Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Amateur Hour: Closet Fictioneers, Show Yourselves.

Though we are by no means experts in the field of literature (see our ‘About’ page for proof), this site was developed to help curate a better reading experience for regular, work-a-day slobs just like us. We’ll leave it to you to grade us out on that objective, but from the beginning we’ve striven to be more than your standard book-review blog. Much of what we post is meant to amuse, sure, but if you look closely, you’ll notice that any time we share something we like or dislike, there is also an undercurrent of “how-to” analysis below the surface. Why does something work? Why does it not? What is the author doing there?

In digging a little deeper, we’re not just trying to be thorough or interesting. I’ll freely admit that our motives are somewhat selfish. We're trying to learn the tricks of the trade. You see, at some point the desire to curate blossoms into a desire to create. And I guess this is the post where I come out of the closet as a hobbyist writer of fiction.

I am, to date, the proud author of five and a half short stories and one-fifth of an unfinished novel. Not much, I admit, but the fifty thousand words I’ve amassed is nothing to sneeze at, either.

I doubt you’ll see any of these stories posted here in this virtual space- for one thing that’s not why you come here, and for another, they may be complete crap. I write them mainly for me. I don’t belong to a writers’ group, I’ve never submitted anything to a paying market, and I’ve never shown any of them to more than one or two people. I guess you could say I’m exactly like J.D. Salinger- only without the illustrious publication credits, the international acclaim or the hordes of people wondering what I’m working on in my hermit-like secrecy.

Still, I find it’s a fascinating pastime. I enjoy tinkering with stories that range from humorous, to dark, to sentimental to something bordering on the fantastical.

Because he and I have traded stories over the past few months, I know that fellow Shelf Actualizer Tucker is also a closeted fictioneer. (More on that tomorrow.) And even our silent partner Orlando could be talked into a collaborative story the three of us typed out in Google Docs last summer. So, I figure there may be others out there who could relate to this secret creative drive.

Anyway, because I’m a such a  sucker for stories about stories (like this metafiction piece by Etgar Keret), I thought I’d share a brief description of the complete works of MacEvoy DeMarest, as comprised on 2/29/12. Maybe it'll interest you, maybe it won't:

  • The Autobahn Accords: Four friends on a European road trip put their conflict resolution skills to the ultimate test after one of them inadvertently urinates on another. Based on a true story. (I’m not even kidding.)
  • Jakčeva 39: Two aspiring writers make a pact to embark on an experiment in expat living that will have very different consequences for each of them.
  • E-Concourse: A clinically depressed airline employee with nothing to lose agrees to smuggle something past security, only to be awakened to his folly by something he witnesses at the departure gates.
  • Convalescence at Connorly: While holed up in a crumbling southern mansion, a victim of a rec league soccer injury meets an unlikely mentor that will change his life forever.
  • A Perfect Season: Four college roommates spark a literary renaissance when they decide to run an illegal bookstore out of their East-side Salt Lake City home. (If this one ever does see the light of day, it will be rather obvious that is a direct outgrowth of this short story)
  • Untitled Work-In-Progress: A foreign service employee is left to wonder whether he caused the suicide of his closest friend in the Central European country where he is stationed.
  • Untitled Novel-In-Progress: A reluctant runaway and inveterate daydreamer strikes out across the globe to find the mysterious stranger who could be the key to realizing his dreams of adventure. Along the way he learns what it is to lose and be lost, and whether he is really ready to stand on his own two feet- or something like that...

So what about you? Are any of you closet fabulists? If so, what do you write? And if not, what would you write it you ever put pen to paper? I seriously get a kick out of this stuff. Inquiring minds want to know...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Casting Call

One last movie-related post before I give it a rest: the obligatory author look-alike post.

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris  (winner of best original screenplay, set at least partially in 1920s Paris) got me thinking about who I would cast in the role of certain famous writers. Here are a few suggestions just for the heck of it. Let me know what you think. (And I will cross-post this in our Forum, in case you want to add any of your own.)

This first one’s not an exact match, but there’s something in the downward slope of the eyes, the highway patrolman moustache and the slight hint of a smirk that makes me think you could do a lot worse in casting a young William Faulkner than Edward Norton Jr.:

As you can see, this second one is a surprising and uncanny likeness. A young Ernest Hemingway could be played pretty convincingly by 80s-era Charlie Sheen:

As for a youthful Ezra Pound? How about a goateed Jim Caviezel?:

For crusty, old Steinbeck, I think the obvious answer is Vincent Price:

And this last one speaks for itself. Who could possibly make a better Gertrude Stein than Joe Pesci?

Add your own here!

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the Oscar goes to...

If I watch the Oscars, I generally do so with the sole intent of finding out which decent movies I’ve missed out on in the previous year. (I think I only saw two movies in the theater in 2011, so it’s no exaggeration to say that I’m pretty clueless about what’s hot.) But sometimes you come across something unexpected in the course of the three-hour snoozefest- something you’d probably never rent/watch/enjoy down the road, like a winner of Best Animated Short Film that you’ve never heard of before.

It just so happens that this year’s winner in that category is “book-related.” So we’re sharing it here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Short Story Club: "Orientation" by Daniel Orozco

Welcome to Short Story Club, thanks so  much for coming. Let’s see, I think you know just about everybody - Oh, here, Tucker will take your coat. Go ahead and have a seat, and whatever you do, don’t leave without trying one of Orlando’s peanut-butter squares. They’re to die for.

So what did everybody think about “Orientation?” Tucker jumped the gun a little bit when I first posted the story, so I’ll kick things off with his reaction:
“OK, I didn't like it.
“Let me be more specific: I liked the "idea" but I didn't like the "execution." Once I read the first page, I realized that the story was essentially THAT (except for a little blurb about a serial killer).
“In short, to me, the story has nothing that makes it interesting. In fact, it's terribly uninteresting.
“I didn't like it.”
I can kind of see where he’s coming from- the story’s definitely not a thrill ride- but I think that’s precisely the point. “Terribly uninteresting” sounds like a pretty apt description of the cubicle life Orozco’s trying to convey. If you mean, Tucker, that the story gets repetitive, then fine. I’ll agree with you. I think that’s the intent. You get a taste in four pages of the career-length hell that awaits the speechless protagonist. Most of us don’t have to work at “Initech” to relate to that in some way. John Williams had this to say about Orozco’s collection in the NY Times Sunday Book Review:
The stories in Daniel Orozco’s debut collection convey a sense of workplace alienation that would make Karl Marx cringe. The opening lines of “Orientation,” the first story, place us squarely under the fluorescent lights of comically absurd employment: “Those are the offices and these are the cubicles. That’s my cubicle there, and this is your cubicle. This is your phone. Never answer your phone. Let the Voicemail System answer it. This is your Voicemail System Manual.”
Workplace alienation. Comically absurd employment. If that’s what Orozco was going for. I think he nailed it. What did you think? Sound off in the comments.

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Line Friday!

In the comments of our first movie-related post, Tucker asserts that there is no better lit-fic film adaptation than Robert Redford’s take on Norman Maclean’s novella A River Runs Through It. It is, as adaptations go, very true to the original. It helps that it was a short work to begin with, but even so, the film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1993. (And while it lost in that category, it did win best cinematography that year- it’s a gorgeous film.)

So let’s stack the first line of the book up against the first line of the movie, and see who comes out on top. Let’s let the original author, Mr. Maclean, kick things off:
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.”
Right off the bat we see this is going to be a story about a family. Not only that, but a religious family. And then THWACK! He smacks us between the eyeballs with ‘fly-fishing.’

It’s hard to remember this now, but most people got their first introduction to fly-fishing in a movie theater in 1992. It’s one reason why a lot of fly-fishermen absolutely hate A River Runs Through It- the film had the adverse effect of crowding the best rivers in the West with legions of wannabe and novice fly-fishermen for the entire decade that followed. Anyway, after the reader asks themselves ‘what the devil is fly-fishing?’ they’re left to ponder the fact that whatever it is, in this book, and in this family, it’s been elevated to the status of religion. Very intriguing. Great first line. You can’t help but read on. Now for the movie:
“Long ago, when I was a young man, my father said to me... "Norman, you like to write stories." And I said, "Yes, I do." Then he said, "Someday, when you're ready... you might tell our family story. Only then will you understand what happened and why." In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.
Now, somebody tell me, please, what was gained by lumping those four lackluster sentences in front of Maclean’s fantastic first line? 
Bupkis, that’s what.   Norman Maclean 1: Hollywood 0. But read/watch them both. You won’t regret it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rewriting Hemingway

What if you took Hemingway’s worst book, handed it to William Faulkner, and asked him to rewrite the thing? Ever wonder how that might turn out? Well, wonder no more. It actually happened.

Kind of…

We continue our cinema-themed posts by looking at To Have and To Have Not, which Hemingway called “a bunch of junk” and his very worst book. Even so, the worst of Hemingway was still apparently good enough for Hollywood to come calling- which is what they did in 1944 when they hired none other than William Faulkner to work on the screenplay.

Let me say at the outset that I did not enjoy this book very much. And it kills me to say that because I absolutely loved parts of it. The Harry Morgan sections, written in the first person are, in my humble opinion, some of the best Hemingway excerpts out there. The fishing trip with the numbskull tourist, the contraband smuggling, and the tense action on Cuba are all fantastic- there’s no use even debating it. And in the ill-fated re-taking of his boat from Key West bank robbers he gives us some gripping, "Snows-of-Kilimanjaro"-esque deathbed ruminations. Classic, classic stuff.

But the meandering, third-person omniscient sections about random writers and wealthy yacht owners… what was that all about?! This book could have been so much cooler without all that crap. Focus, Hem!

Enter Faulkner and co-screenwriter Jules Furthman. They made the prudent call to center the film on Harry Morgan, and they held to the early sections of the book very faithfully. Harry, his rummy companion Eddie, and the town-skipping tourist who stiffs his fishing guide to the tune of thousands of dollars, all gave me hope for the movie version.

…And from there the adaptation kind of runs off the rails. Still a great movie, mind you, but not a great adaptation. Under political pressure from the Roosevelt Administration they moved the action from Cuba to Martinique. And maybe they were sidetracked by the casting of Humphrey Bogart, but with the subplot of an underground political figure who needed safe passage off the island, this thing turned into a cheap remake of Casablanca. That’s not an exaggeration, either. You’ve got the he hardscrabble anti-hero who doesn’t stick his neck out for anybody, but who ends up doing the right thing. The beautiful female lead, who may or may not end up with the hero. The whole thing playing out in a smoke-filled café, complete with a “Sam”-like piano player, under the constant menace of local authorities. It’s Casablanca Part Dieux- only with Lauren Bacall, so, who am I to complain?

The last line from that clip is ranked #34 on the AFI’s all-time top 100 movie quotes. And since Faulkner is credited with developing much of the drama that unfolds “upstairs,” it’s very likely that that line was his creation. Read it, watch it. You decide.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

See Los Angeles! Read a Novel!

If Levar Burton has taught me anything, it's that when I pick up a book, "I can go anywhere." If you're an intrepid mental traveler like me, you probably enjoy trotting across the globe with our See The World series. It’s been a little while since we took you to Venice. So, in honor of the upcoming Oscars weekend, we thought we’d pass along three great tickets to the City of Angels:

Ask the Dust, by John Fante for a taste of the by-gone, Depression-Era LA:
“And so I was down on Fifth and Olive, where the big street cars chewed your ears with their noise, and the smell of gasoline made the sight of the palm trees seem sad, and the black pavement still wet from the fog of the night before… …Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I come to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town.”

The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy for a hard-boiled, 1940s, noir police detective tale :
"Warrants was local celebrity as a cop. Warrants was plain-clothes with a coat and tie, romance and a mileage per diem on your civilian car. Warrants was going after the real bad guys and not rousting winos and wienie wagers in front of the Midnight Mission. Warrants was working in the DA’s office with one foot in the Detective Bureau, and late dinners with Mayor Bowron when he was waxing effusive and wanted to hear war stories. 
"Thinking about it started to hurt. I went down to the garage and hit the speed bag until my arms cramped. 
"Over the next few weeks I worked a radio car beat near the northern border of the division. I was breaking in a fat-mouthed rookie named Sidwell, a kid just off a three-year MP stint in the Canal Zone. He hung on my every word with the slavish tenacity of a lapdog, and was so enamored of civilian police work that he took to sticking around the station after our end of tour, bulshitting with the jailers, snapping towels at the wanted posters in the locker room, generally creating a nuisance until someone told him to go home."

Lightning Field, by Dana Spiotta for a look at modern-day LA:
"For the past two hours she had done the unthinkable, the violate: she walked. First through the Vista Del Mar neighborhood of old tiny 1920s bungalows, sort of Spanish colonial with odd Moorish and Eastern flourishes, stuccoes and surrounded by palm trees, so arranged and modern they seemed carved in Bakelite. Car-free, in summer ballet flats, the only thing besides gardeners and children, Mina walked along curbs and looked through interior-lit windows, the fading dusk light affording anonymity, the TVs and stereos and nearly audible conversations providing a schizoid soundtrack- strange juxtapositions of familiar radio sounds with other people’s lives at an audio glance. Sometimes just a name, spoken and unanswered, hung in the air, or whole arguments at high volume. She could pause and listen for hours to fragments of conversations about dinner or car keys or mail.
"She had walked the long way from Max’s apartment in the Hills, then headed down Gower past Sunset and Santa Monica. The streets had already thickened with homebound cars, five o’clock sliding into six o’clock, a special segue time that was once called, by  someone, somewhere, the cocktail hour."


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 3QD Arts & Literature Prize

Nominations are open for the 3 Quarks Daily Arts & Literature Prize. As a nascent literature blog just coming into its own, is excited to be eligible.
If we’ve posted anything truly exceptional in our first 102 days that has resonated and stuck with you, we invite you to nominate those individual blog posts for consideration.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a two hundred dollar prize.
Nominations are open through February 28th, but are limited to the first 200 responses. So act fast to nominate your favorite ShelfActualization blog post in the comments section of this 3QD naominations page. Hopefully our 'Search' page will be of some assistance in calling up the necessary urls.

Thanks for your support!


Monday, February 20, 2012

So You Wanna Be a Writer? Grab the Wheel...

… of your nearest war-zone ambulance.

Many an important war-time novel was dreamed up by the men who freighted the dead and dying from the terrible din of the battlefield. Men whose bad eyes, small stature, age or nationality were obstacles in the way of their heart-felt war-time duty, found they could make valuable contributions to the cause with their “hands at 10 and 2.” In his classic war-time novel A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway gives us a taste of what it was like to take the wheel of a converted Fiat truck on the Isonzo Front…
“Two caribinieri held the car up. A shell had fallen and while we waited three others fell up the road. They were seventy-sevens and came with a whishing rush of air, a hard bright burst and flash and then gray smoke that blew across the road. The caribinieri waved us to go on. Passing where the shells had landed I avoided the small broken places and smelled the high explosive and the smell of blasted clay and stone and freshly shattered flint.”
…and, a little later on in the story, he has the unfortunate opportunity to describe what it was like to be a passenger:
“I felt the engine start, felt him climb into the front seat, felt the brake come off and the clutch go in, then we started. I lay still and let the pain ride.
As the ambulance climbed along the road, it was slow in the traffic, sometimes it stopped, sometimes it backed on a turn, then finally it climbed quite fast. I felt something dripping. At first it dropped slowly and regularly, then it patterned into a strem. I shouted to the driver. He stopped the car and looked in through the hole in his seat.
‘What is it?’
‘The man on the stretcher over me has a hemorrhage.’
‘We’re not far from the top. I wouldn’t be able to get the stretcher out alone.’ He started the car. The stream kept on. In the dark I could not see where it came from the canvas overhead. I tried to move sideways so that it did not fall on me. Where it had run down under my shirt it was warm and sticky. I was cold and my leg hurt so that it made me sick. After a while the stream from the stretcher above lessened and started to drip again and I hear and felt the canvas above me as the man on the stretcher settled more comfortably.
‘How is he?’ the Englishman called back. ‘We’re almost up.’
‘He’s dead I think,’ I said.
The drops fell very slowly, as they fall from an icicle after the sun has gone. It was cold in the car in the night as the road climbed. At the post on the top they took the stretcher out and put another in and we went on.”
Now, you can catch the flavor of the ambulance driver’s life in books like the one just quoted or in John Dos Passos’ 1919, but the literary magic of the experience seems to have permeated even the authors’ peace-time subject matter and was by no means limited to superstars like Hemingway, Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings or Somerset Maugham. A war-time stint in the ambulance corps quickened the talents of writers far and wide:

C. Leroy Baldridge, Louis Bromfield, William Slater Brown, Samuel Chamberlain, Malcolm Cowley, Harry Crosby, E. E. Cummings, Kati Dadeshkeliani, Russell Davenport, John Dos Passos, Helen Gleason, Julien Green, Dashiell Hammett, Sidney Howard, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Hillyer, Sidney Howard, Jerome K. Jerome, John Howard Lawson, Desmond MacCarthy, Archibald MacLeish, John Masefield, F. Van Wyck Mason, Somerset Maugham, Charles Nordhoff, William Seabrook, Robert W. Service, Olaf Stapledon, Sir Hugh Walpole, Edward Weeks and Amos Niven Wilder

Just look at that list. I’m not ready to say that the path of the war-time ambulance driver is a surefire path to literary greatness- but it definitely doesn’t hurt. And the resulting eminence doesn’t necessarily have to come in the world of letters. The French composer Maurice Ravel and American artist Waldo Pierce both spent formative years in the cab of a war-zone ambulance. Ray Kroc and Walt Disney were two others who drove ambulances in the Great War. Can you imagine a world without Kroc’s golden arches or Disney’s mouse ears? At some point the evidence crosses the threshold from anecdotal and coincidental to downright empirical. There’s something to all of this.

But maybe being a war-zone ambulance jockey just isn’t your thing. No problem. There’s still some literary magic to be found far behind the front lines. Gertrude Stein was a driver for French hospitals. National Book Award winner AJ Cronin was a Royal Navy surgeon. Famous critic Edmund Wilson was a stretcher-bearer. And both Walt Whitman and E.M Forster made a practice of sitting with the wounded during the Civil War, and World War I, respectively.

So, you wanna be a writer? Be a war-time ambulance driver. Grab your driver’s license and get your passport handy. Literary greatness awaits you.

 -photo by Barry Armer

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Literary Suspects

What would happen if you took descriptions of literary characters and ran them through law-enforcement composite sketch software? Hop on over to the Composites to find out. A few samples of their work below:

Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
Mr. Rochester, his foot supported by the cushion; he was looking at Adèle and the dog: the fire shone full on his face.  I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair.  I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw—yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake.  His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his physiognomy…My master’s colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

All the Pretty Businesses

With three kids 6 and under, Mrs. DeMarest and I don’t get out much. As a result, I have little to no use for review sites such as Yelp.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the humor in imagining how Cormack McCarthy might grade various local businesses. Courtesy of Yelping with Cormack, here’s one such review for Design Within Reach, in Pacific Heights - San Francisco, CA
Cormac M. | Author | Lost in the chaparral, NM

Three stars.

They emerged from the crucible of adolescence rosyfaced and long of bone, inheritors of the hurtling world of their progenitors. Cocksure but for the onerous legacy of war and rapacious greed and around them the soaring monuments and dolmens of their race fissured irreversibly. And like spawning salmon in their scaled finery they coursed heedless to universities and to the walled cities of Europe and the jungled ruins of Asia and they did so listlessly and yet with some driving hunger undeniable. For before them lay the promise and the yoke of some vague everything. And despondent they turned to those glowing gadgets and the vast and false electric nation and they soured like stable ponies for in everything they found nothing. And drowning now their horizons sinking and obliterated they lashed out. Fingers clawing that Eames chair. Eyes blazing and lustful before that Sussex credenza. Fornicating with that Brix modular drawer set.

Here’s another for Red Lobster in Wichita, KS

Cormac M. | Author | Lost in the chaparral, NM
Two stars.
The manager sat tied to the chair in the corral, firelit on all sides by the torches of the townfolk. Dean stood next to him with a Colt army revolver pointed to the hardpacked earth. Who else will speak, he said.
A chorus of voices rose at once. From the din a miner hollered: The shrimp was rubberlike.
I believe Pastor Macabee already done spoke to that, said Dean. He looked around him. Ghastly amber faces staring back like funeral masks. Are there any other charges, he said.
A prostitute in dusty finery stepped forward. She spoke haltingly. I made a reservation for six persons. And we still had to wait 45 minutes to set down. Her face fell into her hands and she began weeping softly. We was on time, she said.
A drunk cowboy carrying a rusting hatchet lurched toward the manager. I’ll tickle his neck with my axe so help me, he said.
Dean leveled the big revolver at the cowboy. The man regarded him wetly and melted back into the crowd. Dean spoke loudly so that all could hear. We will do this orderly or by God I’ll send him to the capitol and to hell with the lot of you.
A little girl strode forward into the light and looked up at Dean and the manager with eyes shining and obsidian. Hang them, she said. Hang them both.

Check out more at Yelping with Cormack.

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Line Friday!

Lately, I've been more intrigued by short first lines than their long counterparts. Short first lines seem to pack a swifter kick to the crotch then a more wordy first line. So have a look at this one:

Now I believe they will leave me alone.

What? Who will leave you alone? And Booooom, you're into the novel. This first line comes from one of my all time favorites: The Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. The rest of the novel is perhaps one of the more artfully configured works of literature that I have ever laid eyes upon . . . and it has a good first line to boot!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Poet's Corner

-Walker Evans, 1936, Vicksburg Mississippi.

Here’s another helping of poetry for the poetically-impaired. I came across this one on the Writer’s Almanac podcast. As it says in the one line intro of the poem, it’s based on a Walker Evans photograph, which we’ve dug up and displayed above. Pretty cool to see the poet’s inspiration and final product side by side. What do you think?

By Charles Simic

After the Walker Evans photograph from the thirties

Hard times brought them out early
On this dreary stretch of road
Carrying a suitcase and a bedroll
With a frying pan tied to it,
The kind you use over a campfire
When a moss-covered log is your pillow.

He's hopeful and she's ashamed
To be asking a stranger to take them
Away from here in a cloud of flying
Gravel and dust, past leafless trees
With their snarled and pointy little twigs.
A man and a woman catching a ride
To where water tastes like cherry wine.

She'll work as a maid or a waitress,
He'll pump gas or rob banks.
They'll buy a car as big as a hearse
To make their fast getaway,
Not forgetting to stop for you, mister,
If you are down on your luck yourself.

This is from Simic’s 2005 collection. Take a look:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta

When I made a resolution to read more women this year, there was a fear lurking in the back of my mind that by the time summer rolled around I’d have 19th century English authoresses coming out of my ears. Now, I do have Emily Bronte on my bedside table as we speak, but I’ve also tried to ease myself into this goal by reading more contemporary fiction (See Munro, Alice here) and branching out into genres I wouldn’t normally read (See Christie, Agatha which is sitting in my queue.)

Dana Spiotta in another female author I’d never read before I picked up her book Stone Arabia. I checked it out on the recommendation of a commenter here on this site. (Thanks Fi.) And after letting the experience marinate for a few days. I’m glad I did.

It’s a novel that’s had praise heaped on it from all directions, and is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. But I couldn’t help but wonder as I read it, whether this was really a book that will stand the test of time. I still can’t say I’m sure.

First of all, I genuinely liked the premise. The narrator’s brother is a failed musician who not only forges ahead with his obsession year after year- and does so despite being ignored by all but a handful of very close friends and family members. But he also compiles a comprehensive pseudo-history of his imagined rock-star past and all of his various bands- complete with fake reviews, album covers, news articles, obituaries and the like. When her brother goes missing, the main character tries to make sense of her own life by examining her eccentric brother’s “chronicles”, and by penning some competing chronicles of her own.

I will say that the book does a great job of evoking a place in time, whether it’s the narrator’s childhood memories of the late sixties, the LA club scene of the 70s and 80s, or the “present action” that takes place in 2004. In some ways it’s a time capsule of the modern era. And I’ll admit it’s somewhat refreshing to see lit-fic references to our 24-hour news cycle, and modern news events such as Abu Ghraib and the Beslan Hostage Crisis. Not to mention the repeated, gentle ribbing of Thomas Kinkaid Painter of Light . But I wonder if someone who picks the book up fifty years from now will care about these themes or identify with the book's characters. Not saying they won’t, just wondering if they will.

In the end, I wouldn’t classify it as an important book, but my guess is that it will exert a certain staying power. Spiotta writes compellingly about the sibling relationship, the plight of aging, the ways we choose to remember our past, and maybe most importantly about the pure creative impulse and where it comes from. It’s not the kind of book I’d hand to someone with an emphatic “You’ve got to read this” endorsement, but it is the kind of title I’d toss out there with an “I’d be interested to hear what you think about this one” curiosity. Anybody read it? If not, take a look:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and that can only mean one thing around here: it’s time for some love-themed holiday fiction. What better story to share than Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?” And who better to read it than that ultimate paragon of perfect love, Leonard Nemoy.

Commentary begins at 2:00 in, Mr. Nemoy’s gravel-mouthed narration starts at 3:40. Story’s over at 37:25. Enjoy!

Hosted by file hosting. Download mp3 - Free File Hosting.
-This recording is from a recent Selected Shorts Podcast

Monday, February 13, 2012

Forget flouridation, Let's look at literary additives

We're all familiar with the monumental genius of Harper Lee's classic book To Kill a Mockingbird. It turns out that the character of Dill just happens to be based on a very good childhood friend of Lee's.

Apparently, the real Dill was a kid named Truman Streckfus Persons and, as the years passed, Persons became a rather accomplished novelist in his own right. After his mother remarried, he took on a name that’s probably more familiar to you: Truman Garcia Capote.

This leads us to ask the obvious question: What was in the water in Depression-era Monroeville, Alabama? (And whatever the answer is, can I please get some?)


Sunday, February 12, 2012

May the best man win

It's that time again. Voting for Haiku-ption Contest #4 is now open to the reading public. Have at it!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An atomic explosion of awesome

Today’s post shares the dual distinction of officially putting our third month in the books, and being our 100th post since kicking things off here in November.

Now, we don’t want to pat ourselves on the back, but since there’s no one else to do it we’ll just go ahead and say that it’s pretty amazing that in the past 30 days alone we have thrown the spotlight on 26 different authors. We may not be bottomless fonts of knowledge and insight, but you can’t say we lack range in our literary interests. Just take a look at this past month’s line up:

John Cheever
Roberto Bolano
John Steinbeck
Billy Collins
Wallace Stegner
E.L. Doctorow
Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Alice Munro
James Joyce
Aldous Huxley
George Orwell
Thomas Mann
Italo Calvino
Joseph Conrad
Edith Wharton
H. Rider Haggard
Toni Morrison
Sue Monk Kidd
David Grann
John Hersey
J.D. Salinger
Annie Proulx
Eudora Welty
Douglas Thayer
Henry James
Daniel Orozco
Philip Roth
That's a decent list by anyone's standards. And there's lots more where that came from. You just need to strap in and feel the 'Gs.' As always, here are the 5 most popular posts from this past month:

We’re glad to have each and every one of you as readers, and we hope you’ll continue to spread the word about the atomic explosion of awesome happening over here at