170720_FCiccolella_ReadItForward_FINAL_REV-900x675How One Becomes What One Is: 7 Memoirs of Artistic Development | Read It Forward

I’ve read a lot of memoirs by writers—in fact, it’s probably one of my favorite categories of literature. First of all, there is the sense of seeing what life is like for someone you’ve only known about through writing and/or their celebrity. Secondly—and this comes almost as a consequence of the first—it can be an absolute delight getting the inside scoop on other writers and figures of note. Think, for instance, of Ernest Hemingway talking shit about Ford Maddox Ford in A Moveable Feast, his memoir of Paris. Or consider the juiciest bits of Stephen King’s On Writing, as in, e.g., that his novel Misery is a metaphor for cocaine addiction (which makes perfect sense when you apply it to the narrative!). Memoirs can function like literary tabloids, revealing the underbelly of the written word. Continue reading…

Image: Elsa Jenna

Habash_StephenFlorida_9781566894647-682x1024Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash | New York Times Book Review

“People are bad at giving up,” a man tells the title character late in “Stephen Florida,” Gabe Habash’s debut novel. “A lot of the time they don’t do it early enough.” He’s commenting on life in the oil fields of North Dakota, where Stephen is considering a job after college, but he might as well be describing Stephen’s current situation: He’s a wrestler at Oregsburg College in the late 1970s, and it’s his senior year, which means it’s his last chance to win a collegiate championship. Habash’s novel follows Stephen through his event-filled final season and traces his complex inner turmoil as he pursues his unbending ambition to dominate the competition. By the time the above statement is made to Stephen, he’s veered far away from mere determination and ended up near monomania, and his will to win has become enmeshed in bitter jealousy, calculated malice and philosophical scrutiny. The sport itself, in other words, is beside the point, as are the actual benefits of succeeding. Stephen’s drive has brought him to the brink, but is it too late for him to give up? Continue reading...

blind-spot
Blind Spot 
by Teju Cole | San Francisco Chronicle 

Teju Cole’s newest work, “Blind Spot,” a collection of the author’s photos with accompanying textual commentary, is an eclectically brilliant distillation of what photography can do, and why it remains an important art form. Known for his novels “Open City” and “Every Day Is for the Thief,” Cole also is the photography critic for New York Times Magazine, and a hell of a nonfiction writer to boot (his recent essay collection “Known and Strange Things” unambiguously demonstrates this). “Blind Spot” proves that Cole’s singular talents extend into picture-making, yes, but more than that, it shows what an extraordinarily gifted writer he is. Continue reading…

clichés-definitionClichés Are Dangerous | Read It Forward

There is more danger in certain clichés than the risk of confusion, or the laziness of pat phrases—some of them perpetuate really lousy ideas that, if you stop to think about their implications for a few minutes, don’t hold up to scrutiny at all, and seem in fact to be effective only because they’re clichés, so common that people forget to question the inherent philosophies underneath them. Here are a few dangerous clichés that I hope we stop using—or at least cease employing them so reductively. Continue reading…

denisjohnson-900x675Denis Johnson Reads Notes from the Margins |
Read It Forward

Denis Johnson, 1949-2017

Luckily Johnson gave me an unexpected glimpse. Though he read from Nobody Move, Johnson said he wanted to take this opportunity to read some of his poetry. Being much less familiar with his verse, I grew interested in seeing what a terse novelist would bring to poetic writing. But before he even opened the book in front of him, he intoned a brief preamble. He said that he found the book in his hand, his 1982 poetry collection The Incognito Lounge, at a used bookstore somewhere, and that when he found it and opened it, he was delighted to discover all these little notes in the margins of his poems. Some of them were complimentary; some decidedly not. What he wanted to do, he said, was read some of the poems as well as the liner notes accompanying them.

Books-About-BooksThe Best Books About Books, Part 3 | Literary Hub

My 3rd annual Books About Books piece over at LitHub!

Books about books might seem like an insular category designed only for those predisposed to such subjects…but it’s also an important genre. Our writers can tell us not only how another writer may have accomplished X or Y achievements, they can also reveal, by their very focus and attention, those authors whose work has influenced them and others as they’ve navigated the literary landscape. That is, their choices alone count for something. Continue reading…

PrintAt Home in Ruins: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke | Fiction Advocate

Kristen Radtke’s meditative graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This ruminates on ruin and decay—of an abandoned city, of a genetically faulty heart, of love and relationships, and, in the long run, of all things. Through black-and-white images with stark juxtapositions, Radtke braids together the death of her favorite uncle, Dan, the end of her engagement to her college boyfriend, her travels to various ruins around the world, and her own struggle to find a home somewhere that isn’t in the process of deteriorating. Continue reading…

8618636763_309f95c7fd_o-1-Terms of Concealment: Junot Díaz and the Language of Masculinity | Devise Literary

What’s interesting about these terms isn’t what they mean so much as how they’re employed: Díaz always uses them when discussing relationships, both sexual and emotional. His Spanish, then (which is never translated for non-Spanish speakers), not only adds to the authenticity of the narrator, but also functions, for the English-speaking reader, as a distancing device between Yunior and his actions, his seeming lack of moral compass. This usage both emphasizes the words and obfuscates their meaning. And finally, because Spanish is Yunior’s native language, his method of obscuring his inner self employs the words of his earliest—and one might argue, most fundamental—form of expression. Continue reading…

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Strange Gods, Odd Ducks, & Other Unreliable Narrators | Read It Forward

Obviously though Talese fully intends the reader to take Foos’s story as true: from the no-frills candor (what one might call a Talesean trademark) of the opening line—“I know a married man with two children who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur”—to the implied ickiness of Foos’s manuscript, the book practically drools over Foos’s every illicit description, a creepiness that is only palpable if the reader 100% believes that Foos actually saw (and, sometimes, did) the things he wrote about. My point isn’t to defend Talese here (though nor is it to decry him either) but to point out that The Voyeur’s Motel wouldn’t have been that different, content-wise, if instead of taking Foos’s claims for gospel they had been explicitly doubted throughout—but doubted with a growing and gross sense that he actually did do a lot of the shit he said he did and can to a certain degree prove it. The discreetly camouflaged vents Foos claimed to use for his purposes really exist, for instance, and Talese even joins the voyeur on one of his invasions into his guests’ privacy. Knowing these facts, his inconsistencies and half-truths wouldn’t be detractions from the efficacy of the narrative but a pivotal component its very vitality, as it doesn’t really matter if we believe that Foos spied on these particular people doing these exact acts—what matters is that we believe that Foos saw things like those. Our imaginations will do a far better job than reality, anyway. Continue reading…

rorshachLiterature as a Kind of Rorschach Test | Read It Forward

The story of Rorschach’s infamous test and the life it took on after its creator’s death is told in Damion Searls’s new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing, and it’s gotten me thinking about the inkblots in a literary way, combining Rorschach’s projective interpretation and Kerner’s inspiration-based poetry—that is, to see what controversial books from the past (and what was written about them) compared to the language used to describe the same or very similar books now. To give literature, in other words, a cultural Rorschach test. Continue reading…

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Jonathan Russell Clark Swims in Books |
Go Away, I’m Reading

I was interviewed on the literary podcast Go Away, I’m Reading! Check it out here!

From the GAIR site: “Book critic Jonathan Russell Clark talked with us about the satisfaction he finds in writing criticism, his inspirations and the capriciousness of what hooks him in books. We also talk collecting books (and how they become the most hated objects in the house), unintentional manifestos, handling reader feedback, bridging the gap between older critics and the current literary and digital landscapes, and the way nobody ever takes a book recommendation.”

raven-silhouette-3d-printing-43878Entering Scoundrel Time: A New Literary Site Takes on Trump | Literary Hub

November of last year launched America into one of the most terrifying eras in its history. Take a look around you. See the stark tone shift in journalism, the edginess introduced in the voice of artists, and the genuine fear in immigrant families, gay and lesbian and trans people, and basically anyone non-white. It turns out that it can happen here.

This past Monday, January 30, Paula Whyman and Mikail Iossel launched Scoundrel Time, a literary site dedicated to combatting the greed and evil of our new president. I asked Paula Whyman to take me through their ambitious and hopeful endeavor. More than anything I wanted to be convinced that any literary activism—really, anything at all—can work against such a looming catastrophe. Continue reading…

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What I’ve Found in Books | Read It Forward

The most fascinating note I’ve ever found in a secondhand book is in a hardcover copy of Seamus Heaney’s Finders Keepers: Selected Prose, 1971—2001, which I bought this past summer at Tin Can Mailman in Arcata, California. I was visiting my sister Sarah, who lives there with her daughter Emma and her partner Donny. When I travel the only attractions I’m ever interested in are the local used bookstores, so besides hanging with my sister and my niece, my memory of my trip to northern California pretty much consists of what I looked at and bought at Tin Can Mailman and the other stores I checked out (which also included Eureka Books, Northtown Books, and Booklegger—fantastic establishments all). Continue reading…

weighHow Much My Life Weighs: On Moving 2,500 Books Across the Country | Read It Forward

In Jason Reitman’s 2009 film Up in the Air, George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham asks a group of people a metaphorical question: “How much does your life weigh?” Though ordinarily a guy who companies hire to come in and fire off employees, he’s a motivational speaker on the side, so his question is meant to invoke the pressure the things we own put on our lives:

“Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knickknacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff, clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.”

To this already impossibly full backpack Bingham asks the audience to “go bigger” and stuff couches and tables and even houses into the bag. “Now try to walk,” he says. “It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.”

Continue reading…


51mkm-sbq6lThank God [sic] for George H. Smith | Read It Forward

When I was a kid I began to have dangerous thoughts—scary, world-shattering thoughts with enormous implications not merely in my daily life but the afterlife as well—thoughts that could potentially harm my family, even, and for all eternity no less. What I didn’t understand then, what I probably couldn’t understand then, as a 10-, 11-year-old boy in Pickerington, Ohio in the mid-90s, was that just on the other side of the harrowing danger was complete absolution, since if, as I suspected, there was no God, there subsequently wouldn’t be any worry of said God’s wrath—in this life or the next one (because, again, there wouldn’t be a next one). Continue reading…

shutterstock_533741428-1-900x675What People Really Mean When They Say, “Yes, I Read That Book” | Read It Forward

  1. “Yes, I have actually read that book.”
  2. “No, I haven’t read that book, but I own it and know enough about it that I don’t want to let you get credit for reading it when I may as well have read it but simply haven’t yet, and because one day soon I will pick it up it seems most logical to say, for the economy of things, that yes, I’ve read it.” Continue reading…

shutterstock_324004145-900x675The Love of Language, the Language of Love |
Read It Forward

Those instances—when acquiring a second (or third or fourth, &c) language relates to something deeper and more essential to the learner than practicality or general interest—and Lahiri’s personal and passionate account of her own instance lead me to a person in my own life for whom the acquisition of a specific language was less about achievement and more about the realization of an ingrained part of her identity. To explain: I fell in love for the first time when I was 20. Her name was Jackie, and holy shit did I adore her. We’d known each other since high school, but now as college students there was that air of adulthood that rather than responsibility and compromise suggested freedom and autonomy. She was smart and ambitious, and so was I, and together there seemed to be no end to what we could accomplish, both separately and individually. Jackie wasn’t a writer (though she was more than capable at it), but she read like one, tackling the kind of novels hardly considered pleasure reading. And most importantly was her preternatural passion for language. In her case, English, yes, but especially Spanish. (Continue reading…)

140210_r24626-1200A Promise Matters More Than Snow: Rethinking Robert Frost | Devise Literary

Maxine Kumin’s “The Final Poem” suggests something about Frost’s own poetry that many often overlook. Frost tells Kumin and the other fawning poets of Bread Loaf that the audience “can’t take in / half of what you’re giving them.” If we were to believe conventional analyses of Frost’s work, an audience would be able to get everything in one hearing, as many interpretations of Frost’s poetry don’t account for the layers of Frost’s work. Moreover, Frost is often thought of as a poet of nature and rural life, which to me feels a bit like referring to Anne Sexton as merely a poet of domesticity—these descriptions are ostensible; it is what is underneath them that defines them. Let’s take three of Frost’s nature poems—“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” and “After Apple-Picking,” which are often interpreted as laments on man’s distance from nature—and determine the way that each of these poems shows how nature only offers fleeting respite and temporary transcendence. Nature cannot save us spiritually; it can only place us “toward heaven,” and only then for but a moment. Rather than lament this ephemerality, Frost concludes, “Earth’s the right place for love.” Continue reading…

cover_audinThe Mathematics of History: On Michèle Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days | Kenyon Review

In 1960, the writer Raymond Queneau and the engineer François Le Lionnais founded Ouvroir de littérature potentielle (“workshop of potential literature”), which came to be known by the shorthand Oulipo. It was a literary movement principally focused on restraints—e.g., member Georges Perec’s 1969 novel A Void is a lipogram, a work that deliberately excludes a letter or letters, in Perec’s case the letter “e.” Other members of the distinguished group—which also included many mathematicians and engineers—were Italo Calvino, Marcel Duchamp, and the cartoonist Étienne Lécroart. Thus it was not something one could simply join.

“And then, one day,” the mathematician and writer Michèle Audin wrote recently, “the Oulipo becomes a reality for me: ‘it’ invites me to a meeting.” So Audin became one Oulipo’s few female members, and with the publication of One Hundred Twenty-One Days, she becomes only the second female member to publish a book in English (the first was Anne F. Garréta, author of Sphinx). She does not disappoint Oulipo’s legacy: One Hundred Twenty-One Days is a remarkable novel, a brilliant pastiche of varying styles and forms, elegantly crafted and intricately structured, but also one that never neglects the humane emotions and drama of which great novels are made. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-1-21-15-pmAspects of the Book | Read It Forward

Most books on literary history focus on the writers and social forces that engendered what we call literature, the abstract totality of creative and intellectual authorship. But over the course of human civilization, there is another story demanding to be heard, and that is the numerous narratives that lead to the book as an object, a literal thing you can hold in your hand. Although it may seem like the more stale story, the history of the book and its myriad parts is as deeply rich and as populated by fascinating figures as any text on a specific writer or movement.

To prove this, I present 7 books on different aspects of, well, the book, beginning with Keith Houston’s The Book, as it is not only a wonderfully engaging and lucid work moving through various details and geographies and centuries, but it’s the perfection foundational text for this list. The Book covers every aspect of our venerated codex, while the rest focus on specific subjects or developments. The book is mankind’s greatest achievement, so it’s only right that we should celebrate all the people and all the circumstances that helped usher it into existence. Continue reading…

bargainsWhy Books Remain(der) | Read It Forward

“I had a friend once who looked at his library and discovered that even if he completely stopped filmmaking (he was a filmmaker too) and just decided to read the books he had in his library, it would take him until he was 100 years old. He was a little bit panicked. But he was courageous. He went out of his house. He went to the bookstore. And he bought ten books.” —Alain Resnais, director, Hiroshima mon amour

“We talked about books, how boring they were to read, but how you loved them anyway.”  —Charles Baxter, Feast of Love

1.

Used bookstores ought to be melancholy affairs. If described in objective terms, you’re really just sifting through other people’s trash, their overstock, their leftovers. Books rest on the shelves like orphaned children, making gee-shucks eyes at passersby, their bindings pocked with the fault lines of age. Scrawled on the opening pages are handwritten notes, dedications, dates of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, now years past and long forgotten. Some words are circled, underlined or annotated for a college course, now a memory. Stale air, musky odors. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-16-53-amA Cornucopia of Dystopia Read It Forward

If you were to base your attitude toward the future on fiction writers, your outlook would probably be pretty bleak, as novels tend to depict one of two potential outcomes for any given civilization: either it’s full-on dystopic—replete with mass deaths, razed cities, droughts, paucities of food, even cannibalism—or it merely appears utopic but is actually a totalitarian regime disguised (or not so disguised) as harmony, unwaveringly to the benefit of the rich and elite. So in the coming decades, we’re either going to be lost in a post-apocalyptic world where we fight amidst anarchy for survival, or we’ll be deeply embedded in a corrupt system that exploits the complacent nature of societies.

Cool. That sounds awesome. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-11-18-at-11-53-29-amThe Actual List of Books That Saved My Life | Read It Forward

A few months ago, Read It Forward published an essay of mine chronicling the last eleven years of my reading life and the list I kept of every book I read in that period. The point of the piece was less the list itself and more the process of maintaining it—how it encouraged me when I felt inadequate, and how it nudged me onward when I let my reading slip—so I neglected to include the actual list itself. It seemed, to me, beside the point. The essay found a readership, which I’m grateful for, and many people have expressed interest in seeing this Word doc of mine, this strangely private itemization of my literary endeavors, and while I still think the essay stands without the list, I also do not mind at all sharing the list with whomever would like to peruse it (it’s probably, I suspect, a lot less interesting than some people might assume). But no matter how casual I act about publishing the list, I can’t shake this feeling of exposure, of being without some heretofore-invisible armor, the accumulated wisdom of over a decade of pursuit that no one, other than myself, has seen cataloged so starkly. Reading over it, though, I see how the meaning and vulnerability I imbue into the list stem not from some inherent quality of the record keeping but from my nuanced attachments to the books and to the times in which I read them. It’s a shorthand history of who I was, who I am, and who I want to become—but the language in which it’s written is one that only I can translate and understand. Still, I hope there’s something in it for everyone else. Continue reading…

gap-900x675The Gap* in Literary Art | Read It Forward

*As in, the abstraction, not the store

As we continue to write and, moreover, continue to read, another gap begins to slowly appear—this time, between the depictions of human moments, brief commentaries or implications of psychology, and how you’ve experienced an actually lived life. It is not that these renowned authors are getting anything wrong, exactly; it’s that you realize that their greatness often lies not in accurately describing life but in convincingly describing it. And this relates back to an earlier issue, namely that of making stories work. You see, when a young writer reads a great novel, it isn’t merely the style or the story that overwhelms the amateur. It is way in which the characters live. A neophyte doesn’t just read this as good and effective writing; it is seen a deeper level of living, so the gung-ho beginner thinks that not only are they unequipped literarily but also sensationally. They don’t think they live their lives as richly and psychologically complex as the fictional characters being described. Their fault, they might come to believe, lies in their essence, their experience, and their shallowness. Continue reading…

9780307908797A Brief History of the Future: On James Gleick’s Time Travel: A History The Millions

This is my favorite epigraph attribution from all my published essays:

“Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once, and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.”

Susan Sontag, quoting “an old riff I’ve always imagined to have been invented by some graduate student of philosophy,” but part of which (i.e., the first half) is often attributed to John Archibald Wheeler (who “admitted to having found it scrawled in a Texas men’s room”), Woody Allen, and Albert Einstein, but which actually appeared before all of these figures were supposed to have said or written it in a novel by Ray Cummings from 1922 called The Girl in the Golden Atom and is spoken by a character named Big Business Man, so I guess one can only really credit Sontag (or, I suppose, the “old riff” to which she refers) with the part about space (which, admittedly, is a totally brilliant and enriching addendum; really makes the phrase, don’t you think?), and if you think this quote attribution is convoluted and confusing well then hold onto your hats, there, buddy, because shit’s about to get real weird…Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-9-59-15-amThe Difficult Second Album | Read It Forward

Okay, so now you’ve published your first novel! And, better still, it’s highly acclaimed! Your picture’s in The New York Times! You may have even won a prestigious award! All of your dreams have come true!

Now all you have to do is repeat the process all over again, except now the likeliness of duplicating the first book’s impact, receiving the same accolades, and winning more awards is basically a fraction of what it was your initial go around—which, even then was pretty remote—and if you understandably fail to achieve these things (again), you’ll disappoint people you’d never asked to esteem you so highly in the first place—and here you thought you’d made it and were finally free from the thankless work of obscurity, but these people, the very ones who lifted you from anonymity, now seem to be almost deliberately forcing back down into it. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-10-23-at-7-05-23-pmInterview on WHUP’s The Spine with Gail Marie

I had such a fun time talking about books and the experience of reading with Gail Marie. Check out the interview at thespineshow.com or whupfm.org.

From The Spine‘s website: “Literary critic Jonathan Russell Clark starts at the very beginning by talking about a book he carried to school in first grade because he wanted to look smart (it’s a big one). In a high school English class, he read E. E. Cummings and everything changed. Now he lives in an apartment filled with books and reads for a living. We talk about what makes reading uniquely engaging.”

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-10-45-40-amAuspicious Beginnings: 7 Excellent Recent Debuts
Read It Forward

So the following debut novels are ones that over the last year or so have really stayed with me, moved me, compelled me, and in general felt especially deserving of acknowledgment and recognition. Some of these books have received some wide acclaim, some have benefited from major marketing pushes from their publishers, and some haven’t gotten the attention and the accolades they absolutely deserve. I truly hope all of these writers have long and flourishing careers in literature. Continue reading.

20130802_sha_o44_001-7d3a7917-d9ce-4ed1-b218-9627194c9a36Dylan Rieder: 5 Videos That Defined the Skateboard Phenom’s Career | Rolling Stone

Dylan Rieder, who died after a battle with leukemia at the age of 28, had style practically brimming out of his Huf shoes: He rode smoothly, popped super high and seemed magically at ease on his board. He was a joy to watch, the way anyone meant to be riding a skateboard is joyous. From the time he burst onto the scene in Transworld’s A Time to Shine in 2006 when he was 18 to his most recent full part, “Cherry,” Rieder was a unique and dedicated skater who fucking loved skateboarding. Continue reading. (Photo credit: Hans Gutknecht)

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-16-59-pmRethinking the Novel | Read It Forward

It seems like an obvious question to answer: what, exactly, is a novel? Turns out the answer’s one of the slippery concepts that as soon as you try to define, you begin to qualify and edit and revise, and then qualify some more, until little by little, the number of amendments to the original statement are so great and their permissibility so near total that, hell, the damn definition itself could be considered a novel. How many pages or words differentiate a novel from a novella? What form must it take? Must it always have plot? Characters? And what of typography? Any rules on that front? Would a hand-written novel in a dollar-store journal of a friend of yours feel like a novel the same way a published novel by that same friend would? And I mean the word feel in a literal sense. How that journal simply didn’t have those features—of texture, mechanics, and design—that typically evoke the referent novel in a person’s mind but which actually have more to do with fiction’s commodification than with its aesthetics. A novel, then, is mostly a commercial distinction, as in, e.g., How do we sell this book? The answer to this, as everyone knows, is nevernuance. It’s short and sweet. It’s simplicity and catchiness, something a potential consumer can see, comprehend, and remember after a brief exposure. So something like “autofictional memoir blended with criticism and journalism”? Nobody’s gonna get that, let alone remember it. As these generic terms get stamped on books for better marketability, the divisions between the various categories get more and more distinct and less forgiving to cross, and like all fences they keep out just as much as they keep in, and soon the gaps have grown so vast that certain writers who seem able to nimbly and indiscriminately hop over them are viewed with as much perplexity as esteem. And so well if it’s not the page it’s printed on or its length, and if it’s not inherently plot-driven or character-filled, and if it’s the seeming pervasiveness of an understood definition is merely the result of repeated and successful branding on the part of publishers, then what the hell is it? A novel is a useful umbrella for the many torrents of fictional art. But when it rains it pours, and under harsh duress, the umbrella breaks like any of us. Read these.

dcs_5254_cmykInterview with a Bookstore: Tin Can Mailman
Literary Hub

Tin Can Mailman’s founder Will Huack spent time on the Islands of Tonga while volunteering for the Peace Corps. One of Tonga’s islands, Niua Fo’ou, or “Tin Can Mail Island,” is so named because without a safe port for mail ships the islanders received their mail in tin cans heaved from the side of the boat. In 1972 with a few hundred books and some fruit crates for shelves, Huack opened Tin Can Mailman in Arcata, California. Eventually, though, Huack’s love for the South Pacific won out, and in 1994 he sold Tin Can to Richard Sanborn and Calista Sullivan and moved to Kauai. Sanborn and Sullivan only owned Tin Can for five years, but in that time they were able to secure a grant to renovate the store as a historical landmark. In 1999, they sold the place to Wadeth Bory, a longtime employee of both Huack and Sanborn who, along with manager Samantha Brown, still runs Tin Can Mailman’s operations. Continue reading…

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-1-00-40-pmArk by Julian Tepper | New York Times Book Review

ABSOLUTELY THRILLED TO REVIEW FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW AGAIN!

In the early chapters of his second novel, “Ark,” Julian Tepper introduces three generations of the once-wealthy Arkin family through a series of phone calls that shift perspective from one speaker to another to another. It’s an efficient and notably cinematic technique: One may recall the introduction of the grown-up children in Wes Anderson’s film “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which also uses correspondence to usher each character onscreen. (This could explain why the book jacket explicitly aligns “Ark” with Anderson’s work.) But in a novel, cinematic methods and the omniscient narration necessary to pull them off can lead to little hiccups of confusion, as when we first meet Rebecca Arkin, the nearest thing the book has to a protagonist: “Rebecca was in the middle of lunch. The man keeping her company was Randy Nobel, her colleague at the firm.” If this were a movie, the audience, having seen “the man keeping her company,” would of course implicitly understand to whom the narrator is referring — but a novel has no such visual cue, so when “the man” is mentioned here, I went back just to make sure he hadn’t been brought up previously. Continue reading…

97819367674589781631491009
12 Books of Poetry You Should Read Right Now |
Read It Forward

Although poetry is often dismissed as an almost anachronistic form, in my opinion, poets are offering some of the most vital work being written today. Like artful reporters from the front line, poets communicate experience one step beyond autobiography, as if they’ve set their heartbeats to music. Great poets record their footsteps as they move through life; their records aren’t exact but are more like sketching an object without looking at the paper, or a tape of one’s self humming a song one hopes to remember—the point lies in the idiosyncrasies of the lines, the particularities of the hum. And these histories are truer and much more representative future relics of our present era, for it is not the facts they report or the ideologies they extol but the rhythm of their soulfulness, and the melodies of their humanity, that best capture what it’s like to live today. Historians should always begin with poetry. So here are 12 books for posterity, and for you, reader, to take the temperature of today. Continue reading…

Spoiler-AlertThe Spoils of Literature | Literary Hub

It’s like that thing in When Harry Met Sally… where Harry says that he always reads the last page of a book before he starts it to make sure it’ll be worthwhile, and then later in the movie we actually see him do this, but as he does he gets a phone call from Sally, who asks him what he’s up to, to which he responds, “Just finishing a book.” The joke, obviously, is that he no more finished it than someone who only knows that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father has seen The Empire Strikes Back. Harry has learned the facts of the ending, but none of the context that might grant them meaning and emotional power. But if we’re to ponder for a moment the phrase spoiler alert, it seems as if being made aware of how a story concludes is in some way akin to having actually experienced said story. Unlike Harry, when such information doesn’t promote a narrative’s worth; instead, it destroys it. Continue reading…

635975461622081858-1023457797_booksThe List of Books That Saved My Life | Read It Forward

So anyway, I moved to Las Vegas to go to school, which, I know, sounds ridiculous, but it’s true: I was to attend UNLV and live in a house my friend Greg’s father owned. Despite the promise of Twice the Jobs! ™, I couldn’t find any work. In Ohio, I’d had a job since high school, so suddenly, when living in a new city where I knew like three people and had no job, free time opened up before me like a vast desert after a long tunnel ride. A non-drinker and socially anxious to boot, I wound up reading a lot of books in those first months. I read The Great GatsbyAnna KareninaDublinersCandideNine StoriesFranny and Zooey, and A Confederacy of Dunces. I got super into theater, reading David Mamet, Samuel Beckett, Neil Labute, and Tom Stoppard. Contemporary literature, too: Dave Eggers, Chuck Klosterman, Saul Williams, Zadie Smith, David Sedaris, Tom Perrotta, Don Delillo, Nicholson Baker, and Nick Horby. I was too dumb and selfish and short-sighted to realize how white and male virtually all these authors were, but though I had been a reader since I could remember, I had never gobbled up books so voluminously. So impressed was I with my homogeneously hetero-normative erudition, in fact, I wanted to count them, to know exactlyhow many I’d read. So I made a list.

I felt small in Vegas, not merely in the sense of being one among so many, but also unequipped to strive for a life I wanted, because Vegas, being no-place, gave my existence there a purgatorial hum, and, being all-places, it never let me forget just how much was out there waiting to overtake me. When I finished itemizing the books I’d read and the total for the year came to 47 books, it was an act against that sense of smallness: I was preparing, to the extent that I could, for life, and I was learning, progressing, developing, and I needed something to reinforce my efforts, some suggestion of accomplishment to nudge me onwards. Continue reading…

PhillipRothFeatImageAll of Philip Roth’s Novels, Ranked | Read It Forward

Philip Roth is—or, since he’s not dead but retired, I should probably say was—the best American novelist of the 20th century. Between Goodbye, Columbus in 1959 and Nemesis in 2010, Roth published 27 novels and four books of nonfiction, and he won three PEN/Faulkner Awards, two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, two WH Smith Literary Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker International Prize, the PEN/Nabokov Award, the Franz Kafka Award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a Gold Medal in Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the 2010 National Humanities Medal given by Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House. Whew. In a 2006 New York Times Book Review poll of writers, critics, and editors regarding the “single best work of American fiction published in the past 25 years,” six of Roth’s novels made the cut, more than anyone else. Critic A.O. Scott noted, “If we had asked for the single best writer of fiction of the past 25 years, he would have won.” Continue reading…

Rolling-Stone-LOGO-2-1940x970Skateboarding in the 2020 Olympics | Rolling Stone

So thrilled to have written my first piece for Rolling Stone!! HOLY SHIT!

FROM THE ARTICLE: “Well, it’s finally official: skateboarding is a sport.

Though skaters have long resisted such categorization – even during the 90s when the energy drink-fueled qualifier “extreme” was clumsily appended to lump skating, snowboarding, BMXing and even Rollerblading into one big commercial for the then-newly formed X Games – it was inevitable. Skateboarding just got too big to stay gnarly, and earlier this month came the final bolt: the International Olympic Committee voted to include skateboarding as an Olympic event beginning in 2020 in Tokyo.” Continue reading.

literarysleepinessThe Unacknowledged Obstacle of Literary Sleepiness | Read It Forward

So I want to throw my two cents into this non-conversation and try to elucidate how sleepiness is a regular part of my reading (and thus professional) life, and see what that means, if anything. Of course it’s different for everyone, and I can imagine there are some readers for whom maintaining energy isn’t a problem at all. I’m only talking about my own experience—which from talking to numerous literary types seems at least relatable, if not universal—and I don’t presume to speak for anyone else other than myself.

Here’s the thing: reading and writing exhaust. They expend my intellect, deplete my creative capabilities, and tire my body. These are not, though, inherently bad things; in fact the only reason reading and writing have those effects is because they are both extraordinarily operative—it is difficult, then, to engage with them half-heartedly, because it’s basically the equivalent of not engaging at all. It would be like exercising without a rising heart rate: you may look like you’re doing the same thing as everyone else at Planet Fitness, but you aren’t getting any thinner or any healthier. Continue reading…

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Biographies That WON’T Make You Sick and Kill You

(underline ‘won’t’ because that makes it look like the other ones…)

Read It Forward

Look, I understand that in some fundamental way one’s interest in a biography cannot be completely divorced from one’s interest in the subject. So, unlike other forms of literary art, even biographies of wide acclaim don’t necessarily presume a large readership outside of the already converted. Despite knowing this, I’m just going to say it: for the most part, biographies are really boring—and here’s the kicker—even when the subject is of great importance to me. I’ve picked up lengthy tomes on some of my favorite writers, only to find myself drowning in the banal minutia of ancestors and hometown history and childhood development—and before long I’ll close the book in frustration, muttering something about how I couldn’t give a shit about what my heroes were like as kids, at least not in punishingly comprehensive detail. Get to the part, I think, where they accomplish the things that made me want to read a biography about them in the first place!

The reason I’m complaining at all is because I really love a good biography, and moreover, I really need them to do my work. So when I come across ones that hold my attention—or even rivet it, in some cases—I’m profoundly appreciative of its author for turning what might have been a grueling and tedious chore into a joyous and illuminating experience.

borrowing-900x675Against Borrowing Books | Read It Forward

There is a certain tyranny to borrowing books.

For me, the reading of books—and not just books in the general sense but very specific ones—is a vital activity, one that, yes, stumbles and stutters and loses its way, but it is my progress nonetheless. Now, the choosing of my next read is, most of the time, a wonderfully open task, as I am able to pick from all the books I’ve yet to read, which is literally most books that have ever existed. Faced with such bewildering numbers and such endless choice, I rely wholly on my literary whim—that is, whichever author or genre or style or subject is doing it for me at that moment, that is what I ought to pursue, because the passion that results from inarticulate interest is how I will get through even the tiniest portion of literature’s outrageous multiplicity. Continue reading…

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14 Complex, Ambitious, and Experimental Novels by Women | Read It Forward

The authors of the following tomes seem less driven by the feat of epicness and more by its potential for infinite complexity. These women—some young and precocious, some experienced and wise—pursue their stories and ideas with all the same brilliance and playfulness and buoyancy and seriousness of the Joyce’s, the Pynchon’s, and the Wallace’s of the world. The only difference is these women rarely seem to shout about their accomplishments, and the world doesn’t present them as competitors in the big, ambitious novel game. But literature is not a game—or at least it isn’t one in the sense these men believe it to be. The art alone, independent of its relation to the gifts of its maker, is what is entered into the fray, and its value (the art’s) is where any sort of competition might play out—that is, through the experience of readers. A novel written with extra-textual goals (e.g., status, respect, fame) seems like a real waste of effort and time.

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7 Single-Sitting Stunners | Read It Forward

I recently sat down to read Max Porter’s extremely well-acclaimed novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers, a genre blend of essay, poetry, and fable, and without once moving from my position, I devoured the entire thing. The experience—of both the beauty of Porter’s writing and the book’s short length—gave me that rare and satisfying feeling of wholeness, of having internalized an entire narrative with all the varied undulations of its emotional trajectory, the sensation of getting in one fowl swoop the intentions of an artist’s work. Short stories can yield such a sense of completeness, but these for economical reasons often don’t (or can’t to the same extent) allow the reader enough empathetic exposure to the character to invest in their plight and their humanity—we’re usually given the plight.

book-tents-1The Best Books About Books, Part II | Literary Hub

Last summer, I wrote a piece about a number of books that were themselves about books, a category that happens to be my very favorite. Though I maybe should have anticipated it (it was, after all, a decidedly literary essay on a decidedly literary website), “The Best Books About Books” attracted a lot of attention—more so, I’m sure, because of the titles collected than for the quality of my writing. But nonetheless I was pleased to see those works receiving due promotion, which is mainly the only joy a critic experiences.