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.

Ariana’s Favorite Books of 2021

If I am candid, I am surprised about the number of books I read this year—a total of 32, just two more than my goal. Somewhere either Seth or big book nerds are scoffing at my number.

I would give excuses as the why the number isn’t grander, but honestly, I am surprised I can still form together words and sentences. Paragraphs are questionable at best.

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Seth’s Favorite Books of 2021

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

From my review: The story begins with Lauren, still a teenager, living with her father, stepmother, and brothers in their gated community. The people have barricaded the walls and gate and, under the guidance of Lauren’s father, created a tenuous but self-sustaining system. The story begins with very episodic moments, signs that things aren’t great, and as the narrative continues getting worse. Butler focuses her themes on the balance of individual & collective survival. Lauren begins preparing in secret for the day the walls don’t hold the hungry & wanting out anymore. She learns everything she can from her father’s library about survival in the wilderness and then goes about creating a go-bag with everything she would need to set out. At the same time, there’s a strong emphasis on teaching these skills to others. Lauren knows she could be perfectly prepared, but it will be much harder for her to survive independently. While most people in this future are becoming more savage, Lauren understands life without human connection is simply not worth it.

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Book Update – September/October 2021

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

We live at a time when much of the world we assumed was permanent is being shown as transitory at best. Unsustainable systems of living are falling apart before our eyes reminding us how dead-eyed consumption charging into the future will lead to our deaths. Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler saw humanity headed in this direction back in the 1990s when Parable of the Sower was published. The book is set in the distant future of 2024 and is told from the perspective of Lauren Olamina, a young Black woman living outside of Los Angeles. Her deceased mother’s use of drugs during pregnancy imbued Lauren with hyper-empathy, meaning she experiences the sensations and feelings of others. In a crumbling world full of violence and rage, this is a very horrible thing to have. 

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Book Update – July-August 2021

The Best Horror of The Year Vol. 11 (2019) edited by Ellen Datlow

It had been a while since I took a deep dive into some new horror, so I decided to check out one of the fantastic Best Horror of the Year collections. These are edited by the prolific Ellen Datlow, a person who has composed some excellent horror anthologies since the 1980s and served as the editor-in-chief of Omni magazine. Like all anthologies, this is a mixed bag of stories that will depend on the individual reader’s tastes. I wouldn’t say there is anything bad here, but I enjoyed specific stories more than others based on my personal preferences.

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Book Update – May/June 2021

Honored Guest: Stories by Joy Williams

I recently surveyed the crop of writers that made up the “freshman class” of Vintage Contemporaries. Vintage Contemporaries was a Random House imprint started in the 1980s and intended to publish paperback editions of literary authors of the era. This is where you would have found legends like Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Richard Ford, and many more. Among those writers was Joy Williams. Williams is a Massachusetts writer whose focus is often on the gradual decay of American life. She looks at it from all angles with middle-class characters who become disconnected from the communities they thought they would never leave. Adults are usually in failed or failing majors, and children are left to their own devices by grown-ups who are busy having affairs or in their own existential spirals. 

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Book Update – March/April 2021

The Glassy Burning Floor of Hell: Stories by Brian Evenson

I am a big fan of Brian Evenson’s short stories, having read A Collapse of Horses and Song For the Unraveling of the World. He exists in that space that perfectly defines weird fiction. It’s not quite horror or science fiction or fantasy but a great amalgam of them all. This book isn’t officially out until August, but I came across a post on r/horrorlit linking to Edelweiss where they were offering a free copy-protected Kindle download. It definitely appears that the text isn’t officially formatted entirely yet. However, the writing is so good any visual blips fade away. The stories here are just long enough, never overstaying their welcome and unsettling the readers perfectly.

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PopCult Podcast Episode 2

The next episode of the PopCult Podcast has dropped.

I open things up by talking about my personal views on the future of movie theaters and film distribution in the wake of COVID-19. This leads to our Top 5 list with Ariana where we share our Top 5 Book Adaptations. Then I go over the highlights of DC’s new Infinite Frontier initiative. The episode wraps with Ariana & I sharing some books we’ve recently read.

You can listen to the podcast here or on Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Book Update: Jan-Feb 2021

The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson

I had heard Kim Stanley Robinson’s name for years but never picked up any of his work. I’m very picky about science fiction. I don’t really go in for space opera stuff or anything too hardcore when it comes to technical things or machinery. I’m more a fan of the type of science fiction you find with Phillip K. Dick or Ursula K. LeGuin. This article in Jacobin piqued my interest and had me put this short story collection on the To Be Read list. I have to say I was extremely surprised by what I got in this book. I had to look up an interview with Robinson to get a sense of where he was coming from, and it made a lot of sense. He explained that his approach to science fiction is that the genre is about imagined future history, and that meant you could imagine a new past history, and that could also be a part of science fiction.

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