Entering the Home Stretch of 2019

Wow. That year went quickly and also dragged like a drunk sloth. And we still have three weeks to go.

Last week was fairly quiet for the acquisitions department here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. Most of my subscriptions have wound down and I am not out and about purchasing new books as frequently as I have in past years. I don’t consider that a particular problem as I have enough unread books here that, were I to quit all other obligations and devote my life to reading, I would still have difficulty making it through the pile before 2030. For every 36-page poetry collection I have a matching 800+ page genre novel, and more of each are published every day.

In the middle of the above stack is the latest issue of The Paris Review. On the left is Soft Science, a poetry collection by Franny Choi which I purchased on impulse when I visited Books & Mortar to pick up my special order of the book on the right, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher.

With the Fisher book in hand I now have a good stack of holiday reading, which I consider appropriate for some good holiday reading here at the end of 2019.

All of these books have arrived at the Abbey within the last year.

With NaNoWriMo over and Caffeinated Press winding down, as well as various other obligations on hiatus for the month, I have had a lot of time to read, which has been wonderful! I completed Dyrk Ashton‘s excellent Paternus: Wrath of Gods last weekend, and shortly after made it to the end of the magnificent Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Both books have sequels in the works, and they cannot arrive soon enough!

Currently I am about a third of the way through Jackie Wang‘s Carceral Capitalism. For this (and the other books in the holiday reading photo) I am going back to my roots as a student and treating the reading as a learning assignment. I am taking notes and cross-referencing, underlining long stretches of text with a blue ball-point pen. The experience has been enlightening, if such a word applies to a book as astonishing, infuriating and depressing as this one.

In my spare moments I have been organizing all of my completed, mostly-written, and partially-written poems and short stories, and sorting them into stacks based on whether or not I think they are ready to send out into the wild. Based on the advice Tobias Buckell offered in It’s All Just a Draft I have put together several lists of potential targets at which to fire off my work – fiction, nonfiction poetry, genre and themed deadlines and anthologies. Gotta be somebody, somewhere who wants to publish the work of a burned out, disaffected fifty-something dude.

With 2019, and therefore the decade, winding down, many think-pieces are surfacing on the internet, looking back on the events of 2009-2019 and how now compares to then. I have not decided if I will do something like that. If so it will certainly happen in the last day or so of the year. Wouldn’t want to miss a last-minute event.

 

50K and Counting

At 9:00 pm on Wednesday, November 20, I passed 50,000 words in my NaNoWrimo 2019 project titled Neighbors: A Malediction. It. Felt. Wonderful. This is by far the earliest I have passed 50,000 words in the seven years I have participated in National Novel Writing Month. This is also my fifth win. I gave myself a much-needed break and slept in until 7:30 am yesterday, instead of the customary 5:15 which arrives oh, so early as the days get shorter and the nights darker.

Now that the bulk of the writing is out of the way I have time to read and catch up with my journaling, which has fallen by the wayside these past few weeks.

Three books arrived this past week, and none the week before. On the left is volume 1 of The Glimmer Train Guide to Writing Fiction, which I grabbed from the Write616 archives scattered around the floor of the Caffeinated Press office when I stopped by to pick up a few copies of issue 5.1 of The 3288 Review to ship to a customer. In the middle is Lesley Conner’s The Weight of Chains, which I received as a surprise lagniappe for backing a Kickstarter campaign for Apex Publications. On the right is the latest arrival from my subscription to Restless Book, Silence of the Chagos by Shenaz Patel, which looks like something I might need to bump up a few tiers in my TBR pile.

I have managed to set aside a little time for reading this month. I finished both J. Michael Straczynski‘s extraordinary memoir Becoming Superman and Tobias Buckell‘s extremely helpful book of writing advice It’s All Just a Draft. I am still working my way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and loving it more with every page. And for my night reading I just picked up Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton, which I picked up (and got signed by the author!) at ConFusion 2019 back in January. I’m only about two chapters in but it is every bit as much fun as was the first book in the series, Paternus: Rise of Gods.

For  the last week of the month I plan to add a few thousand more words to the NaNoWriMo novel to get to the end of the first draft. Of course “first draft” is perhaps overselling the novel at this point. It is really the “pre-first” or “box of scraps” draft. A thorough re-read and hefty rewrite will bring it up to first draft.

This is the first time I have completed a novel during NaNoWriMo. In the first year I came close, though on re-read there are many things about it which were problematic and will need to be changed. But perhaps at this time next year I will be able to announce that I am shopping a novel around, looking for a publisher.

NaNoWriMo 2019

At last, it has arrived! NaNoWriMo 2019 started on Friday, November 1. At the time of this post I have written just under 12,000 of the target 50,000 words for the month. Almost 25% of the way there in four days. While I in no way expect to keep up this pace I would really like to actually complete this story/novella/novel within 30 days, instead of hitting midnight on November 30 and suddenly running out of steam partway through the project.

This year I am writing a literary fiction novel titled Neighbor: A Malediction. For the past seven years I have lived across the street from an obnoxious neighbor who has tried my patience, mucked up the neighborhood, and generally behaved like an obnoxious jackass in any number of ways and at every opportunity. This project has good parts and bad parts. On the good side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. On the bad side, for story ideas all I need to do is go out and stand on my front porch. I am playing around with the order of events and the specifics of dialogue and interactions for the sake of narrative flow and dramatic hooks, but everything will be based closely or exactly on real life events. In the event I complete the book and try to get it published I will change names and what-not, of course, but people who know the neighborhood will certainly recognize the characters.

My user name at the NaNo website is JohnFromGR. If you are participating this year feel free to send me a buddy request.

This week we received a small yet interesting stack of books. The first two books in the above photo, They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru and Lion Cross Point by Masatsugu Ono, came in from my subscription to Two Lines Press. I was planning to let my subscription lapse, but in the latest Two Lines Press newsletter they announced a collection of science fiction short stories from Chinese writers, so now I feel conflicted.

Next up is the latest issue of Peninsula Poets, published by the Poetry Society of Michigan.

The last book, Hebrew Punk, is one I grabbed from Apex Publications during their selling drive to raise funds for the next year of publishing.

In reading news, I finished (and liked!) Insides She Swallowed by Sasha Chacon. I am about one third of the way through Marlon James’ Black Leopard, Red Wolf and LOVING it! I wish I had the time free to just sit and plow through the entire book in one day. I think I could do it, though it would likely do bad things to my connection with the consensual reality.

The next few posts will likely be quite terse as I all myself to become fully engulfed in the NaNoWriMo mindset. Selah!

October is Winding Down

It was another quiet week here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey, which is a good thing, what with NaNoWriMo starting in a few days, and the ten thousand tasks which come with closing down a publishing company and publishing our last literary journal. Things are just busy.

On the left is the most recent issue of Poetry. On the right is Alexandra Erin’s Kickstarter-backed collection First Dates, Last Calls. I have not yet had time to do more than the briefest skims of each, but they both promise to be very good reads.

Speaking of reads, I am a little over a hundred pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and still enjoying it immensely. It is a surprisingly easy read for all its length and the density of the prose. Given a few multi-hour blocks of reading time I could have it finished by Thanksgiving. Since I seriously doubt that will happen I have resigned myself to keeping at it until the end of the year.

I am almost done with Sasha Chacon’s Insides She Swallowed, and it is a really good collection. Seems that the people with the best words are the ones who actually have something to say. Who knew?

And that’s all I have for now. The next few weeks will likely be crazy busy so posts will be even more terse and infrequent.

Gearing Up and Winding Down

My life has been crazy busy for the last several months, and though things are beginning to wind down, the psychological and emotional hangover is just beginning. I’m tired. Really, really tired. I spend my (still limited) free time reading books. So some things haven’t changed.

This past week most of the acquisitions came from subscriptions of various kinds – the latest issue of Pulphouse, two books from Deep Vellum and one from Restless Books. I did go out of my way to pick up J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman, as it has been on my list for a few months, and is now at the top of my to-read stack.

In reading news I am a little over 100 pages into Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I seriously love this book! It is amazing, and I wonder what the hell reviewers were talking about when they compared it to Game of Thrones, because other than belonging to approximately the same broad genre, they are absolutely nothing alike. It’s like saying that fans of Lonesome Dove will really like Blood Meridian.

I am also re-reading True North by Jim Harrison. I recently loaned my copy of Dalva to a friend and realized that I had not read any of Harrison’s fiction in at least a couple of years. His work still holds up, and I wish I had a fraction of the talent he brings to the page.

Two weeks until NaNoWriMo!

The Emperor’s New Books

What, you can’t see them? There a stack right there, just above these words!

Another slow week for acquisitions here at the Library. No new reading material, which allowed me to catch up on some work, reading, and quality time with my honey (the last of which is NONNA YA BIZNIZ!)

Yesterday afternoon I finished Ted Kooser‘s Local Wonders, and it was, as Jim Harrison wrote in his cover blurb, magnificent. And I have just finished Christine Rhein‘s beautiful and sorrowful poetry collection Wild Flight. The two books together have further rekindled in me the writing itch, and with NaNoWriMo just around the corner, as well as an impending significant uptick in my available writing time, I have high hopes for the rest of the calendar year.

I have just started reading Marlon James‘ novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf. I am one chapter in and already hooked. As this book is something over 600 pages long I expect I will be finished around the end of the year, with shorter works interspersed as time and attention span allow.

The Last Day of Summer, 2019

The cover art seems apt for the eve of the darkening of days toward the winter solstice. This is the trade edition of I Am the Abyss, the Kickstarter-exclusive edition of which arrived here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey a few weeks back. Dark Regions Press has turned out a truly excellent product with this book which, given the difficulties they had with various printing and distribution resources, is quite an accomplishment.

In reading news, I finished A Hero Born and 45 Thought Crimes a couple of days ago. Both were excellent reads for entirely different reasons. A Hero Born was loads of fun, full of exciting battles, intrigue, compelling characters, and a surprisingly complex story line for an adventure novel. 45 Thought Crimes was energetic and angry, pointing out at the multiform cruelties of the 21st century here in the USA – economic, social, racial, gender-based, sexuality-based, and class-based. Sadism is, more and more, the national hobby.

Currently I am reading Ted Kooser‘s memoir-ish Local Wonders, as I need to let my brain cool off a little. I love Kooser’s writing – close to the earth, humble, insightful, and seasoned with a sly and wry humor which comes from a lifetime spent paying attention to the small details of the world.

In poetry I just started Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, though I have not yet read enough to form an opinion one way or another.

Only forty days remain until the kickoff of National Novel Writing Month. I was not sure if I would participate this year, but recent events have freed up some time and brain space, and I will give it a shot, though I do not yet know what I will write, nor whether I have a chance of reaching 50,000 words in thirty days. Time will tell.

A Break in the Drought

Oh it’s been a crazy busy couple of weeks, but to make up for the stress of work, work, and, uh work, we received a refreshingly large pile of reading material here at the library of Winkelman Abbey.

Top left is the latest issue of Dreamforge. Next to it is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, which means I will probably soon be ordering a few more books, based on the reviews in Rain Taxi. Third is The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain, which I picked up from Amazon on a whim. Last in the top row is the latest Tensorate series book from Jy Yang, The Ascent to Godhood.

Bottom row left is She Had Some Horses by newly-installed Poet Laureate of the United States Joy Harjo. I am somewhat embarrassed to say this is the first of her poetry I have read. Next is the Ted Chiang’s newest collection Exhalation. Second from right is How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. This one has been on my radar for some time, and in anticipation of its arrival I have watched several of Kendi’s lectures and interviews on YouTube. Dude has some seriously powerful things to say about institutional racism.

Rightmost in the bottom row is the newest book from my Patreon subscription to Apex Books, Ration by Cody T. Luff.

I haven’t had much time to read this past week, what with work hours and the run-up to the release of the next issue of The 3288 Review. I am about 30 pages from the end of Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, and about a dozen poems from finishing Lynn Breedlove’s  45 Thought Crimes. After that, the next thing on my reading list is sleep.

Late-Summer Doldrums

The first day of September 2019 dawned gloomy and wet, and the city seemed hung over after a night of desperate carousing at the end of the beginning of the Labour Day weekend.

Our hero, John Winkelman, looked over the stack of books which had accumulated during the last hectic week of August. The stack was short, consisting of a single volume — This Tilting World by Colette Fellous, published by Two Lines Press.

Oh, well, thought John, it’s not like I don’t already have a thousand unread books in my library.

“False!” shouted the Imp of Unpurchased Volumes from deep in Winkelman’s limbic system. “You have a mere thousand unread books in your collection. No serious antilibrary is so sparse that a single person could possibly read its contents in a single lifetime.”

Thus Winkelman was both shamed and enlightened.

I wish I could say that a slow accumulation of books makes for more reading time, but that just ain’t so. The frantic pace of the past couple of weeks has slowed my reading to a crawl. I did finish Kamau Daáood’s The Language of Saxophones, which was extraordinary, and immediately started The Hammer by Adelaide Ivánova, which I picked up at City Lights Bookstore at the same time I purchased the Daáood collection. So far it is very good; angry and pointed and occasionally surprisingly subtle.

I am almost finished with Snow Over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Serna, which has some good bits but is overall leaving me somewhat less than impressed. The writing is quite uneven and in places repetitive. The manuscript could have used another couple of rounds of editing. That said, the story — an odd mix of high-tech post-apocalyptic and fantasy — is interesting, and I would like to see a revised edition of the book at some point in the future.

 

 

Entering the Home Stretch of Summer

Yes, Summer doesn’t technically end until September 20, but this is the last week of August, so it’s the last week of Summer.

Not a lot happened this week, library-wise. I received the newest issues of Jacobin and Poetry (two great tastes which taste great together), but no new books.

In reading news, I finished A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, whose stories are wonderful and weird and strangely satisfying. Châteaureynaud has an interesting writing voice which feels like it came out of the late 1900s, even in his stories set in contemporary times. I am not entirely sure how much of this is Châteaureynaud’s own aesthetic and how much of it is a quirk of the translation process. I expect it would read much the same in French. Recommended for anyone looking for an unusual collection of short stories which skirt the edge of genre; like, say, Ivan Turgenev writing episodes of The Twilight Zone.

I am about half an hour from the end of Daâood’s The Language of Saxophones, and will likely finish it tonight. And I just started Snow over Utopia by Rudolfo A. Sirna, which arrived here a couple of weeks ago from Apex Publications. Only a few pages in, but I like it so far.

Namaste, yo.