Thursday, December 20, 2012

Living, Young, and Awesome

In some ways, it's hard for me to be mad at anybody who buys books. People who buy books, essentially pay my rent. But there are groups of readers who annoy me; people who only read from one section of the book store, whether it's a single genre, a single age group, a single style, a single anything. Last I checked, life is fairly varied, and if you only read one type of book, no matter what type that is, you kind of undo one of the points of reading in the first place. Within those groups there's one in particular that sticks in my craw; people who only read classics (You've escaped this round YA-only reading adults). Part of that particular ire comes from the fact that I want to publish a book and if I do I want people to buy it and those who only read classics obviously won't, part of it comes from the fact that writing books is really fucking hard, that there are people out there doing it really well, and it would be swell if they could actually make a little money for their efforts, but the real root of my annoyance is a basic logical fallacy. All classics were contemporary. Before decades or centuries of human imagination explored these works, they were all written by living, young, and awesome writers. And in order for us to have these classics today, people at the time had to support them enough that they were published and kept in the cultural consciousness long enough for culture to process them. If people don't support living, young, and awesome writers today, they won't become classics in the future.

(I have a similar problem with people who dismiss experimental literature. Everything mainstream was once experimental. All the mainstream really is, is slightly less imaginative/daring writers catching up with the innovations of geniuses and ground breakers.)

All of which is a long introduction (excuse?) for me to share, in alphabetical order, some of who I consider to be living, young, and awesome writers. One note about the middle adjective; I don't know how old these writers are and I might have left out other living and awesome writers because I've erroneously identified them as “not young,” but such is the nature of the blog genre; an inherently subjective, idiosyncratic narrative of an individual's relationship with the world. Reward talent and dedication and go buy their books.

Jesse Ball: Imagine a sculptor approaches a block of granite and from it carves a sculpture that looks exactly like the rock face of a mountain worn down by thousands of years of erosion. That's how Jesse Ball writes. He is somehow able to capture the tone, or style, or voice, or nature, or something, of folktales and legends. The way he plays with narration and form is as cutting edge as anything out there and yet his stories feel ancient. Any of his three novels, Samedi the Deafness, The Way Through Doors, or The Curfew are great places to start with him; The Way Through Doors feeling most like the folk tales and The Curfew presenting an essay worthy idea for social change. If you like what you read, then definitely add The Village on Horseback, his collected fiction and poetry as well. It's a beautifully designed book that includes his award winning short story "The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr." It's a great book to throw in your satchel for a long walk or camping trip.

Ron Currie, Jr.: His new book is going to blow your freaking mind. It's not out yet and you'll hear me talk about it ad nauseum when it is, but Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles, is a stunning work. It's just, well, you'll see. His short story collection God is Dead explores the implications and events in which God existed and died. The main character from his first novel Everything Matters! is told in utero the exact date of the end of the world by a mysterious voice that ends up helping him through the rest of his life. What's remarkable about Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and Everything Matters! is how remarkably emotionally sincere both works are, without resorting to cliches or cheap story telling techniques. In a society where every emotion is market tested and every human desire is being leveraged by someone out there trying to sell you something, and most of our entertainment just plugs different character names into proven forms of reaction-generation, it's really hard to make people actually fucking feel something. And then to have thoughts behind those feelings, things you do with the emotions after you've felt them, to affect the head and the heart so to speak, makes his work just that much more awesome. And he does all this while telling totally weird stories and experimenting with narrative form and style. In a way, this makes Currie a direct heir of David Foster Wallace, and his attempts to tell a story that makes the head beat like the heart.

Paul Guest: My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge is one of the best collections of poetry to come out in the last five years. I'm not a huge memoir fan but I staff-picked Guest's memoir One More Theory About Happiness. His images have a vibrancy, a bravery, and a panache too many contemporary poets avoid in favor of a simplicity I believe masks an utter lack of content. You actually have to think a little bit to get Guest's poems and you will be rewarded for your efforts. He's another author on this list I've written a critical essay about. (Anybody want to publish my critical essay on Paul Guest's image of the body as object? Anybody?)

Grace Krilanovich: Homeless, junky, vampires. What's not to love? The Orange Eats Creeps, which earned Krilanovich 5 Under 35 recognition, is a hallucinatory whirlwind that somehow manages to be equal parts Portlandian chic (trademarked!) and Dostoyevskian intensity. I love books that give the reader a sea of words to float in, that exist in almost a pure language form, and whose story comes not from what we normally recognize as plot, but from the reader's efforts and explorations in that sea. (See also Blake Butler's There Is No Year.) There's also a darkness to The Orange Eats Creeps that gives it a unique intensity, not unlike the work of Mark Z. Danielewski. It's like there's a chance that, just below the depth at the edge of light, a giant squid waits for you to dive too deep.

Victor LaValle: I probably recommend Big Machine more than any other single book at the bookstore. It just fits so many different reading wants and needs. It's protagonist, Ricky Rice, is one of the great images of contemporary American culture; a recovering addict, lone survivor of radical religious cult, and just trying to do his best in a world he doesn't quite understand. His story manages to capture the state of our lives now. (When I've got all the time in the world to write, I'm also going to do an essay that explores how the recovering addict is the quintessential 21st century American hero, starting with Big Machine and Infinite Jest.) Lavalle's developed this really interesting style; conversational in a way that it takes you a couple of moments to realize just how intelligent everything he's written is. It's a unique kind of accessibility that doesn't feel simplistic or condescending, but still manages to feel easy to read. The Devil in Silver is just as good, this time set in a decaying mental institution and touching on a whole ton of themes including mental health, class, race, power dynamics, etc. The “classic” writer Lavalle most reminds me of is Kurt Vonnegut, because both writers find ways to teach us about mundane life through very weird stories.

Tao Lin: Tao Lin confuses the hell out of me. He took the whole Hemingway/Carver short sentences of daily life thing to such an extreme that short sentences of daily life feel totally and utterly alien. If the other novelists I've mentioned have an anti-thesis, if you can even use a structure like that for what he does, it's Lin. Honestly, I can't even say that I “enjoy” reading his books, but I think everyone should at least try Shoplifting from American Apparel and Richard Yates. Occasionally, books should make us uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable means you're confronting something new and books are supposed to do that.

Karyna McGlynn
: Along with having one of the coolest titles, I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, is another one of the best poetry collections I've read in years. Like Guest (and really all the poets I like Kevin Young, Brian Turner, Merwin, going back to the dead, Vallejo, O'Hara, Cesaire) she isn't afraid to be difficult. Also, there is a lot of stupid, pointless, white space in contemporary poetry, large format books with few words that are supposed to say something, I don't know, about the distance between thought and expression, or the void of future considerations, or the stillness at the heart of all acts of creation, or whatever, but generally say very little at all, while being a pain to shelve at the store. McGlynn uses space on the page and visual layout to actually do those things. She's also not afraid to use a lot of words and long lines if the images call for it. She's also funny. And she has this strange dark sexiness that I haven't encountered, not quite like a Molly Crabapple, but in that vein. It all adds up to poems that are challenging and fun.

Other Young, Awesome, & Living: A Partial List
: Obviously, there are more young, living, and awesome writers out there than those I've chosen to highlight here, but life is really a process of exclusion, and so in order for the list to have some meaning, I had to not highlight other young, awesome, and living writers. Here's a partial list of them, go buy their books too. I mean, when you think of how much more money a mediocre financial planner makes than an awesome writer...wait, maybe don't do that, especially if you're having a really good day.

Chris Boucher author of How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive

Black Butler author of There Is No Year (My review)

Christopher Higgs author of The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney (Interview with Christopher)

Emily St. John Mandel: The Lola Quartet (Interview with Emily)

Joshua Mohr: Damascus (Interview with Josh)

Karolina Waclawiak: How to Get Into the Twin Palms (My Review)

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