole novel in this style and ended up feeling this particular approach was too artificial/pointless, and abandoned it. but i did feel vaguely 'relieved' to see someone else writing this way without it being terrible. aside from this vaguely negative feeling toward the structural conceit of the book and an emphasis on wordplay, i overall enjoyed it, the recurring themes and images, the BEEF HAM callbacks, various jokes and ideas. felt like it could have been longer and still be good. enjoyed there being a QR code in the back that takes you to a 'secret webpage' with links to author interviews and a white t-shirt you can buy.

blackbook by jerome spencer (public zoo press): jerome is cool, interviewed me and cavin for popscure, and has traded books/zines with me in the past. this is a very short novel with short chapters in two sections (SIDE A and SIDE B). it follows a crew of 15 year old graffiti punks who get into some antics and then, later, get involved in a burglary plot to pay back a drug dealer. greatly enjoyed its emphasis on friendship, graffiti, teamwork, and found family, in particular the scene of them doing their biggest/coolest tagging project. enjoyed the way no one character is reduced to a caricature. the use of slang and specific references felt natural and not like a way to pose. enjoyed the narrative pacing and the mix of earnestness, self-deprecating humor, and serious topics. felt that some transitional passages digressed confusingly to set up some plot point's relevance, and the 'twist' re Lowe's, while cathartic/fun, didn't make sense based on the motivating factor for the original burglary. but overall i found it fun, engaging. would have enjoyed it if it were longer. would recommend to people who like the scuzzy but warm-hearted autofiction stuff in indie lit.

the dandelion celebration: a guide to unexpected cuisine by peter gail (goosefoot acres press): a cookbook/manifesto about dandelions from the 90s. bought it used hoping to learn more about cooking foraged foods, especially as a lot of dandelions grow in my yard. the book is 40% summary of who eats dandelion and why, including a lot of random claims that dandelions can cure cancer and stuff, 10% a list of (presumably very outdated) contact info for companies that sell dandelions, and 40% recipes for the three main parts of the flower (leaves, buds/flowers, and roots). felt like the book could have just said "use dandelion greens any time you'd use another green or spinach" and save a lot of pages. laughed at the frequency with which the author notes that eating too much dandelion will make you piss the bed, and also at the frequent 'oriental' recipes which consist of simply frying something in oil and adding soy sauce. curious about trying dandelion root 'coffee.' laughed at a recipe that involved 100 pounds of pork. wouldn't really recommend the book overall.

the helios disaster by linda bostrom knausgaard: bought this, like everyone else, because she's uncle kok's ex-wife, and it sounded interesting. the physical book is normal-sized and has some kind of award sticker on it, but the text is set in a large font with comically huge margins, like it's basically a novella the publisher is trying to pad out to sell more copies, or something. anyway the story concerns a broody and mysterious protagonist who is born from her schizophrenic father's head splitting open, and she gets put in a foster home. there is a fundamental inconsistency between the first person narrative emphasizing learning about the world, especially words and ideas (lots of lines like (i'm making this up) "snow, that's a word i wanted to remember, soft and white") but still using a large number of cliche similes and expressions, e.g. feeling like being alone in the ocean, or something. so she knows what the ocean is but not what snow is? get outta here with that. couldn't get over this incompatibility within the narrative and generally broody, melodramatic tone. gave up on reading. probably won't finish. i've got better shit to do with my time, like read the cows by lydia davis...

bonus chapbook round

the cows by lydia davis (sarabande press): bought this because sebastian quote tweeted a picture of it, describing it as literary asmr, or something. the cover looked interesting and i bought it on thriftbooks. really enjoyed it. i felt endeared to its emphasis on trying to articulate the specific appearance of the cows in different positions/moments, this as a mix of both meditative artistic consideration act as well as a writing challenge. also liked the theme of the inherent mysteriousness of the cows, the lack of ability to personify them, and the tone she uses to write about this. also enjoyed the stylistic effect of undercutting a simile, as in (making this up) "the cows canter toward the middle of the field in a hurry, but there is nothing in the field to be in a hurry for." enjoyed the photographs. will probably reread frequently. would recommend. if you know of other books like this, please let me know.

the northerners by benjamin niespodziany (above/ground press): a short collection of ekphrastic poems about a movie, which means i imagine each poem is a description of/allusion to a particular scene or image in a movie, which i haven't seen. enjoyed the poems where a particular line is repeated, like "the coat rack is full" 2x in one poem. enjoyed kind of piecing together the cast and setting of the movie but mainly made me just curious about the movie. made me feel unsure about the point of ekphrastic poetry if you aren't familiar with the art it's describing, or maybe it's still the same, and not something i feel particularly interested in, in general.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

orz by troy james weaver

i published a single, limited-edition run of the book orz by troy james weaver. it is a new collection of short stories/prose poems/novels, some only a sentence or two, some ~two pages long. it is an excellent book.
this post is about the publication of this book, which was fun and flirty and made us both laugh a lot, which is one of my few personal metrics for publishing success.

the book

because the book is limited edition, we did not buy an ISBN or barcode, as these will never be stocked in stores. this saved us several hundred dollars (assuming one were to purchase a single isbn at a time).

troy writes in longhand and then later transcribes his writing on a computer. during the writing of orz, his laptop keyboard was broken, and randomly inserted 'z's in places, which he included, in a good/comical way, in one story in the book. i suggested minor-to-major edits on maybe 5 pieces total, all of which i think troy approved; i suggested he cut two very short pieces, which he quickly replaced with, imo, stronger and less predictable pieces.

i designed the cover and typeset the insides, using microsoft powerpoint and microsoft word, respectively (i also used Preview to stitch together the final pdf).

the back cover is based on my paperback copy of last exit to brooklyn by hubert selby jr., with the author photo, font choice, and author bio placement. i wrote a sort of cheeky synopsis on the back to recreate the 'major press' vibe. 

the front cover and insides are vaguely inspired by japanese books in translation; troy and i have talked about japanese literary fiction in translation often, and he has recommended me some very good books. i modeled the inky, small square blockiness of the insides after my new directions hardcover copy of the setting sun by osamu dazai. the title is also an emoticon that seems popular in japan, according to a former coworker of mine who is japanese (orz looks sort of like someone on hands and knees, head pressed against the floor in despair -- i told troy about this, and he liked it as a title for the book he was writing).

the original digitally-printed proof of the book includes the kanji for 'despair' as part of the design, but i replaced this with a dog emoticon logo. the inclusion of actual japanese seemed too weeby and embarrassing.

i had printed one digitally printed proof from snowfall press to get a sense of how the margins and cover colors looked. i decided to print the actual book with spencer printing, because the books are nicer and the covers don't get warped as easily. but they are pricier. i got one unbound proof of the book from them, corrected one typo, then submitted the full order. they invoiced me after the books had shipped, which i thought was interesting -- if you are working on a low or no budget book project, and you feel convinced you can sell enough copies in a short preorder timeframe, you can use the preorder proceeds to pay for the full printing.

the stunt/the sale 

we listed 50 copies for sale via flat dog distro. all 50 were listed for different prices, in increments of $0.50, from $0.50 to $25.00. the idea was that if we sold all 50, it would be as if we sold them for $12.50 each, which is relatively cheap as far as books of poetry go for, now, i feel. troy and i agreed this was funny and acceptable to do. some people would spend only fifty cents, while others would pay twenty-five dollars. i thought it would be a fun/funny way to encourage people to buy it quickly -- the longer you waited, ostensibly, the more expensive it would get. i was happy that troy agreed to doing a funny stunt with his book. i feel like, in my experience, you can have the most fun in indie publishing by being the least precious of your book, or something like that. not sure i worded that right.

we listed the book for sale at ~11am february 6. each differently-priced copy required some text description to distinguish it from every other copy, such as "orz - the middle one. perfection" for the $12.50 copy and "orz - south park reference ($3.50)" for the $3.50 one. i enjoyed manically filling out this form without having expected to have to do this prior to the book going on sale.

the first 45 copies sold between 11:29am and 10pm on february 6th. the last copy was sold at 11:32am on february 10th. here is the order in which the different prices sold:

$5, $11, $0.50, $8, $7, $25, $10, $19, $4, $7.50, $9, $3, $1, $2, $1.50, $8.50, $10.50, $3.50, $15, $2.50, $9.50, $6, $20, $5.50, $4.50, $6.50, $11.50, $12, $12.50, $13, $13.50, $15.50, $14, $14.50, $16, $16.50, $17, $17.50, $18, $18.50, $19.50, $21, $24.50, $24, $20.50, $21.50, $22, $22.50, $23.50, $23 (enjoying how hard this is to read. i should have made a scatterplot)

i had expected the sales to go from cheapest to most expensive, which did happen about halfway through -- there's a general upward trend once the bottom half sold out, and people started buying the cheapest option available, from $11.50 through $23, which was funny to see. the last 9 orders are in the $20+ range.

but i was surprised to see the first two orders start at $5 and $11 before someone bought the cheapest option, and to see the $25 one sell so early. also interesting that most of the $X.50 copies sold later than the $X.00 ones. seems vaguely related to the 'hack' of selling things for $X.99.

only one order included something other than orz, which was a copy of the goth goth boy edition of sad sad boy by michael o'brien. everyone else only ordered a copy of orz, which i thought was interesting and vaguely bleak from a 'marketing' standpoint. it is my general understanding that presses/record labels/stores in general try to expand their selection kind of broadly to entice new demographics and boost sales of back catalog items. i also don't care -- i'm happy making and selling troy's book only during this.

the money

i charged a flat rate of $4.00 per domestic order for shipping, as media mail packages ship for $3.65 and the mailers i use cost ~$0.40 each. factoring in packing tape, printer paper and ink (for shipping labels), and the cheaper of the free stickers i included, $4 seemed reasonable/slightly cheaper than actual cost for each order. i also included between $.75 and $5.00 worth of other things, such as more expensive stickers (holographic or die-cut), magnets, and/or original pieces of art i had made, with each order, to be nice/build a brand/hope people don't feel ripped off.

we made ~$625 total selling the pre-orders, excluding shipping. the cost to print and ship 55 copies to me and troy (50 for purchasers, 4 for troy, 1 for me) totaled ~$284, which comes to about $5.68 per book sold. this means that we made $6.32 per book, totaling $316. i paypal'd troy $200 and reserved $96 for taxes (self-employment rate is 15.3% on total earnings; 15.3% of $625 is ~$96). i kept the remaining $20.




Friday, February 17, 2023

brief book reviews

please contact me if you've read any of these books and would like to talk about them more.

let me sleep until this is just a dream by ellisiv stifoss-hanssen (dalkey archive): bought this norwegian autofictional book about cancer treatment because it and the author are mentioned in the norwegian autofictional book monsterhuman by kjersti skomsvold (who also blurbs it). this is a short, fragment-based novel about the narrator getting a cancer diagnosis, undergoing intense radiation treatment, and navigating the fallout of 1-2 doomed romantic relationships. the chapters are not sequenced temporally and i found myself often confused about who some of the characters were and when the various relationships started/ended and whether certain medical scenes were set before or after ones during the first half of the book. realized too late, probably, that the sequencing probably just alternates between two timeframes, but the fragmentary/occluded nature of the narrative makes this unobvious. also felt confused about certain scenes and later learning what was going on, e.g. a scene about her vagina burning because of soap used to ameliorate the smell from the cervical tumor presented before establishing that it's cervical cancer, so the vagina scene seemed bizarre and unexplained, at the time. but i also enjoyed not really understanding/following what people were talking about sometimes, because of the lack of explanation or context, which seems intentional, like as a means of recreating a sense of confusion and fogginess in the reader, or, equally likely, as an exploration of anxiously trying to navigate interpersonal situations the narrator doesn't fully understand herself. Vaguely thought it kept some things too vague/confusing in a way that I sometimes see in poetry where the author obviously includes details that are personally meaningful but do not evoke any emotion in the reader, which was frustrating, but also probably wrong, and I also often enjoyed not fully knowing what was happening or why things happened scene to scene. Felt like various lines were very good and impactful, well-observed and thought-provoking, but the clipped, fragmented language also seemed predictable as a means of creating tension/drama. enjoyed the end, especially re: the relationship(s) subplot, and the narrative decision to restrict the scope of the book so much -- overall enjoyed the book, feeling like it would be good to reread...curious about the conceit of short books that are designed to be read twice in a row.

the setting sun by osamu dazai (new directions): troy recommended this. i had read and vaguely disliked no longer human a couple years ago. enjoyed this book more than i remembered enjoying that book. this is dazai's first novel, i think, and is interesting for a variety of reasons, e.g. it features a 1st person female protagonist and it incorporates many fictional letters between characters. i usually don't read introductions/forewords/etc. but this time i did, and feel mixed on it – i felt like it helped me appreciate/understand some of the plot points, but also primed me to see some seemingly ham-fisted symbolism. i generally enjoyed the first half more than the second half, roughly when the narrator/protagonist unexpectedly announces an obsession with some novelist and writes him many insane letters about wanting to get pregnant by him -- felt strange/unexpected because this guy is never really referenced prior to this. but overall i enjoyed all the insane characters, brief moments of nature writing and daily minutia, and focus on the fall of the aristocracy in japan and the different ways the conflict between classes is made manifest. favorite moment was the (maybe unintentionally) comical moment where the mother develops an ailment consisting solely/inexplicably of a painful tongue tip. also enjoyed the emphasis on death, suicide, and self-destruction. style-wise it felt relatively contemporary. 

the weasels in the attic by hiroko oyamada (new directions): have read and enjoyed her previous two very short novels, the factory and the hole. this one is seemingly shorter than them, felt like possibly the shortest novel i've ever read; i read it over the course of maybe 2 hours. i liked the characters, settings, primary images, themes, and plot, but felt like it was too short, went by too quickly, mainly because i liked what of it theree was. also felt a little let down by the denouement hinging on a japanese-seeming trope (haruki murakami uses this a lot, i feel) of having the protagonist have a strange dream which precedes an inexplicable change in the real world. mostly enjoyed the vague hints at horror through mystery and obfuscation e.g. the emphasis on the protagonist often rarely getting a full glimpse at the various babies/old people, his disconnection from others regarding parenting, and the central focal point story about his wife's family's weasel situation from her childhood. enjoyed the understated and effective characterization of the protagonist by how he perceives and comments on the other characters. also enjoyed also the depictions of food and nature, made me very hungry for some inarizushi. weird, great, just not enough. would very much enjoy reading a 600+ page oyamada novel, i think.

people from my neighborhood by hiromi kawakami (soft skull): short collection of interlinked stories about the narrator's magically real hometown, emphasizing a small cast of recurring characters. while the early stories are brief character sketches, the latter half seems to pivot to being about the town itself and absurd, silly, large-scale happenings, such as "a low gravity event" and "an asteroid almost destroying the planet". felt at first like the stories individually were too brief and self-satisfied-seeming, but later came to fully enjoy the continuity across stories and the consistent vibe and style -- reads well as a cohesive work. enjoyed moments of characters being unnecessarily mean, dismissive, or weird. didn't so much enjoy some of the droll images/humor. enjoyed when she really leans into japanese folklore-seeming absurdity, like the description of where babies come from (a long, complicated, multi-stage process involving a shapeshifting creature traveling across the country) and moments where something is described as looking like a person but then on closer inspection turns out to be a bird, etc. laughed at one of the blurbs describing the book's strangeness as "cultural." interested in reading one or more of her novels, based on this book. enjoying adding this book to this blog post, cementing myself as some sort of literary fiction weeabo and abandoning my role as joyless indie lit critic.

chapbook bonus round

ajebota by precious okoyomon (bottlecap press): heard of precious in vague connection to tao lin...i think he's published her on muumuu house and she had a piece in pets. this is from 2016 and reads as decidedly in the vein of peak alt lit in terms of style and phrasing and typos, including several poems that sort of read like a cut up of older tao lin poems (a disaffected couple considering a hamster, the phrase 'out of control asshole', neutral facial expressions, etc). several other poems are short and directly about lesbian sex (lines like "finger fucking / fingers pushing / fuck" and "licking ur leaking cunt") which felt interesting and aggressive. half the chapbook is formatted as a text 'conversation' where every message is an unrelated poetic image -- felt frustrating to read, i kept thinking 'these people are not communicating well...they're being very selfish interlocutors.' enjoyed various individual lines throughout, including "nothing in the sky", "bleeding animal", and "no more burritos."

chicken poems by emma alice johnson (bottlecap press): an collection of 'earnest' and simple 'nonfiction poems' about the author's chickens. felt interested because i also have chickens and i like collections of poems about a single topic. each poem in this is about a particular chicken and is followed by a short explanatory essay, usually about the chicken's breed, which i thought was interesting, unique, and effective. but most of the poems themselves don't grip me in terms of style or execution -- some pretty low-effort seeming (simple observation of a thing that has happened) and/or with a lack of substance, i felt, and a few with extensive rhyming, which i have a hard time taking seriously. enjoyed the poem about the chicken that rides a pig. also enjoyed the "triumphant lavender floof" and these lines from the poem about the chicken styling her feathers: "what products do you use? / the sun and the wind / a bit of dust now and then."

some bugs by alex youngman (bottlecap press): have briefly talked with alex on twitter after he bought several books from flat dog distro. each poem is about bugs (are barnacles a type of bug? i guess rolly pollies are technically crustaceans, like barnacles are, so...i vote yes: bug ⊃ crustacean & bug ⊃ insect). enjoyed the ones that surreally treat the bugs as people/roommates/friends and felt less interested in the more general pondering-of-bugs poems. felt surprised and endeared by various moments of poetic clarity and image. enjoyed this stanza in particular: "he makes shapes in the air with his butt light / and it's almost as good as the tv". 

the future sound of blanks by fawzy zablah and brian van gold: bought from fawzy over twitter based on the intriguing title. relatively straightforward, short comic book about a real estate grifter in the 1890s and his descendant in the 1980s who ends up being an olive oil grifter. felt interested in the subplot about the 1980s guy wanting to make it in the music business and his friend stringing him along trying to get him to snitch on people -- would have enjoyed a longer story with more about this part. didn't feel like the computer-drawn art style was particularly gripping, struck me as kind of flat albeit colorful.