Category Archives: Commentary

Five Favorite Albums of 2016.

Nobody asked me, but here are my 5 albums of 2016, in no particular order:

  1. A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead
  2. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, Sturgill Simpson
  3. We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service,  A Tribe Called Quest
  4. Sunlit Youth, Local Natives
  5. 22, A Million, Bon Iver

Since subscribing to an unlimited service, it’s been fun to explore my tastes, but it’s funny how this list still features three old favorites: Radiohead, the Tribe, and Bon Iver.

If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with the Bon Iver. That album seeped its way into my consciousness and wouldn’t let go. It made yard work a bit more bearable.

Edit: Somehow not until after I posted this did I finally listen to Blackstar by David Bowie, which definitely deserves to be on my list. So consider it Six Favorite Albums, then.

The first in a series.

savetwilightMy review of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight: Poems (from City Lights Books) is up at Literal Magazine. It should be the first in a multiple reviews for Literal, where I have been given the opportunity to regularly write on Latin American and/or Spanish language literature.

If you know me, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Latin American lit, from my days obsessing over One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school to discovering Dagoberto Gilb and Sandra Cisneros in college. As much as one can lump such disparate books together, there is something to these books that I respond to, that speaks to me in a louder voice than other novels and stories. More recently, many of the books I tackled for Necessary Fiction—including Álvaro Bisama and Eduardo Lalo—have been from the region, but I’ve also become deeply interested in the works of Spanish writer Javier Marías.

In fact, it’s to Marías that my next review turns: his brand-new Thus Bad Begins.

Recent Reading.

As I’ve been mostly working on fiction lately, I’ve not been as active in my book reviewing. But I’ve still been reading—of course—so I thought I might make it a regular part of this blog to round-up some of the better books I’ve come across.

The bulk of my reading lately has been as a committee member of One Book One Lincoln, the great reading program from the Lincoln City Libraries. Bound by secrecy (!), I can’t reveal the committee’s selections—other than to say we’ve picked three great books, at least one of which I’m sure you probably haven’t read.

luciaberlinThe best of the fiction that I’ve read lately is Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women, a rich collection of brutal stories, marked by the isolation and estrangement of their narrators, often shades of Berlin herself. Highlights include “Mourning,” “Todo Luna, Todo Año” and the title story; and “Emergency Room Notebook,” a melange of macabre hospital tales, which also serves as a sort of companion piece to the title story. I’ve heard Berlin described by that distinct moniker “writer’s writer,” and perhaps it fits in the same way it does for James Salter—Berlin’s stories aren’t often conventional, and can shatter you with the beauty of their sentences. (The quality of being a “writer’s writer” seems to be the keen ability to make writers jealous.)

Despite loving the Berlin stories, I generally prefer novels. The recent novels I’ve read, coincidentally, have all been by younger authors: The Turner House (Angela Flournoy), The Story of My Teeth (Valeria Luiselli), The Unknowns (Gabriel Roth) and Delicious Foods (James Hannaham) have found their way to my nightstand. The similarities end there, though—all are strikingly different books. Luiselli’s is the most experimental and probably my favorite of the bunch, but I’m a sucker for Latin American novels. All are recommended.

Of the books I read that were published in 2015, these are my favorites.

This has become a yearly tradition—joining the chorus of book lists to toss in my thoughts on the great books published this past year that I was able to read this past year. In 2014 I enjoyed Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us, among others, and the year before it was The Infatuations by Javier Marías that topped my list. For more explanation about the long title, see this post.

This year, I reviewed ten books, including two really great ones (1 and 3), which are highlighted below.

  1. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff. Most of my thoughts about this great marriage novel of our time I put into my review. In short: sentence-by-sentence it was the best new fiction of 2015 I read. It’s not perfect, but I didn’t read anything better in 2015.
  2. God Help the Child, Toni Morrison. I swallowed Morrison’s latest in two sittings, maybe. Examining the way children can be abused, this book broadens a bit of the thematic scope after A Mercy and Home, and instead takes place in the present day. Although it hasn’t seemed to generate the same attention her last two books did, reading it made me fall in love with T-Mo all over again.
  3. Missoula, Jon Krakauer. Easily the best new nonfiction book I read in 2015, although The English and Their History and Sapiens, which are both currently on my nightstand, have been compelling so far. Krakauer wrote an advocacy book here, and even if you don’t agree completely with his perspective or his portrayals, it is difficult to argue with his facts and the call to take campus rape—and rape prosecution in general—much more seriously.

Books that weren’t published in 2015, but which I loved: How to Be Both, Ali Smith; Being Mortal, Atul Gawande; Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel; My Struggle, Vol. 2: A Man in Love, Karl Ove Knausgaard. (These four would probably be tied for my overall 2015 favorites.)

Current Favorites.

As I’m always looking for recommendations myself, I thought I would post up a few things art-wise that I’ve been enjoying lately. I’ll probably make this a series.

Reading

Listening

Watching

On James Salter.

Enigmatic—and brilliant—writer James Salter has died. Invariably, the obituaries and online remembrances call him a “writer’s writer” and point to his reverential, if small, following. That is probably true. It’s ironic, then, that Salter’s true gift was how he was able to encompass the entire human experience.

A couple years ago I first encountered Salter in reviewing his final novel, All That Is, a work that is almost unparalleled in its hypnotism—Salter was able to cast the kind of spell that few writers for me (among them, Coetzee, Morrison, Marías, and most of all, Sebald) could cast. The beginning of All That Is, taking place on the sea during World War II, was one of the best openings to any novel I’ve read. But beyond that, All That Is, just as his most famous work A Sport and a Pastime, manage the not insignificant literary trick of hypnotism. As I wrote in my review:

Although the word “hypnotic” seems often overused in book reviews, the writing in “All That Is” demands the description. From the astonishing opening on the sea, each sentence is charming, and paragraphs cast spells. For good reason has Richard Ford described Salter as the best American sentence-writer, and for good cause has Teju Cole recently noted he “cherish[ed]” every sentence Salter wrote. Salter captures the quotidian like few can.

He will be missed.

“Tweetshaming.”

Once again, Jon Ronson delivers. This time it’s “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”:

Eventually I started to wonder about the recipients of our shamings, the real humans who were the virtual targets of these campaigns. So for the past two years, I’ve been interviewing individuals like Justine Sacco: everyday people pilloried brutally, most often for posting some poorly considered joke on social media. Whenever possible, I have met them in person, to truly grasp the emotional toll at the other end of our screens. The people I met were mostly unemployed, fired for their transgressions, and they seemed broken somehow — deeply confused and traumatized.

It’s astonishing how fast some people flock to self-righteousness. (Unrelated: read Ronson’s The Psychopath Test sometime. Great book.)

Kindle Family Library on iPad and iPhone.

Quietly—at least I didn’t see much in the way of splash on it—Amazon introduced its equivalent to Apple’s iTunes Family Sharing, Kindle Family Library.KFL allows you to share content between linked Amazon devices. From what I could find on a few web searches, it seemed to be limited to Kindles—but there appears to be a workaround.

Continue reading

On the first proofs.

As I have mentioned before, my first short story to see the light of publication (outside of student publications), “At the Turn,” was accepted by Palooka Magazine. Having just finished looking through all of the proofs, it’s sort of hitting me now that it’s actually coming out.

Although I’ve been writing fiction off and on for years, I only have recently in the last year or so started extensive submitting to journals. While some other stories—unsurprisingly—have been rejected by numerous publications, “At the Turn” was accepted by only the second magazine to whom I submitted it. I’m thrilled that my work has been given a chance by Palooka Editor Jonathan Starke (thanks, Jonathan!), and it was totally surreal to see the work with my name actually in print.

I’ll make sure to post up here again once the issue comes out, if by chance you’d like to order digital or print copies, of course.