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REVIEW: What Happened Here

Author: Bonnie ZoBellFinal-Cover-What-happened-Here

2014, Press 53

Filed under: Literary, Short Stories

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 9

As in her debut flash fiction chapbook, The Whack-Job Girls, the characters in Bonnie ZoBell’s new collection of short stories, What Happened Here, are all quirky, likable, and a little sad.  What Happened Here consists of eleven different stories, each focusing on a different set of protagonists.  Half of the stories are told in the first person, half in the third, most in the present tense, some in the past.  All of the characters have some association with the North Park neighborhood of San Diego, California, and appear throughout the stories.  Like a patchwork quilt, all of these pieces mesh together to make one consistent whole, giving this collection of stories something of the effect of a novel.

North Park has been described by Forbes Magazine as one of America’s best hipster neighborhoods, culturally diverse, “home to Craftsman cottages, cafes and diners, coffee shops, several microbreweries, boutiques and the North Park Farmers Market.”  The characters in ZoBell’s stories fit right in.  As Wally tells Heather in “People Scream,” “People get weird as they get older.  It’s too much work to keep trying to be normal, and you can’t help being weird after all you’ve been through.  It’s better to accept it and move on.”
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REVIEW: Just Drive

Author: Robert CoopermanJustDrive_Cover_front

2014, Brick Road Poetry Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

My main feeling when I finished Robert Cooperman’s collection of poems about driving a taxicab in 1970’s New York?  I wished it would go on; I wished the ride weren’t over.  Just drive, Bob!  These poems are full of humor and humanity, brimming with familiar characters and the sort of everyday street adventure you might find in a Malamud or Bellow novel.

Cooperman’s work is wide-ranging, from narrative poetry of the Old West to formal verse about ancient Greece, but when he writes about New York, he writes with a sweet nostalgia – though not necessarily a fondness – for temps perdu.  Born in Brooklyn, for the past forty years Cooperman has lived all around the country – in Denver for the last twenty – but still has roots in New York.  His previous collections, My Shtetl and The Words We Used, dredge up memories and scenes about growing up Jewish in the 1950/60’s.  This collection, which spans maybe a year in the 1970’s, similarly calls upon memories of his youth.  Indeed, the Cooperman character in these poems is usually called “kid” by his elders.

Cooperman sets the scene for us, describing “Why We Drove Cabs,” “Taking the Hack Test,” “The Order of March,” in which he describes a typical shift from picking up the cab at the garage on West 57th , then heading south, taking a left below 42nd, left again on Madison, trolling Fifth Avenue, stalking the Theater district, seeking out airport fares, and finally dinner and home.  “The Taxi Rules,” “Boxing Out,” “Here’s How It Worked,” “End of Shift” likewise get us through a day in the life.

This being the 1970’s, he invokes (and evokes) the Martin Scorsese movie, Taxi Driver, in which Robert De Niro plays a New York City cabdriver – a movie that dismays the old-timers for its depiction of a sleazy occupation.  As one venerable hack puts it in “The Belmore Cafeteria”:


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Albums as Texts: Less than Jake, Pezcore; Eastern Standard Time, Second Hand (ska-core)

“No Andre the Giants were harmed during the production of this cd… What’da ya think.  What’da ya think” — Eastern Standard Time

Sources:
Richard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: the owl of Minerva
Less than Jake, Pezcore
Eastern Standard Time, Second Hand
the Pietasters, Awesome Mix Tape No. 6

[This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.  We are listening through close readings for the microcosm of the album and the macrocosm of Youth Culture.]

pezcoreI grew up on ska-core, and still love it.  Definitely check out Awesome Mix Tape No. 6 and Second Hand, they are definitive of the genre.

Bit of a tradition of self-apologizing with Ska-core— as though the genre needed defending.  In that vein, here’s this.  Call this column mainstream, if you must; Less than Jake is sorta the biggest hits of ska-core, and Eastern Standard Time is hardly hardcore ska.  There is much more ska in the underground.  But I believe the cream does rise, and this column is about the lyrics.  Keep tuning-in to this address for some much deadlier ska-core lyrics.

Eastern Standard Time’s album has very few lyrics, but it speaks none the less.  Except for three originals, the songs are covers of Jazz and Be-bop classics, so second hand refers to a second-hand use of the songs.  With the clock-related name of the band, this becomes a clever pun, and a definitive moment for the album.  Like many albums in the ‘90s– including intellectual hip-hop– there is a hidden track at the end of the album.  This features an impersonation of Andre the Giant, which speaks to the giant song writers covered on the album.
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 4/23/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

 

capitalCapital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas PikettyReviewed by Daniel Schuchman at the Wall Street Journal.

I’m not sure what the marketing department was thinking when they sent a review copy of this book to the Wall Street Journal. I assume whoever sends out the ARCs just didn’t read it, because it’s the equivalent of sending lamb to be reviewed by a wolf. Among Piketty’s ideas: imposing an 80% tax rate on income over $500,000 in order “to put an end to such incomes,” and further taxing existing wealth at up to 10% annually, which would effectively destroy it. You can just imagine how the Wall Street Journal might respond to such ideas. Schuchman calls the book “a bizarre ideological screed,” and sneers at Piketty for implying a “moral illegitimacy” inherent in the accumulation of wealth. Methinks he doth protest a bit too much, eh? It is great fun, though, to watch two sides so dramatically far apart huffily clash, while simultaneously blinding themselves each to the other’s point of view.

 

Leaving the Sea, by Ben MarcusReviewed by Stuart Kelly at the Guardian.

I missed this latest Ben Marcus book when it came out. I’ve read Marcus before and found him quite interesting, if not exactly satisfying on a narrative level, like a lot of experimental writers. Kelly sounds positively knocked out by Marcus’s distinct style and these stories, many of which sound more “normal” than the Marcus work I read.

 

All God’s Dangers, by Theodore RosengartenReviewed by Dwight Garner at the New York Times.

Dwight Garner revisits the nonfiction book that won the 1975 National Book Award (over Woodward and Bernstein, a biography by Robert Caro, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Studs Terkel’s Working). It’s the oral history of an illiterate share cropper named Ned Cobb. Interesting stuff.

 

In brief: The NYT has a new feature in which authors “discuss” books. This week some asshole I’ve never heard of shits on T.S. Eliot. At least the NYT still accepts negative reviews. … Salman Rushdie writes about Gabriel Garcia Marquez.“The story begins with a long, graphic torture scene, turns to comedy and reaches an unexpected ending.” I bet it ends with me not finishing the book. … New research says that people get nicer as they age. Except Republicans.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews 4/8/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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lefthandturnA Left-Hand Turn Around the World, by David Wolman. Reviewed by Maria Popova (Brain Pickings).

This might be a weird admission, but I’ve always wished I was a lefty. I’ve even spent time teaching myself to do things left-handed, though the results are invariably sloppier than my natural right-handed efforts. That aside, this book, which explores the history of left-handed sounds fascinating (Latin for left is sinister? I should have taken Latin in school). If this sounds familiar, it’s because Wolman was recently on an (also fascinating) episode of RadioLab talking about this stuff.

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Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller. Excerpted in Scientific American.

Not a review, strictly speaking, but this book looks pretty neat. The title pretty much explains it: the book is a compendium of documentation of animal species that no longer exist. It’s incredibly fucked up that the human race has managed to wipe out as much life as it has, and books like this are a good starting point for reflecting on all the damage progress leaves in its wake. Old nature photography is mesmerizing in its own right too, and particularly in the cases where, as the author notes, “the fact that photographers often had no idea how important their photos would become. They didn’t necessarily have any insight into the notion that their subject would soon become extinct.”

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Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue. Reviewed by Janet Maslin (New York Times).

Donoghue’s last book, Room, at once impressed and infuriated me. It got mostly love around the bookosphere despite, or perhaps due to, its gimmicky narrator. (The story was told from the maladjusted perspective of a 5 year old child of a kidnapped rape victim who had spent his entire life imprisoned in the same small room with his mother.) It doesn’t surprise me then, that without such a crutch there’s not much to like about Donoghue’s latest, which is based on an unsolved murder from the late 19th century. Maslin actually comes right out and says that the “afterword is a more interesting telling of the story.” Ouch.

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Quickly: Home Movies might be my favorite TV show off all time (though I think I’ve also said that about Twin Peaks, Arrested Development, and Miami Vice plenty), and I found this write up of the show particularly astute.I still haven’t read anything by Karen Russell, and I’m not sure I want to start here. John Paul Stevens is convinced Shakespeare wasn’t really the author of all that good stuff.

Albums as Texts: The Day the Country Died, by the Subhumans; Horror Epics, by the Exploited (’80s Hardcore)

“Micky Mouse is dead” — the Subhumans

Sources:
Alan Moore, Watchmen
The Subhumans, The Day the Country Died
The Exploited, Horror Epics
The Ramones, Too Tough to Die

SUBHUMANS[Punk music: what does it mean?  When and where does this turn to hardcore, punk-rock, intellectual hip-hop, grunge, alternative and indie music?  How do social, economic and political moments effect Youth Culture, and how are these interpreted through Youth Culture?  If punk is about tearing down, what remains when all is torn down?  I argue these questions can be answered through a close reading of the best albums in the punk project and the following punk tradition.  We will listen for a close reading of the album as microcosm and the broader macrocosm of Youth Culture in the ‘70s, ‘80s and more recent decades. This column is about lyrics as text, not a history of music column.]

The mid-‘80s were a dark period in the lyrical zeitgeist of the English speaking world.  The very real fear of nuclear destruction at this time is best captured by Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen.  Though the threat-watch color spectrum has mostly replaced notions of a Doomsday Clock, this constant visual motif in the novel of one-minute to midnight– symbolically, doomsday– was a stark reality.  Whether this doomsday would be ecological, nuclear, the gang warfare of Youth Culture, or the best intentions of those trying to save the world–I won’t spoil–read the novel for the greatest climactic gross-out in all of comic-books, a gross-out avoided by the movie.
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REVIEW: Ancillary Justice

ancillary-justiceAuthor: Ann Leckie

2013, Orbit

Filed under: Sci-fi

Find it at Goodreads

This review refers to the audiobook version of this novel.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 9

I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about this book since its publication six months ago. When I finally started it this past week, I was immediately discombobulated. That’s because I’d heard literally nothing else but raving praise; I hadn’t heard, for example, what it was about. So let’s start there.

The main character and narrator is a sentient spaceship named the Justice of Toren. It belongs to the Radchaai, a barbaric race of people whose entire economy depends on invading other planets, killing or enslaving their people, and then laying claim to their natural resources. Of course, since the Justice of Toren is a Radch ship, the narrator finds the zombification and murder of their enemies to be a normal and not horrifying occurrence. At least, that is, until it’s forced to do something awful and kind of wakes up.

Interspersed with this storyline is another following Breq—one of Justice of Toren’s ancillaries—some 25 years in the future. The usual way of life for an ancillary (or “corpse soldier”) is that they are human bodies entirely controlled by the artificial intelligence of the ship they belong to. They think as the ship, but feel what each of their dozens of bodies feels. Breq, however, has become separated from Justice of Toren and is pursuing an ex-captain of herself (I think) along the way toward obtaining a supremely powerful gun that might or might not kill the Lord of Radch.

Got all that? I’m not sure that I do, and that’s part of my problem with this book. 
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Programming note: the end of Book Radar

When I started writing the Book Radar column, almost three years ago, I was working at a bookstore, spending a fair amount of my weekly time paging through catalogs of upcoming releases, and marking the books I was interested in. The column was a natural byproduct of all that casual research.

In the time since, I stopped working at the bookstore and stopped having access to both the catalogs and the spare time to idly flip through them. Instead, I’d pull interesting books from Kirkus, which handily laid out reviews for all the books coming out in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, Kirkus changed their format, and you can no longer sort out upcoming books, and I can’t find a similar website that will let me research a Book Radar column in less than eight hours.

So I’m retiring the Book Radar column, and instead we’ll continue to highlight interesting books in the Week’s Best Book Reviews feature, it’ll just be after they come out. (And no, this isn’t the world’s worst April fool’s joke.)

REVIEW: Words of Radiance

[This high fantasy novel is the latest C4 Great Read. Find the first book in the series here.]

words-of-radiance

Author: Brandon Sanderson

2014, Tor

Filed under: Fantasy

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

[This review is entirely spoiler-free. Maybe even to a fault.]

I picked up The Way of Kings, the first book in this series, almost at random, looking for a long audiobook. The Way of Kings clocked in at over 45 hours, and after finishing it, I pre-ordered Words of Radiance, and when it came out earlier this month, I ripped through all 48 hours in eighteen days.

Sanderson is a rare talent, and this series is a rare accomplishment even for him—I’ve read the first books of two of his other series, and they don’t compare. In short, I’d recommend this book to just about anybody, but especially to those who like Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or any other epic fantasy. 
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The Week’s Best Book Reviews 3/26/14

[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

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overwhelmedOverwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte. Reviewed by Jennifer Howard (Washington Post).

Oh man, I wish I was joking in saying I’m too busy to read this book right now. Never in my life have I had so much to do as this spring. Part of me actually loves it, and part of me wants to go live in the woods and eat berries around a campfire for the rest of my days. Much of my consolation though, is knowing that my current busy-ness levels will subside in another month. But what about those of us who are always busy, no matter what our life situation. Why do we do it to ourselves (or why do we construct a society that demands it)? Seems like a decent rumination to base a pop-sociology book on. I’ve added it to my Amazon cart, but I’ll be waiting until I have more free time to actually read it.

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Blood Will Out, by Walter Kirn. Interviewed by Walter Kirn (New York Times).

The pretentiousness of someone interviewing themselves is a pretty big turn off for me, especially when they open with wearing fancy clothes and packing up zebra striped undies. But Kirn’s weirdness (he wrote Up in the Air, which became that Clooney movie a few years back), which is plenty evident in this self-interview, led him–apparently out of boredom between books–to befriend a con-man/impostor/murderer who went by Clark Rockefeller. I don’t know, I probably don’t want to read his book about it, but whatever this is is worth a look.

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Cycle of Lies, by Juliet Macur. Reviewed by John Horn (Los Angeles Times).

I could give two fucks about the sport of cycling or its athletes’ integrity, but I do very much enjoy the schadenfreude that follows a rich, colossal douchebag’s fall from grace. Lance Armstrong’s downfall was his own hubris and assholishness, and the more books like these (the review also discusses Wheelmen by Reed Abergotti and Vanessa O’Connell) that pile on the denigration of his name, the better.

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Quickly: Anyone in DC should try and attend the 826 fundraiser event tomorrow, C4 knows a couple cats who will be there. This book collecting American interpretations of Shakespeare through the years looks fairly interesting. An agent doesn’t like the idea of publishing with Amazon, shocker.