What I’m Reading: THE MAGUS by John Fowles

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Picked it up on Saturday, while browsing my local library. I’ve heard about Fowles before, but have never gotten around to reading him.

I’m about sixty pages into it, so far. There’s a richness to the prose that I appreciate. Do the Big Five publish books like this, these days? If it were published in 2018, would it be a small press title?

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Dubravka Ugresic’s THANK YOU FOR NOT READING

thank you for not readingDuring a brief Thanksgiving getaway with my hubbie, I finished the 2003 English translation of Dubravka Ugresic’s essay collection Thank You for Not Reading. This is the third Ugresic book I’ve read this year, and definitely my favorite. She does a fine job of pointing out how literature has been trivialized in the age of conglomerate publishing, but she’s not foaming at the mouth or resorting to over-the-top sarcasm to do so. No, she’s merely rolling her eyes. She’s using dry humor to express her embarrassed exasperation with it all.

Her perspective is particularly interesting since she’s originally from Eastern Europe, and compares corporate fiction (shall we call it CorpFic for short?) to the kitschy, coerced optimism and mass appeal of Soviet-era literary socialist realism.

Take, for example, this quote from page 27:

Contemporary market literature is realistic, optimistic, joyful, sexy, explicitly or implicitly didactic, and intended for the broad reading masses. As such, it ideologically remolds and educates the working people in the spirit of personal victory, the victory of some good over some evil. It is socialist realist.

While I think most will agree that CorpFic is no longer confined to the “realistic” (speculative fiction is a big part of it, too), I think all the other adjectives still fit. And I think it’s a shame.

Incidentally, last week Ugresic was the topic of an (all-too-brief) article in The New Yorker.

Those wanting to order her book can check out this buy link.

What I’m Reading: Ahmed Bouanani’s THE HOSPITAL

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Finished this one last week, another novella from New Directions (this time, if I’m not mistaken, translated from French by Anna Della Subin).  Here’s a link, if you’d like to buy it.

Bleak, hallucinatory, full of all sorts of squalid foulness and sacrilege. I dug it.

A couple of examples of the prose:

I was reborn, quite despite myself, in a worn down universe, amid a vanquished, humiliated humanity, resigned to an absurd destiny of flowering graves that led to an uncertain future in intolerable paradises.

and

How long did I wander in a panic, pursued by howls and death rattles, the cracking of vertebrae, the plop-plop of brains marinating in the celestial muck?

“Nicole Cushing: Suicide and Other Horrors”

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A new (generally positive) critical essay about my fiction appears in S.T. Joshi’s recently-published 21st Century Horror: Weird Fiction at the Turn of the Millennium. As far as I know, this twelve page overview of my work is the longest critical analysis it has ever received.

It doesn’t appear to be in the IndieBound search results yet, so here’s the Amazon link to the book, in case you’d like to check it out.

November 6, 2018: What I’m Reading

IMG_4465I’m getting into the habit of reading a lot of translated fiction. Some of it, fairly dark.

The best of these books, to date, has been a recently published stand-alone novella called The Hole. It’s about three prison inmates who find themselves set apart from the general population. They have a plan to get heroin smuggled into them. The plan, possibly doomed from inception, goes awry. Along the way, however, the reader is treated to a delicious banquet of transgressive, misanthropic, neuron-tingling, hallucinatory and–at times–darkly hilarious prose.

The back cover synopsis tries to pitch The Hole as “an ominous parable about deformed and wretched institutions creating even more deformed and wretched individuals”. Honestly, though, I think that pitch does the book a disservice. Certainly Revueltas (1914-1976) was a political dissident. But this novella is far more sophisticated than a parable. It’s far too honest about the messy truth of human nature to be a parable.

Is there a political subtext? Perhaps. There seems to be a bit of one tacked on to the end. But it’s overshadowed by Revueltas’ rich, anti-didactic characterizations, and by the unique atmosphere of the prison (a place of unstable identities, where one group of people easily morph into another).

Well worth purchasing.

 

 

October 30, 2018: Interrogated by Germans

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  • The German webzine Novelle – Headquarters for Experimentalism interviewed me (in English) for their site.
  • It’s probably the strangest interview I’ve ever done.
  • I gave a few serious answers, but when faced with of a lot of absurdist pseudo-questions I offered absurdist pseudo-answers.
  • Enter at your own risk.

October 22, 2018: The Elvira Gulch Fan Club

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Every time I go to the grocery store, I see a religious fanatic dressed something like Elvira Gulch.

  • There are at least two separate fringe Christian fundamentalist religious groups who call southern Indiana home.
  • The women all dress in long skirts or dresses, grow their hair long, and pile it up in a bigass bun.
  • They remind me of Elvira Gulch from The Wizard of Oz.
  •  I see them in the grocery store all the time. Like, literally, I can’t go to the grocery store without seeing them.
  • There’s one that lives down the street from me. I said hello to her once while I was jogging. She wailed something like: “Ohhh, WELL…” and smiled and giggled. It was an anxious smile, I think. An anxious giggle.
  • Last Halloween, as I was giving out candy to the neighborhood kids, a religious fanatic came up to the house. I didn’t know she was a religious fanatic, at first, because she didn’t look like Elvira Gulch.
  • She was alone and walked up on my porch. I thought she had a kid behind her, a few steps back. But she didn’t. I was confused, but was about to offer her some candy. She declined.
  • She said she wanted to give me something.
  • It was a Chick tract.
  • I have a collection of all the unsolicited religious stuff that I’ve been given. (Most of it arriving via mail, but some of it handed to me face-to-face, like in the case of the stick-in-the-mud I just told you about.)
  • I’ve been given tracts twice by a dude hanging out around the post office.
  • It doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Maybe just once a year or so.
  • But it’s still intrusive. From now on, I plan on telling them that I’ll read their pamphlet if they read something I’ve written.
  • Or maybe I’ll ask them where they live so I can bug them at their home and try to get them to buy one of my books.
  • I  probably wouldn’t sell any books that way, but it would be fun.

October 15, 2018: Willa Catheter

  • On Saturday, I finished revising my second novel and sent it out to beta readers.
  • I did a spell check before sending it out.
  • The novel makes a reference to the great Midwestern author, Willa Cather
  • The spell check wanted to rechristen her “Willa Catheter”
  • I preserved the great author’s dignity. I told spell check to go fuck itself.
  • I spent a fair bit of Saturday afternoon in a daze, just sort of numb. So much work went into this book, and it feels weird for it to be finished. (Satisfyingly weird, but yeah…still weird.)
  • I’m reminded of the scene in Misery, where the author dude has a sort of ritual arranged for the completion of each novel. (He always has a glass of the same kind of wine, always smokes the same sort of cigar.)
  • My “ritual” is far less romantic. I clean my fuckin’ house. (Gotta make up for lost time. Housework always takes a hit toward the end of a novel.)
  • My beloved Bengals lost Sunday afternoon. To the hated Steelers. On a play in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
  • While the novel is out to beta readers, I’m working on another new book, too.

October 8, 2018: Formalde-Hype

  • I’m still editing my new novel.
  • Specifically, I’m about half-way through the process of making the corrections in the Google Docs file.
  • Today I accidentally wrote “formaldehype” instead of “formaldehyde”.
  • I really like this accidental word: formalde-hype.
  • What could it mean?
  • Perhaps it could refer to hype that is now dead, and needs embalming. It would be used kinda like this: “Your friend is gushing about her iPhone like it’s 2009! She’s buying into formalde-hype!”
  • Alternatively, it could describe the over-the-top advertisement of a new embalming practice. It would be used in the headline of a funeral industry trade magazine. Something like: “Replacing Your Customer’s Organs with Packing Peanuts: A New Frontier in Mortuary Science or Formalde-Hype?”
  • But most of all, I like the idea of “Formalde-hype” being the name of a band and/or performance artist collective. Something along the lines of The Residents. They would dress up like characters from the television show Mad Men, but they’d also wear makeup to give the appearance of decay. They would sing songs about deregulation and make shaky-cam, black and white, shot-by-shot remakes of popular superhero films (with all the dialogue spoken backwards).

October 1, 2018: On Being a Literary Weirdo

  • Still working on the second round of edits on the new novel
  • Damn, it’s weird.
  • It starts out weird.
  • It gets weirder.
  • I mean, like, Phillip K. Dick weird. Gombrowicz weird.
  • If you haven’t heard of Gombrowicz, then find time to read his novel Ferdydurke.
  • When the horror community thinks of nihilism, its go-to authors are Lovecraft and Ligotti. But there are so many other shades of nihilism out there. Gombrowicz is a sort of social nihilist. By this, I mean that his nihilism is that in which people are molded by their social interactions to such an outrageous degree that no actual “self” exists.
  • He cannot, however, be called a horror author.
  • But so what? It’s good to read stuff outside the genre.
  • What kind of author was he? Absurdist, to some extent. But he also reminds me of the French decadents.
  • I sometimes wonder who would be publishing Gombrowicz if he were writing today. And what about the French decadents? Who would be publishing them, if they were starting up in the present-day U.S.? Not one of the Big Five, that’s for sure.
  • When media conglomerates control the publishing business (and film, and TV, and news, etc.), they get to control what thoughts are think-able, what emotions are feel-able, and how these emotions can be expressed.
  • A culture fed a diet of loud crashing, melodramatic movies will develop a penchant for loud, crashing, melodrama in social interactions.
  • And social media interactions.
  • And politics.
  • If conglomerate control persists for another fifty years, will people lose the ability to understand ambiguity?
  • If people lose the ability to understand ambiguity, will they devolve into lemmings?
  • Has this already happened?
  • It’s much better for me to have good social skills than good social media skills.
  • Does a self exist?
  • Maybe, but it’s a precarious entity. A stroke or a blow to the head can obliterate it.
  • I’m not a believer in the soul, in the sense of a ghostly spirit that survives death. But I do think “soul” is a helpful poetic term for that part of ourselves that remains relatively unaffected. Our nightmares, our yearnings, and other deep matters.
  • My cat is cuter than your cat.
  • The Bengals won yesterday.
  • One of my softball teams made it to the championship game in the league tournament.
  • We fell short, but supposedly will be given runner-up T-shirts.
  • Another of my softball teams won later yesterday.
  • I’m a pitcher.
  • It’s slowpitch softball.
  • I love the game so much.