Category: Books

Return of the Absentee Blogger

Well, now…

Another long interval between blog posts and, once again, I have a writing project to blame.

My collection of rants and essays, as yet untitled, moves closer toward publication. I have been writing and editing this book since November, 2018 and have been very pleasantly surprised by how quickly it’s come together.

How would I describe the general mood and content of the book? I would represent it as a kind of purging—I confront inner and outer demons, situations and subjects that infuriate me and, in my view, trivialize our society. Some of the pieces are intensely personal, others take a broader view. Most of the “routines” are satirical and drip with venom; no sensibilities are spared, no quarter given. I guarantee there will be folks, even among my own small circle of acquaintances, who will be offended by my take on hot button issues. Religion, identity politics, the climate crisis, the rise of the “idiocracy”, are among the topics I address and, you can imagine, there’s plenty of invective to go around.

I still intend to publish this collection first as a free PDF on this blog and, eventually, as a very cheap e-book (Kindle and ePub versions).

The release date is still somewhat up in the air but I hope to have the aforementioned PDF posted on my blog in the next two months or so.

Sigh…yet another Black Dog Press release that is nothing like the 12 previous books. Satirical, sharp-toothed, non-fiction essays…is there a market for such things? I guess we’ll find out.

No excerpts or teasers yet…but I will say that right from the beginning I wanted to attack political correctness from the hard Left. Many conservatives and Right-wingers have taken their shots but few people on the other side of the ideological spectrum are willing to confront PC and point out how intolerant and anti-democratic it can be. Freedom of expression is a longtime obsession with me: anyone who seeks to limit or control the terms of a debate is my ENEMY, regardless of their politics or rationale.

This latest book absolutely demands reader feedback and I encourage you, once it’s posted, to download it (free), dive in and let me know what you think: which parts work, which parts make you scratch your head…or want to sever mine. Are there places where I’m unfair or go too far? Drop me some lines with your thoughts, we’ll have a sober, mature dialogue, see if we can attain a meaningful meeting of minds.

I’d better get back to work, I’m anxious to finish this brute then sit back and watch what happens.

Once the dust settles, there won’t be a single sacred cow left standing.

Hand me that bolt gun, will you, and let’s get down it it…

 

Best Books Read in 2018

My book count was down 40% in 2018.

Gad, that’s embarrassing.

For the first time in ages I read less than one hundred books last year—blame that on Netflix and podcasts, both of which have been stealing my time like a furtive thief.

Below, you’ll find my list of favorite reads, fiction and non-fiction.

How does it compare with your choices?

Fiction:

The World to Come (Stories) by Jim Shepard

Sweet Nothing (Stories) by Richard Lange

All For Nothing by Walter Kempowski (Translated by Anthea Bell)

Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

The Implacable Hunter by Gerald Kersh

To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann (Translated by Shaun Whiteside)

Honorable Mentions:

The Feral Detective by Jonathan Lethem

Straight Cut by Madison Smartt Bell

American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Wait Until Spring, Bandini by John Fante

Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Non-Fiction

Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

The Once and Future Liberal by Mark Lilla

Tunnel At the End of the Light (Essays) by Jim Shepard

Fighting Fascism by Clara Zetkin

Reporter, A Memoir by Seymour Hersh

Stanley: An Impossible Life by Tim Jeal

The Bending Cross (Life of Eugene Debs) by Ray Ginger

Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany by Norman Ohler

Space Odyssey (Making of 2001) by Michael Benson

A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain

Honorable Mentions:

St. Paul, The Apostle We Love to Hate by Karen Armstrong

The Killing of Osama Bin Laden by Seymour Hersh

Remember, Remember (Essays) by Charles Beaumont

The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Note: You’ll find a list of my favorite films of 2018 over at Cinema Arete.

Quote of the day: Jim Shepard (Blog Post #498)

Longtime patrons of this blog know of my deep and profound respect for American author Jim Shepard.

He’s one of my literary heroes—he and George Saunders are the two best short story writers in the English language.

For a number of years he wrote a column for The Believer and in 2017 Tin House Books (great little press) released a collection of those pieces titled The Tunnel at the End of the Light.

It is, needless to say, a smart, articulate book and I wanted to quote a passage from Shepard’s Introduction to give you an idea of why I revere the man so much:

“The Republican Party has for decades claimed that the American government is the implacable enemy of the American people. This administration (Trump) is working to make that statement true for the first time for a very large majority of citizens.

That leaves the streets, and we can already see what’s in store for us there. The militarization of the police over the past forty years, begun with the war on drugs and amped up a thousandfold by the war on terror, was never really about threats from without and has always been about anticipating threats from within: as in, What happens when economic inequality and political irrelevance become so grotesque that they lead to civic unrest? The solution to the problem, for the Republicans and the corporate Democrats who have held power, has never been, So I guess we should do something to alleviate economic inequality. It’s always been, When the have-nots have nothing left but the streets, we need to be ready to take the streets away as well. And of course the exponential growth of the surveillance state will help with that. Hence our leaders’ seeming lack of concern over the last decade or so about all the metadata about US citizens—citizens who haven’t been suspected of a crime—that’s being hovered up.”

 

Blog Post #496: Automatic Crap Dispensers

My wife sent me a picture she took while waiting in Edmonton International Airport.

At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?

Dear God.

Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.

Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.

And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.

This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.

Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.

How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.

They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.

 

“Algebra of Inequality”: Listen to the audio versions

Below you’ll find a 4-5 minute audio clip I created around some poems from my latest Black Dog Press release, The Algebra of Inequality.

I added some background music tracks for dramatic effect and I think this performance is an excellent teaser for the book.

If you want to hear audio renditions of more poems from the collection, recorded back in 2016 at the ancient amphitheater of Epidaurus, go to my “Other Media” page and scroll down a bit; you’ll find it.

This blog is approaching its 500th post and, of course, I have something special planned to mark the occasion.

Watch this space.

Five hundred posts, eleven years of maintaining Beautiful Desolation…that’s a lot of time (and words and music and rants).

Couldn’t do it without you, folks, your support, your public responses and private messages.

Enjoy this snippet—there’s much, much more to come: