Instructions For a Funeral: Stories by David Means
I really disliked this collection for one main reason, Means’s prose is meandering so much that you completely disconnect from the character he’s giving a voice to. There are some alright pieces with a good core idea, but then the execution is soporific, leading me to realize I’d “read” three pages and not remembered a stitch of what I’d seen on the page. I’m a reader who loves literary fiction and even postmodern writing that plays with structures and voice. But this is just plain boring, with characters who never become compelling and lacking the urgency good short fiction possesses.
Verge: Stories by Lidia Yuknavitch
This was considerably better than the collection above but still has some pieces that lost me. The stand out stories are terrific, though. “The Organ Runner” follows an Eastern European girl who is adopted by a woman whose household makes their money by selling and delivering organs for transplant. The girl is antagonized by the eldest boy in the house, and it becomes clear pretty quickly; things aren’t going to end well for him. “Street Walker” is about a recovering junkie living in the suburbs, her life in order, becoming involved with a prostitute that has shown up in the neighborhood. “Cusp” is an engaging, sweaty story about a young girl growing obsessed with the prison that has been built in her city, and the dark path it leads her down. Most of the stories I’ve forgotten entirely, so this is a pretty middle of the road collection.
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth
This read like a great Steven Soderbergh or Coen Brothers’ style movie, the same quick pacing & snappy dialogue. Two auditors for the egg industry become fed up with seeing the way the chickens are treated, abused, and tortured. They hatch a plan to steal a million chickens in the middle of the night but will need a lot of help to get the job done. Of course, this isn’t going to go the way they plan, and the book delivers on great surprises and twists. Author Deb Olin Unferth doesn’t play things safe, and she gives the story to a host of different voices including a forest ranger who discovers a roving band for forty thousand feral chickens, a security guard who keeps patrolling an empty chicken warehouse farm for years after the birds have gone, and even these animals’ descendants twenty thousand years after the events of the story. If you enjoy the work of those directors mentioned above, I think you will love this novel.
Why You Should Be A Socialist by Nathan J. Robinson
Nathan Robinson is the founder & editor-in-chief of the fantastic Current Affairs website, an excellent place for left takes on the news. This particular book is targeted at someone who is moderately informed about day to day life and politics in America but likely turned off by the party system we have at the moment. I don’t think this will be a persuasive text for someone who has pledged allegiance to Fox News and drinks their Kool-Aid. If a person sees “socialist” as a word infused with evil, they are sort of beyond reasoning with. Robinson does an excellent job of outlining the deeply inherent flaws in both conservatism and liberalism, but to call his ideology “pure socialism” is a little finicky. Robinson is most definitely a social democrat more than a Marxist style socialist. He is an excellent writer and presents these often touchy ideas with friendliness and charm. If you have been intimidated by other books on socialism because of the dense theory, they often bring this text works as a great introduction to socialist thinking.
First as Tragedy, Then as Farce by Slavoj Zizek
Speaking of overloaded with theory, it’s Zizek! The central premise of this book is that Capitalism has reached its zenith, revealed as a force of destruction and that some form of Communism, preferably not totalitarian is needed to remedy issues of class, the environment, etc. Zizek argues his points beautifully but maybe not in a way that an average apolitical person could comprehend. I don’t imagine someone like that would ever pick this book up as their place to start learning about politics and theory, though. Nathan Robinson’s work is a much better fit in that regard. I do appreciate how Zizek outlines Chinese Capitalism as an incredibly dangerous force in the world and goes into great detail explaining that country is “communist” in name only. Zizek shows that the future of Capitalism is China, all of the corporate power under the umbrella of a monolithic government with individual and collective freedoms removed. Capitalism’s final form is authoritarian rule.