1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

416zq07etol-_sy344_bo1204203200_I can’t tell you how many times I picked up this book, read a few (or twenty or fifty) pages, put it back down and then didn’t pick it up again for another month (or two or four).  The good news is: the narrative was so compelling that I never had to go back and re-read to remember what was happening in the story.  The bad news is: the story is so dense and complex, it was challenging to read more than a few chapters at a time (at least until the last two or three hundred pages, when I couldn’t put it down).  The over 1,100 pages in the novel and my distracted approach to reading it meant it took me somewhere between one to three years to get to the end.  This, however, should not be an indication of the level of amazingness that is Murakami’s latest epic work.  Not by a long stretch.

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Like it or Shut Up: On Bad Reviews, Part II

Last month I wrote about the importance of bad reviews – mentioning the fact that without bad reviews, good reviews become meaningless. I also noted the reviewer’s obligation to readers and what writers might be able to learn from the bad review. But today, The Millions mentions a study that further encourages me in my belief that a bad review can be a good thing:

Is all publicity good publicity? Are all reviews—even bad ones—good for books? The answer,according to a new study [pdf] by the journal Marketing Science, depends on whether the writer is well known or unknown. The study examined the impact of a New York Times review on the sales of more than 200 hardcover titles. For books by established writers, a negative review led to a 15% decrease in sales. For unknown authors, a negative review increased sales by a healthy 45%.

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The Prospect of Magic by M.O. Walsh

M.O. Walsh’s collection of linked stories, The Prospect of Magic, takes place in Fluker, Louisiana and revolves around the members of the Ploofop Carnival. When the ringmaster dies, the orphaned carnies have nowhere to go, and the citizens of Fluker warmly welcome them to their town. What results is a year of giraffes and elephants wandering the streets, destroying the trees and local soccer field, until Stanley Winston – a man conflicted in his enormous success – builds a zoo for the animals that leads to the building of a ZooCarnival for the carnies.

Yes, you read that right: a ZooCarnival.

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The Important Thing Is…Card Game by Marjorie Tesser

Marjorie Tesser’s The Important Thing Is…Card Game requires a bit of open-mindedness. It’s published by Firewheel Editions and marketed as a chapbook and game. The only problem is, it’s not really either. Not really. The “poetry” comes in the form of seemingly random words placed on bingo-esque cards that are placed in such categories as: Location Cards, Dramatis Personae, Pairs and Bowery Poetry Club Edition (after Brenda Coultas’ “Bowery Box Wishes”). And this is where I have to consciously open myself to what poetry “can be” instead of what I think it “is.”

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The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner

Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers has a bit of an identity issue. On the one hand, it claims to be advice to writers which, in places, it actually is. On the other, it reads like an insider’s exposé of what editors and agents really think of we writer types. I couldn’t help but wonder if Lerner’s audience wasn’t actually intended to be other editors who would get the inside jokes and find the stereotypical caricatures of authors funny.

Lerner recently posted on her blog that: “My writing book is about publishing from an editor’s perspective, but the part that people seem more interested in is the inner life of writers. The wicked child and all that jazz.”  Well. I can see why.

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Like It or Shut Up: On Bad Reviews

Emily St. John Mandel has an interesting take on bad reviews in yesterday’s The Millions.

“But why,” my friend asked, “should the reviewers always have the last word?”

Because they’re entitled to their opinions, and they’re allowed to not like your book. Because if they’ve given you a nasty review, you diminish yourself by getting into a figurative fistfight with them. Because their reviews, except insofar as they impact sales, don’t really concern you: we switch jobs all the time—see above, section no. 4—but at the moment of the review, your job is to write books and their job is to write about them.

But most markedly because given the emotions involved, given all the years you spent writing your book or composing your music or perfecting your play before someone came along and spat on it, it’s extraordinarily difficult to respond to a bad review with grace.

Her post deals primarily with whether one should respond to a bad review. And though she is careful to point out that reviewers have the right to not like your book, I can’t help but return to the question that weighs on the minds of writers who also review: If we didn’t like the book, should we say so or just sit down and shut up?

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National Book Critics Circle Picks

In case you need yet another list of books to read before March (see the other list HERE, 4 books actually make both lists), the NBCC announced the shortlist for this year’s awards on January 22. Taken from the always awesome Poets & Writers magazine, here’s what the critics were saying about these finalists before they were, well, finalists:

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil Interview, Revisited

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The Blood-Jet Writing Hour hosted by Rachelle Cruz

In case you missed it last Friday, you can hear the archived Blood-Jet Writing Hour interview with poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil by clicking the link above.

I’ve followed Nezhukumatathil’s career as a poet from her first full-length collection, Miracle Fruit, that I reviewed for Third Coast in 2003. You can read that review on my website by clicking HERE.

If you don’t know this poet’s work, you should. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed.

Literary Journalism, edited by Norman Sims & Mark Kramer

edited by Norman Sims & Mark KramerI picked up Literary Journalism: A New Collection of the Best American Nonfiction because I’ve been experimenting with the genre.  Or so I thought.  The subtitle of this collection, edited by Norman Sims and Mark Kramer, both trained journalists, is indicative of the confusion inherent in the genre.  Nonfiction, as it turns out, appears in many different forms and styles.  This collection pays particular attention to what the editors call “Literary Journalism.” The essays in this collection are heavily researched and have the objectivity of journalism with the attention to language of fiction.  Almost.  There are places in which the research gets in the way of the crafting of language. Places, for example, where the author feels it necessary to list all eleven businesses along a particular stretch of a riverbank where the listing of two or three would have sufficed (and been less tedious).  And then there’s tone. Continue reading

I’ve Always Wanted a Rooster

It’s funny.  But if you have the time to actually read all the stuff you ask to be sent to your inbox, you’ll discover there’s a whole world of literary activity taking place out there.  I have, for years now, been getting the Times in my inbox.  Unless the headline was really something spectacular, the vast majority of those emails went directly into the trash, unread.  Lately, I’ve been reading it instead.  And, surprise of all surprises, there’s interesting stuff going on in the world.  Imagine that.  Since I have a little more time than usual these days, I’ve also been reading The Millions pretty religiously.  And I’ve discovered that I’m a new convert to a very old, very established movement.  Okay.  So I’m late to the party.  What of it?  Just in case some of you are also late the party (or missed the party altogether), I like to include some of the more interesting information gleaned from my reading here.  Today’s tidbit involves a rooster.

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