Best Reads of 2016

9780812987232Managed to read over a hundred books and view about the same number of movies in 2016.

You’ll find my list of favourite films over at my blog, Cinema Arete.

Read slightly more non-fiction than fiction last year, a bit of a worrying trend. I’ve really cut back on my genre fiction in the past while; I’ve found the suspension of disbelief rarely works for me any more. The last horror novel I read, by Peter Straub, struck me as completely implausible and I barely finished it.

More and more, I’m looking for quality reads, books that are innovative, literate and unique.

And, more and more, contemporary fiction just doesn’t meet that criteria.

 * * * *

Best Books Read in 2016

Fiction:

Fortune Smiles (Stories) by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Execution by Hugo Wilcken

The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald

Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo

The Heavenly Bible by Donald Ray Pollock

Today I Wrote Nothing (Stories) by Daniil Kharms

Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

The Adulterous Woman (Stories) by Albert Camus

Honorable Mention:

Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Poetry:

Without by Donald Hall

Felicity by Mary Oliver

Non-fiction:

Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes

Ghost Wars: Secret History of CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden by Steve Coll

Contrary Notions by Michael Parenti

When the Facts Change by Tony Judt

Disaster Capitalism by Antony Lowenstein

Young Orson: The Years of Luck & Genius by Patrick McGilligan

We Learn Nothing (Essays) by Tim Kreider

Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum

Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk

Honorable Mention:

The Idea of Communism by Tariq Ali

Goebbels: A Biography by Peter Longerich

My Life & Travels by Wilfred Thesiger

Hogs Wild (Essays) by Ian Frazier

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Black Dog Press: The Year Ahead

book-catalog

Over the holidays I devoted a considerable amount of thought to what should happen next with Black Dog Press.

So far, my imprint has released eleven books, a couple of limited edition chapbooks…but now what?

I’ve come to the determination that I won’t be publishing anything in 2017—and before the emails and complaints start flying, let me elaborate.

Despite my considerable efforts, Black Dog Press remains a very marginal enterprise. It is a constant struggle to draw attention to my writing when there are so many tomes being published and self-published, churned out like dumb, identical widgets. I want to pursue new methods for advertising my books, trying my best to overcome my aversion to self-promotion (a particularly ugly manifestation of narcissism). I’ve never been an author who haunts forums, always looking for an opportunity to reference my own work, and I’m not much a joiner, if you get my drift. More like your classic lone wolf.

In the past, I’ve sought out other, like-minded indie authors/publishers but, candidly, haven’t found many who take the printed word as seriously as I do. Very few scribes these days produce genuinely original, literary work; their prose is often derivative (fan fiction) or stuck in a genre of little interest to me (zombie, shapeshifter romance, etc.). Sadly, the proliferation of technology, the growing number of publishing platforms, means that the amateurs and wannabes out there can publish all the crap they excrete, with the minimum of editing or critical scrutiny. Pounding their chests and calling themselves writers, having a fit when anyone dares question their professional credentials. As petulant as they are untalented, vicious, rather than visionary.

Sending out review copies doesn’t work—that much has been made clear. Again, too many books, too few good publications (even fewer qualified critics)…and then there are the unnamed rags that want you to buy advertising space before they’ll even consider your book for review. There’s a special red-hot poker in Hell waiting for that scum.

I adamantly refuse to purchase a positive, five-star review from Kirkus or Publishers Weekly. Never, never, never.

What does that leave?

I’ve been looking into hiring a publicist, but that would mean leaving my comfort zone and putting my books, my personality, my face in the hands of a stranger. Granting them permission to do what’s necessary to “raise my profile” (I’m literally squirming as I type those words).

But something has to be done. I’m publishing terrific, intelligent, compelling novels and stories and they’re not getting the attention they deserve. After over 30 years as a professional author, my stature isn’t anywhere near what it should be…and the fault lies with me.

I have to do better at promoting my growing body of work, even if that means trying things I’ve never dared attempt before.

It’s an approach I’ve always shied away from, but there’s no other option.

If I want to continue growing my readership, keep Black Dog Press afloat, I have to cast aside my aversion to, gulp, selling myself to the public.

Sigh.

This isn’t going to be easy…

Merry Christmas!

Christmas greeting

Merry Christmas and all the best in 2017 to our small but ferocious band of supporters and readers.

Cheers!

(From Cliff Burns & Black Dog Press)

Christmas stories! We all need Christmas stories…

Christmas TreeI’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I love Christmas.

Love, love, LOVE it.

No apologies, no sense of embarrassment and I refuse to hand in or forfeit my curmudgeonly credentials just because I leave a plate of cookies and glass of milk in front of the fireplace on the night of the 24th.

And let me remind you, there are two very good Christmas-related posts on this blog that are absolutely mandatory reading this time of year.

Check out the real story of St. Nicholas and then call up a creepy tale involving my detective duo Cassandra Zinnea and Evgeny Nightstalk, titled “Finding Charlotte“.

Happy holidays, everyone!

“Stargazer” (3000 B.C.)

While we were in Greece this summer I was exposed to “Cycladic Art” (3200-2000 B.C.) and, in particular, fell in love with a piece I saw in Athens titled “Stargazer”. Here are two photos of the real deal:

stargazeristargazerii

I couldn’t keep that little sculpture out of my head. We saw some wonderful art during our European jaunt (including outstanding exhibits in Istanbul and the Czech Republic), but “Stargazer” and a couple of other objets d’art were the most memorable.

I guess my wife finally got sick of me going on and on about “Stargazer” because Sherron made me a replica for my birthday, adding the finishing touches this past week. This is the end result and, man, am I pleased and honoured to own such a lovely work that speaks so intimately to my heart and my spirit:

my-stargazer

Doing your Christmas shopping? Think indie!

You undoubtedly have a number of book-lovers on your Christmas list you need to buy for.

And it’s always a dilemma, isn’t it, trying to figure out what a book nerd would like. Let’s face it, everyone’s tastes are different and bibliophiles are a notoriously strange bunch.

But if you’re seeking something quirky, off the beaten track, a truly personal gift, have you given any thought to indie presses?

I can think of a number of excellent small publishers who could use your business.

There’s Angry Robot and Two Dollar Radio and if you’re looking for good Leftie tomes, check out books released by Verso or Haymarket.

And, ahem, may I also draw your attention to my little publishing concern, Black Dog Press.

You can peruse my Bookstore page for details on each of my titles—it’s a disparate catalog, featuring mystery, suspense, sci fi, horror…even an old style western.

All of my books are available for ordering through Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, Amazon…or your favourite independent bookstore.

Support indie artists!

book-catalog

Donald Trump’s election was a GOOD thing (no, really!)

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I’ve posted my views on Donald Trump’s election on social media, Tweeting and Facebooking…but then I started hearing from folks that while my little quotes and snippets were nice, some deeper analysis was necessary. There were some not-so-subtle hints that I was shirking my duties as resident curmudgeon and unrepentant Leftie. Surely I had something more substantial to say…

And so, to make amends, I offer a longer response, a piece that makes the shocking assertion that the Donald’s occupancy of the White House might be the best thing that could have happened to the political Left.

That made you sit up and take notice, didn’t it?

Read this…and feel free to offer your own opinions and reactions:

Good, Honest Hatred (essay)