Four new books I'm happy to recommend to you:
Unwanted Hopeless Romantic Morons by Geoffrey Alexander Parsons
I love it when a member of the LitKicks writing community makes good. Geoff Alexander Parsons has posted his original work often on this site, and his first book arrives with a gorgeous cover painting that depicts the author exactly as I always imagined him -- drunken, sour and poetically inspired. Unwanted Hopeless Romantic Morons is like Tao Lin crossed with Charles Bukowski (with a little bit of Irvine Welsh thrown in). The story is about a young man and his friends wandering through modern Canada in search of thrills and meaning. The prose flows, liquid with passion:
Florida author and blogger Bill Ectric is one of my very favorites among the indie writers I've met here on Literary Kicks. He and I first bonded many years ago over our mutual regard for Henry David Thoreau, and he made a big showing in our 2004 collection Action Poetry. His playful intellect and sweetly philosophical frame of mind make him more interesting, in my opinion, that most of the mainstream authors crowding our bookstores these days, though his work does not fit neatly into any category (is it comedy? speculative fiction? boys adventure? Nobody knows for sure).
Tamper is Bill Ectric's most cohesive novel so far. It opens in a small town in a past golden age, as two boys take pictures in the pitch blackness of an old abandoned church with a clunky ancient 35mm camera and ponder the mysterious orbs that bloom in the resulting photographs. What do you see when you take pictures in the dark? That's the kind of question that absorbs the mind of a writer like Bill Ectric. Tamper evolves into a classic good-time mystery/adventure that explores the legend of Amazing Stories writer Richard Shaver, and somehow ends with a printed diagram of a folded-paper fortune teller, the kind I remember playing with as a kid. Ambiguity? Sure. I decided to ask Bill five questions about his new novel, and the results are below.
Levi: I've been enjoying your work for a while now, but your new novel Tamper appears to be your most ambitious and focused work to date. Can you talk about your evolution as a writer, and why you wrote this particular book at this particular time?
Bill: I’ve been writing Tamper off and on for almost three years. I started having crystal-clear dreams and visions when I stopped drinking three years ago. Looking back, it seems like I placed my writing life "on hold" upon joining the Navy in the seventies, and only picked it up again years later when I discovered Literary Kicks in the nineties. While writing Tamper, I got in touch with feelings of awe, wonder, fear, and enchantment that I hadn't felt since childhood.
More to the point is why I was able to finish writing this particular book at this particular time. It’s because of the numerous books I’ve read and studied, which equipped me with the tools I needed for the novel I wanted to write. Just to name a few: The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera, who talks about the "dazzlement" of discovering hidden truths in one’s own writing (thanks to Jamelah Earle for bringing Kundera to my attention), and books by writers I identified with because their childhood memories seemed as magical as mine, like Swann’s Way by Proust and Dr. Sax by Kerouac.
Philip K. Dick's novel VALIS used the concept of an "influencing machine" -- a term coined by psychoanalyst Viktor Tausk to describe a common trait among schizophrenics who think that some type of machine is trying to control them. Which is what many people theorize was happening to Richard Shaver, the pulp science fiction writer, who claimed that the stuff he wrote in Amazing Stories magazine was true! The question in VALIS, of course, is whether or not the main character is crazy, or is a satellite in outer space beaming signals to his brain, or is God speaking to him, or is the satellite and God one in the same? And does it make any difference?
Levi: Tamper seems to deal with the paranormal, and yet is highly grounded in real life. Do you seriously believe in supernatural influences in our life, or are you just screwing around with the theme and having fun?
Bill: I seriously believe that magic and science are both flowing wide-open at the same time, like two parallel river currents that converge briefly at points. When we really tune in to it, we see that it’s the same river, but if you look too close, it diverges again.
Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". Back in the 1600s, if you said “some day men will fashion a small moon from the Earth’s metallic elements and hurl it into the heavens, giving us power to direct thoughts from our brains to our fingertips and out to people miles away” there would have been cries of, “Witchcraft!” but I’m simply describing satellites and cell phones. When I say it like that, it sounds like I’m leaning more toward science, but I should add that there have been times when my mother could sense that a family member was having some kind of problem or illness, which turned out to be true, and sometimes it was downright uncanny! Or, maybe you’ve heard about the well-documented out-of-body experience of Pam Reynolds, who nearly died in surgery in 1991. Like in many near-death experiences, she said she looked down at her own body on the operating table, surrounded by the medical team, but the fascinating part is, she described several things that she couldn’t possibly have known unless her astral experience was real!
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve read countless books on unexplained mysteries -- all the supposedly documented stuff about ghosts, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, spontaneous human combustion, the devil’'s footprints in Devon, the Bell Witch, and so on. But what a lot of people don’t get is that I am fascinated in equal measure by the stories themselves and in the mechanics of documentation. This goes to my interest in meta-fiction, which includes devices of writing as part of the story, like the poem and footnotes in Nabokov’s Pale Fire, the books within books of VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, or the complete text of Aylett’s Lint.
I sometimes find unintended humor in the way paranormal investigators use some facts and omit others. Take the Bell Witch legend. There is a house in Adams, Tennessee where in 1817 a man named John Bell and his family experienced poltergeist activity. The word spread until even General Andrew Jackson heard about it. This part is true. Jackson, his wife, and some friends actually traveled by covered wagon to Adams, Tennessee to spend the night in the Bell house. By all accounts, nobody got much sleep that night. People were pinched and slapped in the dark, covers got pulled off of beds, weird noises were heard. Andrew Jackson is widely quoted as saying, "I would rather fight the British than to deal with the Bell Witch!" But what he actually said was, "I saw nothing, but I heard enough to convince me that I would rather fight the British than to deal with this torment they call the Bell Witch!" I tried, in Tamper, to capture some of the humorous aspect of paranormal documentation. To convey the fun of it.
Levi: Does the fictional town of Hansburg, Virginia correspond to a real place? Can you talk about the places in this book and what they mean to you in real life?
Bill: Oh, for sure, I based Hansburg very much on the town in Virginia where I was born and raised, called Christiansburg. It started as a settlement called “Hans Meadow” in the 1700s. Later, they changed the name to Christiansburg. A small, idyllic town like in the old television shows, Leave It To Beaver or Andy Griffith or that Twilight Zone episode where Gig Young tries to revisit his childhood. Seventy-five percent of everything in Tamper really happened, but of course, I embellished parts of it. The treasure hunt, the layout of the streets, the bag of bones, Main Street, the woods, racing sleds and bicycles downhill, are all based in reality.
Besides the events in my hometown, some of the other stuff is based on real experience too. For example, I really did sit on a beach under the night stars in Spain, with some friends, looking out at the Rock of Gibralter, listening to "Four Cornered Room" by WAR on a small, battery operated cassette tape player, and it seemed almost transcendental at the time.
Levi: How do you plan to market and sell this novel? Do you enjoy being an indie writer, and do you have advice for other indie writers?
Bill: I would prefer that a major publisher picked up my book and promoted it to the masses. There is one thing I like about being an indie, which is the realization that just because a book is supposedly finished, that doesn’t mean I can’t go back and fix things. I learned by trial and error on my first two books, and I used to stress out, thinking, "What if I release a book that’s not good enough?" I either put the book out too soon and grieved over the errors, or toiled endlessly for perfection. Partly, it was not being able to afford a second edition with some of those high-priced, so-called self-publishing companies. So, I founded Surtsey Publishing, and I use CreateSpace for print-on-demand, and it’s no longer a problem. Obviously, I have to draw the line somewhere with revisions. At some point, you have to let it go. I don’t foresee any revisions on Tamper -- it’s nearly perfect. But I’m going to combine the short stories from my first two books, Time Adjusters and Space Savers, into one volume, re-release them on Surtsey with some killer revisions! Anyone who has already purchased one of those books will get a chance to buy the new edition at the greatly reduced price, or maybe even get a free copy for a limited time. I haven’t worked out the details yet. But anyone interested in reading Tamper need not worry -- it’s not going to change.
As for marketing, there’s been a lot of talk lately, mainly from Cory Doctorow, about making books available online for free. Doctorow says that making his books available free online has not hurt his book sales. I’m not quite that adventurous yet, so I’m going to make the first three chapters of Tamper available on the internet.
I’ve got two book signings lined up here in Jacksonville, Florida so far, where I’ll read excerpts from the book and talk about it.
I plan to use blog ads to target the various types of readers who I believe the novel will appeal to. These include, on one hand, the pulp science fiction fans and the Forteans, folks who know that Richard Shaver was an actual writer for Amazing Stories Magazine in the 1940s. People who like offbeat historical fiction. My first draft had Richard Shaver as one of the central characters, in the manner that James Morrow includes Ben Franklin as a character in his novel The Last Witchfinder, but I wasn’t sure how far I should go, so I invented Olsen Archer, a friend and colleague of Shaver, to fill out the plot. I also think Tamper will appeal to those who enjoy dark psychological excursions into the locked desk of Henry James, as well as enlightening psychological expositions from the open lectern of his brother, William James. And books about the intersection of mysticism and science, like Deciphering the Cosmic Number by Arthur I. Miller (thanks to Jessa Crispin for recommending that one on her blog).
Levi: Many blogs such as Largehearted Boy and Paper Cuts ask writers what music they listened to while they wrote their latest books. Instead, I'd like to ask you a better question: what foods did you eat while you wrote this book?
Bill: I fell in love with olive oil and feta cheese about three years ago. I went for weeks at a time eating nothing but a big salad every day, with all kinds of fresh vegetables, topped with olive oil, vinegar, and feta cheese, and later in the evening, drinking many cups of black coffee, staying up all night. But from time to time, maybe to compensate for the lack of booze, I went on binges in which I ate big bowls of cereal with milk, bananas, raisins, peanut butter, and ice cream piled on it. I seem to be one of those all-or-nothing people. I won’t even go into the prescription drugs I eat.
For more about Ectric's novel go here, or check out Bill's website.
1. I think it's pretty amazing that Google is putting deep newspaper archives online, including not only the Halifax Gazette (1753 issue, pictured above) but the complete Village Voice, dating back to the 1950s. You know the phrase "An embarrassment of riches"? This is, to me, an embarrassment of archives, because I want to read it all but I just don't know where I will find the time.
2. Words Without Borders presents Into The Wild: International Nature Writing. Nice.
3. Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club, on what it is about Dante.
4. Why Dante? Why Plato? Personally, I get much more out of Plato than Dante, but then I'm not Catholic. Nor Guelph.
5. Somebody's putting on a play about Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish (always a favorite poem of mine).
6. "Fingerblast" is a music video by Adira Amram, who is clearly channeling the "She-bop"-era 1980s.
7. Speaking of the 1980s, it's a fact that John Hughes was among the best comedy film directors of all time (though, let's be honest, he managed to be great exactly three times -- Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Ferris -- and was otherwise way too willing to churn out profitable but repetitive junk). I remember reading him in National Lampoon magazine before he switched to film, and I hope National Lampoon will consider publishing a retrospective of his early work there. Or maybe Google will eventually index the Lampoon archives.
8. Speaking of the 1980s, here's Mike Watt at the Bowery Poetry Club, remembering the Minutemen.
9. Jay Diamond appreciates Jay-Z.
10. Bobby McFerrin does something a lot cooler than "Don't Worry, Be Happy".
12. David Updike writes about his father.
13. I'm confused why, if great singer Nick Cave has written a book, he's now singing it. Maybe he knows what he's doing, but I don't, because to me this kind of kills the novelty of Nick Cave creating a book instead of another record.
14. Richard Nash on the end of indie culture. "Which is OK, because it won. Open source, Twitter. Indie won. Etsy. The irresistible decline of major labels and network TV and corporate publishing. Indie won." Now what?
(This is chapter 20 of my ongoing memoir of the Internet industry.)
I went to San Francisco in March 1998 to attend the Webby Awards. Literary Kicks was a nominee in the Print/Zines category. I was up against Salon (a well-financed new content venture), the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (exciting stuff!), a compendium of electronic literature known as Labyrinth, and, finally, alt.culture (my friend Nathaniel Wice's site, hosted by Pathfinder).
It felt strange to be up against a site edited by my friend and hosted by the company I worked for, but Nathaniel and I both agreed that alt.culture didn't have a chance, and neither did Litkicks. Salon, a darling of the new media industry since its highly publicized introduction, was the clear choice to win.
I flew out to California to attend the awards ceremony at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, bringing the Enterzone crew, Christian and Briggs and Martha and Rich, as my guests. We showed up to the event in an ironic mode, enjoying the hyped-up red carpet atmosphere though we knew my site would lose, and feeling dubious about the crowd of fashionably dressed dot-commers that filled the auditorium. It wasn't until the Print/Zines category was presented and I saw an image of the Litkicks front page on the large theatre screen that I suddenly realized I wanted Litkicks to win.
This sudden epiphany that I wanted to win was quickly followed by the announcement of the winner: Salon. Dammit.
It's so cool that Book Expo 2009 is taking place, literally, in a crystal palace, otherwise known as Jacob Javits Center in New York City, alongside the Hudson River where only recently a pilot made these words famous:
"We're gonna be in the Hudson."
Indeed we are. Captain Sullenberger is at the Book Expo, so is Clarence Clemons and Steve Tyler and Tina Brown. I'm in there somewhere too -- I'll be part of the blogger book signing at the Firebrand booth, Sunday morning at 10 am. Please come down and say hi if you're at the Expo.
I'll be posting a full report this weekend, and here are just a few thoughts in advance:
• Dedi Felman (co-founder of Words Without Borders and former Simon and Schuster editor) and Richard Nash (former Soft Skull chief) are apparently launching some kind of new media publishing venture together. I missed their event so I don't know the details, but I know this is a power-packed team.
• I see there's a panel called "Book Format Fusion: Why Trade Paperbacks are the Format to Embrace". Well, well, well. What a crazy idea. I wonder who practically held his breath till he turned blue saying the same thing a year and a half ago.
• I'm looking forward to the unveiling (advance copies only) of the next Katharine Weber novel, the follow-up to her Triangle. She'll be signing at the Random House booth on Friday.
• Lev Grossman is appearing on Friday in a panel discussion blandly called "Discussion on the State of the Publishing Industry", along with Steven Johnson, Tom Standage and Chris Anderson. Lev Grossman's upcoming novel is apparently called "The Magicians" and is about a boy who is suddenly enrolled in a magical school. Come on, Lev. I don't mean to get on your case because I know there's a good writer inside you. But your last novel Codex wanted to be Da Vinci Code, and your new one is trying to be Harry Potter. Please tell me high school vampires aren't next.
Anyway, if I run into any LitKicks readers at the conference I hope you'll say hello. I'll also be at a so-called "Tweetup" downtown on Friday night. And if you're not at the Expo but want to join the discussion you can follow and comment on the events on twitter, or just follow me if you only want the choice bits.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, global activist and indie publisher extraordinaire, turns 90 years old today. Here's his Litkicks biography page, and here's the poem we've been running on this site for many years:
The pennycandystore beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality Jellybeans glowed in the semi-gloom of that september afternoon A cat upon the counter moved among the licorice sticks and tootsie rolls and Oh Boy Gum Outside the leaves were falling as they died A wind had blown away the sun A girl ran in Her hair was rainy Her breasts were breathless in the little room Outside the leaves were falling and they cried Too soon! too soon!
The great folksinger Pete Seeger will also turn 90 on May 3, and New York City will celebrate him in big style on this date at Madison Square Garden featuring performers like Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Arlo Guthrie, Dave Matthews and John Cougar Mellencamp. That's going to be some hootenanny birthday party. Pete Seeger and Lawrence Ferlinghetti are two American sages, feisty, stubborn and deeply politically engaged. What blacklisted Communist Pete Seeger and embattled Howl publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti had in common is that they both loved to fight for their causes. They both wore out their competition.
As for Soft Skull's future, Eric Rosenfield twittered that he can't picture Soft Skull without Nash, but this only proves that Eric is young, since Nash is not the first but the second charismatic leader in Soft Skull's exciting history. But, yeah, Sander Hicks and Richard Nash ... that's two tough acts to follow. I'm curious to see if anyone will turn up with the heart to try.
2. Adam Begley, who will be writing a major biography of the late John Updike, says "My principal aim in writing his biography will be to illuminate for the reader the nature of his character and of his greatest accomplishments". Ahh, cut the sanctimony. If that's all the book does, nobody will want to read it. Updike's artfully self-referential work revolved around the core topic of love, marriage, adultery and sex -- has he ever written a story or novel that was not a love story? -- and we want to know the real life juicy facts behind all this juicy fiction.
3. The fact that Michiko Kakutani hates Jonathan Littell's much-hyped The Kindly Ones means absolutely nothing to me. The fact that Michael Orthofer hates it means much more. E. J. Van Lanen posts a dissenting opinion, as does Steve Mitchelmore. I haven't even seen the book yet, but I sure am curious whether I'll join the fan club or not.
4. Via Mike Palacek's New American Dream, a play about Dorothy Day.
5. A really beautiful text visualization of literary St. Petersburg is featured at the New Yorker's blog. The Mercedes-Benz ad that pops up when you view the page is much less beautiful.
6. More Leningrad visualizations: Superimpositions of war and peace.
7. And even more Russian stuff: Cecil Vortex conducts the Brothers Karamazov deathmarch.
8. Musings on Damon Runyon.
9. Christopher Nolan, author of Under the Eye of the Clock and Dam Burst of Dreams, has died.
10. Greg Sandow of the Wall Street Journal says The Arts Need Better Arguments to gain a better share of public funding.
11. Mental Floss will be listing The 25 Most Influential Books of the Past 25 Years.
12. The Oxonian Review on The Collected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Synder.
At Conversations in the Book Trade, blogger Levi Asher is interviewed; he does less than well, I'd say. He claims that 'There is no decline in reading,' that electronic content 'will soon dominate the publishing field' and argues 'You can see a movie or download a record album for about ten bucks. That's the correct price point. New books come out with price tags between $24 and $30 and then they wonder why the whole industry is suffering. Somebody's out of touch with the consumer here . . .' He's been banging this expensive drum for a while. Put the first assertion and the last together, and try to make some sense of it in the context of every reputable study being done that shows a decline in reading in America; Levi is either fooling himself or trying to will the world into the image of his choosing. Aside from that, the average price of a CD in 2008 was $12.95 so Britney Spears' album was that price; the equivalent of Ms. Spears would be, say, a Grisham novel, and The Innocent Man (2007) has a list price of $7.99 in softcover. Newer and less popular albums cost more, as it is with books. Hardcovers are pricey, and for a smaller market, but books are not generally too expensive. And as long as used books are $3.00 or so, and the library is free, digital readers are still a ways off.
Not so quick there, Daniel. First, a Britney Spears CD costs $12.95 when it's new. A John Grisham novel costs between $24 and $30 when it's new and getting media attention, and then drops in price a full year later, after reviewers and award committees have forgotten the book exists. This self-defeating "buzz-kill" effect doesn't exist in music publishing or any other industry -- in fact, some music publishers wisely release CDs at reduced prices to increase their chances of building audience momentum. Movie tickets cost slightly more when a movie is brand new, but the difference is small relative to the total price. Sorry, Dan, but you're wrong on this one.
Also, there is no contradiction between my first point that reading remains widely popular and my second point that the mainstream/corporate publishing industry is suffering. "Reading" and "publishing industry product" are not the same thing. The literary publishing industry in the USA is clearly unable to find the right format and price point to appeal to consumers, and consumers are increasingly bypassing the mainstream/corporate publishing industry's preferred formats for this reason. Does that mean we're not reading? Hell no, hell no, hell no!
According to Ron Hogan at GalleyCat, quoting a recent press release from the Association of American Publishers:
Adult hardcover sales were down 10.3 percent in December and down 13 percent for the year, but adult paperbacks saw a 12.5 percent increase in sales for the month and a 3.6 percent increase for the year. Adult mass market sales, though, are reported as down 3.0 percent for the year, and we can't help but wonder if that has anything to do with the 68.4 percent increase in electronic book sales in 2008 and certain genre reading tastes.
See what I'm saying, Daniel? Sorry, but I'm claiming myself as the victor in this argument. And there's plenty of good stuff happening on the affordable paperback books front -- see my recent post about Jason Epstein and the Espresso Book Machine.
2. A superb recent Words Without Borders panel discussion featuring Edith Grossman and Eduardo Lago on Don Quixote reminded me how much I'd enjoyed Edith Grossman's translation (it's not like I've read any other translation, but you know what I mean) of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. The film version of this great novel recently turned up on a cable channel and I sat through it. Awful, horrible, seriously not good.
3. A few favorite literary New York City personalities have been releasing good new stuff lately. The spooky and moody East Village presence known as Edgar Oliver, whose written and theatrical works I've enjoyed in the past, got a great review from Ben Brantley of the New York Times for his East 10th Street: Self-Portrait With Empty House. Poet Simon Pettet has a new book out, Hearth. And, here's the YouTube debut of New Jersey poet Eliot Katz reading his poem "Death and War".
4. Some cool new Poe graphics via Books Are People Too (yes they are).
5. Poet W. S. Merwin on Design Observer: Unchopping a Tree
6. I was admonished via email to pay more attention to independent bookstores and link to Indiebound.org. I'm not as obsessed with indie bookstores vs. chain bookstores as some other book-lovers are for two reasons: I'm allergic to cats, and Barnes and Noble/Borders restrooms can sometimes really come in handy. Still, I'm down with the cause.
7. This just sucks: the Times Square Virgin Records mega-store (which also had good restrooms, and a basement bookstore!) is closing down. Shea Stadium, now this.
8. Katharine Weber at Readerville: Dear J. D. Salinger.
9. Nigeness contemplates The Wine-Dark Sea.
10. John Updike, cartoonist fanboy.
11. Roald Dahl's Writing Hut.
12. Daniel Scott Buck's The Kissing Bug gets some 3:AM praise.
13. Barnes and Noble review gets visual with Ward Sutton.
14. Dan Green's literary blog The Reading Experience has launched the blog equivalent of a Greatest Hits album, TRE Prime.
15. I'm looking forward to Summertime, apparently the next J. M. Coetzee novel. When Coetzee writes about summertime, you can just bet the living will not be easy.
16. The Shirley Jackson Awards committee is holding a lottery. Though they picked the wrong month -- remember: "lottery in June, corn be heavy soon".
17. Via Q-Tip The Abstract, of all people, this Mars Volta performance on David Letterman is something special.
In close proximity to primordial Florida swamps, branch-shrouded canopy roads, and Kafkaesque state capital intrigues, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer are Tallahassee’s greatest unnatural resource.
Ann is the fiction editor of Weird Tales Magazine, its continuing mission to publish brilliantly strange original material unavailable anywhere else. Jeff is on the cutting edge of the “New Weird,” infusing literary proficiency back into gothic fantasy and sci-fi with such novels as Veniss Underground, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, and most recently, Finch.
A fictional account of Lou Salome's acquaintances with Rainer Marie Rilke, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche, inspired by the author's own real-life family connection with Lou Salome.
It's great to see these fascinating 19th Century thinkers mined for drama (and it's interesting that a similar story is told in Irvin Yalom's novel When Nietzsche Wept, which was also made into a film.)
A charming and surreal Lower East Side romp that begins when a bemused housewife finds a dead old lady's body on the laundry room floor, decides to put the body through a spin cycle to freshen it up before notifying the family and police, and then gets into all kinds of trouble with the government. Ms Madeson has also presented this rather unique story as a one-woman play.
Largo, author of a recent death compendium called Final Exits here examines and annotates the culture of transgression in similarly clinical detail. A broadly encyclopedic but eclectic and satisfyingly intellectual sweep, ranging from Boudicca to Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Chris Farley to Franz Kafka to Tupac Shakur.
Wisely realizing that they have to spruce up their Thesaurus with value-add commentary to compete with online versions, Oxford American assembles an impressive and street-start cast of postmodern writers to contribute "Word Notes" and other inserts along with the regular indexed content. A successful effort, I think, and a nice parting gesture from David Foster Wallace.
Mahajan, a young debut novelist, turns in a comic tale about a man in New Delhi who suffers from an unsatisfiable compulsion to have more and more children (in a society that encourages small families) and finds himself pretending to be a pro-Hindu fanatic obsessed with rising Muslim birthrates in India to cover up the more personal and romantic motivations for his rampant fathering.
This is the only book on this list that I can't recommend. I try to read the Best American Short Stories (proudly published by Houghton Mifflin) every year, but I could barely sludge through most of the ruminative, chic, flat postmodernist displays that Salman Rushdie considers the very cream of the crop in 2008, and if there are a few more editions like this one (the last great Best American Short Stories selection was by Michael Chabon in 2005) I'm just going to drop the habit completely. These stories read as if Salman Rushdie chose 20 younger authors to exemplify all the worst habits of his own fiction: endless playfulness, diagrammatic conceptual plots, lack of emotion.
A chronicle of a fugitive family life in Mexico and America during the early hippie era. Bonnie Bremser travelled with her husband, Beat poet Ray Bremser, as he escaped an armed robbery charge. A stark true story in the Beat, all-too-Beat tradition, featuring an introduction by Ann Charters.
A fanciful and strange children's story about bugs, with a rich Victorian tone, beautifully illustrated by E. B. Harris.