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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

everything is totally fine: 1 year anniversary

my collection of short stories ("smallies"), everything is totally fine, was published by muumuu house exactly one year ago. it consists of 69 stories and is divided into three sections. stories from it had previously appeared in wigleaf, new world writing, xray, hobart, forever mag (solicited), bending genres, young mag (solicited), instant lit, muumuu house, the neutral spaces blog, and philosophical idiot. it was my fourth book, but only second available via general distribution channels.

this blog post is about my cool book. i tried to include a lot of 'behind the scenes' information to sate the curiosity of my potential readership (writers who publish with or aspire to publish with small presses).

zac smith book timeline as of january 2023:

December 2019 - 50 Barn Poems (clash books)

September 2020 - Chainsaw Blurbs & Other Blurbs (self-released/ghost city press)

March(?) 2021 - Two Million Shirts (co-authored with Giacomo Pope, self-released)

January 2022 - Everything is Totally Fine (muumuu house) 

November 2022 - I Hope You Enjoy the Food (self-released)

that's five books in 3 years, which makes me better and cooler than you, according to various faux-sarcastic attempts at self-validation i've seen on twitter.

brief summary of my other books:

50 Barn Poems: this is 50 short barn poems. i signed a contract with clash within 5 days of submitting the manuscript, unsolicited; i make 50% royalties per copy sold through normal distribution channels and i get to buy author copies at the cost of printing. we sold ~50 preorders (motivated by the limited release of giacomo's 50 barn blurbs with the first 50 orders, which was self-funded; i probably broke even on this endeavor). clash books, at least when i published with them used ingramspark, a print-on-demand service that enables distribution via amazon and other websites and, technically, book stores, but because of the print-on-demand nature precludes returns and thus most book stores have no interest in stocking it. clash (at the time) and i also had no pr/marketing/publicity plan or funding.i have probably made less than $300 from this book in royalties; haven't received a royalty payment in ~12 months after getting paypal'd ~$4.98 every two months or so. the book was not edited by the editors and contains one typo, one unintentionally non-existent word, and each edition misspells Stephen Merritt's name in the blurbs. the cover was done by matthew revert and the typesetting was done by leza, using some kind of free design program's presets; we had argued about the margins for a while, which i think soured her on me.

Chainsaw Blurbs & Other Blurbs: this book consists of 50 blurbs, ranging from one sentence to ~5 pages in length. similar to giacomo's book for my book, this was a preorder bonus for Chansaw Poems & Other Poems (ghost city press). it looks very similar to the barn blurbs book. i think we made 55 copies technically and i sawed one in half on video after filling it with jam as a marketing stunt. was a net loss for us; giacomo seemingly has never or rarely been paid royalties by ghost city press. i designed the cover and did the layout, based on giacomo's layout for 50 barn blurbs. it was printed by spencer printing.

Two Million Shirts: this is a book-lengthed poem. giacomo and i wrote this together and had a limited pre-order window of ~2 weeks for physical copies. we had about 70 made and sold maybe 40 and put the full poem on the internet for free, although the physical version has ~25 blurbs we wrote and an essay about publishing. unsure how many copies giacomo has left. i sent one of my two copies to michael silverblatt and shawn sullivan via one-day shipping in anticipation of our bookworm interview. i don't think either of them read it. giacomo designed and typeset this. it was printed by spencer printing.

I Hope You Enjoy the Food: made this for fun not really intending to sell copies. was prompted to updated/edit/print it because i wanted to make one as a gift for my mother in law. this is half cookbook, half long essay about cooking and food. have sold ~32 copies total so far. i designed and typeset it. it was printed by snowfall press, which we use for back patio books.

everything is totally fine: publication background

this book started as an idea for a digital-only chapbook collaboration with giacomo. the idea of a website for digital collaborative chapbooks fizzled out and we took our writing to integrate them into new book ideas. once i had a draft of ~50-70 stories i started sending it places and trying, briefly, to get an agent. i emailed exactly two agents, specifically asking them to only pitch it to melville house; one ignored me and one responded that he doesn't represent fiction books anymore.

i submitted the manuscript to future tense as part of their open submission period in 2020 and got a personal and supportive rejection from kevin (which was classified as spam because it originated from his personal email and not the future tense email; i have speculated about this happening to other people and them not knowing their book was rejected when we talked about future tense). i submitted it to yuka when she was editing for soft skull (and unknowingly, to me, at the time, tao's girlfriend) and received a personal and supportive rejection. i DM'd giancarlo via the tyrant books twitter and asked if i could email him a manuscript and he said sure; he never responded to my email, and i remembered reading that he only published stuff that he responded to within 24 hours, so i assumed it was rejected relatively quickly. i sent it to clash, foolishly thinking they'd be interested due to having published 50 Barn Poems, and was rejected via one-line twitter message. at some point around this time i had sent it to tao, after talking to tao about other stuff, asking for his advice about publishing. he said he had read the manuscript when i had sent it to yuka and liked it, and offered to publish a story on the muumuu house website in july 2020, which was exciting and great. multiple people who hadn't talked to me before (or since, really) DM'd me when it was published, saying they liked it. i sent the manuscript to brian alan ellis at house of vlad on october 23 2020, who offered to publish it ~october 31, then typeset it and offered zero edits, and suggested a late fall 2021 publication. i had posted a satirical, poor photoshop of a publisher's marketplace message about this, describing it as a 'nearly nice' deal (as 'nice' deals are defined as an advance of between $1 and $50k); i later found out people thought it was a real announcement, that i had paid the membership fee to publisher's marketplace to announce this, which is embarrassing to hear.

also around november 2020 i deleted my twitter account and started talking to a few people, including tao, more consistently over email. tao had asked for information about the current state of small press print-on-demand publishing and the specifics about what a house of vlad book meant, and also to read the version of the book, and offered to write a blurb for it, in january 2021. he offered to publish it via muumuu house in an email on febuary 4, citing that he felt he had been wanting to restart the press, liked my book, and could offer better promotion/exposure for the book. i agreed and awkwardly withdrew it from house of vlad; brian later mentioned not liking tao very much in a sort of bitter tone of voice in a podcast interview, i assume (partially) because of this experience. house of vlad as since, i think, ceased making books, following his most recent anthology of his own books, but did very well selling body high before that.

tao and yuka offered a good deal of copyedits and minor editorial suggestions for the book. i wrote ~10 new stories to consider for replacing other stories in this draft version, and we settled on the final 69 stories. i rejected ~30% of tao's edits, specifically for just 1-2 stories. the book was announced in may 2021, wherein i returned to twitter.

giacomo did the cover, tao wrote the synopsis, and i typeset the book and had digitally-printed copies made to send to potential blurbers. i also had stickers made, which i sent to random people whose addresses i had from the two million shirts orders or otherwise, and was reimbursed by tao. the book was printed via off-set printing (not print on demand) in october-november 2021 and officially published in january 2022, although preorder copies through the muumuu house website had been sent out prior to this. 

excerpt from the google doc "Zac Smith book"

May 15—turn in new stories (done)

May 22—tell Zac recommendations for which stories to include (done)

May 20—finish edits

May 22—order digitally-printed ARCs

May 26—write and print personalized blurb requests

June 5—send all digitally-printed ARCs






-Dave Eggers

-Elizabeth Ellen


August 5—finish getting blurbs

September 1—send to printer

TBD—finalize press release and other promotional materials

TBD—mail out ARCs to media outlets and reviewers

Dec 14—paid $332.44 expenses (65 ARCs + shipping)

Jan 18—release

everything is totally fine: sales, promotion, money

muumuu house uses small press distribution, which offers promotional support to get the book stocked in some book stores and amazon. book stores tend not to stock books from print on demand services as they cannot return the unsold books, but using spd enables returns and thus a higher likelihood for a book store to stock the book. the book seems to have been stocked by a few places in NYC and at powell's in portland; i did zero outreach to bookstores or libraries about stocking my book, but probably should have.

the initial run was 500 copies, ~130 of which were sent out as ARCs for promotion, and was out of stock due to demand shortly after the bookworm interview in march 2022. the second printing of 1,000 copies includes a corrected typo. we also made an ebook version available on amazon, which seemingly has sold ~50+ copies.

tao paid me an advance of $2.50/book for each print run, minus author copies, for a total of ~$3,000 (unsure specifics as the first payment was via paypal, the second via check - some amount was reserved for more author copies). we later agreed to decrease this to [edit] $1/book $1.5/book for future print runs based on the changes to the economics of small press publishing using spd and print runs between 2011 and 2022. i have sold 3 copies (as eitf x 50bp bundles) via flat dog distro and ~25 copies via twitter direct message. i have given away several copies, maybe 15, to friends and family and one of my high school english teachers.

tao sent ARCs to 31 bookstores and ~100 people/reviewers (individual addresses - scott mcclanahan and juliet escoria treated as one 'people', for example) -- the doc gets confusing, as some names are listed twice, some aren't. recipients include brett easton ellis, ottessa moshfegh, diane williams, the new york times, and josh sherman. i had discouraged tao from sending the book to at 1-2 people who had decided to disassociate from me between the time of the book announcement and the marketing effort, in an attempt to save him ~$6-$14. just noticed some funnier names included on the final list, enjoying speculating at what they thought upon receipt of the book.

as a result of all these advance copies, the book was reviewed by full stop, new pages, heavy feather review, maudlin house, the la review of books, and 3-4 blog posts. i was also interviewed 7 times. aurora huiza interviewed me and published it on neutral spaces sometime late 2021. i was interviewed by rebecca grandsen for x-ray lit in october 2021. i was interviewed by crow for bomb magazine, published january 18 2022, which i think resulted in the highest number of DMs asking to buy the book. i was interviewed by michael wheaton on the lives of writers podcast in january 2022 after he asked for pdfs of all my books, which he seemingly read very quickly and impressively asked interesting questions about. gabriel hart interviewed me for lit reactor in february 2022. the bookworm episodes came out in march 2022. i was on otherppl in april 2022, after some tao-mediated negotiations concerning the fact that brad thought i had shittalked him or the show at some point on twitter -- i think this was when he said he'd only interview me for 50 Barn Poems if i was physically in LA, and then the pandemic happened and everything was virtual, so i emailed him again and he ignored me, and i grumpily posted about this on twitter. i can't think of any other time i shittalk him or the show, but maybe i did, i wouldn't put it past myself. i was interviewed for writing the rapids but due to consideration for the podcast's audience we agreed to not post it. i turned down an interview for peach magazine for similar reasons. the book was also featured on dennis cooper's blog, which resulted in a spike in sales, according to tao, and showing up later also as part of his year-end recap. gabriel hart also included my book in a year-end recap about books that emphasize intrusive thoughts.

i did not personally 'cold call' any venues for reviews or interviews, although i did solicit addresses from a couple people i know from online who i thought would be interested in getting an ARC for review, and provided this information to tao. only a few of these resulted in anything concrete (josh sherman has bragged to me about acquiring multiple ARCs for books he had no intention of reviewing, for example).

neither of us hired a publicist or similar marketing strategy companies or whatever. i have a deep dislike for the idea of hiring a publicist. i do not have an agent. tao submitted the book to the believer book awards; the believer was almost immediately thereafter shut down. i don't think it was submitted to any other awards, which are, i think, almost all terrible scams.

my only social media presence is on twitter. i have not interacted with anything on facebook since ~2018 and did not post about my book on facebook, which would have presumably induced purchases by people in my extended family or friendship/higher education colleague diaspora, but didn't feel worth it, to me. i have made and abandoned instagram 2x, feeling a deep disinterest in understanding the interface and social expectations. i have approached promotional tweets/retweets with a disaffected, sarcastic persona.

we planned no promotional readings or events. tao had experienced limited interest/attendance for his online book reading 'in conversation' events in promoting leave society, and i felt a strong disinterest in doing any myself. since it was still pandemicky and we had our second baby in november 2022, i had no plans on doing any in-person events. i was invited to a virtual book club Q&A hosted by the oakland library in california, which has some kind of relationship with small press distro, for which i think ~10 copies of my book were purchased by the library or participants.

things i didn't do but could have done to conceivably gotten better press attention: 1. pitch interviews, reviews, articles, or misc. writing to bigger name/paying magazines prior to publication, 2. organize readings or events at stores or bars with/without other writers, 3. directly plead with bookstores to stock my book, 4. solicit more blurbs, 5. post constant and deranged tweets telling people to buy my book, 6. message the editors of places who had previously published me to ask them to post promotional tweets for my book, and/or 7. do something illegal that would garner national media attention.

on a more serious note, having listened to various episodes of indiecast and understanding more about media press/hype cycles, i would recommend not publishing a book in january. this is too early in the year to generally keep anyone's attention for year-end recaps, and complicates things like submitting to awards because of the change in the calendar year. it is also a hard time, i believe, for sales as people tend to focus on year-end purchases for the holidays and not preordering things for january. my book was also released roughly around the same time as fuccboi, which got a lot more (mostly negative) attention in the small press/indie lit world and potentially overshadowed my book's press cycle, but no one could have really planned/accounted for that.

i believe that something like 95% of press/attention for the book was simply due to tao/muumuu house. using a real printer and distributor also lent a significant amount of authority to the book which i believe encouraged stores to stock it and people to review it who otherwise would not have bothered. i also believe that several people, because of jealousy or a misdirected sense of entitlement regarding tao/muumuu house, chose to ignore, shittalk, or disassociate from me. it is obvious to me that the benefits outweigh these negatives.

conclusion / the future

because of the book, i was solicited for writing by tess pollack for animal blood magazine in NYC and by jonathan brott for l'amour, la mort in sweden. jonathan also proposed translating the book to swedish and secured a publisher for it. the swedish edition should be published sometime 'in the spring'; i was paid a $500 advance for it. i would enjoy seeing my book(s) translated to more languages. 

after one year in print, my book has 120 ratings and 35 reviews on goodreads. i haven't seen the recent full tally of sales, but i hypothesize this means it has sold ~750 copies.

i enjoyed the experience of publishing my book with tao and muumuu house immensely. he is a supportive, enthusiastic, and detail-oriented editor/publisher who invested deeply in my book. i feel lucky and excited about having written the book that encouraged tao to publish books via muumuu house again. i hope he continues to publish new books. i like his writing, his friendship, his enthusiasm for literature, and his commitment to publishing.

i am happy with the book and surprised by the good (for small press books) sales. i am thankful to everyone who read and/or purchased the book, and i am forever indebted to and grateful toward everyone who interviewed me and/or reviewed/blurbed the book.

[edit] also i want to express deep gratitude to crow, graham, and mo'b for reading early versions of the book and providing analysis and feedback, and asking thoughtful questions that helped me better understand my own book and intentions. and also to alan good for providing minor copy edits for 10 stories in exchange for some records, i think; i still often think about how subaru trunks are supposed to be called 'waybacks' or something equally deranged.

i'm trying to figure out how to make this section sound earnest. i'm being earnest: i'm really happy with the book and all the cool, funny, and unexpected things that happened because of it. i probably most enjoyed getting out o bed at ~11pm one night to talk to michael silverblatt as a sort of pre-interview, sitting in my cold office, nervous and shivering in the cold room in my underwear, talking about frederick barthelme and suicide ideation. he's an incredibly sweet and charismatic person and made me feel good about myself and my writing.

in general, large (artistic) accomplishments almost always result in a depressive episode, i think, for lack of some sense of expected fulfillment. this was true for me and this book, as i expected. however, making the book was fun. i feel proud of it, happy about it, and happily disconnected from thinking of having a 'career arc' or trying to leverage this book into 'the next thing.' it basically all went much better than i ever anticipated. i recommend getting involved in publishing on your own terms and prioritizing your vision over sales or fame, whoever you are, reading this.

thank you for reading my blog post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

brief book reviews

was violently sick for ~3 days this past week and 'enjoyed' elements of some of these frequently-dystopian books showing up in my fever dreams.


the wild geese by ogai mori: unsure why i bought this...i think based on the thriftbooks recommendation algorithm, seemed good, felt interested in reading progressively older japanese literature. initially felt confused about when this was written due to the minimal publication info in my copy, but have since discerned this was written/published ~1906, and mostly takes place ~1880. a short novel about a woman who agrees to be a mistress to support her widower father, but who becomes disinterested in her...guy(?)...and falls in love with a student she only ever sees through her window. the middle portion of the book gets a bit slow and repetitive but the ending felt intriguingly eventful, funny, and bleak. often felt confused by plot points that hinge on cultural understandings of the time, like what the mistress actually was expected to do for her master and generally just do all day, plus the relative morality of 'having a mistress is fine' vs 'being a money lender is bad.' i 'enjoyed', morosely, the sense of mutual imprisonment perpetuated by the presence of maids/servants, something i hadn't considered as part of this time period/social class. enjoyed various quirks of the writing, which ranged from casual to overly poetic, sometimes humorous, specifically a line that is like "[long paragraph summarizing a guy feeling complex emotions because he bought a mistress]. If I were asked to describe how he felt, I would say he felt like a man experiencing complex emotions from having just bought a mistress." one of those first-person books almost fully about other people, which feels old-school, less common now.

ema, the captive by césar aira: did a brief bookclub for another, more recent aira book (the divorce) with sebastian last year and bought this one at random afterward. it's from ~1980 and set in some early colonization period in patagonia. felt grossed out/distressed by various scenes of comedic brutality in the first and penultimate sections. felt interested in its general lack of plot and the emphasis on (mostly, presumably, fictionalized) nature writing -- at the end especially i recognized my positive/excited feelings for the nature/travel sections of the book, with the slightly fantastical descriptions, as similar to my feelings playing dwarf fortress ~2011-2013 and reading invisible cities 2x in ~2007-2008. felt vaguely uncomfortable about the mix of irony (i think) and descriptions of (mostly, presumably, fictionalized) native americans throughout. most of the book seems to emphasize/idealize a sort of leisure-heavy nihilistic existence in big nature, including cozy romantic sequences, swimming, cooking, and lots of tobacco smoking. self-consciously wondering about it having a goal, as a novel, of making the reader interrogate their own longing for the drowsy, uncomplicated, nature-heavy descriptions in the context of colonialism's needless, inhuman brutality. felt like the emphasis on complicated vocabulary is both a defining trait of the work yet also a little distracting/unneeded, and that the bernhardian dialogue was often superfluous (e.g. random contradictory/menaingless monologues where people say things like (making this up) 'money limits life, but makes it infinite. we obscure our own lives, living is impossible, and nothingness extends life to nothing'). enjoyed the description of an area called Pringles, which is a real name used for some regions in Argentina (and this book, i assumed wrongly, predates pringles the snack, which were invented in 1968, which seems fucked up and wrong), but which still made me laugh, the idea of having a sort of semi-fantastical alternative historical fiction with a city named after a contemporary snack food, a joke which i think may still be intentional after the inclusion of a princess named "F.C. Argentina," which i assume is a soccer joke. by the end i felt more interested in the awkward structure of it -- i get the sense he kind of just wrote what he felt like when he felt like it and didn't really want to emphasize a greater narrative arc (but the themes are consistent, esp. the 'joke' about ema being a captive). since the ending offers no real 'conclusion,' i had the thought that i would have enjoyed reading another ~700+ pages of the book.

harrow by joy williams: i like joy williams, have read 4+ books by her in the past few years. enjoyed how this book felt like it was set in the late 70s/80s in spite of actually taking place in a semi-distant future apocalypse. employs several williamsian tropes such as a precocious child with an alcoholic mother and, stylistically, the use of extensive and inventive adverbs and adjectives. noticed the book's gradual abandonment of the already-shaky-at-the-start narrative pretense of the 'main character', moving from 1st person in part 1 to third person in part 2, with the character then being used as more or less an arbitrary gopher used for introducing the reader to new wacky characters, then quickly thereafter being dropped entirely as a means of connecting scenes. felt like some of the adverbs/adjectives were very solidly deployed (with the constantly inventive ways of describing the natural world as looking shitty, e.g clouds looking 'dirty') but then grew kind of tiresome an clunky, with every clause in some multiclaused sentences bearing 2-3 stacked, descriptive terms. noticed most dialogue is spurred by non-sequitur-seeming statements that are used to present an entrance point for some kind of joke or interesting diatribe. enjoyed the plot/conceit of the book, seemed realistic in its bleak dark humor (e.g. a throwaway line like "they gave tax breaks to whoever bought a gun, then they stopped collecting taxes because everyone had a gun"), the hopelessness/pointlessness of addressing disaster, and made me think about my own visions of the apocalypse. as criticism, i felt that nearly every character speaks the same way, a sort of pidgin of theological/philosophical references and 'that reminds me' humor, which made the cast of characters and flashbacks more or less merge into a soup where anything could have been said by anyone. overall enjoyed the book and a number of specific images/phrasings that made it feel more like a sketch of a novel's plot fleshed out by poetry.

this is strange june by tex gresham (rly srs lit): poetry book marketed as consisting of poems for people who don't like poetry, but the poems generally strike me as straightforwardly post-alt-lit poetry with various standard poetic devices and pop culture references. mostly memoiristic with partially self-deprecating emphasis on minor childhood trauma, pop culture (particularly cinema), (low) self-confidence, and nostalgia for/reflections on childhood, as an adult. felt slightly unfocused as a collection, or slightly too long. felt less interested in the poems that seem to emphasize self-pity or airing grievances, but did enjoy the poems with more of the postmodern play, various straight forward memoiristic poems where it feels like he's exploring wonder/self-acknowledgement more than making a formal statement, and the image of getting a head wound infection from whale tank water at sea world. felt curious about/distracted by the approach to line breaks throughout. kept thinking it would interesting to see it rewritten as a collection of flash-length personal essays, dispensing of the poetry conceit and just focusing on the imagery/themes. i also liked the back cover 'how do you feel' blurb idea.

leech girl lives by rick claypool (spaceboy books): i think i purchased this book (mostly about mold) directly from rick, along with another book (about mold) when he had reached out concerning reviewing another of his books (which is also about mold, or tentacles...maybe both). this one is a pulpy sci-fi action book set in the (distant) future in two parts. the first is told mostly along two converging timelines ("earlier/later"), about an 'art safety inspector' who lives in a sort of biodome. the second half changes settings and is more straightforward in narrative. as with the other book of his i read, i enjoyed the inventiveness and imagery but found the prose itself sometimes awkward, repetitive, messy; this is definitively a plot/idea-forward book meant to stroke the imagination and stir up philosophical thought regarding art, purpose, humanity, etc. -- the big ideas, basically -- more than line-by-line execution. every time i picked it up i felt convinced i was almost done, but would be surprised to see i had a large portion of the book left. felt distracted by the seemingly reductive reliance on the protagonist's frequent and sole motivation being that she is in love with/wants to find her boyfriend during her various escapades 'saving humanity' and 'having her entire understanding of the world shattered every few chapters'... ultimately disliked the long length and the ending's oversaturation with twists and reveals...feeling a stronger conviction as i write this that i have not read enough fantasy/action/sci-fi/thriller books as an adult to actually speak competently about rick's writing.

girl on heaven's pier by eeva-liisa manner (dalkey): got this based on navigating the dalkey archive website, which lists books by region; this one is finnish, unsure i've ever read a finnish author before, and the synopsis sounded interesting. it's a small little novel about a little girl who hates her shitty school and develops epilepsy. enjoyed the descriptions of things in terms of her childlike perception of beauty, the theme of her wrestling with the meaningless cruelty of the world and rebelling in small ways she can't articulate well, feels like part of its conceit is the intersection of the 'old' and 'new' world (it was published in 1950), including discussions of/relationships with god/religion, esp. in children, and some of the 'insights' leena has about god; the cast of characters is small but consists solely of either the very old or the very young. felt like i couldn't understand/follow some of the dialogue but style-wise, i enjoyed the deployment of variously simple phrases like her feeling "utterly unhappy" and the descriptions of nature/buildings. felt less interested in the extended 'dream' sequence at the end and how it's written, but ultimately liked the simple image of the ending.

the diaries of anaïs nin, vol 1: picked up from a small free library. read the first ~50 pages, probably won't finish even though it felt enjoyable and generally interesting, specifically the focus on describing/analyzing other people, and felt like the writing was generally engaging and varied. the lack of structure and the fact that it is the first of like 15 volumes may contribute to my hesitancy to fully invest in it. enjoyed considering the complexity of evaluating a diary as a piece of literature re: character and voice.


do you think life is meaningless? sound off in the comments

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

songs i liked 2022

 starting some time in early spring 2022 i started making monthly playlists on spotify to share the music i was then enjoying with my friend nick. he'd do the same, and we shared a lot of music this way. the music, for me, was usually just 'new to me' stuff but sometimes things i liked from a while ago and would revisit. most of the newer music or new to me music came recommended by the bl0wjob boys, but sometimes would come from spotify's recommendations, or just new music from bands i like, or listening to the radio, or hearing about stuff on music podcasts like Indiecast or 60 Songs that Defined the 90s.

here is a (probably overly ambitious) write up of each song that i put on these playlists. i put the playlist on shuffle and tried to write about each song while it played. note there are sometimes 2-4 songs by a given artist, usually because of new album releases, and i would have a hard time picking just one song by an artist to share with nick.

Blessing - Alex G: I had never really listened to Alex G before this song. the hype surrounding it/the new album made me curious. i liked its ridiculousness immediately, the random "whuh!!"s and the whispering, the nu-metal music video, then came to appreciate the composition, lyrics, and sonic palate. enjoyed thinking of the album as something that would be insane and weird, and while this wasn't the case, I did end up enjoying the album a lot.

Here Comes the Hotstepper - Ini Kamoze: this is a famous 'sports song' that i was reminded of due to that pat finnerty youtube series about bad songs (this was, he noted, a good song). he, i think, described the song as consisting of 3 hooks and nothing else, which feels insightful and true. catchy, funky, fun. had it stuck in my head for ~5 weeks over the summer. enjoyed learning that algorithmic playlists categorize it as 'sports arena song' and not reggae or ska or whatever, it's always grouped in with 'thunderstruck' and that queen song.

Runner - Alex G: catchy, simple, pleasant. the piano and guitar reminded me of that tupac song. i remember enjoying thinking of this album as basically being alex g's rap album, in spite of the lack of rap. i enjoy all the weird production quirks re vocal delivery/manipulation. watched a live video and was very bored; felt similarly trying to play it myself on guitar.

Twin Plagues - Wednesday: crow turned me onto wednesday after sharing the semi-viral tweet about them losing money playing sxsw; i was dismissive of the complaint because they don't include merch sales in their budget - you can sell band shirts for like $15 markup. crow was very defensive of the band and i bought their album sort of jokingly, but then listened to it for real; my old address was saved on bandcamp and i never got the vinyl album, and i was refunded without being aware. i have lost several records through moving, most annoyingly the 2016 repress of the lovesliescrushing debut album via kickstarter - it was delivered to my old apartment and disappeared, is now worth probably $100+. anyway i like this song and most of wednesday's music i've heard. forerunner 'country shoegaze' shit, which seems really hot right now. good riffs in this song in particular.

I Poured Sugar in Your Shoes - Horse Jumper of Love: i love this band and have seen them live 3x, really got into their first album for a while. Felt mild disappointment with their second album. This is the lead single from their third album, which i have found myself going back to often and enjoying despite originally not liking it as much. this is a simple pop song that could/should have had wide radio play on alt stations, but maybe their PR engine wasn't up to snuff. or maybe it's too slow. i like its simplicity and earnestness in spite of some of the traditional HJOL weirdness.

I Feel So Weird! - Cheekface: Heard another song by them (elsewhere in this list) on a local radio station. I enjoy their style. This is from their 2022 album which has more fun production choices - i like the cash register sound and drum machine tones on this one, and the shouting/whispering. Otherwise it's a typical cheekface song, a bunch of dry one-liners delivered over a sort of uptempo cake-like powerpop. this album has a lot of eerie similarities to my book, so i sent them a copy based on danielle chelosky's intervention on twitter.

Cruel Summer - Bananarama: Heard this on the local radio station that plays B/C-tier 80s/90s minor hits often. Never knew anything about the band except their dumb name. Enjoyed this because it reminds me of The Casket Girls, who were on Graveface and had minor radio play on WICB ~2015. I feel like I have a fraught relationship with 80s synthy music. There's a lot of shit going on in this song, composition and production-wise. But I think it's good, makes me wanna dance, and is catchy, in spite of being broody and minor key.

Genius of Love - Tom Tom Club: i have slowly been getting into talking heads since ~2018. have heard this song discussed on various music podcasts, felt intrigued about the idea of this band being a talking heads spin-off that made hip hop. some podcast mentioned how often this song has been sampled in rap music, or recreated without proper sampling, and then last night i heard one of them on the local throwbacks/rap radio station (big energy by latto). the original song is basically just carried by the synth/guitar hook, everything else in it feels superfluous. insane that it's over 5 minutes long.

The End - Glitterer: listened to this album based on a spotify suggestion. enjoyed its mix of vaguely screamo vocals and cheesy/bad synth sounds. later determined it's a solo project by one of the guys from title fight, which makes it all make sense. listening to it now with headphones for the first time, the hard-panning on everything is horrific, would not recommend. sounds good in a room, though. bought this and another glitterer album on vinyl. i like the song title.

Northern Exposure - Cheetahs: a vaguely generic nu-gaze revival band from like 2014. randomly found this song on spotify i think. mostly enjoy the chord progression in the chorus, the unexpected second chord. enjoyed hearing ian cohen randomly mention this band/album on indiecast just after i had listened to the album a few times. the album is mostly whatever but this song is good. reminds me of japanese shoegaze from the 00s, something like cosmicdust, with the vocal treatment, guitar solo, and programmed drums.

Pig - Sparklehorse: Have enjoyed sparklehorse off and on since ~2008. Unsure why i relistened to this song and put in on the playlist - i think it's just really fun and good. i like the chorus a lot, and how it's one of the songs where he sings really high/weird. sparklehorse fucking rules, in general. everyone should listen to some sparklehorse. even though i don't think he ever did a perfect album, i think he's done some perfect songs.

Hey Now! - Oasis: my brother loves oasis, i never really did, but i like some of the singles. i keep randomly trying to get into them. this song seems good. i like the vibe of it, the slower, looser sound, doesn't fit in either their design-in-a-lab pop side or their generic bluesy rolling stones ripoff side. i like the sliding guitar lines and the way the verse bars end, with the bum dun dun dun. fun move, and the bar that's only 2 counts before the prechorus(?...haven't studied the composition of this song that much). insane it's almost 6 minutes long.

Toontown - MJ Lenderman: great parallelism in the verses (a standard in good country music, i learned via podcast) and wordplay (i typically don't like wordplay), bleak slowcore-style composition. he's in Wednesday, weirdly is doing a solo career that seems to be getting equal acclaim as the main band at the same time. i think he's a great lyricist on this album even on the songs i don't get into that much. seems like an iconic song for the burbling genre revivals going on, a mix of shoegaze, slowcore, and alt country. laughing at the idea of it being manufactured in a lab for maximum hipster cred in 2022.

He's Seeing Paths - Parquet Courts: bought their light up gold album in ~2013 when it came out because of a review on npr, i think. never heard this song before this year but it's now included on the spotify version of this album. really catchy, really great dumb casio keyboard drum loop, fun feedback usage and dumb noises throughout, its basis on a great bass line and drum pattern. in spite of all the neoliberal pretentious whatever about this band, i think they've made like 11 perfect songs and this is one of them. i also like the evocative dadaism of the title/chorus lyrics.

Party Drugs - Jessica Lea Mayfield: crow seemingly binged this song after i didn't see him talking about it originally, had no idea what he was talking about when he brought it up again. incredible song. i like the sparseness and warped guitar sound. sounds like cat power mixed with this particular bedhead song; i keep expecting a bass drum +high hat to come in on the first beat like in the bedhead song. enjoyed this album a lot, enjoyed listening to it while walking alone at night.

Buchona Vibez - Jenny69, DJ Morphius, Muzik Junkies: my alexa-enabled device played this randomly when i asked for something completely unrelated and i think it fucking rips. fun spoken word/interview sample mixed with an incredibly dumb-sounding synth line and a two-note synth bass line. will not speculate on the genre, which i am sure is a complex and complicated endeavor.

Noodles - Cheekface: powerful move to make such a good song that's just two chords and the only lyrics being "a big cup of noodles (yeah) / a giant cup of noodles." the clipped screaming in the second half is a great sound. the song ended before i could write this whole blurb. am writing this part while listening to...

Blackout - Boris: forget why i decided to listen to pink this year. i remember it was popular on /mu/ in like 2007-2011 but i hadn't gotten into doom or even shoegaze much by then to appreciate it enough. but it's good, and this song was kicks ass. big and loud. i like the effect of the single short guitar delay where the echo has unity volume/gain with the input, seems innovatively simple. this song made me want to start a band again.

Rockets - Cat Power: i think troy was talking about cat power. never listened to her before. impressed by this album's contemporary feel and similarities to early modest mouse guitar-wise. i think i listened to this album while outside on a summer day working on fixing the chicken coop. i like the slow build of this track, how it seems to be recorded live, how the individual parts meanderingly change.

Ted Talk City - Cheekface: this is the song i heard on the radio. i thought it sounded like they might be giants and it was stuck in my head for a day. looked it up and felt a mix of interest and dismissal. i was eventually fully won over. i like the pun-based prechorus. i find myself singing variations of the title about other things, like "wet butt baby / can change your life." i think they're good at recording/production, curious if they use an outside producer.

Peng! 33 - Iron and Wine: this is an old cover of an older stereolab song. i forget why i relistened to it in 2022. i think i wanted to explore some more quiet folky stuff for autumn days and vaguely remembered iron and wine, who i had never listened to when they were popular. more people should cover early stereolab. this is the only iron and wine song i know or care about.

There's My Dini! - Ovlov: got int ovlov this year because of buds. i like the vocal delivery ("don't forget your uuuuuuuuuuuuuuniform!!") on this one and the whole sound of the chorus, with the droning guitar line over the bass. i think ovlov's earlier work in general is like 85% for me...something about the sameness of the production and some of the tame vibes in spite of the blown out sound. this one, and some others, stood out to me from Tru. could see myself getting really into them over the next year, maybe.

Our Team - Big Kids: unsure why i bought this album but i did and it kicks ass. it's like a 2010 twinkly emo take on blink-182 vibes. i think i was looking at stuff on the same label to justify purchasing a random teenage cool kids album, ended up really liking this one. big hooks, cathartic shit, no melodrama or attempts at being overly clever. i like the album cover a lot, too.

Stampede - Hotline TNT: the latest band/project by the guy from Weed, so it was brought up in the bj chat. i get big astrobrite vibes from this album, with the vocals and guitar tone. it's like higher-fidelity astrobrite, in 2022. in live videos, their drummer kicks absolute ass, but on the recording it's mostly nondescript pre-programmed drums.

Hunned Bandz - Tanukichan: this is a spotify rec, came on randomly and i thought it was great. big blown out heavy fuzz bass and guitars. unfortunately it's one of the few compelling songs on the album. i like the descending chord progression and the sound of the guitars. reminds me of something but idk what. the lead guitar lines are understatedly complex and compelling.

Robert Frost - Mal Blum: random spotify rec, i think based on cheekface (the algorithm has decided that cheekface is contemporary queercore, i think). i like the simple 4-chord punky approach and melody. read later that they were semi-popularized due to that annoying podcast welcome to nightvale, i think. have enjoyed mal blum records since hearing this song but haven't really done a deep dive. good background music. i appreciate the vocal range on this song incl. the self-harmonies, feels unique.

Gobbledigook - Sigur Rós: only great sugur rós song. good memories listening to this in my dorm room on my macbook in 2008/2009. unsure why i relistened to it. running out of energy to write these. it's not actually the only good sigur rós song.

Fumble - Architecture in Helsinki: relistened to this song/album because of trying to figure out what song that part in Bad Habit by steve lacey sounds like, remembered how much this song rules, especially the chorus. saw them live in ~2006 and they were great. in classic AIH fashion the core of the song is only ~1.5 minutes long, followed by a ~1.5 minute interlude/outro

Chores - feeble little horse: another spotify rec. i like the glitchy guitar sound and the drop/open tuning based riffs. the lyrics and vocal delivery are fun/unserious, including the dumb rhyme in the chorus. i like the inclusion of the singer laughing, seems underutilized in contemporary music. this song feels representative to me of subtle movements in computer-recorded rock music in the early 2020s, feels like there should be more critical discourse re genre and music production based on this....something about katie dey, 100 gecs, spirit of the beehive, they are gutting a body of water, other shit i'm not cool enough to know about...

Lights On - Hatchie: this album was recommended on indiecast and described as something like "mall shoegaze" and made me curious. it's definitely like a late 90s alternative pop singer-styled album...hard to articulate what this sound is...definitely sounds familiar to something i listened to when i was a kid...but with cooler/warblier guitars and synths. this one is simple in its catchiness and repetitive chorus but with maybe 2nd/3rd level complexity in the composition over normal pop music. impressed that it takes over an entire minute to get to the chorus.

A Forest - The Cure: never really deep dived into the cure until this year, because of this song, seeing a live version of it from 1981. i remember really being blown away by the fullness of sound achieved with the flange on the guitar and delay on his vocals over top the simple bass and drums. just recently bought 17 seconds on vinyl, slowly getting more into it in spite of the sort of over-the-top gothy moodiness in it. this song's great though. am now a fan of the cure. the live video also helped reset my image of robert smith as a young sexy 20 somethings guy instead of how i had always known him, which was an old fat man sitting in a bed (some press photo in spin magazine ~2005).

Ammohead - Shelf Life: troy recommended shelf life. i like the marching vibe and needlessly harmonics-heavy lead guitar line. vocally reminds me of LVL UP and something else i can't place. this song also samples fred durst shouting "fuck off!"

Freak Like Me - Adina Howard: heard this on the hip hop throwbacks station. enjoyed its g-funkiness and how she sings instead of raps, feels unique in that way. also a big fan of the 'pump pump!' backing vocal track. enjoyed feeling very confused reading her various wikipedia pages. i like the slight emphatic delay she puts on the word 'freak' throughout this song.

Sister Ray - Velvet Underground: never really listened to VU. saw some joke tweet about how white people love songs where lou reed goes "suck suck suckin on ding dongs" so i looked it up and enjoyed the song (i am white btw). i like how influential this song must have been for btoh stereolab and parquet courts, in different ways. prefer the first half with the motorik beat more than the second half with the 2-step beat. made me walk around muttering "suck suck suckin on ding dongs" for a week.

"Listen to Your Heart." "No." - Cheekface: great song. "a giant pretzel could make you feel better." highlights my main complaint with cheekface is that the pre-choruses reuse the same lyrics in a way that feels underwhelming since lyrically the songs don't ever really differ between verse and chorus, everything's a disassociated one-linger. not gonna keep writing about cheekface.

Hold - Infinity Girl: harm is probably one of my favorite albums. really dug this album in late 2016, randomly relistened a few times this year. this is their best album imo, and this song boasts some of the coolest guitar tones and playing on the album.

Natural Devotion - SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE: came on randomly on spotify once and i thought the part where the fuzz kicks in kicked ass. have enjoyed replaying just that part really loud alone in my home.

Space Ooze - Happy Diving: this band kicks ass. listened to them pretty regularly for the past few years, even though they only have like 2 albums. i just love how loud and blown out it all is, and the weirdly low vocal range. great melodies and riffs. i remember having a hard time picking which happy diving song i'd send nick, unsure why i settled on this one. enjoy the confidence of ending a song on a guitar solo, feeling like i have a strange negativity associated with songs ending on long instrumental passages. unsure why. but this one's good.

Sitting on the Porch at Night - Horse Jumper of Love: i like the driving stomp of the verse and some of the vocal delivery during the verses, like when he goes "ooh!" and "uh!" and "roars like!" and "look! through!" idk the more i listen to this hjol album the more i like the approach to songwriting. i think they're slept on.

First Drum Set - Pedro the Lion: really liked this song but didn't really dive into the new album. since 2017 he's been making these autobiographical albums about his childhood. this one's a simple one about getting his first drum set. several parts/lines make me emotional, but i also acknowledge that i'm more put off by the overly dramatic delivery on most of this album. been slowly getting into the pedro the lion discography since ~2018 when i heard a song from phoenix at a coffee shop. i like that he plays a drum fill when he talks about learning how to play drum fills. this is one of ~3 songs that nick unknowingly put in his playlists to send back to me, ostensibly forgetting that i'd shared them with him first, which makes me laugh.

Bug House - Momma: i think crow shared this one. i like the guitar and bass sounds a lot. good, broody, 90s-influenced indie rock with interesting melodies and counterpoints between vocals and guitar. have enjoyed this album a lot but haven't relistened to it recently. i think i was let down by their album after this one, that came out in 2022.

Cheer Up, Chihiro! - Ovlov: sold me on the sax solo. got me into ovlov.

Dissembler - Cloakroom: this song kicks ass. it consists of 4 distinct sections and bears a lot of narrative weight in the concept album that it appears on. but mostly it's like a perfect mix of doomy stoner metal riffage and boot scootin' line dance. this is either my 1st or 2nd favorite song on the album. i think the 3rd section helped me come to appreciate the cure more, as well. my baby has taken ~85% of naps to a playlist/burned cd based on this album and i rock my baby to sleep for nearly every nap, so i've listened to this song 1-3 times per day since, possibly, last january.

Got the Life - KoRn: i liked korn when i was ~10-11, decided to revisit them a bit because of troy. this song's great. i like various minor components of it throughout, from production to performance to composition. rewarding to listen to with headphones. the bridge around 2:20 sounds like a modest mouse song. imagined listing all ~50 specific moments i like in the song and going insane.

Bull Believer - Wednesday: a long, epic, propulsive, catchy, cathartic, boundary-pushing song. makes me excited for the next wednesday album. cemented for me the perfection of slide guitar as an instrument of shoegaze mayhem; the slide guitar lines are consistently my favorite parts of this song. the full-band parts sound rich and cohesive. interested in the totally dry vocal treatment, how well it works throughout. rarely actually listen through the end, with the prolonged screaming, but it's worth listening to at least a few times.

SICK OF IT* - Jean Dawson: crow randomly shares contemporary rap/hip hop i would have never otherwise heard. he seems weirdly tapped into new rap. this is more like pop music, that weird niche of rappers making pop punk, kind of, but this has much more interesting production, guitar and synth textures throughout. watched a video of him performing live with a band and he stands still the entire time, barely moving - an incredibly unengaging performance, just blisteringly bad. 

Southern Sky - Alex G: i really just love that piano riff at the start, and then other later piano riffs. have referred to alex g as a 'riffmaster' to people. considered being a guy whose favorite alex g album is house of sugar just to confuse/piss people off.

Nightshade - LVL UP: great band, this is from their first album i never got as into, but it's a great song. like the rest of the album, it's very short and is based on a pixies chord pattern. there's a great live version of this song recorded in an arcade.

Mortal Bus Boy - Shelf Life: from a pretty eclectic cassette of home-recording-type indie songs. i think this one has a really good set of melodies and delivery. reminds me of vaguely generic 00's indie music like girls in hawaii, in a good way. the distorted guitar part toward the end is great.

Oblivious - Jessica Lea Mayfield: it's like cat power but with grunge guitars. i just love the two-chord bum bum bum deee dee dee dee part. just a great guitar line. could listen to it for days. too much reverb on the vocals. this album is pretty great overall. feels impressively 2022 in vibe but was released in like 2014, seems insane. she's a visionary.

The Brazil - They Are Gutting a Body of Water: mostly just love it for the 'doot doot doot / doot doot doot' sample. have enjoyed TAGABOW as fuzzy background music in Q4 2022, i think because of an indiecast reference. crow hates indiecast and whenever he recommends music that ian cohen recommends on the show, i tell him that ian has already told me about it just piss him off; crow recommended this EP after i heard it on indiecast, is why i bring this up.

Bad Habit - Steve Lacy: also discussed on indiecast, how, unexpectedly, this song had become so popular, and made me curious. really catchy and with shitty chillwave/indie production from like 2009 which appeals to me and contributes to the incredulity at it being so popular...like it's shocking such a cluttered, murky, unpolished sound can attain number one hit status in 2022. helps me feel fully disassociated from the modern world in its entirety. the vocal-only bridge part sounds like either an architecture in helsinki or bilinda butchers line, with the delivery and melody. every time this song is on the radio, my older kid tells me to turn it off, unsure why...i think because my kid instinctively hates things i like.

Tame - Pixies: randomly revisited this album after getting really into it ~2013 after getting into their greatest hits in ~2008. i like the 3x bar structure of the chorus and the way he squeals, and the breathy uhhuhhuh part. the pixies ruled.

Hangover Game - MJ Lenderman: probably my favorite lenderman song. i like the lyrics a lot. great lyricist. something really moving and open about the way he sings "yeah i like drinkin' too / i like drinkin' too." it also sounds a bit like a sparklehorse song. enjoy the michael jordan reference-basis of the song; have made joke videos for the bj boys where i write spoof wednesday/lenderman songs about random shit from the nineties.

I Don't Know How I Survive - Death Cab for Cutie: never got into them when they were big aside from rando singles. i hear their new singles on alternative radio stations all the time. i still check in on new, post-hype albums by big names from the 2000s indie wave. this album is imo the best one in recent memory, in spite of its flaws and sometimes soulless, quantized production; leagues better than the latest modest mouse, arcade fire, andrew bird, etc etc etc albums. but i like how loud the chorus gets on this song. it seems like they tried to have fun and lean into some ideas on this album in a way that's encouraging for such a legacy act. i also like how this song, and some others on the album, incorporates guitar feedback. someone on a podcast maybe mentioned how uncommon it is to hear guitar feedback in pop music, i think in part due to how over-produced and computerized everything is. have been doing a slight deep dive into their discography because of this song/album.

Godzilla - Fu Manchu: spotify randomly recommended the 'this is fu manchu' playlist and i got into it, very dumb, fun stoner metal riffage and stupid lyrics. this song is basically built on the 'smells like teen spirit' chords and is about godzilla. "oh no / they say he's got to go / go go godzilla" is such a supremely dumb and great lyric. would enjoy being in a stupid stoner metal band like this, too, i think.

Lost in the Supermarket - The Clash: heard this on that radio station that plays older b-tier hits. felt surprised that it was by the clash (i had never knowingly listened to the clash). had it stuck in my head for a week. i like the guitar tone a lot, feels impressively contemporary, and the bass part is good. you're laughing. i'm writing about discovering the clash when i'm 33 and you're laughing.

Talk Me Out of It - Pope: i love pope. randomly heard them on /r/shoegaze in ~2015 and have followed them since. just excellent 90s alternative-influenced post-shoegazey rock. great rhythm guitars, lots of hooks. i like the conceit of this song, lyrically, and the vocal melodies. highly recommend their album fiction and their first ep, known weed smoker

Love Without Emotion - Pissed Jeans: ben devos got me into pissed jeans when i interviewed him about the bar is low, which is named after a pissed jeans song from this same album. i like this song's hook, how the first chorus is actually a guitar solo, the image of him eating ice cream and complaining about bad food. really catchy overall.

There's Nothing - Shout Out Louds: this is from a 2005 album i was into ~when it came out, based on seeing music videos on tv. it's their only album that sounds like this, with the cool guitar work and more standard indie rock elements (their second album is basically a mid-career cure rip off). unsure why i picked this song specifically, as i don't like it as much as some of the other songs. maybe i really just like the bendy and fucked up guitar line throughout.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

briefer book reviews

(lots of smouldering drama in the small press world lately, thought i'd throw some kindling at it)


Monsterhuman by Kjersti Skomsvold (dalkey): read and enjoyed her debut book, which is a short novel about a scared/depressed old woman. this is a large (~450 page) autofictional book about an author named kjersti skomsvold writing, publishing, and struggling to write a follow-up to her debut book, which is a short novel about a scared/depressed old woman. style-wise this one is heavy on the insecure daily minutia and intrusive thoughts/memories of the narrator and vacillates between present, past, and future tense in a hazy way, merging her obsession with wanting to publish a book, writing the book, and actually publishing the book, referencing things in the future, referencing the writing of this book, and so on, creating a unique, i felt, throughline of expanding or contracting the anxieties of each moment in time. felt like a unique way to write but often not entirely gripping -- started out slower/more boring but then felt more interested once she started attending writing school(s), then less interested when she started studying literary criticism and working on the second book. i was still consistently curious throughout to see what would happen, but didn't feel like the writing style or voice was particularly engaging and instead relied on the plot to pull me in. i did notice and enjoyed a common refrain of referencing/subverting a cliched expression, similar in execution to another theme of people misunderstanding or confusing intentions/terms/expressions, which felt interesting, a cool way of showing, i think, the narrator's deep-set anxieties and lack of social awareness, and also to create humor. made me briefly yearn for the romanticized MFA-type lifestyle until i realized it is basically the same as getting a phd in another field, but perhaps worse. felt like, for as much as it emphasized writing honestly about everything, very little is actually shown/exposed regarding her relationship with Hilde and the guy at the end, which makes me wonder whether this book is as successful, ultimately, as it describes its own criteria for success. still enjoyed it, wished it had more knausgaard in it (she describes meeting him only very briefly, i think describing him as 'wily' or some other word similar to 'mangy'). have had no success figuring out who 'Hilde' is; would like to read her work (i tweeted about this to no avail, googled for a while, and DM'd dalkey archive, but they ignored me).

Goon Dog by Jon Berger (Gob Pile): have read and enjoyed stories by jon on the internet. these are mostly short, sam pinkian, plainly written slice-of-life stories about broke/poor people in michigan doing drugs, dropping out of community college, and fucking around. lots of cumulative heartbreak and looking for escape but with a fun emphasis on people getting (petty) revenge (usually against rich assholes). good descriptions of midwestern things that felt familiar to me, like winter slush and blue salt and shitty cars. felt like the book as a collection suffers from not being coherent enough, in that several stories redundantly describe the same places/characters/ideas, so the book functions as a compilation of similar stories and not so much a unified work; i considered throughout that it could have been reworked into a great, meandering, image-heavy novel. also felt like some of the stories ended too soon, where the content was effectively intended, i think, to convey a particular emotion related to a situation or experience, but includes a lot of backstory, setting you up for a longer story that simply seems to ends too early. more positively, some stories entertain fantastical/sci-fi things in a humorous way, which i considered fun and innovative for this type of writing, and often function as a form of catharsis. found myself laughing sometimes, grimacing other times. enjoyed the sequencing choice of the first story possibly being implemented to turn off some readers intentionally with its very graphic and fucked up deep wound and deep wound care scenes. laughed a lot throughout the bookstore slime story and thought the ending's phrasing was innovative, beautiful, and powerful. enjoyed the emphasis on humanity and empathy for characters and the direct, non-self-pitying description of negative thoughts/feelings. consistently enjoyed every story, would recommend. mad at bram for the C- copy editing.

Naive. Super by Erland Loe: a norwegian book in translation that christian utigard sent me. a short, 'droll' novel about a 20 something man facing an existential crisis from like 1996. a large amount of the book is spent summarizing other things, specifically a book about relativity/physics, television commercials, excerpts from emails/faxes, lists of things the narrator encounters/sees, and library catalog searches. feeling like its main selling point is its decidedly 'european/british' type of dry humor that doesn't appeal to me too much -- my main critique is in how he overworks the humor a little bit, although sometimes it still works pretty well. my other critique is the extensive summarization of other texts and simplistic/reductive plot, including the romantic interest subplot. felt interested in the book seeming 'uncomplicated' -- he faces a minor crisis, engages in self-directed healing, goes to new york and gains some perspective, ends up feeling ok and optimistic, the end. mostly enjoyed the short arc about hanging out with a kid and running errands. had a vague thesis pop into my head concerning gen x in their 20s in the late nineties and their relationships with brands and media, based on having read no logo at some point and the wikipedia article about OK Cola and this book's chapter dedicated to how the narrator loves certain brands, that i don't care enough about to write. wondering if the emphasis on brand loyalty and consumption is meant to be earnest in an 'acceptable' or earnest in a 'subversive' way. the last page of the book made me laugh a good deal, probably the best 'joke' in the book.

Fucko by Lucas Restivo (bullshit lit): traded books with lucas for this. he lives really close to where i used to live in somerville. collection of humorous poetry with emphasis on daily life/work at a restaurant. felt surprised by how 'normal poetry' much of it felt with poetic/complicated/evocative metaphor or word play (lines like "i was raised / to be beside myself") while it seems designed/marketed/promoted to be more conversational and 'fun/silly' (based on e.g. the title, cover, and excerpts posted on the publisher's website). enjoyed moments throughout -- lines like "good god i am so lonely / and swagalicious" remind me of roggenbuck in a good way. made me think more about what appeals to me in poetry, possibly more concrete imagery/ideas instead of more cerebral or linguistic things. felt curious about which printer the publisher uses, based on the feel of the cover/paper and lack of amazon kdp or ingramspark information on the last page. enjoyed that lucas's bio includes his venmo.

the boy scouts handbook from 1911: have enjoyed skimming through and enjoying both practical (and impractical) camping/adventure-related tips as well as early 1900s-era culture stuff, like the ideas for fun games for kids (several were variations on memorizing things and quizzing each other, others involve protracted methods of hide and seek). enjoyed learning that part of the requirements for earning the agriculture badge in 1911 was growing an entire acre of wheat. have found myself in general enjoying the niche topic of "plainly written handbooks about how to live" that include things like how to bathe and brush your teeth, which i've seen in this and other old books. this one includes a comical page about not jerking off because it prevents your semen from going into your blood(?). haven't read in its entirety, probably will never, but will probably enjoy skimming it further. would enjoy playing a particular game based on cockfights, where you have to hold broomsticks with your knees and elbows and knock the opponent out of a ring, or something.

room temperature by nicholas baker: bought this used because crow has recommended him often. read the first two pages while peeing/brushing my teeth, thought "this is a lot of adjectives and adverbs" while confusedly trying to visualize a sweater, and put it on my bedside table four days ago. if i'm being truly honest with myself, open to my own whims and passions in this brief, ludicrous life of mine, then i should admit that i will most likely not continue reading.

(haha, tricked you, you drama-seeking bitch)