I’m incredibly pleased to announce that my short story, Skitter & Click, will be appearing soon in this gorgeous anthology, Crime & Mystery!
Flame Tree press makes amazingly beautiful books and I couldn’t be more chuffed that my story will be appearing next to stories by luminaries like Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, and Mark Twain as well as some amazing new writers like Tony Pi, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Dan Stout, and Ruth Nestvold.
The Cratch, Thy Keeper
A friend from college, Matt Amati, wrote this flash piece a while ago but I just got around to reading it and it is amazing! It even features an anthropologist….
I’ve been reviewing mostly older fiction here and thought I should include some of my more recent loves. I’ll start with The Riyria Revelations, an epic fantasy series with the required empires rising and falling, magic and sword play, thieves and sorceresses.
Riyria is a sextet of books that Michael Sullivan wrote all of before publishing. This allowed him to weave an incredibly complex tale that spans the entire series. When reading epic fantasy, I often feel like the author has a major story arc in mind, but, in this series, the details that carry through are just mind blowing. That said, the actually writing is smooth and fast and fun to read.
While the story and writing are great, it is really the main characters that made me love these books. Royce and Hadrian are, to me, perfect. They are both so richly drawn that I could imagine them walking through my front door. They are also both very likable without being perfect. Their love for each other is touching and real.
If you’ve finished Brandon Sanderson’s latest venture and are looking for some really fun, really well done epic fantasy, I would highly recommend this series!
In light of the new-fangled interest in dystopian fiction, I am constantly reminded of We, another Russian book I read while at New College (yeah, I thought I would be a Russian lit major for a little while, until I realized I would have to actually speak Russian….).
Yevgeny Zamyatin was a Bolshevik fairly frightened by some of the policies enacted by his own party after the revolution. He wrote We in 1923, envisioning a panopticon-like government that could watch your every move. People were assigned numbers rather than names, and every aspect of life was regulated.
The book is told through diary entries of the fairly wishy-washy, engineer “hero” D-503 as he falls in love with a woman struggling to get pregnant and bring down the evil One State (ug that the female protagonist’s main goal is to get pregnant). Though the writing isn’t the best, I actually enjoyed We much more than 1984 or Brave New World, both clearly influenced by Zamyatin’s vision of an over-regulated future.
If you want to read some good old fashioned dystopian nightmare, this is a great place to start.
This is a post where I lay bare my true nerditude. Because Emile Durkhem’s “Elementary Forms of Religious Life” is genuinely one of my favorite books of all time. So I thought I should review it here.
Durkheim set out to explore what he called the archaeology of the soul in search of the “elementary religion.” While he’s got some outdated ideas about “totemism” he is really trying to understand how “a hollow phantasmagoria has been able to mold human consciousness so powerfully and so lastingly?”
How, he wondered, does religion have so much power over humanity when it is so different around the world and usually based on such kooky ideas. If there is no shared belief system, how does the whole idea of the sacred manage to be SO important to people.
Spoiler Alert: His answer is complex but, in a nut shell, he says religion is: 1) based on the real. By which he means, humans feel like there is “something out there” some kind of numinous power beyond us (some neurobiologists would argue this is an artifact of the human central nervous system, but wev) and 2) that religion takes those individual experiences and gives them shared meaning thus creating “collective effervescense” (my FAVORITE concept of all time). This collective feeling is triggered by rituals, so religion acts like a big ‘ole feedback loop.
I go to church and the music and incense and stained glass windows make me feel like I’m experiencing something beyond myself, something sacred. The church tells me that I’m experiencing god. There are a whole series of social and moral rules and legends and ideas based on the church’s ideas about god. I believe them because they fit with my transcendent experiences that I have in church (and probably also outside of church). I go to church with a bunch of other people, we all share this moment of the divine. Society stays together and we all believe the same thing.
So if you’re craving some great social theory and want to read some of the earliest attempts to connect religion with collective belief, Durkheim is yer man.
I hesitate to even try to review this collection of short stories since they are, to me, short story perfection. Really, these stories capture everything I love about the form and are a sort of dry magical realism that gives me the warm fuzzies.
My favorite story is “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” a mystery/sci-fi thing of beauty that basically brings into question the way that reality is (or isn’t) manifest and what role human consciousness plays in the creation of our reality. If we believe something to be true, can we make it so? There is a magic mirror, an ever-changing encyclopedia, a fantasy world somewhere in remote Asia Minor, and a linguistic/philosophical treatise, all in one relatively short piece of fiction.
This is exactly the kind of short story I would write if I were a raging, magical genius.
Young awkward, orphaned boy discovered he is descended from witches and wizards, needs to develop courage and master simple magic to prevent the world from being destroyed by the big bad….Harry Potter? Nope, it’s Lewis Barnavelt, the main character in many of John Bellairs’ books, my favorite being The House with a Clock in its Walls.
Lewis is chubby and awkward and just wants to be liked, plus he fights evil with weak-ass magic. There is something very sweet and dark about Bellairs’ writing. It is full of humor and warmth and, in some places, it is actually quite scary. Bellairs clearly remembers how it feels to be an outcast and I love his books for it.
Plus, many of his books are illustrated by Edward Gorey. Perfect.
One of my favorite children’s series of all time. If you are looking for books for a little one in your life (or if you just enjoy reading great, gothic horror books) I highly recommend this!
Short Version: With a host of unforgettable characters (including Behemoth, a hard-drinking devilish black cat), this book is raucous, disconcerting, hysterical, genuinely moving, and creepy – sometimes all at once. It reminds me of the wave of noirish, urban fantasy coming out lately, a gritty and dark wild ride but also exploring some intense and beautiful topics.
I first read this book in my Russian Lit class back at New College (thank you Dr. Schatz) and it blew my mind then. I’ve read it a few times since and I have a new revelation every time. Set in 1930ish Moscow (with interludes in Jerusalem), Master and Margarita is really about the sensual world of magic, the search for truth, and intellectual courage.
Sadly I lent my copy to someone years ago (was that you? then send it back you book stealer!) but I’m looking forward to reading it again eventually.
The first in a series of books and/or things I think are really, really cool/good/strange/scary/funny etc.
Short Version: If you are looking for some bite sized magical realism, there is no better collection out there!
The Elephant Vanishes is a short story collection by Japanese surrealist author Haruki Murakami. These stories provide glimpses of the impossible, magical realism at its finest, the hidden glimmer of beauty and loss in the mundane. When I first read this back in ’93 (I think?) it was a revelation to me, the culturally Japanese world coupled with the style I previously associated only with writers from the Americas.