Once you’ve exhausted all the content on dbrl.org/adults, and you’re looking for a nice single-sitting read, consider “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander. In the time it takes your butler to press your evening wear and prepare your evening snacks, you can consume the novella, perhaps with time to spare for contemplation over a succession of treats.
The novella combines two real tragedies (“The Radium Girls” and Topsy the Elephant) and adds the story of trying to prevent a third (future generations inadvertently entering radioactive land). Regan, like the real Radium Girls, is dying of cancer because her job is to paint watches with a paint that makes them glow and gives her cancer. Her bosses encourage her to use her mouth to moisten the paint brushes in order to save on time and cleaning materials. Unlike the real Radium Girls, she is trying to train Topsy the elephant to take over her job because her bosses appreciate the fact that it will take longer to give cancer to an elephant. When Topsy murders a cruel man, she is sold to a carnival so that she can be executed for the entertainment of an audience. Unlike the real Topsy, this one has a trick up her trunk.
Given the current limits of technology, the best way to escape this reality is to get lost in a great book. And while there’s no greater reading pleasure than getting lost in a novel massive enough to accompany you through the course of several sleepless nights and a charity gala or two, it’s also rather grand to gently pummel one’s imagination with 40 very short and strange stories one after another until you’re a little dizzy from the off-kilter sweetness humanity is capable of.
But where does one find 40 great, very short, strange, sweet (if also sometimes menacing) stories? I, too, wondered this, until I found “Tales of Falling and Flying” by Ben Loory, the second such collection of exactly 40 great, short, strange, sweet stories he’s written. Loory has compared his writing to “an animated version of The Twilight Zone,” and I think it’s a fair comparison. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ben Loory”
“Best Worst American” by Juan Martinez is another delightful and weird collection of short stories published by Small Beer Press. (If you haven’t read the previously recommended works by Kelly Link, I reiterate my recommendation to do so.) (Apologies to Mr. Martinez for immediately hijacking his recommendation to re-recommend another author.)
Proceeding, then, with the career boost this post inevitably provides and which Martinez indubitably deserves, “Best Worst American” will be appreciated by fans of McSweeney’s (where several of the pieces were originally published) and the sort of stand-up comedy performed by people with hip glasses. (Not the glasses you think are hip, the ones that actually are hip: I do not know which glasses these are; though, of course, the monocle will never go out of style.) Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Juan Martinez”
As someone with a penchant for taking titles too literally, my desire to read a book called “The Answers” was both tremendous and misguided. It soon became clear that this book would not be answering my most pressing queries. Rather, the book is more interested in posing, not answering, big old questions: What is love? Why do people love? How does one survive underemployment and crippling debt? Is it wrong to manipulate emotions with high-tech electronics? Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Catherine Lacey”
Like any gentleman of means, I’m fond of gallivanting around the world. Though I may not travel as much as I’d like, what with the estate, the cats and the pending transactions needing looking after, my attache case is always packed with books and monocles so that I may use the wonders of literature to mitigate the horrors of public transportation. On two of my most notable excursions, novels by Hari Kunzru helped eat several hours that would have otherwise been occupied by fretting over what sorts of messes the cats were making in the estate. Given space constraints, my obligation to save the details of my travels for my visitors’ parlor, and two lawsuits, I’ll sum it up by saying that I have a soft spot for Kunzru’s writing. He earned the soft spot, though. It wasn’t just because he succeeded in distracting from the snores of the man taking up most of my seat: Kunzru is a brilliant writer.
“The Impressionist,” which I read when I was little more than a pup easily startled by every ticket taker and fuel-efficient vehicle I saw, is his debut novel, and one that garnered a lot of praise on publication. It’s about a brown boy born with white skin. My memory is fuzzy on specifics, but it was great. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Hari Kunzru”
As a professional book recommender, I’m constantly recommending books. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the same sorts of books I do, so I must resort to asking what sorts of books a person likes before I can offer my precise recommendation. Over and over again, I hear, “I want a work of fiction about a fictional movie that’s inspired by the making of the film ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’ Also, it needs to have a subplot about a socialist revolution that intersects with the main plot in perfect but horrifying fashion,” they’ll inevitably say. Prior to reading “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, I could only offer tearful apologies and some of the candy I keep in my pockets: I knew of no such book. Now, however, I can enthusiastically recommend “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, and keep my candy.
Wilson’s novel follows several different characters. We start with “Richard,” whose name is in quotes because he’s only referred to by the part he’s playing until near the end of the novel. “Richard” is an unknown American actor who is brought into the production because having an American actor lowers distribution costs, and the previous American actor abandoned the project because there was no script. Also, crucially, he is the same shoe size as the departed actor. As it’s set in the ’70s, he has no reliable and civilized way of informing his girlfriend of his immediate departure, so he writes a note that she won’t see for weeks, and makes his way to South America. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kea Wilson”
The reader’s urge for a scary book rises as Halloween looms, whether due to a desire to embrace spooky customs, or due to the wish for an absorbing thrill to distract and perhaps inoculate oneself from the menace of roving gangs of masked children demanding candy. Your local library yearns to slake this thirst. The following books are, of course, just a few of the thousands of scary fictional titles you can find at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. If none of these strike your fancy (maybe you’d rather read a nonfiction account of the end of the world or something about clowns), we can find one that does. Either way, one thing is certain: no one at the library will try to take your candy unless you’re being really messy.
Of course, you could always read one of the thousands of novels by Stephen King, but perhaps you just want to read something a lot like Stephen King. Try “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. The first book in a trilogy, “The Passage” shows society’s collapse at the hands and fangs of vampires and then jumps forward to an era when floodlights and walls are mandatory if you wish to survive. In a refreshing twist, there is very little romance ascribed to the vampires. Continue reading “Literary Links: Spooky Reads”
“Homesick For Another World” is a brilliant collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh and a common affliction. It is certainly an affliction suffered by the characters that populate her stories. Some might describe her characters as losers and find themselves unable to understand how anyone but a loser or an aficionado or losers would enjoy these stories about drug users, sexual deviants, bulimics, body modifiers, bad actors, crooked Catholic school teachers, and one young girl who longs to murder the specific person whose death she believes will open up a portal to “a better place,” the place she’s always known she belongs. Well rest assured, having achieved the status of runner-up in dozens of eating contests, this gentleman is no loser, and this gentleman found these stories, despite the relative scantness of their plot, fascinating and absorbing. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ottessa Moshfegh”
If you like to use books to escape from reality, whether it’s because your cats have been acting up or due to the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, the strange tales of Kij Johnson are your ticket to a more pleasant reality, one where, for example, a fox might fall in love with a prince and so decide to transform into a human female so that she might increase the odds of the woo she pitches being perceived and appreciated. Or, maybe, inspired by your cat’s complete disregard for authority and subpar mousing, you’re craving a story in which a truly independent kitten traverses the bulk of Japan devouring mice. Maybe your travelling magic monkey show just isn’t bringing in the bucks like it used to, and you’d like to read about a modestly successful travelling magic monkey show. Perhaps you’d like to learn of a fancy bridge being built in a strange land. Or maybe the graphic details of the intimate encounters shared by two shipwrecked space travelers (one human, one exceedingly not) is more your cup of tea. Whichever strange brew you require to slake your thirst for escape from your foolhardy cats or pending nuclear explosions, Kij Johnson’s “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” has concocted it for you. I recommend you take a taste right here.