Book Update – March/April 2023

A Short Film About Disappointment by Joshua Mattson

Here’s the premise: Film critic Noah Body writes and uploads his reviews on a widely ignored content aggregator in the near future. He is a wannabe director who is forced to watch the worst movies knowing zero people are reading his work. Noah starts including details of his complicated & spite-filled personal life in these reviews. Through eighty movie reviews, we follow Body’s life and how it falls apart around him. That sounds really good, right? It’s a shame that this book is a nearly unreadable piece of crap. I loved the premise, but the final product was a brutal slog. One of the most significant issues is that the chapters aren’t movie reviews. The main character is not fun to read. I love having unreliable narrators or a challenging protagonist, but Body is just pretentious in a way that I derived no humor from. I checked on Goodreads, and this one has a lot of people listing it as DNF (Did Not Finish). I certainly felt like dropping it pretty early on. If I could give this review a title, it would be “A Long Book That Led to Disappointment.”

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Book Update – January/February 2023

American War by Omar El-Akkad

Would we ever be told that the United States is in a civil war, or would the government & media simply keep acting like everything was okay? My survey of things back home leads me to believe the current civil war has been raging for years. However, it would never be fought on battlefields like the war in the 1860s. Instead, it is a war akin to the ramp-up of the Troubles in Ireland or the Years of Lead in Italy. When it all explodes, it will be messy and fractious; violence is and will continue to be intra-state, urban vs. suburban vs. rural. Canadian-Egyptian journalist Omar El-Akkad has penned his first novel about a second American war using metafiction, where articles & documents from this parallel reality are used between chapters following a critical figure in the collapse.

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Seth’s Favorite Books of 2022

I read over 100 books on my Goodreads challenge this year, but about half of those were probably collected editions of comics. I read some great prose, though, some of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I went back to some old reliable authors but also branched out to books and genres I hadn’t really tackled before. For 2023, I’m considering choosing an author whose work is rated very highly and working my way through their bibliography. I might challenge myself with Cormac McCarthy now that we have what are likely his final two books. That’s a hefty challenge. I was also thinking about someone like Richard Powers or exploring some female authors I’ve criminally neglected from the late 1970s/80s. On to my favorite reads of 2022.

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Ariana’s Favorite Books of 2022

It’s that time of the year. Everyone decides to rank their favorites to show what they liked and perhaps to make you feel a little lackluster on the progress on TBR pile or wonder who has that much time to read 10 books in a month without ignoring other tasks entirely.

In previous years, I didn’t read as many books as I would’ve liked. This year? It honestly felt like two years were folded into one.

I will not put this in any specific order, just highlighting what I thought was good and allowing you to decide if it’s worth a peek.

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Book Update – September/October 2022

White Noise
by Don DeLillo

Jack Gladney is a Professor of Hitler Studies at his Midwestern college. He’s married to Babette, his fourth wife, and they live with four children to make up their contemporary, for 1985, family. Consumerism dominates the family discourse; everything is analyzed through this critical lens. The pressures of modernity manifest in the form of a toxic airborne event that threatens to kill anyone exposed to it within 30-40 years. Death is a constant theme in this family’s life despite never really coming close to it. Their fears are based more on the concepts of mortality and the idea of being the last one left and watching the others pass away. To remedy this, Babette begins taking an experimental medication behind Jack’s back that makes her immune to these morbid thoughts but also distances her from the family as a side effect.

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Book Update – July/August 2022

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke

The pandemic saw a revolutionary transformation of labor, specifically working from home as a viable option. This novel is told entirely through Slack chats for a New York-based public relations firm. It starts with Gerald discovering his consciousness has been uploaded into the company’s Slack channels. His coworkers think this is an elaborate prank and dismiss his calls for help. The PR firm’s most prominent job at the moment is helping a high-end dog food company recover from reports that their food may be poisoning Pomeranians across the country. We are introduced to the employee in-jokes & drama, all while bizarre things happen in the background. I thought this was an entertaining read, nothing life-changing but clearly written by a sharp mind who found a way to make an unconventional format work. Because this is essentially written like a stage play, it makes for a quick read. I knocked it out in a couple of days. If you are looking for something that isn’t fluff but also not too heavy, this one is worth checking out.

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Book Update – May/June 2022

Darryl by Jackie Ess

The titular Darryl is a man living in the Pacific Northwest who is going through a profoundly chaotic and confusing period of his life. Due to a healthy inheritance, Darryl doesn’t work and spends his days abusing GHB and watching his wife have sex with other men. He claims he’s a cuckold, but the other cucks on the message board he follows don’t see it that way. There is something deeply wrong with Darryl, and he doesn’t seem to realize it. Like devils & angels on his shoulder, two other men play formative roles in Darryl’s sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious revelation. Bill is a longtime friend, someone who has sex with Darryl’s wife but seems genuinely worried about our protagonist. Clive is a “therapist” brought in by his wife, who turns out to be another man just interested in fucking her. He drugs Darryl, who is more than happy to be numbed to life. Author Jackie Ess has written a brilliant, short novel about such a distinct voice. There are few books like this one, and even if you aren’t very knowledgeable about kink culture (like me), it’s a very approachable text that confronts the good & bad in people.

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Book Update -March/April 2022

Savage Night by Jim Thompson

I haven’t read much noir, but I know that Jim Thompson was one of the premier names in the genre and is still a must-read. This was my first time dipping into his work, and wow, it’s some wild, fantastic stuff. The story is told from the perspective of Charlie “Little” Bigger, a hitman that goes against widespread expectations. He’s five feet tall, wears false teeth, and seems sick with tuberculosis. That’s all hidden beneath prosthetics and lifts, though.

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Book Update: January-February 2022

Flash Fiction: 72 Very Short Stories edited by James Thomas, Denise Thomas, and Tom Hazukatai

As I’ve been stretching and working out my writing muscles, I’ve thought a lot about how hard it must be to write a novel. Even a longer short story is quite impressive to me. I believe writing is partially about building stamina. It’s hard to write for a long time about one thing, and it takes work to get to where you can do it, at least for me. Like with physical exercise, some people have natural coordination & agility, and it’s easy for them. For people like me, you’re working on getting there. One avenue of writing I find very beneficial to read is flash fiction because it’s a writing form I feel that I can easily tackle right now. This is a pretty perfect collection with entries from very well-known authors to some new ones who specialize in the form. The themes in these stories are very philosophical; there’s not a lot of heavy plot that can be done in such a constrained space, so leaning into the abstract can be helpful. That said, some choose to begin in media res or end on an ambiguous note if they are closer to traditional narratives. The best pieces in the book come from your well-known writers, in my opinion, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Tim O’Brien. If you are interested in having some short, bite-sized pieces of fiction to read and take your time with a book, this is a great one to have on the shelf.

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart

Hailed as one of the first great COVID novels, I was very curious going into Our Country Friends. I’ve heard of Shteyngart via the Chapo Trap House podcast, and the premise intrigued me. A Russian-born novelist invites a small trio of friends to his and his Russian-born psychiatrist wife’s country house in upstate New York. The pandemic has just broken out, so they offer their place as a haven, although many issues exist between them and their precocious K-pop-obsessed child. Among the guests are a struggling Indian-American writer, a globe-trotting college buddy, a successful Korean-American dating app designer, and the actor set to play the lead in a film adapted from the Russian writer’s novel. Shteyngart pulls off something amazing, summarizing the current shift of this new decade, all of the anxiety and narcissism. I got a strong sense of a Frank Oz film like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or What About Bob? reading this. It has that sort of building to a wild crescendo energy, people becoming obsessed with minor slights. But there’s also a lot of heart to the book and character work through disappointments and heartbreaks from decades previous. 

Good Neighbors by Sarah Langan

If Our Country Friends is trying to find humor and humanity in our current state of being, then Good Neighbors is a descent into contemporary suburban Hell. The Wildes have always felt like outsiders since moving from the city to their Maple Street neighborhood on Long Island. Rhea Schroeder was the only person that ever seemed to give Gertie Wilde the time of day. Everyone was friendly, to a point. But something changed, and Gertie becomes upset when she realizes they have been excluded from a block party in the nearby park. Things take a dark turn when a massive sinkhole opens up in the park, and the mood changes quickly on Maple Street. This is a horror story about people refusing to deal with their trauma, allowing guilt to drive them mad, and ultimately how contemporary life has isolated people from each other in a way that can only end in violence. You will feel many things reading this novel, and that’s something only really great literature can do. I saw this being recommended alongside things like Big Little Lies, but it is a much more intense read than that.

The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins

It’s so funny to me that conservatives & fascists in the States are so unhappy with the current state of social studies/history education. As they currently stand, they give a strongly blurred and glossed-over version of actual events, but even that is not enough for them. The Jakarta Method is a must-read for anyone willing to hear the truth about Western anti-communism and its horrific effects on the planet. You’ll often hear “victims of communism” cited, yet never a conversation about how many people have died at the hands of rabid global capitalism. Indonesia was the staging ground of the CIA’s first successful coup, a framework that, like a virus, would spread across the planet and kill millions. Vincent Bevins does an excellent job sharing the broad view of history and the intimate experiences of people on the ground. This is difficult to get through because he conveys the horror these people went through at American-guided hands in their own countries. The evil that the United States perpetrated on the world’s developing nations is so beyond forgiveness. It truly is the most evil society in this world.