New Books This Week

Another fine week for reading. From top to bottom, they are: Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin by Kristin Brace, The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Narrator by Bragi Olaffson, Salvage issue #5, and Jacobin issue #30.

Kristin announced Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin at a reading back in, I think, late April. This is her first book, and it is wonderful!

I picked up The Cooking Gene and Kitchen Confidential at the We Are Lit popup bookstore, which was set up in the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids. They are run entirely online, with occasional popups, and have an excellently curated selection of books.

Narrator came in as the most recent volume from my subscription to Open Letter Books.

Salvage is an interesting journal based in England, to which I subscribed on a whim. I discovered it during an afternoon of reading leftist fiction and researching different -punk subgenres. I came across a reference to “salvagepunk” and, upon further inquiry, this was one of the top results, with China Mieville’s name displayed prominently. I honestly never expected to receive any issues of this, but here it is, and it is a thing of beauty.

Receiving a new issue of Jacobin is always a pleasure. The writing is top-notch, the content important and interesting (particularly in the current pre-apocalyptic political climate), and the physical artifact is a thing of beauty.

New Books This Week

pile of books

This was a good week for books. From top to bottom: Selected Poems of Sergei Yesenin, Voronezh Notebooks by Osip Mandelstam, First Love and Other Stories by Ivan Turgenev, Selected Poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky, The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts, Celadon by Ian Haight, Granta issue #144, Apex Magazine Issue 110, and Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.

For links to these authors, books and publishers, please see their listings on my 2018 Reading List page.

Thanks to a small gift card from work, I was able to pick up the four Russian authors from Amazon.com. They are unusual-enough titles that I didn’t want to burden the local bookstores with hunting them down. The Watts and Roanhorse books I ordered from Books and Mortar here in Grand Rapids, and I have ongoing subscriptions to the two journals. I picked up Ian Haight’s book at a small signing in Lowell this past Monday. It was great to finally meet Ian, after publishing him in Issue 1.3 of The 3288 Review, back in early 2016.

Since I just finished reading At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell and Paternus by Dyrk Ashton, Trail of Lightning is currently at the top of the to-read pile, and I can’t wait to dive in.

Some Recent Literary Aquisitions

A small bonus from work allowed me to pick up a few books which have been on my want list for some time. Yeah, I have eclectic reading tastes. From top to bottom, they are: New Kind of Rebellion, by Rachel Gleason; The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang; Ambiguity Machines by Vandana Singh; Afrofuturism by Ytasha L. Womack; New Poets of Native Nations, edited by Heid E. Erdrich; and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland.

Books in Translation and the Publishers Thereof, Revisited

Several years ago I began collecting books from publishers who specialize in translations from other languages into English. This was prompted by two circumstances. First, a co-worker from bygone years, Chad Post, began working at Open Letter Books in Rochester, NY. Second, on a visit to the Grand Rapids Public Library I discovered Esperanza Street by Niyati Keni, published by And Other Stories.

My eyes having been opened, and knowing a thing or two about the publishing world, I began researching small presses and books in translation. This led to the discovery that some of the most successful publishers, with the most exciting titles and authors, offered subscriptions to their catalogs. What a wonderful way to discover new authors, support small businesses, and add quality and variety to a personal library!

As of the publishing date of this post, I have subscriptions to Open Letter Books, Restless Books, Deep Vellum, & Other Stories, and Two Lines Press.

I found a couple of pages which have comprehensive lists of publishers of works in translation – The American Literary Translators Association and PEN America. What follows is a subset (probably incomplete) of publishers from these two lists which offer subscriptions to their catalogs. Links go to subscription information.

ConFusion 2018: Poetry in Novels

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I participated in at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: Poetry in Novels (21 January 2018, 10:00)

PANELISTS: Amal El-Mohtar, Clif Flynt, Jeff Pryor, John Winkelman, Mari Ness

DESCRIPTION: “Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass include lengthy poems, placing them in a long tradition of long-form fiction that incorporates poetry into the work. How does writing poems for prose fiction differ from writing poems that stand alone? What distinct techniques does it require? Where do poems within stories exist in the landscape of genre poetry today?”

PRE-PANEL NOTES

PANEL NOTES

  • Poetry can be time-shifted in relation to the story in which it appears
    • In situ, as a bard or skald composes a poem based on events as they are happening
    • Used to imply history/world-building for the setting. An epic poem is written between the time of the events which it recounts and the time in which it is read.
    • The poem itself can be placed in a specific place in history based on written style or language or word usage.
  • Poetry can be used for world-building, either experienced by the characters or as related by the narrator.

MY THOUGHTS

Boy, did I over-think this one–in part because I love poetry, and in part because Amal El-Mohtar was also on the panel and I wanted to bring my “A” game.

ConFusion 2018: A Novel Look at the Short Story

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: A Novel Look at the Short Story (21 January 2018 14:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Short stories require a different approach to pacing, character, world-building, exposition, and plot than longer works. Let’s explore the tools we use to convey important information to the reader when we have a lot fewer words to do it with.”

PANELISTS: Scott H. Andrews, Amal El-Mohtar, Lucy Snyder, Jessi Cole Jackson

NOTES:

    • Interests from the Audience
      • Distilling vast research down to a coherent short story
      • Contrast between short story structure vs. novel structure
      • Writing short stories for specific markets vs. writing short stories, then searching for a venue
      • How do you keep a short story short?
    • Novel structure vs. short story structure
    • Alan Moore’s Jerusalem
    • 3-act structure, 5-act structure, etc
    • PLOT DOES NOT JUST HAPPEN
    • There is not 100% consensus over what a short story *should* be.
    • The defining quality of a short story is that it is short
    • Difficulty writing short stories of short story length can be mitigated by reading more short fiction, e.g. GET IN THE HABIT OF READING SHORT STORIES
    • Jo Walton – defining element of a genre is PACE – Western page, romance pace, fantasy pace, etc.
    • Lackington’s – really big on prose style, even over plot
    • A truism about academic research – you should get three books out of the same research: your thesis, a monograph, and a popular book.
    • Make words and phrases do double duty
    • Make sure everything in a short story is load-bearing
    • The Pink Institution by Selah Saterstrom – structure is linked (or not) short stories which make up a novel

 

 

My thoughts: I didn’t learn much that was new to me here. I did enjoy the conversation between the panelists, and I picked up a few new books for Mount Tsundoku.

ConFusion 2018: The Setting as Character

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

THE PANEL: The Setting as Character (21 January 2018, 12:00)

DESCRIPTION: “In Science Fiction and Fantasy , settings can literally come alive–be it via the talking flowers of Through The Looking Glass or the rage of Peter Quill’s creepy dad-planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch universe where ships have minds, main characters can be both people and places at the same time. Are living settings a science fiction/fantasy extension of the classic “Hero Vs. Nature” story? How do they exist in conversation with real-world beliefs about whether the world around us has a will of its own?”

PANELISTS: A. T. Greenblatt, Cassandra Morgan, David John Baker, Suzanne Church

NOTES:

My thoughts:

This was a good general overview of the topic. I was kind of hoping that there would be more focus on concepts like Genius Loci and the like, but on reflection the panel’s approach makes more sense, as setting qua setting is the environment in which the story exists, not a personality with agency per se.

ConFusion 2018: Science Fiction and Philosophy

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: “Science Fiction and Philosophy: Exploring the Connections”

DESCRIPTION: “SF has been called the literature of ideas, and the ideas explored in SF have become increasingly philosophical throughout the history of the genre. What are the most illuminating thought experiments in recent and classic SF? Which philosophical questions do they raise? And how are philosophers in today’s universities employing SF in their teaching and research?”

PANELISTS: Andrea Johnson, Dyrk Ashton, Ken Schrader, Nathan Rockwood

NOTES:

MY THOUGHTS:

This panel was interesting in that so much of the discussion revolved around listing works which address philosophical questions, and not a lot of addressing the questions themselves. This bothered me at first, but on reflection I realize that these panels are meant to be introductions and overviews, not necessarily deep dives into the subject; if for no other reason than that the panels all stand alone, and if two or more share a subject it is only by coincidence. That said, I appreciated the breadth of suggestions, and particularly that they included games. Computer games, if the narrative is sufficiently complex, can be seen as simulations and testing grounds for ideas which are not always easy for an individual to address in the real world.

ConFusion 2018: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

PANEL: Immigration and Refuge in Science Fiction (20 January 2018, 10:00)

DESCRIPTION: “Travel stories are classics in any genre, but in science fiction stories of travelling to a new home are often about colonization, or about intrepid explorers amongst the (primitive) aliens. Let’s talk about the science fiction stories that better reflect the experiences of immigrants and refugees in the real world.”

PANELISTS: Alexandra Manglis, Amal El-Mohtar, David Anthony Durham, John Chu

NOTES:

My thoughts:

There were many important ideas passed around in this panel, particularly in light of the racist, xenophobic, fascist policies of the current (c. 2018) U.S. president and his cabinet. One book which comes to mind which showed the POV of a refugee is What is the What, by Dave Eggers. Neither genre nor quite fiction, but a beautiful book all the same. As for fiction stories, well, I can’t think of any I have read. Not that they are not out there.

ConFusion 2018: Visions of Positive Masculinity

(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)

DESCRIPTION: From high fantasy adventures to noir mysteries to superheroes and war stories , genre fiction has meticulously catalogued the narrow roles society expects men to occupy: strong, brave, and powerful, but also angry, competitive, emotionally repressed, and misogynistic. What does a character arc look like for the man who has decided not to be the best at performing this toxic vision of masculinity? We’ve seen many stories about women who struggle and triumph against gender roles. How can writers use social expectations of masculinity to create challenges that their male characters have to overcome to save the day?

PANELISTS: David Anthony Durham, Jason Sanford, Jim C. Hines, John Chu, Pablo Defendini

NOTES:

  • Before discussing “positive masculinity”, perhaps a definition of “toxic masculinity” (“T.M.” henceforth)?
  • T.M. may appear in ways that seem innocuous
  • T.M. does NOT mean “All men are bastards!”
  • T.M. is something we are born into but can supersede
  • #NotAllMen is a symptom of T.M.
  • Kylo Ren is an example of T.M.
  • Poe Dameron is an example of a different sort of T.M.
  • We are at the beginning of the pushback against T.M. at the institutional level.
  • Part of challenging T.M. is challenging the idea of “masculinity”, i.g. “What is masculinity? What is masculine?”
  • Works which stand against T.M.:
  • Empathy can inoculate against T.M.
  • Good fiction creates empathy
    • “Write better books, make better people”
  • Can healthy, well-balanced protagonists make for compelling reading? YES!!!!!
  • We would like to see aspects of T.M. addressed in literature in the upcoming year:
    • Aggression
    • Conquest
    • Lack of empathy
  • “We want people to live up to Apple’s P.R., not necessarily Apple’s actions in the world.”
  • Big tech companies are often not aware of, or don’t care about, even the first-order effects of their actions (e.g. externalities, be they environmental, cultural, economic, et al.)
  • Being proud of ignorance is a huge signifier of T.M. Distrust of expertise and education and intelligence
  • Dismantling T.M. is MEN’s PROBLEM. It’s not on women to do it for men.

My thoughts:

This was quite eye-opening for me. I am aware of the existence of toxic masculinity in everyday life, and do what I can to expunge it from my personality and social interactions. Of course, as a guy, and as me being embedded in me, I am not always aware of how I am perceived by people outside of me. This panel was a good view into the various ways toxic masculinity can manifest. Of particular interest was that this panel happened right after an incident in another panel, which led to an attendee exhibiting stalker-ish behavior toward one of the panelists. T.M. in action. I expect I will add thoughts to this subject in future blog posts.