Half a Century, Give Or Take

Yup. I did it. I just turned fifty. I have been reading for approximately the past 47 years. If I could do it all over again, I would start earlier and not purge the books I had to buy for college. Well, not all of them, anyway.

Here we are in the first full week of June. I have been running myself ragged trying to get the new issue of The 3288 Review out the door to our contributors and customers. We were ready to go a couple of weeks earlier but ran into an unexpected roadblock called I AM AN IDIOT WHO CAN’T INDESIGN, and that pushed us even farther behind schedule. But the magazines are out now, winging their way into the hands of the excellent members of the West Michigan literary community.

The latest issue, by the way, is in the upper right corner of the above photo. If you would like a copy, they are available from the Caffeinated Press online store.

(That amazing cover artwork? Local artist Jon McAfee.)

So, yes. It has been a busy week.

From top left in the above photo, we have the latest issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer Press, followed by the newest Dreamforge. On the top right is of course the Spring 2019 issue of The 3288 Review.

The middle row is all Harlan Ellison, from a Kickstarter campaign I helped fund back in 2016. Ellison, of course, passed away just over a year ago. But reading through these previously-uncollected works I felt the same frisson I experienced when I first cracked open Dangerous Visions, The Glass Teat, and the excellent collections put out by White Wolf Publishing back in the mid-1990s.

In the bottom row we have The Body Papers by Grace Talusan, published by Restless Books, followed by Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice. On the right is The Wilderness After Which, a collection of poetry from L.S. Klatt, a former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The latter two I picked up on a whim on a recent visit to Books and Mortar. Call it a birthday present to myself.

In reading news, by day I am still working through the superb poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. I would have finished by now, but I kept getting sidetracked by sudden inspirations for my own poetry. Collections like this will do that to a person. I am about halfway through the beta read of a novel a good friend wrote over the last decade or so. Time permitting, I should be done with that one by the end of the month.

In non-literary news, I was saddened to see that Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, a.k.a The Night Tripper, passed away on June 6. Dr. John’s music got me through some of the most difficult parts of my life, and the world is diminished by his passing.

The second line in his honor was quite the celebration.

 

The First Books of June

June has finally arrived, and with it morning warm enough to spend on the porch, buried under coffee and books.

On the left is the latest issue of the ever-excellent Jacobin. On the right is Exile, the last book from a recent purchase from OR Books. I read a bit of Exile while grilling this past Sunday. It has a lot of interesting and important things to say about the effect the chaotically-thrashing USA has on the rest of the world.

Today is my fiftieth birthday! Once I complete the read-through of the brilliant (and not-to-be-named-in-public) book by one of my best friends, I think I will pivot over to a summer of nonfiction. SO far this year I have read over two dozen books of fiction and poetry, and I want to explore some new topics.

So there we go. That’s my plan for being 50. Reading more books. What books, you may ask? Well, I have a copy of Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century gathering dust on a shelf next to a copy of Marx’s Capital. One shelf down from them is Antifa, which, given the current administration and its supporters and bootlicks, is always relevant. Those three should keep me busy for the rest of summer, and ready to dive back into fiction when the weather changes. Of course this is just a list of possibilities. I might easily say FUGGIT and just play games all summer. Like a fifty-year-old.

Rainy Days are Good Days for Reading

An interesting mix of reading material arrived here last week, fueled in part by a friend purging her collection and sending some books my way.

On the top left is the latest title from Two Lines Press, The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body, by Bjørn Rasmussen. Next is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. The last two in the first row are from Rudy Rucker’s most recent Kickstarter.

The three in the second row are the books from the friend who studied English and literature and the interpretations thereof, many years ago. She actually sent a large stack my way, but these three were the only ones which seemed like I would be able to make sense of them without a Master’s Degree.

In reading news, I finished The Nine by Tracy Townsend. It was fantastic! I’m looking forward eagerly to reading the sequel. I am not going to pick up another long novel until I finish the initial read-through of a draft of a book one of my oldest and dearest friends sent me a few weeks back. Once that is done, I will dive back into long-form fiction.

But I am still reading poetry. I just started Here: Poems for the Planet, edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman and published by Copper Canyon Press. The work contained herein is, quite simply, extraordinary. I usually write about nature and the environment in my own poetry so I find myself continually inspired by this collection. And I’m writing more too. Maybe one of these decades I’ll even get published!

The Books of May

Some interesting additions to the library this week. I took advantage of the Mayday sale at OR Books and picked up some titles to help give me some perspective and energy in this, the most stupid and sadistic timeline.

The top row is all OR Books books. on the left is Beautiful Trouble, a primer for “carnivalesque realpolitik” which seems like a more and more necessary aesthetic as fascism reasserts itself in the Western world.

Next to it is Dream or Nightmare, an exploration of taking the struggle against ascendant fascism to the realm of stories and myths. This makes sense, as there are no rational versions of pro-fascist/alt-right/neo-feudalist thought or actions, so applying reason in the fight against right-wing theocracies simply doesn’t work. Fight stories with stories.

On the right is Welcome to the Greenhouse, a collection of stories exploring various facets of climate change. Also necessary, and not shelved in “current events.”

In the second row, on the left, is Here: Poems for the Planet, a new poetry collection from Copper Canyon Press. Timely, all things considered, and a good companion to Welcome to the Greenhouse.

In the middle is the latest issue of Poetry, which actually arrived a couple of weeks ago. I simply forgot to add it to that post.

On the right is the newest issue of Pulphouse Magazine which I hope to dive into this weekend.

On the reading side of things, what with upgrades to my relationship, as well as some upcoming family stuff, I have not had a lot of reading time. Still working my way through The Nine by Tracy Townsend, and so far it is excellent, interesting, and occasionally very weird. I am still also working through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection. With a little luck I will complete both this weekend. Then on to, uh, something new. Selah!

On a side note, last night I watched the season finale of Game of Thrones, and I overall enjoyed it, though it did have some flaws and the last two seasons felt quite rushed. Scientific American has a long write-up about GoT and storytelling which puts a lot of my feelings in context. Definitely worth reading.

I Got Nuthin’

For the first time in many month, I have endured a terrible week where no new reading material arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey. At this rate I may end up reading as many as 50% of my books before I die of old age, and that thought makes me feel oddly claustrophobic.

In reading news, I finished Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer, and have just opened The Nine by Tracy Townsend. This is another ConFusion acquisition, as was the Palmer book and several others from earlier this year. I love being able to read and enjoy the works of people I know personally (if not well). ConFusion is wonderful like that. I am also progressing through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection everything we met changed form & followed the rest. I hope to have both books complete by the beginning of June, as summer looks to be extremely busy.

The photo for this post is one of over five dozen fish in a mural created at 555 Monroe Avenue here in Grand Rapids. The specific fish was created by local artist James Broe.

Ugly Ducklings, All in a Row

Books acquired during the week of April 28. 2019

This past week was quite busy, so I didn’t get the chance to dive into the pile of deliveries until late Sunday night during an uneven episode of Game of Thrones.

From top left, we have Empty Words by Mario Levrero, the latest from And Other Stories, followed by Igiaba Scego’s Beyond Babylon, from Two Lines Press. The remaining six arrived in one glorious bundle from Ugly Duckling Presse, who continue to impress the hell out of me with the quality and breadth of their offerings.

All of these books are part of subscriptions I have to the various publishers. While I will at some point create a lengthy blog post on the topic, I want to say that my several-year experience/experiment with subscriptions to publisher catalogs has left me thoroughly loving the concept. Open Letter Books, Deep Vellum, Restless Books, And Other Stories, Horse Less Press, Two Lines Press, and Ugly Duckling Presse all produce consistently good-to-superb titles which I would likely never have encountered had I not made a leap of faith and shelled out the money for a subscription.

[Side note: All of the above institutions are (mostly) publishers of literature in translation and/or or poetry.]

I haven’t had much time for reading in the past week. I closed out National Poetry Month with Gestures by Artis Ostups (published by Ugly Duckling Presse, of course), and am about 60% of the way through Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer. The current book of poetry is everything we met changed form & followed the rest by Jessica Comola, published by Horse Less Press.

Incidentally, Gestures is the twentieth book I have finished so far this year. At this pace, if I cut into my sleep schedule just a bit, I should be able to complete fifty by the end of 2019.

Appropriate Cover Art

Books acquired week of April 20, 2019

Spring is in full bloom here in Grand Rapids, which means we need to pull plants indoors overnight on account of random catastrophic snowstorms. Fortunately I have enough books in my house to keep us insulated in the event of an April snowpocalypse.

The May 2019 issue of Poetry is the only reading material to find its way to my house this past week. Fitting, I suppose, for the last full week of National Poetry Month.

In reading news, I have been burning through poetry collections as fast as I can turn the pages. In the past week I completed Wyn Cooper’s Postcards from the Interior and CJ Evans’ A Penance. I am now about halfway through the superb Gestures by Artis Ostups, published by Ugly Duckling Presse. I should have it completed before the end of the month, just two days away.

Three days ago I finished Laurus, and am still processing my emotions. I can’t describe the book without running out of superlatives. It is magnificent. I would put it on a shelf with Eco’s Name of the Rose, Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, any of the fiction of Borges, and probably (and of course) Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. Vodolazkin’s particular use of the holy fool (юродивый) characters blurs the edges of reality and moves Laurus well into the real of magic realism. I will certainly be reading this one again in the years to come.

With Laurus done, I have just begin D. Thourson Palmer‘s Ours is the Storm, which I picked up at ConFusion this past January. Though I am only about twenty pages in I am already hooked. It’s a good one so far.

Over at The Ringer, Brian Phillips has written a wonderful remembrance of Gene Wolfe.

Acquisitions and Losses

It’s been another quiet week for literature here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. The only book to make its way into my collection is the above, It’s All Just a Draft by Tobias S. Buckell. This book is a Kickstarter reward.

I met Buckell a few years back at the ConFusion science fiction convention. He is a semi-regular guest and panelist, and a fun person to talk to at the bar in between sessions. He writes some excellent books, of which my favorites are his Xenowealth series, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose.

In reading news, I am most of the way through Postcards from the Interior by Wyn Cooper, who I almost met a couple of years ago at the Lost Lake Writer’s Retreat. Almost, because though Cooper couldn’t make it to the retreat, his books did, and I bought some of them. I didn’t have much time or brain-space for reading, so my poetry intake is languishing. I should be done with it today, and then on to the next one! I am also almost finished with Laurus, and should be on to the next evening read by the end of the week.

The “loss” referred to in the title of this post is, of course, the legendary Gene Wolfe, who passed away last weekend at the age of 87. I have been an on-again, off-again fan since the mid-1990s, when I first read his superb Shadow of the Torturer. I met Wolfe briefly at a science fiction convention (probably ConFusion but also possibly a different one) back in the early 2000s. I still regret not having got a book signed.

Here is a brief list of remembrances and appreciations of Mr. Wolfe.

Remembering Gene Wolfe, Valya Dudycz Lupescu
Gene Wolfe Was the Proust of Science Fiction, The New Republic
There Are Doors Everywhere, CSE Cooney
Valar Morghulis, George R. R. Martin
The Bureaucrat has Left the Planet, Michael Swanwick