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Get Tweeting, Morons

You’ve got a mind-blowing novel. Your collection of short stories is going to rend asunder the fabric of the literary universe. The brilliance of your novella makes Harold Bloom so flabbergasted he starts self-abusing, straight-up punching himself in the gullet and weeping. “What the fuck,” Harold Bloom sobs miserably. “Why *punch* even *punch* go on?”

Maybe you think that’s impressive. Unfortunately, I’m here to dropkick you down the stairs of hard truth, so listen up: Nobody cares.

Sorry. It’s true. You’re not a real writer because of your critical accolades. Nope – no one gives a shit. Nor does your astonishing talent matter to anybody. Oh, and please believe me when I say your tireless, ceaseless diligence in perfecting your craft is just about as important as a shit I took in an alley on my way to the office. Take it from me – I’ve been there. I’ve read the proverbial writing on the wall, too. I’ve seen the tiny, struggling embers of what would be my career as a famous, important writer dying in the howling gale of irrelevance.

You’re not a real writer, friends, until you’re on twitter. That’s why I got the handle @floppingtitties.

That’s the kind of name that carries real weight on twitter. That’s the kind of name that gets you some attention. That’s the kind of name, friends, that catapults you from anonymity to the hot lights of stardom. I mean, sure I had a few stories published here and there pre-@floppingtitties. I was making slow progress, taking the first steps on a long road to honing my voice and embracing my chosen art form.

But post? Things have changed. I started getting shout-outs from Big Rush.


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More AWP Podcasts!

The remainder of our AWP ‘casts are now up for your listening pleasure. Leading the docket: Marc’s drunk review of Newt Gingrich’s nearly indigestible historical novel about George Washington. He also recites some poetry, and teaches the suddenly-sonorous Aaron Block what shotgunning is.

Then, we cap off AWP 2013 by bringing in some friends for a special bonus episode. Eric took the liberty of going through the AWP panel schedule and picking out the dumbest names (“1963: 50 Years Later” / “Looking for Real-Life Humberts: The Unreliable Narrator in Creative Nonfiction”), and we, somewhat–sorry–sloppily, share them with you.

Subscribe on iTunes here. If you’d rather the direct RSS feed, here you go.

Have any topic or reading suggestions, or comments about the show? Please email them to info@chamberfour.com or shoot us a tweet.

We’re at AWP this week!

You haven’t heard much from us this week, and unfortunately that will continue, because we’re gearing up for and attending AWP, which is in Boston this year.

If you’re going to be there, stop by table Z-29 in the Bookfair and say hi. We’ll have some bookmarks (and some books) to give away, and we’ll be canvassing hard for submissions for the fourth issue of our lit mag.

If you’re not going, have a good week, and we’ll see you back here next Monday when regular programming resumes.

The Week’s Best Book Reviews: 12/18/2012 (The Nonexistent Version)

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

Everybody’s doing their best-of lists for the end of the year, so there aren’t too many good reviews out there these days. Additionally, I believe I’m currently composed of 50% “holiday food” which is itself 50% fat and 50% essence of laziness.

This is a coy way of saying that we’re not gonna be sticking to a regular schedule for the rest of 2012. We’ll still have plenty of stuff—12 podcasts of Christmas, and some assorted reviews might still make it in—but we’re letting WBBR (along with our veneer of professionalism) go by the wayside until after Belsnickel returns to his farmland home.

Have a happy holiday, and we’ll see you next year.

The Best Books of 2012, Part 7

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months and beyond. You can follow the entries through the rest of the year here, and check out the picks from 2009, 2010, and 2011 while you’re at it. This is the final piece of our 2012 series.]

 

So it’s that time of the year again. “Best of” season. We all know that “Best of the Year” lists are completely subjective, a handful of famous writers are over-represented, the idea that anyone can read a broad enough range of books published in a given year to judge which is among the best is obviously ridiculous, etc. But, hey, they are also kind of fun. I read a lot of good books this year, the vast majority published before 2012, but here are three I read in and of this year that stand out (and one from a previous year for good measure):


May We Shed These Human Bodies, by Amber Sparks

It’s hard to believe this is Amber Sparks’ first book: most of the short stories in this collection have appeared in some of the indie lit world’s best-known magazines. With multiple publications in Annalemma, The Collagist, Unsaid, Pank, Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, and others, Sparks’ surreal and quirky stories were already ubiquitous both online and in print by the time this collection came out. It’s easy to see why. The stories in May We Shed pack a lot in their often few pages, forming mini-fables that combine timeless themes with modern sensibilities (see Death and the People, where a jaded Grim Reaper interrupts the all-powerful gods as they play Mario Kart). Sparks’ tales offer enough variety from story to story to avoid too much repetition. Reading this collection is like dipping into pockets of complete surreal-yet-recognizable worlds, and the only complaint I can think of is that sometimes Sparks lets us out too soon.


Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain

Fountain earned my undying fandom when I first came across his amazing short story “Fantasy for Eleven Fingers” in the 2005 O’Henry collection. In a very strong collection, this story was a stand-out. Although he made us wait for Billy Lynn, famously shelving a novel he struggled with for years, the wait was worth it. Billy Lynn follows the members of Bravo Company, soldiers recently made celebrities from a viral video of their action in Iraq, as they are treated to the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game. Steeped in pop culture, fluidly switching between past and present as the nineteen-year-old soldier Billy Lynn muses on his life and sudden celebrity, Fountain digs deep into what it means to be returning from war and preparing to leave for war again. Although his extensive research shows on every page, what impressed me most was not Fountain’s accurate portrayal of the soldiers, which was spot-on, but the way he captures the non-soldiers, everyone else—i.e. you and me—as we approach the soldiers to mumble thanks and platitudes about honor and sacrifice. Aside from an annoying and unnecessary typography stunt, this book is pitch-perfect.

 

Fires of Our Own Choosing, by Eugene Cross

Unlike Sparks and Fountain, I had did not discover Eugene Cross until his book came out -an obvious oversight on my part. I heard him read half of a story from “Fires” at a reading in DC and immediately bought the book. The collection, largely set in and around Erie, Pennsylvania, chronicling disasters in the lives of Cross’ working-class characters, is a combination of Ron Rash and Bonnie Jo Campbell. Thanks to Cross’ experiments with different forms and points of view, this collection never comes off as repetitive even as he mines the similar themes in each story. I can’t wait to see what this writer has in store for us next. Read my full review here.

The Best Books of 2012, Part 6

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months and beyond. You can follow the entries through the rest of the year here, and check out the picks from 2009, 2010, and 2011 while you’re at it.]


2012 involved a lot of moving around for me, which meant I had a chance to do a lot of reading on buses, trains, and planes, but also that I lost track of what I’d read pretty easily. Looking back at my year in books turned out to be a great pleasure for me, a scavenger hunt through my memories looking for prizes I knew I’d like because I’d hidden them there myself. So here it is, my Best Books of 2012, in categories more personal than just simply current.

 

Best new book: This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz

Hands down the best new book I read this year. In my review, I tried to respond to some of the critics who seemed intent on pointing out two things: (1) this isn’t Diaz’s anticipated sci-fi apocalypse novel, and (2) some of these stories have been around for a while. To them, I say: (1) shut up, and (2) who cares? These are great stories, some are new, and all of them are being collected for the first time. All nine story endings are beautiful, so give each one the attention it deserves. Start at the beginning, and don’t spare a sentence just because you might have seen it once before already.

 

Best debut: A Partial History of Lost Causes, by Jennifer DuBois

I’m a sucker for books about modern Russian history (Revolution on), and if you can squeeze in some chess and a little desperation, even better. If that’s not your idea of a good time, there are still plenty of reasons to read DuBois’s debut novel. The plot has its hiccups, but the writing is sharp, thoughtful, and charged, and the characters are great, even the minor ones who don’t seem all that important at first–maybe especially the minor ones who don’t seem all that important at first. Everyone in this book has something to say worth hearing, but only some of them get the chance to say it. The least we can do is try to listen.
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The Best Books of 2012, Part 5

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months—and we let a few older ones slip in, too. You can follow the entries through the rest of the year here, and check out the picks from 2009, 2010, and 2011 while you’re at it.]

 

This was an up-and-down year for me. Almost every new book by one of my favorite authors wound up disappointing, but at least one delivered a rousing success, and I found a few new names to put on my watch list. Here we go:


Best Books

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

Flynn’s third book was the best novel I read this year—an original mystery that delivered the twists and turns of an intricate plot, and didn’t sacrifice prose or characterization.

Her previous novel, Dark Places, made my 2009 Best Books list. It was similarly excellent, though completely dissimilar in every other way. Different characters, an entirely different setup and plot and structure.

I think the mystery genre can learn a lot from Flynn: books should be written carefully, not coughed out every six months; characters don’t need to be endlessly serialized; and character work should be prized as highly as plot mechanics. Hopefully Flynn’s wild success this year will prompt some changes from other big-name authors. But I’m not holding my breath.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo

The winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction was also my favorite nonfiction book of the year—and possibly the best nonfiction I’ve ever read. Boo chronicles life in a Mumbai slum, and after spending three years there, she gets into her subjects’ heads to such a degree that it feels like a novel.

This is a phenomenal piece of nonfiction, and also manages to slide in one of the best uses of ebook technology I’ve yet seen: the “deluxe” ebook edition comes with videos of the slums and people Boo writes about, providing a mind-blowing reminder that they and their incredible stories are all real.
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The Best Books of 2012, Part 4: Nonfiction Edition

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months—and we let a few older ones slip in, too. You can follow the entries through the rest of the year here, and check out the picks from 20092010, and 2011 while you’re at it.]


On Celestial Music by Rick Moody

This fantastic collection of essays pretends to be a book about music but is actually a book about life, and love, and hope. Really it’s about the best parts of being alive, though it does center on Moody’s eclectic musical tastes. And like any good essayist, Moody offers his readers a deeper appreciation of his subject matter—the subject matter on the surface and that underneath.

 

Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max

We all know how this book is going to end. And in many ways, this biography of David Foster Wallace is a road map plotting points to the inevitable tragedy. But because Max is so thorough in his research, his book provides great insight into one of literatures most complicated writers. This is worth reading if you consider yourself a fan of DFW, moreso than if you never understood why he was such a big deal.
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The Best Books of 2012, Part 3: Comics Edition

[You can follow all of our contributors’ best books posts here, and check out picks from 20092010, and 2011 while you’re at it.]


The Fourth Annual Aaron Block Awards, Celebrating Excellence in the Comics I Read This Year, Presented By Aaron Block


“Best Comic I Did Not Expect To Like” – Hawkeye #1-3, written by Matt Fraction, drawn by David Aja, colored by Matt Hollingsworth.

Hawkeye #2

When Hawkeye was announced, I wrote it off as an attempt to cash in on the character’s appearance in The Avengers. On top of that, I haven’t been very enthusiastic about Matt Fraction’s writing in the past. I planned to pick up the first issue for David Aja’s art, but didn’t expect to stick around. Then the first issue turned out to have a unique look and voice, and a narrative concept unlike most anything else I was reading.

Fraction and Aja make the most of the done-in-one approach. Particularly Aja, who often breaks pages into micro panels without overwhelming the reader, or slowing the pace of the story. A typical mainstream comic book offers maybe two or three stories a year, broken up into 5 and six parts. And while that approach can be rewarding, it’s refreshing to see a creative team making the most of a single issue. It’s also possibly an ideal approach for the burgeoning digital market – new readers intrigued by a preview on the Marvel Comixology app might be more satisfied to pay for a story that begins and ends in 20 pages. Or they might not, in which case the sharp storytelling, sardonic tone, and purple palette courtesy of colorist Matt Hollingsworth will bring them back for the next issue.
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The Best Books of 2012, Part 2

[As each year comes to a close, we ask our contributors to give us their favorite books from the past 12 months—and we let a few older ones slip in, too. You can follow the entries through the rest of the year here, and check out the picks from 20092010, and 2011 while you’re at it.]

2012 has been a tumultuous and extremely busy year for me, and my recreational reading pace has consequentially dipped below what I’m used to or where I’d like it to be. On top of that, none of the books I did read this year wowed me with a sense of lasting importance quite as much as I’d have hoped or have experienced in previous years. But there were a few that caught me by surprise and proved quite enjoyable. So, these are my picks for favorite books from 2012.

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The Twenty Year Death, by Ariel S. Winter

I had pretty low expectations for this ambitious title. A 700-page debut novel emulating three acknowledged masters of crime writing is a tall order. Winter pulled it off with aplomb, writing three distinct yet linked mysteries that shone–and for once a book actually delivered on the hype.

Read my review here.

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Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

I love McEwan, he’s one of my favorite authors, so I’m a little biased. This is not his best book (that would be The Cement Garden), but Sweet Tooth offers exactly what I want from McEwan, pristine writing and complex, compelling characters. I haven’t quite finished this novel yet, so the jury’s still out, but so far I’m content to include Sweet Tooth on this list.

Look for my review later this month.

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The Sugar Frosted Nutsack, by Mark Leyner

This quasi-epic-poem is not a book for everybody. It is a bizarre, at times difficult and obtuse read. But it’s also a brilliant piece of writing the likes of which doesn’t come around all that often. If you’re up for putting in a little effort, you find the experience rewarding.

Read my review here.

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Company of the Dead, by David J. Kowalski

Another one that caught me by surprise. While not  a technical marvel, the book overcomes writing that vacillates between pedestrian and slightly above average, with a fun, compelling, and at times quite complex time travel plot. If you want a quick, albeit lengthy, read about a time travel causality loop effecting an alternate history wherein America is occupied post-WW2 by Germany and Japan, give this a shot.

Read my review here.

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Honorable Mention: Dinosaur Art, by Steve White (ed.)

I started getting a number of review copy art books this year, a trend that I hope continues into 2013. While I really enjoyed Scott Campbell’s The Great Showdowns as well as others, this one nabbed my heart because well, it’s full of dinosaur pictures. There’s only one stegosaurus, which is a shame, but otherwise: stellar.

Here is my review.